The Crisis of Gender, Marriage & Family:
The jarring truth is clear: never before in the history of Western civilisation has marriage and the family been under such assault, or in such a debilitated state. The chilling primary statistic is that, for the first time, traditional intact first marriages are no longer the norm. The following ancillary statistics of the state of marriage and family in the United States have been paralleled in European nations. Note well that these statistics are greatly deflated by the ubiquitous use of contraception, sterilisation, and the final solution of abortion.
In 1900 only 10% of marriages ended in divorce. By 1975 the rate reached 50% and holding. This 50%, however, isn’t really holding but rather spiraling out of control, since it is only maintained because the percentage of those entering marriage has radically decreased. Since 1970, the rate of living together outside of marriage has increased seven-fold. So too, from 1970 to 2004, the annual number of marriages per 1,000 adult women in the United States plunged by nearly 50%! (1)
The most striking change in marriage can be seen in the percentage of mothers with small children who work outside the home. In 1960, stay-at-home mothers were the overwhelming norm, with more than 80% of married mothers with children under six being exclusively devoted to their families. By 2008, only 36% of married women with children under six were exclusively devoted to them, which today makes the stay-at-home mother the rare exception to the rule.(2)
In what could be considered the most crucial, and undoubtedly the most sacred, indicator of the rapid demise of marriage and family — the birth of children in or out of wedlock — the trend is also very rapidly escalating: in 1960, only 5% of all births were to unmarried women; in 1975, this had climbed to 14%; by 1994, to 33%. In 2008, out-of-wedlock births in the United States was a shocking 41%; again, a figure demonically and drastically reduced by the number of abortions,(3) the vast majority of which are out-of-wedlock.(4)
Even when marriages stay intact, the family, the direct fruit of marriage, has been weakened and distorted beyond recognition. Families are no longer the sacrosanct centre of life. Today, corporate and governmental institutional allegiance, and even loyalty to celebrities or athletic teams, have increasingly replaced familial allegiance and loyalty. With the increase of vicarious and superficial relationships made possible by technology (from transportation mobility to internet social-networking), familial intimacy and bonding has lessened. Most devastating of all to the family unit has been the removal of the mother as the singularly dedicated heart of the home, as she too shifts her allegiance elsewhere.
With the lack of a vibrant family culture, many people no longer have the most natural anchor of communal loyalty and belonging. Without the ties of family, both communities and individuals are no longer afforded that indissoluble bond of love that can withstand the vicissitudes of life; withstand the totalitarian State; withstand the deluge of mass-media propaganda and allurement. Without the traditional family there is no longer an entity that can withstand the greatest calamities, be they wars and famines or the assured personal tragedies. Without the traditional family, society is doomed to either totalitarianism or anarchy, or a combinationof both; the Church is eviscerated; and individuals are immeasurably weakened.
The moral, and thus social breakdown of Western civilisation doesn’t have its locus or solution in a nation’s government or legislation, but in the home and parenting. The Church and the wisdom of the ages has always said that it is marriage and family that can save society. His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI told pilgrims that “Marriage is truly an instrument of salvation, not only for married people but for the whole of society.”(5)Elsewhere, he said it was the key to evangelising an apostate West itself:
Matrimony is a Gospel in itself, a Good News for the world of today, especially the dechristianised world. The union of a man and a woman, their becoming "one flesh" in charity, in fruitful and indissoluble love, is a sign that speaks of God with a force and an eloquence which in our days has become greater because unfortunately, for various reasons, marriage, in precisely the oldest regions evangelized, is going through a profound crisis. And it is not by chance.
Marriage is linked to faith, but not in a general way. Marriage, as a union of faithful and indissoluble love, is based upon the grace that comes from the triune God, who in Christ loved us with a faithful love, even to the Cross. Today we ought to grasp the full truth of this statement, in contrast to the painful reality of many marriages which, unhappily, end badly. There is a clear link between the crisis in faith and the crisis in marriage.(6)
Yes, the days are dark indeed, but take heart, for “where sin increases, grace overflows all the more" (Rm. 5.20). Therefore, while it is irrefutable that marriage and family are under attack as never before, it can likewise be said that never before has grace — the stuff of miracles — been available in such abundance for marriage and family!
For couples and families to avail themselves of this superabundant miraculous grace, however, they absolutely must immerse themselves in the traditional Christian understanding of marriage.
The Determinative Battle of the Culture Wars
In the natural order — and still more the Christian order — the family is to be held sacrosanct. A man's home is meant to be his castle, and his family his realm of authority. A Christian man is divinely commissioned to be king of this castle and live his life, as all good kings do, in sacrificial service of his familial subjects. This kingly Christian father is called to join with other men to bring about communities and larger political entities that foster the cause he espouses with his whole heart: a cause that for the Catholic man is Faith and Family. The only valid divine right of kings belongs exclusively to Christian husbands and fathers.
So too, the family is to be the locus of life: the very special sanctuary of each and every person's most precious experiences. For the Christian, the family home is nothing less than the sacred ecclesia domestica. In this "domestic church" is to be tabernacled the woman as the fully dedicated wife, mother, and homemaker; the very heart of the family. The family is a woman's privileged and holy place to which she is called to devote her life. To do so, especially today, she must steadfastly resist the temptation to squander her unique feminine and maternal gifts on profane entities such as corporate or commercial pursuits. Indeed, it is this unique undivided love of a woman for her family, her devotion to the domestic church, which imbues the family with the privileged sacrosanct status shared only by the Holy Catholic Church Herself. And note well: a woman's place is in the home not because she is not good enough for the world, but too good for it.
Nowadays, neither mothers, nor fathers, nor families have a special status.(7) No longer, most ominously, does the State hold the family (or the Church) in awe, but rather seeks to destroy it (and the Church) as a contender to its supreme authority. Nonetheless, though now all but gone in the West, familial love and loyalty are still the bricks and mortar of civilisation and any body politic. Familial love and loyalty remain the strongest and most powerful of forces, save for the love of Christ Himself and loyalty to His Holy Church. The love of family and the love of God are inseparable, and together are known as piety.
So, Faith and Family are inseparable. This means that if there is to be a grace-filled resurgence in the Faith, there must be a resurgence in the Catholic family. And if there is to be a grace-filled resurgence in the family, there must first be a resurgence of gender distinction and charism.
The difficulty is that this traditional Christian understanding lies in stark contrast to contemporary sensibilities and values. This is to be expected, since contemporary values and sensibilities are what have produced the awful state of marital and familial affairs today. The contrast is even more essentially manifest in the understanding of gender, upon which the family is built. Our age is the first to be "gender-confused" or, more aptly, gender "rebellious."
The most effective way to destroy the family is to promote the new ideology of degenderism: that which rejects gender distinctions. Not only does the rejection of gender deal a death blow to marriage and family — the basic cell of society and the Church — it entails the rejection of the most elementary and essential demarcation of the human person as an incarnate being made in God's image. Rejecting the realities of gender is the final result of rejecting man's contingent and dependent nature. Thus, it is the result of rejecting God through the most fundamental rebellion against Him.
The most demonic war in the history of the world is now being waged. It is indeed a ubiquitous war of terror, yet not a terrorism perpetrated by the ancient arch-enemies of Christendom. It is waged by the very Western nations which were the erstwhile seedbeds and promulgators of the Holy Faith. This post-Christian era of terrorism is first and foremost against the family, and, as such, against gender and marriage. Its weapons are truly those of mass destruction. For they are weapons that entail the use of the mass-media, and a pervasive and perverse political correctness enforced by totalitarian governmental policy.
Destroy the meaning of gender and you destroy the meaningfulness of marriage, since gender is what makes marriage possible. Destroy the meaningfulness of marriage and you destroy the family, since it is marriage that both animates and binds the family. It is gender, therefore, that constitutes the foundational principle of marriage and family. No wonder, in these days of “gender confusion,” the state of marriage, the family, society, and even the ecclesial community, is in such advanced decay!
Celebrating Gender Distinction
Thus, 'degenderism', or the distorting of gender distinction and definition, must be seen as the ultimate natural and moral heresy; for it does the ultimate moral harm: it destroys the family.
Historically, heresy has always been answered by the Holy Catholic Church with condemning anathemas and orthodox-refining definitions. As such, the truth was advanced, defined, and made clearer still in the presence of error. It has yet to occur, however, in regard to this greatest of moral heresies. In part, this may be due to the fact that the Church usually limits her doctrinal definitions to revealed truths, since moral truths are considered to be self-evident according to natural law, so not in need of definition.
Nonetheless, today, in gloomy commentary on the state of the world and its blindness even to the obvious, the most urgent need is to renew and refine the definition and charism of gender: the most self-evident givens of nature. For again, not only is the gender differentiation of male and female self-evident, it is also the most fundamental God-given categorisation of the human person, as well as the very building block of marriage, family, and society.
When addressing marriage, therefore, the hot-button issue of gender must necessarily be addressed. Historically, these issues of gender may have started off with a relatively mild, yet all the more insidious, form of feminism. However, its seeds of destruction have spread and germinated. These destructive seeds include the inherent heretical elements of hyper-egalitarianism, liberalism, and politically-created rights; all of which, inevitably, lead to abominable atrocities: most strikingly, the sanctioning of abortion and homosexuality.
The remedy to widespread gender confusion and the heresy of degenderism begins with the restoration of solid and holy Catholic marriages and families. In turn, holy marriages and families depend on the spouses (and children's) radical embrace of their gender-specific charisms. This transformation of marriages in accord with God's holy designs will entail the championing not only of marriage and family, but that of gender distinction as well: of masculinity, femininity, fatherhood, and motherhood. And it will be done not so much from the pulpit as through being lived out in public.
Married couples and families, then, are on the front-lines in the culture wars. Uncompromising Catholic families are called to be powerful witnesses to the spirit and charism of God-given gender. This call to be courageously and militantly Catholic and counter-cultural, entails everything from the adoption of gender-specific dress and comportment, to the embracing of gender limitations and sacrifices, to the accentuation of gender differences. Indeed, today, the Catholic family — and thus the Church — is called to nothing less than the celebration of gender distinction!
The Ecclesial Age of The Family
It has been widely trumpeted that the "post-Vatican II" age is “the age of the laity.” If by this it is meant that the laity must be more involved in official Church ministries,(8) even at times supplanting the ordained role of the priesthood, then this is very wrong. On the other hand, if the intention is that the age of the laity is the age of the family, then it is exactly right. From the Catholic perspective it simply must be the age of the family! This is because of the Church's gift of indefectibility which causes Her to encounter crisis by renewing, making stronger, and more defined than ever before that which is in crisis. In God's economy of salvation history, when any heresy becomes dominant the orthodox truth is further defined and promulgated, to squash the heresy. In the face of heresy — before the onslaught of falsity and the murk of deception — the Church is called to speak of orthodoxy: to proclaim the truth; to bring clarity.
So this is the age of the laity/family because it is the time of the greatest onslaught against the family in the history of the world. To repeat: where sin (heresy) abounds, grace (orthodoxy) is more abundant still! At present, however, while the sin and familial heresy abound, grace and familial orthodoxy are slow in rising. Where is the Church, or at least the voices of the episcopacy and papacy in response to the greatest crisis in the history of Christendom? The men of the magisterium have been negligent. In response to the decimation of the family there is talk of social justice instead of family justice. But family justice is the very essence of social justice. In response to the gargantuan growth of the all-intrusive State there is ecclesiastical talk of the need for further government programs. In response to a popular culture that is essentially, diametrically, radically opposed to the values of the Catholic family, there is more accommodation of that culture, especially in pastoral practice.
And what of gender distortions? Once again, the men of the magisterium have been negligent. In response to a rampant radical feminism they have espoused a more moderate feminism: a response that gives lip service to the true feminine charism, while compromising as much as possible with the radical feminism of liberalism without rejecting it. In this response there is nebulous talk of the "feminine genius" and its need to be present where, before, it has not been thought proper. This itself is based on the feminist assumption that the evils of the world are caused by masculinity as opposed to the flesh, the world, and the devil. And that all will be well if masculine power is diluted or replaced by the feminine.
Indeed, the term "feminine genius" is wrong in itself. Women qua women do not possess a genius that goes with them wherever they are. There is not a "feminine genius" that cannot be diminished; a set entity that gives them a certain superiority regardless of character or moral and social influences. Should the "feminine genius" also be brought to the battlefield? In fact it has been, with barrels blazing! And not a word from the magisterium has been issued in condemnation of this unequalled perversity and abomination.
You cannot have your feminine cake and eat it too: femininity is squandered, brutalised, and ultimately destroyed in the hostile environment of bureaucracies in the business, state, or ecclesial realms. And make no mistake, high powered business and politics is surpassed in aggression and violence only by the physical waging of war. What should alarm is that the feminine charism is being systematically destroyed in women. Instead of speaking of increasing the feminine presence in the world, therefore, there should be constant talk of increasing that presence within the family. A woman whose feminine charism is destroyed is a monster indeed, and there is no need for more monsters in the halls of power.
And what of the crisis of Christian manhood? Not a word from the magisterium, at least none that seek to bolster Catholic manhood. Today, for the first time since the advent of Christianity there are no Christian warriors. Of course not, for there are no Christian men. The most the magisterium has said garners favour with feminism and liberalism by a condemnation of a "brute male dominance," as if the evils of the world are caused by testosterone instead of sinfulness. Obviously, as products of the Catholic family and western civilisation, prelates of the Church are themselves emasculated, and hence cowardly. What the Church lacks today is militancy. And militancy derives from masculinity. Indeed militancy is the ecclesial manifestation of masculinity.
Do we hear from the magisterium of the unchangeable teaching on the father's headship of the family? No — it might offend the feminists.
Do we hear of the emasculation of the Western male? No — it might offend these very males.
We don't even hear of the effeminisation of the clergy which has caused the sacerdotal scandals — because it might offend practising homosexuals.
A Lay Competence
Yet note well: though the magisterium has not demonstrated the urgency nor prescribed the cure, the current crisis is more of nature than revealed truth. Being of nature because of the natural entity of the family, this cause is appropriately championed by the laity — and specifically familial patriarchs — in this the age of the laity/family!
It appears Our Lord is indeed calling Catholics to a renewed Christendom that can only be accomplished through the laity. So instead of criticising the prelates of the magisterium let the criticism be directed toward ourselves; toward the laity, and especially the laity's intended leaders: the AWOL familial patriarchs.
Each and every Catholic family must be directed by members enlightened by an informed Catholic conscience. No longer can there be a semi-blind following of the clergy. A clear and certain following of the Church is demanded. No longer can a pastor effectively direct families from the pulpit as he did in a Christian culture, since the anti-Christic West is attacking the family from every side. Today, every single Catholic and each family must have a vision in the Faith that depends not on the vicissitudes of who is or isn't their pastor or bishop or even pope. This is the great new age that promises an advance of Christ's kingdom, of the continued triumphant unfolding of salvation history! Neither the blame nor the solution lies with the prelates of the magisterium, who are but men raised in the family. Rather, the blame and the solution, and hence the challenge, is with the family and its lay leaders: specifically its fathers.
The Crucial Role of the Catholic Father
In a conducive environment, women tend innately to follow the dictates of a physically and psychologically impelling maternity. Men, however, must choose to follow the compelling dictates of manhood in a very determined and defined way. This is why, as families and responsibilities grow, it is the overwhelming tendency of men to lag behind in the fulfillment of their increasing husbandly and fatherly duties, especially in regard to those of a moral and spiritual nature. Though this can be said to be a phenomenon more or less present throughout the ages, it is likely to be more present in our time. Without doubt, its impact is far more detrimental.
Studies clearly indicate that today it is the father who determines the religiosity of his children.(9) In the past, it is anecdotal that a pious mother often had children who answered calls to religious or priestly life, or even became saints, even though their husbands were impious. But that was in the matrix of a Christendom. Nowadays, more than ever before, a father's spiritual headship is essential to the raising of Catholic children because the culture is hostile. Indeed it is anti-Christic: a culture that has rejected Christ.
And so the importance of the militant leadership of the husband and father becomes ever more apparent and urgent. A leadership that must be based on the principles of the Christian patriarchal order of the family. No other leadership will suffice in these difficult days. In its essence this Christian patriarchal order entails a husband's headship in loving devotion to his wife, and a wife's submission in loving encouragement of her husband. In this way, the patriarchal dynamic is not just a masculine entity but, rather, it is intended to be a monolithic composite: of both the masculine and the feminine, each facilitating the other, to create a composite and tensile strength greater than that found in each individually.
Please note that it is not a restoration of an erstwhile patriarchal order that is called for today but the advent of a purely Christian patriarchal order. In such an order husbands and fathers must be fully cognisant that their headship is a divine commission from Christ; as such, they must be acutely aware of their unworthiness. They will understand that their sceptre is the Cross itself, and that their greatest royal decree is their own crucifixion for love of wife, family, and Christ. In the face of today's overwhelming destruction of the Faith, marriage, and family, the Christian patriarch must truly be a penitential patriarch who is willing to experience no earthly triumph other than the triumph of the Cross.(10)
The Restoration of Gender, Marriage, and Family
The restoration and celebration of gender, marriage, and family is essentially a lay competency. For it takes place first and foremost within the family: between a husband and wife; between parents and children; between the family and the world. The crux of this battle is not political but personal. This should be very encouraging, since it means this battle and restoration is within the grace-filled power of every Catholic couple and family to promulgate. And the only effective prescription for
There would be a calm and quiet constancy in marriage if married people would gather strength and life from the virtue of religion alone, which imparts to us resolution and fortitude; for religion would enable them to bear tranquilly and even gladly the trials of their state, such as, for instance, the faults that they discover in one another, the difference of temper and character, the weight of a mother's cares, the wearing anxiety about the education of children, reverses of fortune, and the sorrows of life. (11)
Indeed, married couples who courageously open their hearts and zealously devote themselves to the practice of their holy Catholic faith will be inundated with the “strength and life” of divine grace required for miraculous outcomes. So too, that couple's marriage and family will be imbued with “a calm and quiet constancy,” with a peace and steadfastness in radical contrast to the demonic activism that moves the world today. Yes, especially today, when faithful Catholic families are so few and far between, and the world so hostile, those that do give themselves wholeheartedly to the practice of their Faith, to the doing of God’s holy will, are assured of stupendous and miraculous divine intervention.
This miraculous divine intervention is assured precisely because it is absolutely necessary. As I have stressed throughout: married couples seeking to promulgate the Kingdom of God by way of the family are today as never before on the front-lines of the battle between good and evil. Catholic men and women, boys and girls, husbands and wives, female and male religious, priests and laity must be exhorted to celebrate gender distinction: for just as grace builds upon nature, so does vocation and sanctity build upon gender. So Catholics may proceed to celebrate gender distinction, and thus re-establish Christian marriage and family, and even Christendom itself, with humble confidence; strengthened by their certitude that God’s will cannot be thwarted, no matter the array of forces that oppose it, if only they say “yes” to that will.
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and of revelation, in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your heart enlightened, that you may know what the hope is of the glory of his inheritance in the saints. And what is the exceeding greatness of his power towards us, who believe according to the operation of the might of his power. (Eph. 1: 17–19)
Gregory Dilsaver is the father of ten. He holds a doctoral degree in clinical psychology, as well as a masters degree in the theology and ethics of marriage and family. His Imago Dei Institute in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, specialises in marriage & family, manhood and womanhood issues, and works extensively with Catholic clergy and religious communities. He may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) U.S. Bureau of the Census, Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970 (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1975), 1:20, 64; U.S. Bureau of the Census, Statistical Abstract of the United States: 1988, 108th ed. (Washington D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1987), 59, 62, 83, 373, 374.
(2) Of these 36%, many are not traditional stay-at-home mothers. They are mothers unable or unwilling to find work outside the home; viz., women who stay home not because of the primacy of motherhood and homemaking, but due to low earnings, high child-care, and the availability of state welfare.
(3) Fifty-one percent of women who are unmarried when they become pregnant will have an abortion. (This does not factor in the abortive results of increasingly popular “emergency contraception” or “the morning-after pill.”) —
(4) Fifty-one percent of women who are unmarried when they become pregnant will have an abortion. (This does not factor in the abortive results of increasingly popular “emergency contraception” or “the morning-after pill.”) — The Alan Guttmacher Institute, July 28, 2005. The New Demography of American Motherhood by Gretchen Livingston and D’Vera Cohn, Pew Research Center, May 6, 2010.
(5) General Audience, 5 May, 2010.
(6) Opening Homily to the Synod on the New Evangelization, 8 October 2012.
(7) The new sacrosanct status has been given to the state, the corporation, and politically correct rights (i.e. rights that almost all undermine the Faith and family). Even certain animals have a more protected status than the family.
(8) In fact, when mothers, sons, daughters, and even fathers are overly engaged in ecclesial ministries, it takes away from the primary ministrations of the family.
(10) See Three Marks of Manhood , Dilsaver, G.C., St. Benedict Press, 2010.
(11) Arcanum, Leo XIII, para. 42, February 10, 1880.