Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Should Christians Marry Younger?

This entry is very long may be of no interest to my readers who are not Theists.

I usually catch some of Frank Pastore's show in the Los Angeles radio market. Pastore has a great show and I generally think he’s awesome. (Long story short: Pastore had a horrible childhood, was an atheist who scoffed at believers, became an MLB pitcher, had a career-ending injury, and became a Christian after being challenged by teammates. He got formal education that equipped him to talk intelligently about religion, philosophy, and politics.) On Tuesday's show, he was again talking about a concept I've heard him discuss before, because Dr. Al Mohler had been on "Focus on the Family" talking about it.

Here's the concept:

Christians should be raising children from birth with the expectation that they will marry at about ages 18-20, and the Church (Christians) should support such young newlyweds as they "grow into adulthood together".

Why? Because what we're doing now, which is telling our young people to complete their education, mature, and establish their careers before marrying at about ages 25 to 30, while we also are telling people to save sex for marriage (wink, wink) isn’t "working". It isn't working as evidenced by all of the shacking up, fornication, unwed pregnancies, and multiple "failed" relationships going on with "Christians"… which may, possibly, unthinkably, lead to the horrible abomination of.... men admiring pictures of nude women.

Okay, so I added that last part, but "porn use" is one of the problems cited with having people who are feeling raging hormones by age 13 wait 12 to 17 years to marry.

Mohler presents marriage as the expected norm in a way so as to portray the "gift of celibacy" that would allow a good Christian to stay unmarried as extremely rare. (Unfortunately, some men find that the "gift" of celibacy isn’t so rare in wives.) It could be taken in a way so that unmarried people are made to feel like something is wrong with them and they aren’t being good Christians, even if they aren’t fornicating.

Even lowering the age most Christians marry to 18 isn't going to eliminate the problem. As Mohler himself notes, people are growing physically/sexually mature at younger ages – currently by 13. Even if people do marry by 18, that still leaves five years of raging hormones. How many "Christian" children lose their virginity before 18? Would that number go down if they know they'll likely only have to wait until 18 rather than 25?

Things probably have gotten worse, but from what I hear some records indicate it was not rare at all in "the good ol' days", all the way back to the days of American Revolution, for women to be pregnant already when they married. And prostitutes have always had customers – many of them have been sons taken by their own fathers. And yes, people got married younger and divorce was less common… but that was in no small part because women were expected to obey their husbands and let them have ultimate control, husbands could beat their wives, and wives had a much harder time of getting a divorce, let alone one that would by anything but a disaster for them. Marriage "worked", except for women stuck with abusive or uncaring husbands unwilling to consider her desires. Certainly, things have gotten better in some respects. What has definitely gotten worse is that our culture is now accepting and celebrative of unwed pregnancy.

Yes, out-of-wedlock pregnancies are a problem, and STDs are a problem, as is fornication even when it doesn't lead to such pregnancies or doesn't spread STDs. But I don't buy the idea that any relationship between a man and woman that doesn't lead to marriage until death is a "failed" relationship. Nobody ever talks about friendships that are no longer active as being "failed friendships". I reject the idea that the only purpose for seeing someone is to marry that person. Dating or courting or whatever you do helps you to learn about yourself and how you interact with different personalities, and plus there is benefit to experiencing things (such as activities, recreation, entertainment) with someone else. (I do believe that if someone is looking for a spouse, they should stop dating someone once they know they couldn't marry them.)

Here's my biggest problem with "let's raise Christians to marry at 18". We have created a world in which that doesn't correlate to educational and career success, and a world in which children are financial liabilities instead of assets. If we expect one spouse to financially support the other as well as multiple children, that spouse is usually going to already be well on the way to achieving a successful career.

I do not follow Mohler closely, so perhaps his plan covers this, but doesn’t encouraging Christians to marry at age 18-20 essentially cede professions and positions that require higher education, especially advanced education, and a high investment of time, at least in the earlier stages, to non-Christians? Especially if we also condemn any kind of artificial contraception? The fact is, if someone marries and starts having children at 18, 19, or 20 instead of going to college immediately after high school and giving full-time attention to studies, odds are they are either not going to get a degree or are going to be delayed, often significantly, in getting a degree. It is (next to) impossible for someone to be a good spouse, a good parent, and give full-time attention to studies. My father-in-law did manage to go to an Ivy League university right after high school while marrying at 18 and having children immediately, and he went on become a doctor. But that marriage ended in divorce relatively soon, and he had a full scholarship. The workplace is also much different than it was 30, 40, or 50 years ago. Many jobs and careers require someone trying to get established to work long or odd hours, extra days, travel, frequently relocate, and engage in semi-social networking activities in mixed-sex situations. How many spouses are going to put up with that? What wife is going to be happy if her husband is never home, they are financially struggling, and he's spending a lot of time with female coworkers and potential clients?

Even a Christian boss is going to prefer someone with education and experience. Even a Christian client is going to prefer someone with more experience.

So here's what we'd be committing to if we adopted this model as the norm:

1. Mostly abandoning the fields of science, law, government, medicine, and any other that requires extensive education… to non-Christians.
2. Extensive involvement in private marital matters as we mentor younger, newlywed Christians as they "grow" into adulthood.
3. Financially supporting other married adults.
4. Having less money to give to churches, ministries, and missions.

Hey, I think it is better for newly married people to be internally financially independent, not living with parents, and not having to air their dirty laundry to family and friends in an effort to cope, and not having grandparents be the primary caregivers to children. But that's just me.

Yes, people get more set in their ways as they get older, and so they are less flexible. But that doesn't need to be a problem for marriage; people simply need to find someone with whom they are compatible. With technology, that has never been easier. Who wants to marry someone who is immature? I can’t help but think of the Christian relationship experts who say that the relationship stops advancing once sex is involved. They say this to point out that a dating relationship isn't going to get any socially deeper than it was when they started having sex; delaying sex is better for the relationship. So I ask – does the wedding ceremony matter more than having mature people in a mature relationship? Because let's say our Christian couple meets at 16 and married at 18. Are we to believe their relationship is automatically better and more advanced than a couple that met at age 27, started having sex with each other at 28, and married at 29? If a man stops maturing, or at least maturing in the relationship, the moment he gets sex, then isn't the 18-year-old married Christian man going to be stuck at age 18? Or is it different because he can leave a fornication situation at any time, but he can/t lave a marriage as easily? In reality, anyone can get a divorce for any reason. Do the legal/financial consequences of divorce make the difference?

Christians: Would you rather 1) all of our institutional and elected leaders, all of our movers and shakers, and our wealthy be non-Christians while just about all of our children marry as virgins, or 2) some positions of power and leadership be occupied by Christians and we continue with many of our children losing their virginity before they marry. You may like option 1, but how long will we be free to live a Christian life in any sense in such a culture? Sure, some people become Christians as adults, but how long would we even be free to evangelize and make disciples of the movers and shakers, or anyone else?

I'd rather my child fornicate because they married later rather than marry, as a virgin, the wrong person and otherwise stunt their growth because they married earlier. Those aren't the only options; they are just the likeliest ones. Fornication is definitely a sin, but it isn't the end of the world. I fornicated, and yes I know there were/are negative consequences, spiritual and otherwise, for having done so. But I never shacked up, I never got an STD, and as far as I can tell, there was never a pregnancy; I am now (generally) happily married, and my wife (my virgin bride) says she is so happy and has the life she's always wanted. Your mileage may vary, and I recognize that. But it is possible - that just because "Christian" youth are fornicating does not mean they must have all of the other baggage come along.

Sex is for marriage. I truly believe that. But I also believe that marriage is sacred and ought not to be entered into with the wrong person – more likely to happen when getting married young - or before both people are ready to get married. I have heard that "sex covers a lot of sins", meaning that if you're fornicating with someone, you are less likely to see that they aren't really the right person for you. There's a lot of truth in that. But isn't it also possible that someone could marry the wrong person or marry before they are ready because they were so horny and they didn't want to have sex outside of marriage? People should not allow themselves to be blinded either way.

So far, I am unconvinced that young marriage (and the socialization from the cradle to support it) is the answer to what ails us.

I know I have LDS readers and those in other "faith communities" in which members are known for marrying young. Maybe you can shed so light here on marrying young and still being successful. How is it accomplished?


  1. Good grief, Ken, you need to stick a health warning at the beginning of any post mentioning Al Mohler.

    Telling young Christian men that getting married will give them an outlet for their sexual passions is frankly irresponsible. Maybe it will, maybe it won't, who knows. Marriage and celibacy are NOT mutually exclusive outcomes, as evidenced by the large number of married celibate men out there (most of us probably). Personally, I'd rather be single. I wouldn't be getting any sex then either, but at least I wouldn't have to put up with all the other crap that goes with being married.

  2. I hear ya, Peter. I think part of the idea is that girls would be raised with the socialization that they embrace their husband's sexuality and cater to it. But if we break it all down to the crudest and most basic core, men marry for sex, women for "security" (money). The law can and will enforce the latter, not the former. Would the Church have the will to enforce both? Or would it slip back into "he must not be doing enough for her- that justifies her sexual rejection of him"

    I know I'm not supposed to say this because it was sin, but in some ways I am thankful for my previous experiences, because some of those things my wife doesn't do, and I don't have to wonder, because I know. I don't have to burn with curiosity that goes unmet. Selfish of me? Well, denial on her part is also selfish.


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