Monthly Archives: August 2009

Delaying marriage: Is focusing on abstinence the problem?

Are abstinence-promoters enabling the culture of marrying later and later into our 20’s? And is marrying in the late 20’s a bad thing? Mark Regnerus answers yes and yes.

Christianity Today published “The Case for Early Marriage” by U. of Texas’ Mark Regnerus on July 31. Arguing that early marriage is the solution to the erosion of marriage, Regnerus takes on the establishment – nearly every establishment.

Regnerus notes that although early marriage is the number one predictor of divorce, this stat speaks for teen marriages, not young to mid- 20’s marriages. And, notably, age itself doesn’t cause divorce. He faces the potential problems of early marriage head-on, running through each and explaining how they are not so bad, or so inevitable, as they are represented: economic insecurity, immaturity, a poor match, marrying for sex, and unrealistic expectations.

Regnerus writes,

“the data from nearly every survey suggest that young Americans want to get married. Eventually… An increasing number of men and women, however, aren’t marrying. They want to. But it’s not happening. And yet in surveying this scene, many Christians continue to perceive a sexual crisis, not a marital one.”

Marriage ethics “have become a nebulous hodgepodge of pragmatic norms and romantic imperatives…But while marriage covenants are strengthened by romance, the latter has no particular loyalty to the former.”

That’s never been a more important message – while marriage is (beautifully) a relationship of romance, it means far more than that. Increasingly, marriage is viewed as a forum for self-fulfillment, not one of devotion and giving.

It’s now socially unacceptable to not wait for financial independence before marriage, and to not be highly skeptical about marrying the “right” person.

“As a result, many young adults sense that putting oneself in the trust of another person so soon may be foolish and risky. Many choose to wait out the risk—sometimes for years—to see how a relationship will fare before committing…Consequently, the focus of 20-somethings has become less about building mature relationships and fulfilling responsibilities, and more about enjoying oneself, traveling, and trying on identities and relationships. After all the fun, it will be time to settle down and get serious.

Most young Americans no longer think of marriage as a formative institution, but rather as the institution they enter once they think they are fully formed [Emphasis added].

So how does it all relate to abstinence? Regnerus concludes that promoting abstinence enables the culture of postponing marriage, especially in religious communities. While promoting abstinence is by no means a bad idea, promoting marriage – young marriage – should not be devalued. In fact, marriage, not abstinence, should be the focus when it comes to speaking about relationships.

“In an environment where parents and peers are encouraging them to delay thoughts of marriage, I’m not surprised that their [young adult’s] sexuality remains difficult to suppress and the source of considerable angst. We would do well to recognize some of these relationships for what they are: marriages in the making. If a young couple displays maturity, faith, fidelity, a commitment to understanding marriage as a covenant, and a sense of realism about marriage, then it’s our duty—indeed, our pleasure—to help them expedite the part of marriage that involves public recognition and celebration of what God is already knitting together.”

(Check out Al Mohler’s response to the article, if you’re interested in reading more.)

The social trend of pushing the median marriage age into the late 20’s may be doing far more harm than good.

So whether you’re religious or not, maybe we can think twice about balking at early marriages. I have peers, especially religious peeps, from the good old Pacific Northwest, who are getting married left and right. In a sense, it’s a bit offputting to me. “Finish college, for heaven’s sake!” I’m thinking. But pumping up people about abstinence loses its meaning if we forget that marriage is the ultimate end…and not always an end years and years away.

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