Dr. Mark Regnerus, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas, published an interesting and provocative essay in the August edition of Christianity Today entitled, “The Case for Early Marriage.” It’s a thoughtful and challenging piece of work that’s likely to raise the ire on all sides of the ideological and theological spectrum within Christendom. Back in April, Dr. Regnerus lit up the secular blogosphere when he penned a similar column in the online edition of the Washington Post.
Although the story has several facets to it, his basic premise is fairly straightforward. Regnerus poses the possibility that Christians have spent too much time and energy promoting abstinence before marriage and too little promoting marriage as a viable institution for twenty-something believers. Consider a few of his heady statements:
- “. . . many Christians continue to perceive a sexual crisis, not a marital one. We buy, read, and pass along books about battling our sexual urges, when in fact we are battling them far longer than we were meant to.”
- “. . . [as Christians] our preoccupation with sex has unwittingly turned our attention away from the damage that Americans—including evangelicals—are doing to the institution of marriage by discouraging and delaying it.”
- “I’ve come to the conclusion that Christians have made much ado about sex but are becoming slow and lax about marriage…”
Dr. Regnerus attempts to debunk many of the popular objections to “young” marriage including a greater likelihood of divorce when you marry younger, the pitfalls of economic insecurity, immaturity, an ignorance surrounding general compatibility issues, unrealistic expectations and the idea that some marry simply to enjoy “guilt-free sex”. At one point, this married father of three shares a cynical anecdote from his family, illustrating the unreasonable expectations people have developed about marriage and their weddings:
“My father, a minister, told me that he’d rather ‘bury people than marry people.’”
Given the list of social ills contributing to the diminishment of biblical marriage as an institution, it strikes me as unfair to offer an argument that, at least at quick glance, appears to lay the blame at the feet of those who feel led to promote and encourage a culture of sexual abstinence before marriage.
Still, Regnerus raises a convicting point within his overall argument, namely that within contemporary evangelicalism, when it comes to discussions about sexuality, “abstinence” is often talked and written about to the exclusion of other facets of the subject.
Dr. Regnerus suggests that many of the reasons people put off marrying—financial insecurity, pursuing advanced degrees and various professional aspirations, are not always valid or wise reasons to wait. In fact, many of those married 30 years or more are very likely to tell you that their marriage helped them achieve each of these important goals, not vice versa.
As Regnarus correctly recognizes, marriage is a “formative institution” and not one we enter only when we think we are fully formed. God did not call Adam and Eve to each “get their life plan together” before they married. It was the first thing they were called into, and their lives and their work together flowed from that.
I was especially appreciative of Regnerus’ recommendation that older couples would be wise, and our young, well served, to hear testimonies of long and lasting marriages. What worked? What didn’t? How did you overcome the hard parts? What would you have done differently? Somebody once said that our seasoned citizens have all the answers—if only we’d ask them the right questions.
Speaking from the vantage point of someone who married the love of his life at age 25, I’d be curious of your perspective.