|dc.description.abstract||Largely as a result of the breakdown of nuclear families in Western society, rates of fatherlessness are increasing. The purpose of this research is to investigate what impact growing up with an absent or dysfunctional father has on faith development and the perception of God. Although there is a large body of scholarly material which addresses the influence of one’s father on the perception of God, there is no consensus as to how this influence is exhibited. Nor has there been any significant inquiry into the impact of fatherlessness on faith development specifically. Researchers have tended to ground their investigations in the contradictory views of either Attachment Theory or Projection Theory and then find support within their research for whichever developmental perspective they sought to prove. Attachment Theory suggests that in reaction to an absent father a child may exhibit a compensation response, perceiving God to be a perfect father figure and an attachment substitute. Conversely, Projection Theory posits that a negative perception of father will result in the child demonstrating a correspondence response and transmitting these negative feelings onto their view of God. This research investigates the impact of fatherlessness on the image of God as Father and seeks to demonstrate the existence of both compensation and correspondence responses within a fatherless population.
Quantitative surveys were collected from 505 respondents in seven separate church congregations of various denominations in the greater Waikato region. Additional qualitative information was collected from an open ended question on the survey form and by interviewing three survey participants as representatives of key population groups. By analysing the participants’ perceptions of their father and their comparable perceptions of God, I was able to identify similarities and differences in their answers and distinguish correspondence and compensation responses.
Although I found strong support for Attachment Theory in the fatherless population, with 49.4% of those who were fatherless demonstrating a compensation response, the most significant influencing factor on the perception of God was a negative perception of father. Respondents with a negative perception of father, whether fatherless or not, had a higher rate of compensation responses (61.1%) and viewed God as more distant and less nurturing, involved, or accepting than did participants with a positive view of father. Despite the strong evidence of attachment substitution amongst those with a negative perception of father, lower overall scores for attributes of God and larger standard deviations in those scores suggested that some who were affected by an absent or dysfunctional father exhibited a correspondence response. This was further reinforced by the interviews and the comments written on the survey forms, which suggest that although some of those affected by fatherlessness may naturally demonstrate a compensation or correspondence response, others’ responses may change over time. It appears that some may begin by transferring a negative perception of father onto their image of God, but as their faith develops, evolves, and matures, they may come to view God as the perfect Father they had lacked. The thesis concludes with a discussion of some of the implications of this research for congregational ministry.||