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Cohabitation in contemporary Britain: a theological and pastoral response

Manning, Peter V.C. (2008) Cohabitation in contemporary Britain: a theological and pastoral response. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



In contemporary Britain, cohabitation has become normative as a lifestyle. It perpetuates a long history of informal marriage-like relationships, but does not necessarily seek to be part of marriage. National statistics are used to show how the steady increase in cohabitation since the 1960s is predicted to continue. Furthermore, cohabitation increasingly resembles marriage in that it has also become a family issue. As a lifestyle, cohabitation has remained outside the Christian marriage tradition and largely beyond the pastoral outreach of the church. The aims of this thesis are to explore how the church may address cohabitation alongside marriage within its pastoral and liturgical roles and encourage greater stability and faithfulness in all marriage-like relationships.The development of the church's theology of marriage is explored to show how cohabitation and marriage may share similar ethics, intentions, and expectations. Contemporary attitudes to cohabitation and marriage are evaluated through two interdenominational surveys of clergy and congregations in the Harrogate area. Amongst the clergy, few now reject outright the notion of couples cohabiting though Christian marriage remains the ideal. Congregations are more amenable and ready to accept the right for couples to cohabit, but within the church family, remain largely defensive of the marriage tradition. The social impact of cohabitation in contemporary Britain is demonstrated through socio-structural models that show that by denying many of the traditional roles for marriage, society begins to lose its cohesive structure. Attitudes that characterise cohabitation are found to have parallels within Enlightenment philosophies that emerged as a reaction against many of the perceived abuses and inequalities associated with marriage, particularly as they affected women. In addition to its sociology, cohabitation may be understood within Christian theology of relationships through interpretations of key passages in Genesis that focus on the nature of the relationship bond. Cohabitation and marriage are brought into a universal framework for relationships based on friendship: a 'Friendship Mapping' chart, a time-line diagram, incorporating love and commitment, is developed to illustrate the ways in which relationships may evolve from an encounter to cohabitation and marriage. The outcome of this research is a call for an expansion in the teaching of the Christian ethics of marriage. Suggested ways to accomplish this are through marriage education, reaching out to couples getting married outside the church. For couples seeking to bring their relationship before God, there is support for the reintroduction of betrothal. There are two new proposals, for Committed Relationship and Celebrated Relationship. Committed' Relationship, celebrated in either a religious or civil environment, is an extended form of betrothal that would give a cohabiting couple security and status in the public domain and, more importantly, confirmation of their commitment in return for certain legal protections. Celebrated Relationship would be a low-key, 'modern' church wedding, an alternative to a civil marriage ceremony, intended to help encourage more couples to marry in church.From the researches carried out, two newly emerging lifestyle relationships have been identified that should be of concern to the church. The first is cohabiting singleness, where the rising age for marriage is encouraging casual and short-term relationships. The second is that of single parent families where one parent, usually the father, is deliberately excluded from the outset. Both are shown to have the potential to move the family structure even further from the Biblical norm than does cohabitation and are highlighted as areas for further study

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Date:2008
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:08 Sep 2011 18:27

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