Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Countercultural View of Marriage

In a blog committed to honesty about life, this needs to be said:  We should be encouraging Christian young people to get married sooner rather than later.

There is a fascinating and depressing article out that you can read here on that very issue. I'm not going to repeat it.  Instead, I offer the following to go with the article.

1) For most of human history, people got married young.  Sometimes it was out of economic necessity, or it was an arranged marriage or the brokering of a treaty.  I'm not saying it was always ideal.  I'm just saying that was the reality. In the past 100 years alone, the average age of marriage in men has risen two years for men and 4 years for women. 

2) The age of puberty is much younger now than it used to be.  In other words, children through most of human history were entering into sexual curiosity and maturity at a later date - sometimes much later.  There is a lot of speculation as to why girls in particular are entering puberty at increasingly young ages, (the average age is 9.7 years now) but nobody disagrees with the fact that they are.

3) Historically, the struggle for Christians who wanted to have sex but had no biblically appropriate way to express this urge was usually short-lived. In Bible times, women were entering puberty at 13-14 and boys at 14-15, and getting married usually before they were 20. True love did not have to wait long.

In other words, there was a biblically moral sexual outlet available for most people not long after the onset of sexual desire; the time required to stay focused on the "wife of your youth" (as Proverbs puts it for the men, with the corresponding "husband of your youth" for the women) was challenging but brief.

So fast forward to the 21st century, where the average age of puberty has now dropped to around 10 for girls, and pornography is available 24/7, and every song on the radio seems to celebrate the hook up culture, and our idols live a life on Jersey Shore that celebrates a mind-boggling amount of promiscuity, and the overall cultural message of "choice" permeates EVERYTHING, to the point that a postmodern generation has a very, very difficult time committing to anything, while at the same time being told they should experience everything.

And we, the church, say: "Wait as long as you want to get married!  Start a career. Follow your heart. Be sure you are financially ready. Date for years and years if you need to. Oh, and don't have sex or even mess around or watch anything with skin showing."

That's a terribly contradictory message. We have bought into the culture of choice, then wonder why our youth choose badly; we believe that self-determination and personal ambition is more important that commitment and self-sacrificial community, then wonder why people are so selfish; we have bought into the cultural lie that marriage stifles freedom and creativity, then wonder why no one wants to get married anymore; we have absorbed the mindset that the financial, physical and emotional drain of children can't possibly be a satisfactory replacement for the privilege of being adult adolescents, then wonder why our kids won't give us grandkids. We are so afraid that our children will marry badly that we encourage a life trajectory that ends just as badly more often than not.

My wife married me when she was 18. I was 21.  I wasn't out of college; we were broke and naive about a lot of things.  But our paren's said, "If you're going to get married, get married."  Good call.


  1. Fantastic blog by my friend and pastor, Anthony Weber on a counter-cultural view of marriage (and I completely agree). Exhibit A: Our daughter Emily married at age 19. We would never have agreed except she was extremely mature for her age, and she and Dan had already made very disciplined, principled decisions regarding their dating relationship. We knew theirs was a love for life. They are a mature, devoted couple, and the most wonderful, nurturing parents to their three year old daughter, Ella (and 2nd daughter due soon). They are also an excellent example to the young couples around them of what married life CAN be with maturity, a firm commitment, and the relational skills needed for healthy relationship and ever-deepening love.

  2. Relationship skills are so very important. It seems to me that is what is lacking these days, and is why so many marriages do not last. And having Christ in the marriage puts the extra solid foundation into the relationship. How is a grandparent (me) to respond to this need effectively?

  3. Good question. I think we need to encourage our churches and Christian leaders to preach and teach positively about marriage, commitment, maturity, and family. For example: we warn teens so much about how awful it would be to have a child before they are married; is it any surprise they are nervous about having kids? We should be talking about the beauty of children...and why we don't want to harm the experience by poor decisions. We need to talk about the beauty of putting down deep roots (commitment) instead of broad, shallow roots (experimentation). Etc....

  4. I am reading your blog because of a family circle letter I am in. I totally agree with what you have to say about teaching our youth about love and marriage and Judaeo-Christain ethics. Many of us older adults do not realize what beliefs are beings instilled in our young of today. I am glad there are pastors like you for our youth.

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  6. Wow! I'm getting into this pretty late, so maybe the discussion is dead...

    I think young men of this generation are failing to engage in this stage of a relationship not out of a lack of desire, but because of a struggle of conscience. It seems to me (based on my interactions) that many of the young women of the church feel ready and anxious for marriage, and in many respects, so are the young men. But as a man stepping into a role as the leader in a relationship and ultimately a household, there is a lot of importance in having your life in order. When I say order I don't mean financially or vocationally (which are pressures we can expect from our culture... and sometimes the church), but sexually in order as well.

    Now, this may seem like an odd tie in, but I had a conversation with a man in his 30's from my church about a month ago. He remarked that he had committed to sexual purity when he was in high school. Earlier in the conversation he had menitoned that he had never been exposed to the internet until he was in his senior year of college. The two comments seemed unrelated until it occurred to me how new the internet is to our culture.

    Before the internet age, pornography was something you had to think about and purposefully go out in search for. Now, with the internet, it's difficult to avoid. And with internet streaming nearly everywhere via laptops, iPhones and other mobile devises, once you're hooked it's even harder to stay away from. I think we are seeing the effects of the first generation to ever have 24/7 access to anything anywhere. I think pornography has a firm hold on the young men in the church, in particular those who have been brought up with these new medias, to an extent we don't realize. As this is really the first generation to be brought up with these new medias, I think the average age of marriage will be even higher in the coming years as young men will struggle even longer with these issues.

    But what about the young women... the ones who are looking to be loved and wanted? I think we have a generation of young women who are becoming desperate for relationships, which is only further reinforced by a culture that says your relationship status defines you. So we have young women who settle, marrying unbelievers and having sex outside of marriage in an effort to feel desirable.

    I'm sure there is a lot more to the problem that this, but I thought it was worth bringing up.

  7. Ryan, I agree - the availability of pornography has become a game changer in a lot of ways. Not only is there an availability of sex (a shallow facsimile to be sure), but there are the accompanying lessons we learn about sex, relationships and love. What should women be like? How should men treat them? What makes a woman desirable, and what makes a man manly? The questions are increasingly answered from a media template, and porn is one of the most profitable platforms. These questions don't get answered well when that happens.