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The Children’s Society has repudiated its support for the traditional married family, with Archbishop Sentamu’s backing: is he aware what he has done?

If so, is this a new development in Anglican opinion?

By on Thursday, 12 January 2012

Dr John Sentamu greets members of his congregation (Photo: John Giles/PA Wire)

Dr John Sentamu greets members of his congregation (Photo: John Giles/PA Wire)

Does the Most Reverend John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, believe in marriage or not? On the Today programme this morning, he did actually say (as even Anglican bishops are supposed to say) that he thought that marriage was the “bedrock” of society. But what did he actually mean by that? He was launching a report produced by what used to be called the Church of England Children’s Society, but which (though it maintains its links with the C of E) has for some years called itself simply the Children’s Society, because it thinks that an openly avowed connection with religion puts people off.

This report finds among other things that half a million children across Britain are unhappy with their lives but also that nine out of 10 children are happy. It also finds that “Children who have low levels of happiness are much less likely to enjoy being at home with their family” and that “the quality of children’s relationships with their families is far more important than the structure of the family that they live in”.

The implication has been quietly slipped in, you will note, that the “structure” of the family (in other words what kind of family it is, whether “traditional” or not) is wholly unimportant. And this is where we enter the realms of cloud cuckoo land: the land where we find Archbishop Sentamu saying to himself (and then to the nation at large on the Today programme) that he will always stand by the children of single parents, and the children of “gay marriages” (so far so good), that many such children are just as happy as some of those brought up by married parents, and that there are lots of unhappy children whose parents are married. Well, of course he shouldn’t fail to “stand alongside” children of whatever “family structure”: and of course there are unhappy “traditional families”. But?

I was waiting for the archbishop to go on to say that but, and then explain that though of course, as the Children’s Society says, “the quality of children’s relationships with their families is far more important than the structure of the family that they live in”, that nevertheless a basic determining factor in the quality of relationships within any family is that family’s stability, the sense of security it gives its children, and that all the evidence shows that families based on marriage are very considerably more likely not to break up (that, archbishop is why marriage is the “bedrock of society”, it isn’t just a mantra you are supposed to utter before going on implicitly to deny it). The word but was, however, never uttered by the archbishop, just as in the Children’s Society report he was launching, the word “marriage” doesn’t appear at all, not once.

What is going on here? As Steve Doughty points out in the Mail: “The findings run counter to its previous studies. Three years ago the Children’s Society published a report in which it said children do best when brought up by two parents with a long-term commitment to each other, and warned that cohabiting relationships were more likely to break up and damage children.” There has obviously been some kind of revolution inside the Children’s Society: I suspect a case of murky internal politics.

I repeat: what is going on, not just in the Society but in the mind of the Archbishop of York? It really shouldn’t, at this date, be necessary to have to refer once more to the now very solid evidence for the no longer controversial proposition that “co-habiting relationships [are] more likely to break up and damage children”. Last month in this column I quoted Dr Patricia Morgan’s now classic study Marriage-Lite: The Rise of Cohabitation and its Consequences published a decade ago, by Civitas, the Institute for the Study of Civil Society. This is available as a free download, here, and it shows irrefutably that “family structure” is fundamental to children’s well-being. I suggest, archbishop, that you peruse carefully chapter five, “The Outcomes for Children”, where among much else you may read the following:

the most safe family environment is one where both biological parents are married to each other [and] the most unsafe of all family environments is where the mother is living with someone who has neither a biological or legal tie to her child. Most abuse-prevalence studies look at step-parent families (married and unmarried) in comparison with intact families. One study that looked at the relationship between child abuse and the marital background of the parents found that the rate of severe abuse was 14 times higher than in a biological married family for a child living alone with a biological mother, 20 times more likely where the child was living with cohabiting biological parents and 33 times higher where the mother was cohabiting with a man who was not the biological father.

There is much more, of course, and the whole book should be studied following the injunction to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” it. You will see, archbishop, that I haven’t forgotten the Book of Common Prayer’s collect for the second Sunday in Advent, any more than I have forgotten what the Church of England Children’s Society used to say in my time about marriage and the family. That the Society has now repudiated what once it taught has to be seen as a major betrayal of the Christian cause: and it is a betrayal that you yourself should not now be aiding and abetting.

  • Mr Grumpy

    You may find this enlightening:

    Is she a Christian?

  • Catholic GADFLY

    I am well aware of what goes on within the Children’s Society.

    Nothing has changed at the Children’s Society for the last 20 years. Their managers only pay lip service to the Church of England tag.

    The Children’s Society (CofE) must not be confused with the old Catholic Children’s Society. You will not find the same solid moral standpoints at this organisation. Anyone saying that the family unit is best, in the last twenty years, at the Children’s Society would have been shot at dawn.

    Minimal inspections are made by clergy and working practices at this
    organisation have absolutely nothing to do with Christianity. The Church of England seem to turn a blind eye to this and still hand out money to the organisation.

  • Poppy Tupper

    I don’t care what he says, he’s wearing a maniple! That puts him way, way ahead of your Pope, Mr Oddie.

  • theroadmaster

    It looks like the model of the traditional family based on the biblical principles of marriage between one man and one woman, is being retired as just one option among many rather than THE option to uphold and defend by the ex-Anglican Children’s Society. It is galling to see Archbishop Sentamu not utter the magic conjunction “but” with additional comments to emphasize his continuous, unambiguous support for the concept of marriage in the wake of his stated backing(laudable in itself) for the secure upbringing  of children without discrimination in terms of the familial arrangement that they are involved in. Marriage deserves nothing more than to be promoted as the primary environment for the flourishing of  children and thus supported at the expense of other constructs which are more fleeting and are not to the long-term advantage of the children, as many credible reports have shown.

  • Tiddles The Cat

    Tha’ wha’????

  • Anonymous

    so are you disbelieving the report? If so just say so. But it appears that structure is of secondary importance – and the Church has to realize that other factors can be much more dangerous to creating happy children.

    Child poverty being one such thing. Which at 30% is a national disgrace – and really should be at the centre of the Church’s efforts if it is interested in DOING GOOD. Or is it more interested in spending limited funds on something of IDEOLOGICAL importance.

    Do poor children care about the Church’s teachings? No. They just need help, so lets put Church money and message towards the issues that MATTER THE MOST, and will do the most GOOD for SOCIETY.

  • Oconnord

    ” I quoted Dr Patricia Morgan’s now classic study”
    Surely there can be no such thing as a classic social study. Unless it involves the Greeks and Romans. The term to use there is outdated study, as most of it’s conclusions were based on studies from the 50′s to 80′s. It’s newer information was from the early 90′s! 

    In context that’s near a generation ago. I do not wholly disagree with it’s findings, but it really cannot be used as more than an interesting talking point. It’s turgid and biased as I remember, and not worth re-reading, but even it pointed out that by 2020 55% of adults would not be married. A conclusion which would not encourage politicians to favour married people.

    The only thing that changes quicker than society is technology, and that is symbiotic, so studies like this really just are irrelevant. Unless of course you want to back up a position you already hold.  

  • Poppy Tupper

    Find me a picture, anywhere, of Pope Benedict XVI wearing a maniple. 

  • Alban

    I think you will find Dr Oddie that the renaming of the former Church of England Children’s Society to simply Children’s Society conveys the fact that it is for ALL children and not those with an exclusive connection to the Church of England. But please don’t criticise Archbishop Sentamu, he has the great gift of being able to connect with people in language they understand.

  • Anonymous

    What on earth on you talking about?

  • Poppy Tupper

    No maniple, no mass.

  • geoffreysmith1

    Don’t be so ridiculous!

  • Bob Hayes

    Surely you are not suggesting that possessing, ‘the great gift of being able to connect with people in language they understand’ puts someone beyond criticism!

  • Bob Hayes

    Marketing executive – more like.

  • Kevin Lash

    Is that a maniple on his arm?

  • Diffal

    Last time I checked the requirements for Mass were bread, wine, and valid orders. Which council says that the maniple effects the validity of the sacrament?

  • Diffal

    surely said language of connection with people should also correspond to connection with both Dr. Sentamu’s position and that of the truth?

  • John Bowles

    It’s a guarantor of valid orders

  • Anonymous

    What nonsense!  Are you saying that Sentamu is validly ordained?
    Or that the Pope is not validly ordained if and when he does not wear a maniple?
    Don’t post such ridiculous bosh!

  • Alban

    No, I’m not. But I did listen to the TV interview with Dr Sentamu and what essentially came through to me was the message that children need to be loved, an echo of Dr Williams’ statement made at Christmas. It is a pity that the Oddie article did not contain one ounce of reference to this aspect of Dr Sentamu’s interview. As a Catholic who reads the CH online I am often appalled at the remarks made about Christians of other churches. If there was an abundance of goodwill on this earth towards other well-meaning Christian clerics and their churches I reckon it would be a more peaceful world with less lip service directed towards ecumenism.

  • Fourth Norn

    Let’s see where you go wrong. First, ‘classic study’ does not mean ‘classical study’. Secondly, depopulate your post of apostrophes. Thirdly, you seem unconcerned about change. Dr Oddie was pointing to the words of someone who was so concerned: the Archbishop of York, who claimed that the family was the bedrock of society, i.e. a fixed and firm foundation upon which to build something lasting. Oddie then pointed out that the Archbishop had not secured this bedrock but seemed to have moved to shifting sands. He cited a report that called attention to the consequences of this move. Why is this not a reasonable use of evidence? You don’t say why the report is unreliable but merely label it as biased and turgid (that tends to be the nature of social science). Finally, you seem to go wrong by suggesting that what is is what ought to be. That politicians might go with the votes is neither here nor there in the context of a discussion about the views of the Archbishop of York. He does have a moral basis to work from. He is supposed to stand for more than the common touch and a good word to his ‘electorate’.

  • Tpolak2002

    A maniple is no substitute for orthodoxy. Archbishop Sentamu is obviously deficient in the latter.

  • W Oddie

    She’s joking, chaps; calm down.

  • W Oddie

    So is he.

  • thomas poovathinkal



  • moses