The British Social Attitudes Study has found that 53% of Britons...
It is surely obvious that relationships are a central issue in the Christian faith. God is three persons in one being. Jesus was God incarnate, living in perfect harmony with his father. Humankind was made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and Jesus taught that we should love God and our neighbours.
In the Good Samaritan parable he interpreted that radically to include people of other faiths and ethnicities. He underlines this with the promise that nothing can separate us from the love of God. All that is orthodox Christian teaching, so the question explored here is how it practically influences our many different relationships.
Family relationships are a good place to start. There are many pressures on families – financial, work, caring responsibilities and living environments. The financial pressures include household debt, tax and benefit changes, child care costs and potentially again, inflation. I addressed these in my previous blog and won’t repeat myself here. Long working hours add to financial worries. Britons work an average of 43 hours a week, longer than most European countries. This limits the quality time that couples can spend together and with their children. Caring for children and elderly relatives creates other pressures.
Increased housing costs necessitate many households having two wage earners, limiting the quality time available for parents to spend with their children. Pressures from the living environment include the impact of poor housing and the incidence of crime in some neighbourhoods. Neglected children can be drawn into deviant sub-cultures. Britain ranks near the top of tables for adolescent drinking and teenage pregnancies.
Intimate adult relationships are also under pressure. A majority of couples now live together before marriage and in 2017 3.3 million continued to cohabit without marriage. 60% see no difference between marriage and cohabiting but the average length of cohabitation is only 37 months compared with 11.5 years for the average marriage. Inevitably family breakdown creates pressures, emotional and financial, both for the couple and for their children.
These close family relationships are very important but they are not the only ones that matter. The recent cases of sexual harassment remind us that workplace relationships can be problematic. The importance of good industrial relations is obvious to those suffering from repeated strikes on the railways they take to work. They will not like the pro-strike manifesto that some Labour party leaders favour that would legalise flying pickets and remove restrictions on union action and strikes in essential public services. They probably see such measures as being about justice for union members but they would not be good for wider relationships with their customers. The same could be said about private enterprise that fleeces customers with over priced goods and services.
So relationships have a political as well as a social significance. Those who legislate about marriage and implement policies affecting family life need to take relationships more seriously than they do. The Foreign Office and Department of International Development are more about relationships than anything else. The Treasury and the Work and Pensions department, both influence family relationships in the way they impose taxes and administer benefits. The Home Office’s policies on immigration can split families, whist those responsible for Brexit are also about ending some specific relationships.
Whilst some people are highly relational, contemporary British culture is too much influenced by ‘me-centred’ attitudes, doing what is right in their own eyes with scant thought about the consequences for others. Food banks, street pastors, the Salvation Army, Tearfund, and their supporters, to name but a few examples, are signs that some people of faith care about the victims of relational poverty. The challenge now is to tackle the causes and persuade the nation that relationships really matter.