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The Case for Early Marriage

By August 6, 20094 Comments

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!


  • Interested says:

    I wonder if maybe part of what is leading to that pickiness is our culture’s concepts about falling in love. When you view a relationship as something that happens to you rather than something that you build, you end up waiting around and turning a lot of good people down because they “weren’t good enough” or letting them go because “it didn’t work out.” What if instead of waiting to *meet* the perfect person, we started trying to get to know the people we’ve already met? Maybe in the process of building those relationships, we might find out the people we’ve been waiting around for were really there all along.
    And I can’t help but wonder if this notion of forgetting that love is something that has to be built and worked at, rather than some kind of fate or chemistry, has something to do with the modern willingness to divorce, too.

  • Blake says:

    I’m being very picky, but only because I’ve seen first hand multiple times what happens when husbands and wives don’t share many of the same theological convictions. I’ll stay celebate the rest of my life before I’ll marry the “wrong” woman. Joshua Harris trained me well.

  • Anonymous says:

    Sharon, I think these are two very good questions, both of which hold validity. You are probably right in saying that a number of guys in the upper-20’s age group would love to get married. I think this “unnatural” putting off of marriage is probably not as uncommon as you think, though, even among those wanting to get married. I think men are sensing the call to leadership that is blaring loudly, and I think few are stepping up to the plate. Whether it be leadership within the church, a small group, or a family, I think that seeing the failures of prominent men in society (the church included) strikes a nerve in the minds of many men today. The fear of a failed marriage is very real, and if the man is supposedly the “leader” in the relationship, it can feel as though all the burden falls on him.

    Let me add that this is by no means a Biblical mindset to have. Men cannot go on fearing failure. If I were to live always in fear of failure, I would never leave my house (because I most certainly fail every day). Ultimately what is lacking is trust. Trust that God can and will call us into a relationship that is completely honoring to Him, and that, when entrusted to Him, will hold together until death. As men, we cannot put the burden of “holding it together” on ourselves because it is ultimately in Christ that all things hold together. And, as it pertains to our ability to lead in that role, we must relieve ourselves of that burden by recognizing it is again Him who must lead, not us, or else the marriage will be doomed. I guess the issue is “burden.” Men tend to put the burden of the “success” of the relationship on themselves, when that is not at all where it belongs. If we are indeed called into marriage by our loving Father, then we must know that He also promises to carry that burden for us. (This is the foundation issue you noted)

    It probably goes without repeating that we are too picky as well, finding fault in everyone but ourselves.

  • Adam says:

    1. Immaturity and delaying. To your first question, I have a similar perspective to yours. Guys aren’t consciously choosing immaturity and some perceived freedom. I know a lot of high quality guys who want to be married but aren’t. With many of them, I’ve had serious discussions about commitment to God and to women, and I’ve been consistently impressed by their striving to be mature, godly men. (They’d all be glad to meet the right girl too, so I’m just throwing that out there. 🙂

    Are we dragging our feet? I don’t think so. We’d prefer to drag our feet than flippantly date every girl at church. We’d rather wait and get to know a girl than just get our game on and date around a ton. We feel like we can get to know a girl well enough within a group context to decide whether we’d want to move into something more serious.

    2. Pickiness. This is a valid question that touches on a deeper issue. In my own life, I ask myself if I’m being too picky. I know a number of women whom I consider very godly, but while I respect them a ton, I know I have hang ups that keep me from really being interested. In those situations, the deeper question for me is, “If I choose to quit being so picky, am I ‘settling,’ or ‘choosing to be content’?”

    More than that, “In either case, am I being unfair to a girl if I’m not head-over-heels excited about her? If I feel like I’m settling, or ‘choosing contentment,’ is that devaluing her?” I feel like it is. This is a question that’s unresolved for me. Until it’s resolved, I would rather go slow and stay picky because that feels more honoring and honest toward a girl. Is there a better way to think about this?

    “Interested” and “Anonymous” both make good points. Christian guys definitely approach these relationships with a mindset more influenced by our surroundings than by Scripture. I’m among them. I wish I could snap my fingers and be more godly in how I evaluate relationships, but it’s not that easy.

    “Anonymous” – thanks for the pointing out that the success doesn’t stand and fall on my strength. I feel that pressure to heavily.

    I’m thinking about posting some further thoughts from a single guy’s about the CT articles in general in a few days.

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