Family in crisis over principle

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

My father died at the grand old age of 94, and my father-in-law died at the same age, five years later.

They were entirely different characters, but as I watched them growing older they developed a striking similarity in their attitude to the world around them. They abhorred the dilution of the values and moral standards they considered to be solid, unquestionable and timeless, and they withdrew from the world.

There is no doubt that while many of the standards that underpinned the society of 50 years ago were solid, the passing of some others should be welcomed. For example, there is no place in the modern world for the racial and religious discrimination that they grew up with and that is now frowned upon, as is discrimination against those whose sexual orientation differs from the majority.

However, there remain certain moral standards that should never be tampered with or diluted, for to do so risks the disintegration of the world as we know it.

One of these is the institution of marriage, a cornerstone of society that is being attacked from a number of different directions, and in very subtle ways, including its redefinition. Indeed, as I write I am aware of a dear friend who is struggling to save his marriage of many years because his view of marriage differs from those of his wife and family. He is being branded old fashioned, stuffy, hypocritical, irrelevant and disconnected from those around him because he is holding fast to what he believes is a correct understanding of right and wrong. And his sin? He objects to his unmarried stepson bringing his girlfriend to the family home where they will sleep together.

The man holds strong Christian views, his wife and family do not. So, does he have the right to impose Christian values on non-Christian others? Is he right to try to control the young man’s behaviour, and if not, is he entitled to say, ‘Not under my roof!’?

Who is right and who is wrong in this complicated conundrum?

There is no doubt that in a mature and mutually respectful relationship he does not have the right to impose his views on others. He confided in me that in one heated ‘discussion’ he heard himself say, ‘It’s not happening, and that’s that!’ And immediately realised that in an equal partnership of love neither party has the right of veto, and that to do so risks fatally damaging family relationships.

Is the principle for which he stands more important than the people involved? No, but there’s a circle to be squared? He cannot demand that what he believes to be right is observed by others, but similarly, the other parties in the triangle cannot demand that their views take precedence.

The wisdom of Solomon is called for, and my friend claims to have found it.

He has taken the heat out of the situation by making the point that he does not approve of sexual activity outside marriage, but he is prepared to say: ‘The matter is between you and God.’ And guess what? All the tension and anger melted away. Surely that’s as it should be; surely that’s what Jesus would do.