MADISON — In three lectures given surrounding the St. Thérèse of Lisieux Lecture Series on October 23 and 24 in Madison, W. Bradford Wilcox discussed the effects of the sexual revolution on marriage, the family, and society.
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Wilcox, a Catholic and a sociologist and professor at the University of Virginia, spoke at Edgewood College on October 23 on the topic “Suffer the Little Children: The Sexual Revolution, Child Well Being, and Poverty.” On October 24 he spoke in the morning at a breakfast talk for pastors, marriage preparation facilitators, Natural Family Planning teachers, and lay leaders on “Why Marriage Matters,” and to yet another different crowd that evening on “The Facts of Life and Marriage: Social Science and the Vindication of Christian Moral Teaching” for the fall lecture in the twice-annual Diocese of Madison St. Thérèse of Lisieux Lecture Series.
“The common thread (in these talks) is recognizing that family plays a foundational role in advancing the welfare of children — in particular, that marriage advances the welfare of kids by dramatically increasing the odds that the dads that helped bring kids into the world are there to help raise the kids, support the kids, and love the kids,” Wilcox said in an interview with the Catholic Herald October 24.
“The question becomes what are the factors that have undercut the health of marriage in our society in the last half-century,” he said. “I think any honest sociologist would acknowledge that the sexual revolution in general and contraception, in particular, has played some role in weakening the role of marriage in our society since the 1960s.”
Approaching a tipping point
Hear and Learn More
For more resources for individuals and the clergy on Humanae Vitae and this year’s 40th anniversary,
go to www.madisondiocese.org/HV40/
DVDs of the talks with Bradford Wilcox will also be made available to the general public. Contact Marie Lins for more
information at 608-821-3160.
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By “sexual revolution,” Wilcox speaks of the way in which society ceased to connect sex to marriage, both at the individual level and the societal level. He said that there are many factors that had an influence on that rise, but at the same time, he acknowledged that every society goes through cycles, where a more permissive view of sex becomes either excused or permitted, and then a reaction sets in to restrain it.
“I think some of the excesses have been reigned in,” Wilcox said of the current state of society. Teenage sex has declined modestly since the 80s, and attitudes toward premarital sex are slightly more conservative.
“But at the same time, popular culture is certainly not becoming any more marriage-centered in relation to sex, and non-marital childbearing continues to increase,” he said. “I think, though, potentially, we’re at a tipping point, where we could turn a corner.”
While these trends may seem overwhelming, Wilcox said that there is cause for hope in our culture and there are things individuals can do.
“I think one of the positive outworkings of all this is that the Catholic Church and other religious institutions have had to revisit their whole understanding of and whole approach to marriage,” Wilcox said. “As a consequence, they have been better articulating how they view marriage and why it’s important. This is a teachable moment, in some ways, both for the Church and for individual families.
“Parents need to be the primary educators of their children in family life — they need to teach their kids about marriage and family and sex, and help form their kids and be good models to their family and their neighbors and their friends,” Wilcox said.
“People with the vocation to married life have to see it as a vocation, as a calling, and they are called to witness that, first and foremost, to their spouse, second to their children, and thirdly to their friends, family members, and neighbors,” he said. “We need that now more than ever. We need families that really witness to the Gospel in the context of marriages and their paternal and maternal relationships.”
Using a focus on social justice
“If we really care about social justice, we need to attend to what happens in the home,” Wilcox said.
However, he said, in the past 30 to 40 years there has been a split in the Church between the different approaches, one focusing on the other more economic issues of social justice, and the more “traditional” camp concerned with marriage and abortion. But to address the problems, there must be a greater sense of unity.
“The health of the family is integrally related to the welfare of our society’s most vulnerable members: the poor, African Americans, children,” Wilcox said. “I think the social justice wing of the Church needs to attend to the ways in which strong families help those they’re more concerned with.”
But he also added that the social breakdown of the family is more likely to be found among the poor and working class Americans. “So I think, also, that the more traditional wing needs to recognize the economic and social challenges facing people at the bottom end of the socioeconomic ladder, so we also need public policies that will address those economic realities.
“In a sense, part of the idea is to encourage both wings of the Church to do more talking to one another and to recognize that they both have things they bring to the table,” he said.
Success of the talks
The three talks by Wilcox were a success, said Jessica Smith, diocesan coordinator of Natural Family Planning. The Edgewood lecture drew about 90 people and the St. Thérèse of Lisieux lecture saw about 150 attendees.
“This year is the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, and we wanted to focus not only on that anniversary, but also on this speaker,” Smith said.