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?