April 25, 2014
By: Avery Pettway, MARRI Intern
Joshua Kelsey, MARRI Intern
The “2014 State of Dating in America” study, conducted by ChristianMingle and JDate, examines the dating behavior of Christian young adults. The study’s most ominous finding is the rapidly growing Christian acceptance of sex outside of marriage. When asked if they would have sex before marriage, 63% of Christian young adults answered yes, and only 13% said no. When asked how far into the relationship it was acceptable for the couple to move in together, 27% said after six months of dating, 30% said after a year of dating, and only 13% said it was only acceptable after marriage.
This data does not describe the US population at large—this is the state of things within Christendom (or at least the Christendom according to Christian Mingle and JDate). With thoughts like this harbored in Christian minds throughout our land, it makes sense that marriage is falling apart in our country, divorce rates are remarkably high, and the definition of sexuality is in perpetual flux. Such research should shock and disturb Christians—the church, after all, ought to be the solution, not the problem. Our biblical roadmap shows us the way to joyously hold out the single answer to how things work. Shouts of solutions, remedies and programs reverberate through our social conversation, but evidence of their success is grim. As Christians leave the voice of true reason (divine design), they will enter the age of parenting in the midst of moral and ideological chaos. What follows is that our next generation of children will be raised outside God’s paradigm—they will be the first generation, in theory, to have no background of stability. The current generation is rebelling against a standard they despise—the next generation won’t be rebels so much as followers of the new social norm.
How can we Christians who hope for cultural redemption fight chaotic societal trends when 63% of our own are captivated by the same trends? Christian leaders are frustrated, saddened, even angered, by the socio-sexual battle cries thundering against any righteous standard they uphold. The homosexual marriage movement is gaining ground, more children are born out of wedlock, and cohabitation is increasing — all working to undermine the bedrock of society, the family. We as Christians expect the unbelieving world to choose its own paths, to stray from God’s design. Throughout the ages, in varied cultural contexts, societies have turned towards sexual disobedience (among other kinds)—and, one by one, have fallen from splendor. We also know that God’s call to His own people is to turn from sexual immorality, to be set apart, and, most shiver-inducing of all: Be holy, for I am Holy. We adhere to His design for the sexual out of obedience to the Creator of sexuality. We adhere because…it works. Simply put, His design makes sense. He created sexuality, and therefore His way works.
And yet even self-proclaimed followers of God are so blind in the sexual arena. Society’s proposed sexual system only leads to chaos—first within family relationships, leading to breakdowns in the other key institutions. In what other context does society so energetically encourage actions that blatantly do not work? The family (and how sexuality is conducted within this framework) is the root of a functioning society, the stream feeding the tree that grows the branches of government, of economy, of education, etc. The United States will struggle to maintain any coherent identity or global presence if we continue on this road.
The people of God have always been the symbol of hope. In theory, we know what it is that works. This is where we mourn the most tragic part of our national story—Christians are following the tide. Those entrusted with the beautiful knowledge of how to grow a thriving society are putting such wisdom aside and stepping into chaos with the rest.
Many think that people leave the Faith and then become sexually promiscuous. But as the State of Dating in America study showed, this is simply not the case. An increasing many are maintaining their Christian title while adopting the cultural standards of their choice. We should not simply force our adolescents to sit in church pews. We must teach children of relational beauty, young people of sexual wholeness. We must reach out to the young Christian adults facing a sexually chaotic culture, come beside them, and help them discover true sexual order. We must seek to restore faithful zeal, but also to restore sexual clarity and obedience. We must, with care, ask sexuality and religion to lead each other hand-in-hand away from the pit that consumes them. Only then, when our own Christian culture has changed and sex is honored among us, can we have a hope at all of changing the secular culture and thus offering our nation a happy end.
April 4, 2014
By Pat Fagan, MARRI Senior Fellow
Joshua Kelsey, MARRI Intern
Patton argues that colleges harbor a great number of smart men, one only grows older after college, and it is generally a virtue for women to marry young. McGuire disagrees with Patton and uses data collected by The National Marriage Project’s “Knot Yet” Report to prove her point that women should wait until their late 20s and early 30s to get married, because the lower the age at marriage, the higher the risk of divorce.
The research does indeed show that women who get married before the age of 20 face a proposed divorce rate of 52 percent. It drops to 34 percent for women who get married between the ages of 20-23, and even lower to 14 percent for women ages 24-26. Women who get married between the ages of 27-29 have a 20 percent chance of divorce and women who are 30 years or older only have an 8 percent chance of divorce. Just looking at these percentages, one would agree that women should wait until they are approaching 30 to find a life partner.
However when one looks at the level of happiness within marriage another dimension comes forth:
The risk of divorce and the risk of unhappiness may not follow the same trajectory, according to the Knot Yet Report. Of women who marry before the age of 20, only 31 percent say they are very happily married. Forty-six percent of women married between the ages of 20-23 report that they are very happily married, and 49 percent of women married between the ages of 27-29 report the same. Forty-two percent of women who marry at 30 or older report being very happily married. But, remarkably, a significantly higher 66 percent of women who marry between the ages of 24-26 report that they are very happily married. No other age group even breaks 50 percent in the very happily married category.
So how are we to make sense of this data?
Looking at the divorce risk alone gives us the benefit of objective concrete reality. Happiness on the other hand is a subjective and fluid measure.
The benefit of younger marriage is that the couple can mold their characters together rather than individually, while they are still young and flexible. If they work at it, their virtues develop alongside each other and they learn to be more harmonious as they face the formative twenties with each other.
Many questions are left unasked in the Knot Yet report:
How chaste are they (a virtue with a big impact on marital stability); what are their intentions on children (are they family focused or self-focused as they go into marriage)? What is their education attainment and GPA? Hard work is a good indication of responsibility and dedication — qualities needed for a successful marriage.
Developing norms for marriage in our new mobile age is a much needed discourse and both McGuire and Patton contribute to the discussion. The data give us clues to behavior and behavior gives us clues to habits and virtue, but the data is still a fair distance removed from this last point: character. When a young man of great character marries a young woman of great character and they are both working on developing the necessary virtues (good habits) to make the other happy and to make family life better, then the chance of divorce is rather remote. Add in frequent prayer and worship (not addressed by the Knot Yet report) and divorce almost disappears. Add virginity at marriage and you have a totally different ball game. Add natural family planning rather than contraception and the game shifts even more. When were these the norms? What was marital stability like then? For those who choose to build a strong future (as opposed to pining for a distant past) the norms are the same.
Those who marry young will indeed face many hardships as the pieces of their lives continue to come together during their twenties, so the divorce risk makes sense. However, our goal is to encourage intact and happy-healthy marriage in our nation. Perhaps the answer is therefore to encourage young marriage…if four things are present:
1) Both man and woman are educated. Research shows the lower divorce risk for couples who have gone through the stabilizing and enriching experience of higher education (college degree).
2) Both man and woman have the virtue of chastity. Couples who are concerned with chastity—before and during marriage—tend to be dedicated to relational health, intactness, and service.
3) Both are people of regular prayer and worship.
4) The couple talks through, and agrees on, the functions of the five big tasks (institutions)—family, church, school, marketplace, and government. Marriage and parenting will be intertwined with these institutions, and conflict regarding them can quickly destabilize a marriage.
5) The man and woman come from healthy families. Such couples have working models for dealing with hardship and living for a greater good than self. If they don’t have such backgrounds, they must discuss the potential baggage and bad habits (of thought or feeling) that may encumber them.
If these five factors are in place, I suggest a couple should by all means marry young. Life is full of adversity—it is simply about which adversities to take on. The “adversity” of starting young is a natural good. If you have all these things going for you, then “Go for it”. Guys: she may be gone with someone else if you wait. Ladies: the same for you too. If a businessman comes across a really great deal does he wait? The great deal here is character. Does he have it? Does she?