Early Marriage

Links Aug 03, 2009

Al Mohler is making the case for early marriage., spinning off an article by Mark Regnerus in Friday’s Christianity Today.

Mohler’s article concludes,

The biblical case for early marriage is even stronger than Regnerus indicates. Our bodies are not evolutionary accidents, and God reveals his intention for humanity through the gifts of sexual maturation, fertility, and sexual desire. As men and women, we are made for marriage. As Christians, those not called to celibacy are called to demonstrate our discipleship through honoring the Creator’s intention by directing sexual desire and reproductive capacity into a commitment to marriage. Marriage is the central crucible for accepting and fulfilling the adult responsibilities of work, parenthood, and the full acceptance of mature responsibilities.

Mark Regnerus certainly drives the point home when he argues that “when people wait until their mid-to-late 20s to marry, it is unreasonable to expect them to refrain from sex.” Nevertheless, Christians are called to a moral standard that, by any secular standard, it is profoundly unreasonable. I would prefer to argue that the delay of marriage is unwise, not only because of the demonstrated risk of sexual immorality, but because of the loss of so much God gives to us in marriage.

At the end of the day, the most important fact about this article is that it appears as a cover story for Christianity Today. In that sense, the cover has been blown when it comes to thecrisis of evangelical young people and the delay of marriage. It’s about time.

A couple of points.

1. I know there’s a very good chance this post will bring out the dating/courtship trolls. Just a reminder, I moderate all comments for just such occasions.

2. I have been saying for at least a year that constant discussions about sexual purity do not create sexual purity. Regnerus writes,

Virginity pledges. Chastity balls. Courtship. Side hugs. Guarding your heart. Evangelical discourse on sex is more conservative than I’ve ever seen it. Parents and pastors and youth group leaders told us not to do it before we got married. Why? Because the Bible says so. Yet that simple message didn’t go very far in shaping our sexual decision-making.

Last year, I had at least two class periods (in two completely different classes) and a reading assignment dedicated to the topic of sexual purity. Apparently, the well-known teaching technique of teaching from a positive has yet to trickle down to the well-intentioned Ministers of the Gospel of Purity.

3. I agree with both Mohler and Regnerus: change the subject. Regnerus argues,

What to do? Intensify the abstinence message even more? No. It won’t work. The message must change, because our preoccupation with sex has unwittingly turned our attention away from the damage that Americans—including evangelicals—are doing to the institution of marriage by discouraging it and delaying it.

Siding with Regnerus means I must concede (however reluctantly) that if you shift the discussion from purity to marriage, you will get early marriages. I’m a late marriage guy. I have been for a long time. but I would much prefer a cultural of young-marrieds than old-singles. A preference on my part, to be sure, but consider the social atmosphere that each culture creates.

4. Before we leave this subject, we have to give a shout-out to the plight of our young ladies. Regnerus writes,

Unfortunately, American evangelicals have another demographic concern: The ratio of devoutly Christian young women to men is far from even. Among evangelical churchgoers, there are about three single women for every two single men. This is the elephant in the corner of almost every congregation—a shortage of young Christian men.

Try counting singles in your congregation next Sunday. Evangelicals make much of avoiding being unequally yoked, but the fact that there are far more spiritually mature young women out there than men makes this bit of advice difficult to follow. No congregational program or men’s retreat in the Rocky Mountains will solve this. If she decides to marry, one in three women has no choice but to marry down in terms of Christian maturity. Many of the hopeful ones wait, watching their late 20s and early 30s arrive with no husband. When the persistent longing turns to deep disappointment, some decide that they didn’t really want to marry after all.

[…] I know, I know: God has someone in mind for them, and it’s just a matter of time before they meet. God does work miracles. But the fact remains that there just aren’t as many serious Christian young men as there are women, and the men know it.

That last phrase, “…and the men know it.” is going to haunt me for quite some time.

Taking another swipe at my peers, Regnerus continues,

As a result, many men postpone growing up. Even their workplace performance is suffering: earnings for 25- to 34-year-old men have fallen by 20 percent since 1971, even after accounting for inflation. No wonder young women marry men who are on average at least two years older than they. Unfortunately, a key developmental institution for men—marriage—is the very thing being postponed, thus perpetuating their adolescence.

This men-are-boys drum has been sounding for a very long time. A handful of people are trying to do something about it (rather than diagnosis it again). Most recently “Fight Club”.

Telling men they’re not getting married because they’re all a bunch of babies “isn’t exactly a page out of Dale Carnegie” (to quote The West Wing). But that doesn’t mean it’s false. Still, another question worth asking is, what is an attractive women to men who are spiritually mature? This an espeically interesting query since I recently re-watched “Return of the Daughters” (Don’t ask).

All of these points are much bigger issues than I have time to take up right now. But I hope it will find them as challenging for you personally and intellectually as they have been for me.

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