Why the case for early marriage worries me

by Kristin on August 17, 2009

in Belief, doubt & hope

Photo by Ha-Wee

The Case for Early Marriage: Amid our purity pledges and attempts to make chastity hip, we forgot to teach young Christians how to tie the knot.

Just seeing the words “The Case for Early Marriage” on the Christianity Today website caused me to seize up inside. It was an automatic physiological response—the bodily equivalent to shouting “Oh no!”

After all, Jason and I have both determined that marrying our first spouses too young is at the heart of why those marriages failed. We’ve had many long discussions about how our beliefs, families and church communities led us—directly or indirectly—into marriage (at age 22 for me and my first husband, 20 for Jason and his first wife).

We’ve spent even more time talking about how we want our three daughters to understand their sexuality, relationships, and eventually marriage. And although we’re not quite sure how we’ll communicate the message, we’ve decided that waiting to get married (loosely defined as some time after 25) is more important than waiting to have sex. (I wrote about this in more detail in the post Politics, religion & sex.)

Now a Christian author and thinker is blatantly encouraging people to get married at a younger age? Even more so than the church already does? It’s alarming.

There isn’t a formula for love and happiness

I can agree with certain things the article’s author, Mark Regnerus, says. “The [abstinence] message [of the church] must change,” he writes. I agree. Regnerus also suggests that the church has placed too much focus on sex—on not having it, to be exact. I agree with that, too.

I just don’t agree with where he takes the argument from there—to a case for earlier marriages. And I can’t wrap my head around how encouraging Christians to marry younger, as a rule, will help anything or anyone.

Is there any real evidence that marrying at a young age is the key to happiness, any more than waiting until marriage to have sex? And are those Christians who marry in their 30s after having sex doomed to a train wreck of a marriage and sex life? Hardly. It absolutely all depends on the two people in question. Period.

Am I devoting too much energy to the wrong issue?

But as I thought through all my protestations and logical arguments and better approaches, I kept returning to the same elemental question:

How and when did the church decide to elevate certain issues above others?

Is it because, as sinful behaviors go, sex is more black and white? You either have it or you don’t; you’re either married to that person or you aren’t? Alcoholism and porn addiction, on the other hand, can be trickier to pinpoint. How can you be sure when those lines have been crossed?

If you think those sins are fuzzy, what about these: Pride, anger, greed, an unforgiving heart, and placing “other gods before you.” Those fall into categories so thick with grey, soupy fog, you can’t begin to see clearly. So maybe the church feels it’s just easier to put those things on the back burner and elevate the “big,” obvious sins.

Shifting the focus from sex and early marriage to love and compassion

All of these thoughts lead me to a followup question: What are we ignoring while we’re in the process of spending so much time and energy focused on these few particular issues?

What would the world look like, for instance, if the church spent as much time teaching our teenagers to love others with compassion, as we spend pounding the “no-sex-outside-of-marriage” message into their heads? What if we, as parents, spent more time guiding our children on the journey of discovering who God created them to be, and less time telling them what the Bible says they’re not supposed to do?

What would marriages look like if churches began honestly addressing the many, varied ways we sin against one another within marriage, rather than only focusing on those sins that take place outside of legal marriage?

Which ultimately leads me to wonder this: What did/does Jesus want most for us? To be compassionate and merciful? To forgive freely? To love our neighbors as ourselves, and to love God?  And if we focused more on those things, would everything else—healthy, fulfilling sex and relationships included—fall more organically into place, as God intended?

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  • Gary

    Sooooo happy you wrote tis – ere’smy thoughts

    Mark Regnerus has no clue what he is talking about. This is the continuation of a weak man justifying his own downfalls. Are you having sex outside of marriage? Its wrong. Also, it makes you a weak boy if you you can’t resist. MEN do what boys cannot. I am 22 i have been dating for 4 of the past five years. Two wonderful women, two serious relationships. One for two years, and the current relationship for almost two years. I am sexually attracted and tempted by the women I date. But you know what? I DON’T HAVE SEX WITH THEM. It isn’t THAT hard…if you can control yourself like a human being.
    Women – if there are no guys in your church that you can date without being pressured to date – leave your church – cause you go to a church full of losers.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Gary, thanks for your comment. I really respect what you’re saying about choosing to resist sex in the face of temptation, but I would hesitate to say that people who don’t resist are weak (or losers). I think they’re simply making different choices based on different priorities.

  • Gary

    You know what, you are right – I should have worded that different…men who PRESSURE their girlfriends/fiances/whatever to have sex with them are losers. Sorry bout that!

    (it is my personal opinion that a true Christian who opts for premarital sex is weak in that moment (I understand why you would disagree though, believe me I am no where NEAR perfect, but I think this article was more justification than explanation.))

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  • jon

    iI would like to know why is it so intristic for muslim men to have young unde-age brides? what fulfilment if any can be actually derived from such a sordid union? what is governments doingfor these young girls, who seem to have no way out?

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  • http://amberRobinson.com Amber

    I really liked Kristin’ word “formula”. We have to be careful in the church of deriving any formula that is extra-Biblical – such as marrying late is the way to go, or let’s all marry young. Sometimes I think we forget that Jesus in the flesh was a single dude with no children…but I digress.

    Each person who was in the Hebrews 11 “Hall of Fame of Faith” had their own journeys and completely different life stages/situations.

    Let’s celebrate what God’s doing in each others’ lives not comparing, copying, or conforming to anything less.

  • http://jenniferluitwieler.com Jennifer

    I’ve come back to this post because I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Wish upon a star for time and place to talk about this with you in person. I need some good girl talk with you.

  • http://joysthoughtsonstuff.wordpress.com Joy F

    Thank you so much for writing this! I attended a Christian college and watched friend after friend after friend get married while I was there. I lost several roommates as they moved out and got married. But something about the whole thing worried me and at the time (at the wise old age of 18-20 while I attended that school) something just didn’t sit right. I moved on, through BA to MA to a career……and felt the pressure from friends at church, and in other Christian circles to settle down and get married was really hard to deal with. I was living my life in pursuit of my dreams and until later, those dreams didn’t take me the traditional route.

    When my husband and I got married (I was 27) I overheard people talking “I thought she would never get married! They better work on those kids right away!” We didn’t of course, but many things people said bothered me. People wondered since we must be “used to being single and set in our ways” (again 27?) how the marriage would work……

    If this was back in like the eighties or seventies, I guess this would be more normal. But we got married in 2007. I’m 31 now, and have recently watched a slew of my friends get divorced. Couple after couple……the very same people who told me I had issues before. They are all now saying it is because of getting married too young…..it makes me stop and wonder.

    Why does the church condone it – push it I should say? Isn’t a mistake with premarital sex better than a divorce emotionally for those people? How many people get married for the wrong reasons when they are too young? Why does the church push the idea that a single woman alone is not a full person yet – that life starts with marriage? I personally wouldn’t have traded those single years (short though they were, again I was only 27) for anything. I grew, traveled, experienced things, worked, succeeded……I was just as much a person single as I am married. And just because we are in our thirties and don’t have kids doesn’t mean its impossible, or that we are any less people…..why is this the sum of our existence?

    Even now, I sit in church and they excitedly announce the next young couple who has gotten engaged and a part of me is very concerned. When they are younger than 25, I can’t help but wonder…….what kind of message is this sending? Will they make it? But those are opinions that are voiced behind closed doors and in secret, among those of us that bucked the trend and waited to get married and are so very glad we did. Yet the church as a whole brushes off those concerns. God ordained marriage after all. How could a marriage between tow Christians possibly end badly?

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  • Jim K

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned is the higher divorce rate among born again and specifically Baptist christians. There have been multiple studies that show that more conservative denominations push early marriage and abstinence until marriage. This causes a higher divorce rate as people marry for the wrong reasons. See Why Do Baptists Have Such a High Divorce Rate? – Beliefnet.com http://j.mp/KAacJG

    Part of this may also be temptation from the secular world but then if that were the case wouldn’t worldly people have higher rates.

  • MirandaLynn

    What about what The Bible says about fornication? Does that not matter to you? Do you really want your daughters to be fornicating with boys rather than fall in love, get married, have sex with their husband only and do life according to God’s standard?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003645695601 Mallory Pickering

    Maybe it doesn’t have to do with age as much as expectations, maturity, etc. People used to get married at 13 and stay married for life. I think it has to do with mindset.