The Case for Early Marriage

Groom Well my wedding is now 2 days away, which means this is officially my last post until after the honeymoon! I will hopefully have a guest blogger posting while I am gone, so you can check back for that. In the mean time, I thought I would touch on a topic that is at the forefront of my mind: marriage.

Recently Christianity Today published an article entitled “The Case for Early Marriage” in which sociologist Mark Regerus explores the reasons behind such rampant pre-marital sex amidst evangelicalism (80% of church-going Christians, in fact!). Given how long young people are waiting to get married these days, Regenerus claims that it should come as no surprise. God created us in such a way that during our 20’s we are often at a sexual peak, yet a large percentage of Christians are not providing themselves with the God-given outlet for dealing with that drive.

To read the whole article, you can check it out here, but Al Mohler also posted a great blog in which he processed the implications of the article, which you can check out here. In his summary of the article, Mohler writes,

Regnerus understands that many evangelical parents and pastors are most likely to respond to this reality with the reflex mechanism of an even greater emphasis upon sexual abstinence. Nevertheless, the data reveal that the majority of evangelical young people — most of whom have been targeted for years with messages of sexual abstinence — are engaging in sexual intercourse before marriage.

Regnerus’s proposal is not to devalue sexual abstinence, but to address the fundamental issue of marriage. As he explains, “I’ve come to the conclusion that Christians have made much ado about sex but are becoming slow and lax about marriage — that more significant, enduring witness to Christ’s sacrificial love for his bride.”

In reality, American evangelicals are not “becoming slow and lax about marriage.” To the contrary, this is now a settled pattern across the evangelical landscape. Regnerus gets the facts straight, reporting that the median age at first marriage is now 26 for women and 28 for men — an increase of five years since 1970. As he notes, “That’s five additional, long years of peak sexual interest and fertility.” Though evangelical Christians are marrying at slightly earlier ages than other Americans, Regnerus correctly observes that this is “not by much.”

At this point, Regnerus delivers his bombshell:

Evangelicals tend to marry slightly earlier than other Americans, but not by much. Many of them plan to marry in their mid-20s.Yet waiting for sex until then feels far too long to most of them. And I am suggesting that when people wait until their mid-to-late 20s to marry, it is unreasonable to expect them to refrain from sex. It’s battling our Creator’s reproductive designs.

Now I find this conclusion to be absolutely fascinating. On one level, it makes total sense! The longer you wait the more you really are tempting fate, especially if you date multiple people or are engaged in long-term relationships.

The only problem is that most women I know aren’t exactly putting off marriage to the last possible second. Most Christian women would love to get married but don’t have the option. And Regenerus takes note of this saying,

There are about three single women for every two single men….If [a woman] decides to marry, one in three women has no choice but to marry down in terms of Christian maturity. Given this unfavorable ratio, and the plain fact that men are, on average, ready for sex earlier in relationships than women are, many young Christian women are being left with a dilemma: either commence a sexual relationship with a decent, marriage-minded man before she would prefer to—almost certainly before marriage—or risk the real possibility that, in holding out for a godly, chaste, uncommon man, she will wait a lot longer than she would like. Plenty will wait so long as to put their fertility in jeopardy. By that time, the pool of available men is hardly the cream of the crop—and rarely chaste.

Mohler adds to this point explaining,

Men often delay marriage believing that they can always marry when ever they are “ready.” Meanwhile, their evangelical sisters are often very ready for marriage, even as they watch their prospects for both marriage and fertility falling.

All of this points to the fact that the delay of marriage has far more to do with the patterns of life adopted by many, if not most, evangelical young men, rather than those chosen by young women. Yet, at the same time, the parents of both young men and young women can, by either intention or default, make it difficult for their children to marry.

So what’s a girl to do? Unfortunately neither Regenerus nor Mohler offer much short-term comfort for women who feel trapped in this situation, but they are stepping up and calling men to task, and there is some encouragement in that.

However, that leaves me with two nagging questions:

1. To all you single guys out there, do you really feel as though you or your Christian brothers are engaging in this delayed maturity, putting off marriage in an unnatural way? Honestly, I’m not sure if I know a lot of guys like that. Most of my single guy friends would love to get married, but just haven’t found the right girl yet. From the single girls’ perspectives it seems like you’re dragging your feet, but are you really?

2. OR, are you possibly being too picky? And that leads me to my second question–Is it wise or foolish to encourage early marriage? In a climate of such sweeping divorce rates, I’m not quite sure. Both Mohler and Regerus seem to believe that guys ARE being too picky, and that while marriage is indeed hard work, it’s still very doable with a solid Christian woman. The emphasis is less on marrying the right person and more on building a strong marital foundation. This struck me as somewhat foreign given the battle evangelicals having been waging in defense of the family. A teaching that urges young people to hurry up and get married seems almost irreconcilable with the enormous evangelical emphasis on prudence.

But then again, maybe it’s not. Perhaps one of the reasons so many marriages fail is because people are having sex before marriage. They are sealing habits of promiscuity and lack of self-control, habits that can altogether undermine a marriage. In pre-marital sex, young people are setting themselves up for all kinds of marital problems, regardless of whether or not they find that perfect person. Maybe that’s what Regenerus and Mohler are getting at.

That is a tough call to make, but I would be interested to hear your thoughts, especially from you guys out there.

And with that, I am signing off. The next time I post I will be Sharon Hodde Miller!