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Cohabitation: A Christian reflection

By Diocese of Southwark


This report looks at how those who are living together outside marriage perceive the Church and its attitude to them, and whether those perceptions are justified. The Southwark Diocesan, Board for Church and Society drew together a working party of people known for their diversity of views. Some members of the working party were looking for ways to affirm the value of cohabiting relationships, but in the end a consensus emerged that in fact this was not possible and marriage still represented the best and healthiest place for a couple relationship and for the bringing up of children.

Chapters prepared by individuals include:

  • Defining Cohabitation by Colin Buchanan
  • Cohabitation and the History of Christian Marriage by Denise Mumford
  • Cohabiting Christians Speak by Maureen Kyle
  • Previous Anglican Statements on Cohabitation by Katherine Fox and Martin Hislop
  • Social Trends and Changes in family life by Paul Buxton and Martin Hislop
  • Social Effects of Cohabitation by Paul Buxton
  • Family life among Ethnic Minorities in Britain, by Elaine Arnold and Olufunke Ogbede
  • Cohabitation and the Law by Katherine Fox
  • Loving in Godís Image by Jeffrey John
  • Towards a Theology of Marriage by Ann Nickson
  • A Sexual Ethic for Today by Denise Mumford
  • How does the Church Respond to People who Cohabit by Peter Grinyer
  • How can the Church help by Peter Grinyer, Maureen Kyle, Ottis Edwards aand denise Mumford
  • Summary of Findings

The report concludes that, while there are digress of commitment in cohabitation, society has taken on board a number of myths about cohabitation - that they are two names for the same thing, that cohabitation is as stable as marriage, a good preparation for marriage can provide an equal commitment to children, and that itís like common law marriage with the same rights in law. None of these myths can stand real scrutiny, yet they are widely held beliefs among the people of Britain.

The problems associated with sex before marriage are highlighted. It is suggested that ďsafe sexĒ should be understood in broader terms that wearing a condom. There still seem to be diverse views within the church as to whether a sexual relationship in the run up to a marriage is acceptable. Sexual intercourse within a long-standing relationship where there was no intention to marry should not be acceptable within the Church. It would be confusing for the church to support any relationship which denies the value of marriage. Long-standing cohabitation is still rare in this country.

Betrothal as a new way of looking at certain types of cohabitation was explored, but it was concluded that there was no historical evidence to support viewing cohabitations with the potential fro marriage as betrothals, since in the past the betrothal period did not involve sexual activity.

Marriage should be seen as a process rather than an event. While this is a very valuable way of looking at the way marriages develop and grow over the years, using it as an opening to construct a betrothal vow for cohabiting couples does not have any support in scripture.

Information about cohabitation should be improved, especially evidence of the social effects of marriage and cohabitation on the health and life outcomes of couples and their children. There should be greater clarity in the teaching of the church and the interpretation of scripture on cohabitation in its modern context. There are huge pastoral issues, highlighted by the differing practices in responding to cohabitees and the distress and guilt experienced by their families. There is a need for those working with children in education to commend marriage as an institution.

The report offers the following Pastoral recommendations:

  • That further research should be undertaken nationally into cohabitation
  • That factual information about the outcomes of marriage and cohabitation should be made widely available especially to young people
  • That secondary school students should have opportunities to explore issues around sexual relationships, marriage and cohabitation with each other and sensitive, informed adults
  • That the church should give priority to developing effective marriage preparation
  • That the church should continue to develop its services to families and children in need
  • The Church should endeavour to present marriage to society as something of real value with which our young people can engage. The church needs to give a positive approach to sexuality and he equality of the sexes in Godís eyes and in marriage.

    ď...That is why, with all its fragility and risk, we are certain that marriage is by far the best framework for a man and woman to flourish and grow together in love and for their children to dot he same. The Church must find a way to share this profound and joyful truth so that it is heard as good news and not as condemnation. Certainly we have to uphold an ideal, without crushing those who have to, or not yet, realised it..Ē

    Price Report - £7, Five part study guide £1 incl p&p

    Order now from Southwark Diocese

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