Who says the Archbishop of Canterbury is a woolly liberal? Not me mate, and especially not after reading his latest speech. Jonathan Petre has this to say about it:
The archbishop said: “The fluidity, changeability of relationships and the transience of marriage may look perfectly fine if you belong to the commentating classes of north London but you don’t have to go many miles to see what the cost is for people who cannot take that sort of thing for granted.”
Dr Williams was speaking at the launch at Westminster of National Marriage Week, which runs from tomorrow until Feb 14, promoting the benefits of marriage to couples, children and society.
His attack came two weeks after the Church of England backed the unsuccessful attempt by the Catholic adoption agencies to be exempted from new laws banning discrimination against homosexual couples.
In the full speech Rowan makes a number of excellent points:
Marriage is for life; and that doesn’t just mean life-long, important as that is. It means for life; that is for an enhanced kind of human experience. We’re supposed to be, I gather, celebrating commitment in National Marriage Week, and it seems to me that commitment is essentially about ‘getting a life’. Marriage is a relationship in which my commitment to somebody else, my risky, high risk, commitment to someone else, is matched and met by their risky commitment to me, and as already quoted from the significant source for our understanding on this, let me cap that with something St Paul says about how husband and wife belong not to themselves, but to each other.
They really are giving some sort of ownership in themselves to another person, and that is so phenomenally risky that it’s only the mutuality of it, the shared promise of one to the other, that makes it doable. If someone comes along and says ‘give me your life’ you don’t normally just say ‘okay’. You enter into a covenant, a relationship of mutual risk and mutual promise – and that’s how you get a life. You know that someone else has a life invested in yours, as yours is invested in theirs.
So marriage isn’t just life-long, it’s for making life something really worth living. In that case shouldn’t those in Government and positions of influence support it?
What we’re up against at the moment is a society that has painfully and disastrously low expectations of relationships. I really liked the ‘ambition about relationships’ phrase, which came up earlier. We need to be ambitious about our relationships, ambitious for life, in both senses, ambitious for life-long relationships, ambitious for the kind of depth of human experience, the life that marriage can give. And as expectations spiral downwards then it’s not only the one relationship with marriage that suffers, it’s everything in sight that suffers. We can’t legislate this into being, but we can go on challenging the imagination of society and saying ‘aren’t you being desperately unambitious about what you are capable of? And what those close to you are capable of? Aren’t you lowering, lowering and lowering the sights because actually you are capable of much more than you think you are?
When you think that millions of people every year embark on this extraordinary enterprise called marriage, without any exceptional sanctity or heroism, they just do it and they just carry on doing it, doesn’t that say something about the ambition that we can rightly have? And at the risk of sounding slightly sentimental, I think it’s quite important to look back to an earlier generation, remember parents and grandparents and great-grandparents and think there were a lot of very ordinary human beings, not especially saintly, not especially holy, who did this, who ‘got a life’, who worked through all of this with that prosaic heroism that brings out the best in people, that trained a new generation, that shaped the world which had some trustworthy limits, which had some recognisable moral geography to it. Were they wasting their time? Were they living out an illusion? Well if they were we are in a very strange position now, because we are trading on the achievements that they created for us.
And that’s of course one of the sad things about some of the debates we have about marriage these days; that a great deal of the running is made in commentating in reflective terms by people who don’t perhaps fully see how much they are trading off the inherited capital of a stability and yes, a prosaic heroism that’s evolved over generations. And the fluidity and changeability of relationships and the transience of marriage may look perfectly fine if you belong to the commentating classes of north London, but you don’t have to go very many miles to see what the cost is for people who can’t take that sort of thing for granted.
Marriage is difficult y’know. I’m only 8 months and a bit into it but already I’ve discovered that love is something that you choose to do every day, and as you choose to love someone through the ups and the downs love grows because you learn that your spouse’s love has nothing to do with what you alone have done and everything to do with what you as a single unit have done, are doing and will continue to do.
The Centre for Social Justice recently released a study called Breakdown Britain which showed conclusively that co-habiting couples tend to break up much more than married couples and that children born inside marriages tended to do much better than those born in co-habiting couples. Of course, some liberal commentators were furious, but emotion doesn’t really have any match for hard statistics in the truth stakes.
So well done Rowan – let’s start to have a proper, open debate on marriage and whether, in downplaying it, our society has shot itself in the foot.