Chopp, president of Colgate University and former official at Emory
University, gives the concluding report "Sex, Marriage, and Family: The
Challenges of the New Century," during a March 27-29 conference. Photo
by A. Poyo, courtesy of Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of
Religion at Emory. Photo number 03-131, Accompanies UMNS story #199,
No Long Caption Available for this Story
ATLANTA (UMNS) - Modern families, sex in the
scriptures, the role of religion in marriage and numerous topics in
between were discussed by scholars from a variety of religious
disciplines for three days at Emory University.
and Family and the Religions of the Book," was an intense discussion by
more than 70 scholars on research papers with titles ranging from
"Happily Ever After? Sex Marriage, and Family in National and Global
Profile" to "Trends in Dating, Mating, and Union Formation Among Young
More than 600 participants, including over 200 students,
attended the event, supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts and convened
by the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Religion at United
Methodist-related Emory. The center was created in 2000 with a
five-year, $3.2 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts. "Sex,
Marriage, and Family and the Religions of the Book" is the result of its
first two-year project.
Opening the conference, John Witte Jr.,
Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law and Ethics at Emory University and
director of the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Religion,
acknowledged current events might seem to overshadow the discussion.
this time of war, devastation and bloodshed, contemplating the
"intricacies and intimacies" of family life may seem incongruous, he
"It's worth noting that there are three things most people will die for: their faith, their freedom and their family," he said.
Conference speakers repeatedly referred to the statistics: ¬∑ In the United States from 1975 to 2000, a quarter of all pregnancies were aborted. ¬∑ One-third of all children were born to single mothers. ¬∑ Half of all marriages ended in divorce. ¬∑ Two-thirds of all juvenile offenders came from homes of divorce. ¬∑ Three-quarters of all African-American children were raised without fathers. ¬∑ Divorce rates have doubled in the United Kingdom, France and Australia in the last four decades. ¬∑
Marriage rates have dramatically decreased, while illegitimacy,
domestic violence, and sexually transmitted diseases have increased
around the globe.
In one of the most spirited sessions, "I Do, I
Don't: The Cases For and Against Marriage," four panelists debated the
pros and cons of marriage.
The panelists took on the tough issues
of whether marriage should be celebrated as a community strength that
makes men and women healthier and happier; abolished as a legal category
that discriminates against single or cohabiting couples; maintained as a
way of keeping fathers involved in childrearing; or kept as a societal
control to ward off sexual chaos.
"Being married changes people
in ways that make them, their children and their communities better
off," said Linda J. Waite, director of the Alfred P. Sloan Center on
Parents, Children and Work at the University of Chicago and co-author of
The Case for Marriage. "Marriage is a public promise to stay together
But marriages today are far from unbreakable since the
"no-fault divorce revolution," argued Martha Albertson Fineman,
professor of feminist jurisprudence at Cornell University.
this and other changes in patterns of intimate behavior and gender
roles, Fineman proposes that marriage should no longer be the only such
privileged legal connection. A diversity of loving and reproductive
relationships exists among adults. "Family is not synonymous with
marriage," she said. "Why should marriage be the price of entry into
state-supported subsidies of families?"
In turn, healthy, viable marriages encourage
responsible fathering, said William J. Doherty, professor of family
social science and director of the Marriage and Family Therapy program
at the University of Minnesota. "Fathering outside a good-enough
marriage is an endangered species," Doherty said. "In two-parent
families, father involvement is more dependent on the wife's
expectations than (the father's) own."
Also, fathers are more
likely to withdraw from their children if the marriage is in trouble.
"Fathering appears to be a triadic relationship," he said. "Men
co-parent with mothers." Ideally, fathers would provide lifelong
emotional and financial support for their children and their children's
mother, even if the marriage fails. But in reality, this may not occur.
utilitarian approach is not robust enough to ground an ethic of
fatherhood," Doherty said. "We need our religious traditions to do
Rebecca Chopp, president of Colgate University and former
provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Emory
University, took a look into the future with her report, "Sex, Marriage,
and Family: The Challenges of the New Century."
She noted that
the conference had emphasized "naming" the challenges of sex, marriage
and family. "Naming - our responsibility and our opportunity - is the
first clear act of humans in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, and it
runs through the scriptures as an act of blessing, responsibility and
power," she said.
No transformation of marriage and the family
can occur without addressing "the heart of the matter," said Jean Bethke
Elshtain, professor of social and political ethics at the University of
Chicago, in her session, "Happily Ever After?"
is "the site of our deepest longings and most terrifying fears," she
said. "Families ... intensify every basic human urge, from our most
generous capacities to give life to and sustain others to our most
passionate desires to dominate. Families nurture us, care for us, mold
us, or damage us, and send us out into the world either well or ill
equipped for its complexities.
"The family is rather like the
canary in the mine shaft," Elshtain said. "It gives us an early warning
system of where things are wounded and broken and need to be healed or
Go to the Web site http://www.law.emory.edu/cisr/news.htm to view Webcasts and highlights of the conference. # # # *Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer in Nashville, Tenn.