The Church of England has published a new report highlighting the value of loving family relationships' "in all their diversity" within society, stating that there is no ideal family model.
The report, 'Love Matters' from the Archbishops' Families and Households Commission, focuses on the importance of a foundation of love for relationships to flourish, emphasising that "the quality of family relationships matters more than the form a family takes".
The Commission has made a series of recommendations for how these relationships can best flourish and encouraged individuals "whether married, single, or in a couple – to commit to relationships of all kinds that lead to the flourishing of one another".
It calls on institutions - particularly the government and the Church of England - to prioritise family life in its decision-making.
Harry Benson, research director for the Marriage Foundation, thinks the document has "damned" marriage and "surrendered any claim that it might be the best way of forming happy families".
He tells Premier Christian News: "We should love people, regardless of what kind of family structure they live in. I mean, my mother's a lone parent...but that's not the dream. There's a reason why marriage has been the preferred regulated family structure throughout societies throughout history.
"The Church of England's view is all families are equally stable - It's just wrong, it's nonsense.
"I'm afraid they've damned marriage with faint praise. And pretty much abandoned any sense of that marriage is the preferred or best way of running family life. It's not guaranteed, but it stacks the odds in your favour."
An excerpt from the report's chapter entitled Celebrating Diversity and Family' life states: "Many societies place a high value on the institution of marriage as the arrangement that supports these functions, believing that marriage provides stability and the best possible environment for raising children... While there have been significant social changes over recent decades, the idea that family life is in decline is not unique to our times.
"The challenge continues as to how to embrace these changes without colliding with or demeaning beliefs and cultural norms which favour more traditional approaches to family life."
Chair of the Commission, Janet Walker tells Premier: "We certainly don't in any way diminish the importance of a committed Christian marriage.
"But we also know the reality that fewer people are getting married these days, whether it be Christian, or in another faith, and more people are living together in cohabiting relationships. So we really want to think about how do we support all families to thrive."
When asked whether the Commission supports the Church teaching that a committed and loving marriage and family is the ideal context for human flourishing, Walker said: "We are not saying there is any one ideal kind of family.
"The best kind of family is where loving relationships are absolutely at the fore. And, of course, for a lot of people that's within marriage, and we applaud that. But we're not saying that that's the only way that people can live a loving, caring, deeply committed life."
Walker argues that whilst they have looked to scripture and theologians to inform this report and acknowledge the merit of a committed, loving marriage, they have to recognise "all marriages are not like that".
She continued: "Some are unhappy, some are abusive, just as other kinds of couple relationships are.
"What we want to get across as a message in this report, is that any relationship, including a Christian marriage, that is committed and loving is just wonderful for people to flourish, at the same time saying that that doesn't mean that other kinds of relationships are any lesser if they are committed and loving."
The Commission has collated data from community visits, round table discussions and surveys and meetings with interfaith leaders, children, parents and teachers, as well as contemporary literature and theologians.
It has outlined five ambitions to support and strengthen family life:
1.Value families in all their diversity, meeting their basic needs by putting their wellbeing at the heart of Government policy-making and our community life, including religious communities.
2.Support relationships throughout life, ensuring that everyone is able to develop and maintain loving and caring relationships, manage conflict well and promote the flourishing of individuals and families.
3.Honour singleness and single person households, recognising that loving relationships matter to everyone.
4.Empower children and young people, developing their relational skills and knowledge, recognising their value and agency, and protecting them from harm and giving them the best start in life.
5.Build a kinder, fairer, more forgiving society, removing discrimination, division and deep inequality for the sake of every family and household.
Benson commended the Commission for its focus on "loving thy neighbour" and its commitment to support single people saying:
"[The Commission] are very much bigging up the importance of church encouraging and supporting people who are single. And I think there has been a strong focus on promoting marriage in the church, historically, for a long time. And it's very important that we also promote and encourage and support singles, because they often do tend to get a bit left out."
Welcoming the report, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Most Rev Justin Welby said: "With wisdom and timeliness, 'Love Matters' encourages us to prioritise the hopes, needs and aspirations of families – in all their diversity. We must do so as institutions and as individuals. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to share the overflowing love of God, who calls us into relationship with Himself and one another. As this report demonstrates, there is much to celebrate but there is a great deal still to do if we are to ensure the flourishing of every family and household."
The Archbishop of York, Most Rev Stephen Cottrell, said: "This report reminds us of a simple yet profound truth: love matters. Each of us is encouraged to commit to loving relationships of all kinds that build up one another. This starts with us as individuals, in our local areas and within our worshipping communities, to support and strengthen family life so that we all flourish together. I pray that this rich resource changes how we live together in our shared family and community life."
Co-Chair of the Commission, Rt Rev Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham, reflected: "Family lies at the heart of society. It is the context in which children are raised, love is shared and older generations are supported.
"But the reality of what 'family' looks like varies enormously across our society. What our report reveals is that the shape of family changes through our lives. It further shows that there is no one best shape, except that loving long term relationships are absolutely key for us all to flourish. Families matter. Relationships matter. Love matters."