Redefining Christian Marriage

A new Christianity Today article authored by Dr. Mark Regnerus (author of Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers) and titled The Case for Early Marriage examines current Christian thinkings on premarital chastity and marriage. You can read the entire article here. Here are a few thought provoking excerpts:
"Sex will be so much better if you wait until your wedding night," they urged. If we could hold out, they said, it would be worth it. The sheer glory of consummation would knock our socks off.

Such is the prevailing discourse of abstinence culture in contemporary American evangelicalism. It might sound like I devalue abstinence. I don't. The problem is that not all abstainers end up happy or go on to the great sex lives they were promised. Nor do all indulgers become miserable or marital train wrecks. More simply, however, I have found that few evangelicals accomplish what their pastors and parents wanted them to.

Indeed, over 90 percent of American adults experience sexual intercourse before marrying. The percentage of evangelicals who do so is not much lower. In a nationally representative study of young adults, just under 80 percent of unmarried, church-going, conservative Protestants who are currently dating someone are having sex of some sort. I'm certainly not suggesting that they cannot abstain. I'm suggesting that in the domain of sex, most of them don't and won't.
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.
For all the heated talk and contested referendums about defending marriage against attempts to legally redefine it, the church has already ceded plenty of intellectual ground in its marriage-mindedness.
That last excerpt got me to thinking about how Christian marriage has changed in a short period of time. I think that many things have weighed into this change:
  1. Women: During World War II women entered the workforce in large numbers to back-fill positions left open when their male counterparts entered military service. In the 1960s the feminist movement picked up steam and changed the way that all people looked at women in the workplace.
  2. Men: With the rise of women in the workplace men also began to see their roles in society differently. Their image of fathering changed.. their desire to have a family seemed to be less important.. and the maturity level with regard to marriage commitment seemed to be different.
  3. Family: As goals around careers changed the notion of having children in your twenties seem to be pushed back to having kids in your thirties.. both my children were born when I was in my thirties.. it was pretty normal then and even more so now.
  4. Culture: The roles of women, men and families have changed our culture. The drive to wealth and success have somewhat redefined marital priorities. Large families seem to be very rare even amongst Christians. The difference between Christian and secularists are somewhat indistinguishable in these areas.
When I think about how many folks in America are trying to redefine marriage I just have to wonder if that is simply not as much of a redefinition as we have already experienced. The place that we are in today is so much different than where marriage was when I was young.. both inside and outside of Christianity.

What do you think.. about premarital chastity and about how marriage has been redefined? Does Dr. Regnerus' thoughts resonate with you about the relationship between chastity and waiting to get married?


  1. Great article and good insights you share at the bottom. I think today its become common for people to wait till their 40's to have children (which explains why so many couples need IVF and multiple births seem to be much more frequent. I see twins and triplets all the time now when years ago it seemed like a rare thing). Biologically women's bodies are at their peak for childbirth in their twenties but it seems so young to have kids these days....interesting.

    As far as abstinense. Sure its a great idea, I remember telling Keven that having sex before marriage was like sneaking to open a Christmas present before Christmas day, he would still like the gift but it would be a disappointment to him when Christmas Day came and he already knew what the gift was. I don't know if that was a good analogy - and it didn't work.

    I think the church would be better off teaching love, respect and responsibility rather than making sex the big huge number one sin a teen can commit because most of them are going to do it. Why add guilt on top of it? Its just human nature and the sexual urges are some of the strongest to immature couple barely stands a chance against it.

    Just my thoughts. No one ever told me to wait...but I know that if they would have I would not have listened.

  2. Barbara, I love this: I think the church would be better off teaching love, respect and responsibility rather than making sex the big huge number one sin a teen can commit because most of them are going to do it.

    Also, I think "waiting" leads to not really considering the important character issues in your mate. So much premarital energy is spent on NOT having sex instead of assessing the other person's worthiness as a mate.

    I regret abstaining until marriage.

  3. Without a doubt waiting is the best thing to do.

    Women entering the work place have changed the idea that women need a man to take care of her.

    Women can now walk away from abusive men and they have more strength to do so.

    Having sex seems to be an ok thing these days. I know friends have asked me if I am now that I'm single. When I tell them NO they look a bit shocked.

  4. Complex subject, Bob. And sensitive to boot.

    I think Dr. Regnerus is recommending treating the symptom rather than the disease. I hear the same kinds of arguments from my son for legalizing marijuana. The arguments are logical, and almost compelling, but they miss the point. The point is that Americans have no idea how to live with pain or boredom.

    If 50% of marriages fail, then 25% of Americans must not be ready for marriage. My personal, non-scientific, self-selecting survey seems to say most marriages end because one decent person married one narcissist - one person who felt entitled to a life of constant entertainment. When the decent partner was no longer able to provide sufficient entertainment, the narcissist grew bored/abusive/distant/addicted/whatever and the marriage became doomed.

    Marry sooner? Sure. I'm all for it. Have sex sooner and marry later? That will almost certainly help reduce divorce stats, but it's not the way humans were built to function. Let's fix the problem instead of the symptom.

  5. Apart from a great awakening how do you propose to fix the problems of narcissism and entitlement Kevin?

  6. I think that most people have not had enough time and enough experience (life) before they are 25 or maybe 30 years old to be adequately mature for marriage and parenthood.

    Sexual compatibility is important to the success of a marriage. If a couple is sexually incompatible, one or both of them will be disatisfied and the relationship, if they remain married, will be less in general because of it. I think we only find out what kind of partner we will be by being living together and I'm not limiting this to sex.

    Marriages do not last as long today as they did before the 1900's because our expectations of marriage were a lot different then than now. Marriage before the 1900's was less romantic and more practical. Today, we - men and women - all want a lot more than a safe home and enough to eat. Succeeding today is a lot more challenging but success is a lot more fulfilling.

  7. Hahaha. Fix narcissism? That's rich.

    No, I think we need to teach our kids to identify and avoid narcissists. Maybe a pre-sex checklist?

    1) I must be able to pay my bills, do my laundry, cook my food, eat plain food, live without video games/tv/movies/drugs/alcohol for extended periods of time and still consider life worth living.
    2) I must be able to live without a romantic attachment for an extended period and still consider life worth living.
    3) I must be able to give to those who cannot repay me without anyone needing to know it happened.
    4) I must have a network of relationships with peers, seniors, and juniors.
    5) After I am doing all that, then I will probably run into someone else who is doing all that. Then it's time to get married.

    It seems to me that if kids were started on doing all that at age 13 and younger, then maybe they'd be ready to marry at age 18 like in times past. Instead, we cater to our own bouts with boredom and our kids are happily chipped off the same old block. They are merely following in our footsteps.

  8. LOL Kevin.. I know a bunch of old people that strike out on all five of those.

    Do you think that marrying when you are 18 is a good idea? Would just one spouse go to college or should they both work? Seems that 18 year olds marrying might be a difficult experience if either of them has aspirations around a career.

    Guess I'd like to see you flesh that young marriage paradigm out a bit.

  9. I often wondered how my marriage would have been if I had of waited. I wish that I had of waited, but I didn't. We are doing just fine and have been married for 14 years. It has taken work on both of our parts. We have gone through hell at times, and had more great times together. We chose to stick it out and chose to love each other through the good and the bad. I don't think that whether we had sex before we were married had anything to do with it either. Other people are different though.

    Someone pointed out teaching the importance of relationships and that it is a heart issue. Not to just deal with the symptoms. I totally agree with that. I can't just tell my kids not to have sex until they are married, but I have to teach them that they need to value themselves and respect their bodies and the person that you fall inlove with and want to marry should do the same thing. My husband and I have to set the example on how a marriage is suppose to be. (I also want them to realize that people are not perfect and can make mistakes) I don't want to drill into their little minds, "Wait until you have sex!" That isn't why people should get married and that shouldn't be 80% of a marriage. I remember reading somewhere that sex should be around 20% of a marriage. I want my kids to want to wait, but that may not happen. The world will not come to an end if they don't.

    This was a good topic Bob!
    Have a great week!

  10. off topic, I can't read what you have typed out because it is in black letters on a black background. I had to highlight it to read it. (didn't know if you knew that or if it was just my computer)

  11. Yes, Bob. I know a bunch of people who strike out on those, too, but if they're succeeding at a marriage it's because they're not narcissists. The point isn't the checklist so much as believing other people exist and that their feelings are real and significant. Narcissists, at some core level, don't believe other people are fully real.

    Marrying young is easier now than it was 30 years ago. Back then, if you were going to go to college, that's what you did for four years. Recession aside, it's somewhat easier to hold down a part-time job, avoid getting pregnant, and "take classes." You don't hold a degree in the traditional 4 years, but doing it is an accepted life path these days.

    The thing that's much harder to do is find someone who believes in your right to have needs that interfere with their lives.

    The most helpful analogy I've found to understanding the modern take on marital commitment is playing the stock market. John buys a majority stake in Jane Doe at the altar. He's going to stick by that investment during the hard times just like people might stick by their Xerox stock during its downturns. But when it looks like Xerox is headed for bankruptcy, there's no point in holding it any longer, and when John quits believing Jane can bounce back to provide return on his investment, he's gone.

    We live in an age of warranties, upgrades, and satisfaction guaranteed. Marriage will succeed whenever two people both believe they're giving their lives to real people, and that their vow to give matters.

    BTW: Research indicates that Americans who marry before 23 statistically more likely to divorce and Americans who marry after 27 are statistically more likely to endure a distant marriage to a person with whom they never fully bonded. If I had to err in teaching my kids, I'd err toward them marrying too young, but we're all different.

  12. Sorry about the "black letters on a black background" problem.. don't think anyone else is having that problem.. unless they let me know :)

    I think I have to go with Joe's last paragraph Kevin.. even the stats you quote seem to agree.. marriage (and divorce) has changed been redefined.. wish it was more like it used to be.. but it just isn't.

  13. Joe says it rather politely. As women are treated less as chattel and become more economically independent, they are more likely to leave an unhappy marriage. In 1900, a woman was her husband's property in many real ways, so there were fewer divorces. An unattached (unowned) woman was severely disadvantaged, so leaving a bad marriage was rare.

    For that reason, a lower divorce rate cannot be the target.

    Still, I suspect the narcissist ratio was lower then than now due to the relatively harder life everyone shared. I believe there were more high quality marriages in the past. There may have been more bad marriages than the divorce stats show, but I'm sure there were more good marriages.

    That said, I still cannot accept that marriage itself "changed," though I agree culture has turned to weaker and weaker solutions. I just don't want to go with them.

  14. Good discussion here. Great points Kevin, something to teach my girls.

    I had my first child at 27 as did my Dad and his Dad. We're all the oldest child in our families too. The pressure's on for my oldest. :-D

  15. maybe the woman have just gotten hotter.

  16. Young marriage must be a hot topic.. here is an excerpt from a recent article:

    Couples like the Zumbruns are caught between two powerful forces — evangelical Christianity's abstinence culture, with its chastity balls and virginity pledges, and societal forces pushing average marriage ages deeper into the 20s.

  17. Barbara just read my mind. It's just that everything around us hypes sex in the wrong way which is why I think the church and everyone else should work doubly hard to fight this. The idea is to teach teens and young adults what sex really is; it is something that is sacred and should be done out of love and not out of lust within the confines of a marriage. Now how to effectively get that message across and inculcate it in the minds of young adults is the challenge. Church services, counseling and pre-marriage workshops is just the start but more really has to be done.

  18. I think that you meant to add that comment to this post Shannon.. I added it there for you. Thanks for sharing!


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