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Mothers under fire: a mother’s response to Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali

Being a mother can be immensely joyful and rewarding but it can also be incredibly tough. Motherhood is even harder when we face criticism. 

In the past week, my social media newsfeed has alerted me to research showing that two thirds of new mothers are subject to criticism. It was also inundated with and the public shaming of Molly Lensing, a mother of a two month old baby trapped in an airport for 20 hours. Now it seems that a former Bishop is saying that mothers have a part to play in the demise of Christianity in Britain.

As a mother, my initial reaction was one of anger and frustration. We read in Isaiah 40:11 that the Lord gently leads those with young. But this accusation felt more like a dramatic finger pointing exercise than a gentle nudge in the right direction. Why was Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali just blaming mothers, not fathers as well? What about the Church? And what about the quantum leap in British culture from the glory days of the Church? In my bewilderment, I decided that the only right, fair and respectful thing to do was to write to the former Bishop directly and ask him for clarification.

In his defence, Bishop Michael’s comment about mothers was part of a much wider consideration of the various causes of the decline of Christianity in Britain. He based his presentation on sociological research that shows a correlation between the decline of feminine piety and family and the decline of Christianity. He stated: “the changing role of women, their co-option into male patterns of work (rather than those which suited them), the loss of feminine piety, etc have all contributed to that decline.” He also applauded women for having upheld Christianity in the past and regretted cultural developments that have made it more difficult for many women today. Bishop Michael insisted that he wasn’t blaming anyone, and that the point he was making was to learn lessons for Christian renewal.

So, is the Bishop right? Are mothers partly to blame for the demise of Christianity in Britain? The sociological research that he is referring to explores the metamorphosis of British culture in the ‘swinging 60s’. It is true to say that the role of women has changed beyond recognition over the past 60 years and that families are considerably more likely to be ‘broken’ now. However, correlation does not equal causation.

My husband comes from a ‘broken’ family and my mother-in-law worked full time from his infancy, while my mother was a stay-at-home mum and my parents are still married. We have both been brought up in the Christian faith and still profess a faith now. The 60s may have been the beginning of a steep rise in working mothers, but it was also was the point of a steep rise in hedonism and consumerism. Somewhere along the line the church lost its credibility as the source of British morals and people chose something else instead of Christianity.

We could debate for hours about what the exact cause is of the decline of Christianity in Britain but are we trying to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted? Comparing what happened to Christianity in the 60s and what is happening now is like comparing apples and pears.  As a millennial, a mother and the wife of a Church leader, I’m more interested in how Christianity speaks to a millennial culture.

Bishop Michael is, however, certainly right about two things. The first undisputable point he makes is that men are not off the hook. A culture of equality works both ways. Just as mothers can now be breadwinners, so can fathers be homemakers and that includes passing on faith. The second wise point that the Bishop makes is that time is not being spent passing on faith at home in many households and this is contributing to the demise of Christianity.

Thankfully, the Church is waking up to the fact that parents feel ill-equipped to share faith at home and over-rely on the children’s worker or minister as the primary source of faith education. More resources are appearing to encourage families in their walk with God at home. For some ideas of where to start, why not read Faith at Home? 

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