Is Marriage Under Attack?

There’s a lot of talk these days in the Christian community that marriage is under attack. The idea is that marriage is no longer seen as valuable or as a lifelong commitment.  I’ve heard it stated that young people don’t see it as important.

I can see how people come to this conclusion.  We are all well versed in the numbers. 50% of marriages end in divorce.  A third of first time marriages are over within 10 years. But, the divorce rate has actually dropped steadily for the last couple of decades. (That doesn’t make it good, but it’s not going up).  (This is also in spite of the fact that no fault divorce has been legal in 48 states since 1983).

But one of the biggest reasons the divorce rate is going down is that people aren’t getting married to begin with.  Only 51% of all people in the U.S. are married at all.  Only 20% of those aged 18-29 have ever been married.  That number is down from 60% 40 years ago. Catch that number again – 80% of adults 30 and under have never been married.

But here’s the part that should have everyone freaking out.  A lot of singles seem to not care about getting married.  They seem to be saying do whatever you want.  We haven’t quit having sex or even living with other people and having kids.  This is where the numbers are just astounding.  41% of women aged 15-44 have cohabited.  The number of cohabiting unmarried partners increased 88% from 1990 to 2007.  Most startling of all, since the late 1980’s more women in the U.S. give birth to their first child out of wedlock than as a married person.  Read that last line again!

So everyone is dong what every generation has done. . . except get married.

That is not Biblical singleness.  Let me assure you that when the Bible talks about singleness it is not talking about living with someone and having a kid or two.

But here is where I think we are missing it. I’ve met literally thousands of people currently age 15-35.  I don’t actually think young singles are devaluing marriage.  In fact, a recent survey found that 84% of women and 82% of men said that marriage was somewhat or very important.  Only 5% said that it wasn’t important at all.

The problem is they have no idea how to do singleness and most don’t know how to get married. Many are scared crapless of marriage or better stated they are scared of divorce and bad marriages.  People like the idea of marriage, they just don’t know how to do it.

Marriage is under attack but not in the way we think.  The problem isn’t that people don’t want it.

I think we need a new strategy.  We need to quit defending marriage, and start helping people figure out how to get married.  This is going to take a lot more than slogans and rhetoric.  We are going to have to get messy.  We are going to have to actually go after these people.

First we have to help define what marriage really is.  We need a right theology and practice of marriage.  This is one thing that the Church is doing very, very well.  There has been a huge movement in the last 20 years to talk about marriage in a new way with an emphasis on covenant and commitment.  We have gotten much more real about how hard that can be.  We’ve become more practical and real in our sermons and books.  We’ve stepped up Christian marriage counseling.  I’ve been hard on the Church here and there so I want to give due credit here.  The Church truly is fighting for the married.  Not perfectly of course but they have changed.

But we also have to figure out how to help the unmarried.  We have to step into the mess, not just send out conflicting and confusing spiritual platitudes.  Instead of trying to convince people that marriage is right, we have to help them become right for marriage.  We have to help them face fear, be it fear of commitment, fear of failing, fear of rejection, fear of divorce, fear of choosing wrong, fear of being let down, fear of how hard it is, or fear that they’ve already disqualified themselves.

That requires reaching out to them.  Want to change the culture?  Change how we do singleness.  Want to help people not have sex outside of marriage?  Want to deal with homosexuality, abortion and porn in a new way, and help young single people navigate this stuff?  Then help these young single people understand the theology of celibacy and marriage.  Help them pursue one or the other. Don’t just call out their sin, help them face their fear, hurt, and wounds. We need some sermons and books on this.  We need Christian singles counseling – dead serious.

Right now, over all, we are not winning.  But it isn’t because young singles don’t want to be married.  We are helping married people stay married.  It’s time to help single people get married.

7 thoughts on “Is Marriage Under Attack?

  1. I firmly believe the church is asleep at the wheel on this issue. They are so concerned about gay marriage (and rightly so, not arguing that), but they are also blind to how young people, as you say, are doing everything except getting married. Believers too are in this boat — so many of us are single and not getting married, though we want to. This is going to weaken the church, but we probably won’t see the impact of that for several more decades. The church could be addressing it now, but the church is clueless. Satan is doing a number on the church. You could argue that his greatest success is preventing marriage in the first place vs. ending existing marriages.

  2. Great post as always!

    “Instead of trying to convince people that marriage is right, we have to help them become right for marriage.”

    I think this line is so good. I never thought about it like this, but it’s so true that if singles actually were prepared for marriage, then getting married would naturally follow.

  3. Good points Justin. I think that in order for Christian virtues to be handed down from generation to generation, they have to be defined and faces and names put on them, as done in the Bible. Honesty, justice, purity, beauty, love, hope, patience — They all have to be recognized and encouraged, especially in the new generation. Have you ever heard a person’s name called out in church and recognized for honesty? Have you ever heard a person recognized for justice? Have you ever heard a person’s name called out for fidelity in marriage? And the big one — Have you ever heard a single recognized for purity and abstaining from premarital sex? In my 52 years, I’ve never heard it. And I’ve been in church all of my life. As you said, we live in a society today that idolizes marriage and family/women and children. Virtuous singles don’t even exist. I’m certainly not going to put my status on a T-shirt. I’d probably be shot. What’s keeping the church from calling out for our help? Pride. Some young person might ask mom or dad embarrassing questions. That would be too . . . uncomfortable. Instead, older never married singles are stigmatized and ridiculed. They are rarely included in the leadership of the church – and many even ban single men from preaching. I’ve even heard the “he might be gay” line thrown out by church goers. Even though the gift of celibacy is a rare calling, each generation must give it the same respect it does marriage. I think the imbalance we have today towards marriage is one of the main reasons our society is crumbling. It happened just before the Romans fell – and we are headed that direction if we don’t change courses fast.

  4. Thank you for this post. Though I didn’t have time to read every word of it, the last paragraph said it all. I’ve never understood, if marriage and family is so important to the Church (and I’m not saying it shouldn’t be), then why wouldn’t they want to help singles who are called to marriage actually get married? At the very least, prayers for an increase in vocations to the married state would seem to be in order.

    Justin, you once wrote about anger toward God from singles. I personally would really appreciate a post on what to do with anger toward the Church. As a single, I find it difficult to watch the Church, our Mother, express concern in various ways towards those who are married with children, but ignore the plight of her single children. The Church’s neglect in this area really hurts.

    • Hey Ann

      I agree the Church can be a tough place for singles. And that is putting it mildly. Not all churches are like that, but I think it’s fair to say the majority. Even though it pains me to say that.

      I’ve written a lot about what’s going on in the Church but I probably haven’t written directly about what we should do with our anger and hurt at the Church. I will think on that and write something on it after the Christmas.

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