This is my final post in response to Al Mohler’s words about the “sin” of delayed marriage. As I’ve said before, I’m not really singling Mohler out other than that I think his words represent a lot of what Christian leaders think and teach.** We’ve discussed the nuclear family idol of the Church already, but I want to talk about a part of that idol that is often left out.
Mohler sets this up by basically saying that you are made an adult by getting married and if you wait too long (however long that is) you are going to make it tougher. He states:
Delaying marriage until the late 20s or beyond often allows a person to develop unhealthy lifestyle patterns that become difficult to break once he or she is married, Mohler said.
“The corruption of delay, the injury that comes by delay, is multiple,” Mohler said.
“If we claim for ourselves, either as men or as women, the right to define ourselves as adults who will get married when we get to it, we’re defining ourselves in pretty specific terms. Let me be clear: The longer you wait to get married, the more habits and lifestyle patterns you will have that will be difficult to handle in marriage.”
Now remember, I’m for marriage. I’m for getting married sooner than later if you are called to it. But this crosses the line in several ways.
First, the statistics don’t back this up at all. In fact the divorce rate of people getting married after 25 and with a college education is ridiculously lower than if you get married younger. I’m not saying you can’t get married younger but the reality is that our culture has changed. We’ve lengthened adolescence. The delay of marriage is both a cause and a result of that, but we have to be careful here and deal with the current reality.
But the bigger issue here is the idea that we can’t be mature if we aren’t married. The way this usually gets talked about is the idea that Marriage Makes You Holy®.
This is the bell that evangelicals have been ringing lately. Marriage is hard. Marriage is not about making you happy it’s about making you holy. Which is sort of true . . . sort of.
This talking point creates all sorts of weird dichotomies. Let’s look at the messages we are receiving. It goes something like this:
Marriage is really hard. But you should hurry up and get married. You are able to focus more on Jesus and be less distracted as a single person. But marriage is how you become more holy. You need to be a man and get married. But being married makes you a real man.
Here’s the thing: Regardless of your marital status you are called to holiness. We are called to grow and that includes the proverbial “growing up”. But marriage doesn’t guarantee that. There are lots of immature married people. For sure there are lots of spiritually immature and unholy married people. Marriage itself doesn’t make you holy. Jesus will if you walk with Him.
You see marriage isn’t the answer or the problem. We’re the problem. Our sin is the problem. Jesus is the answer. The context of marriage can indeed lead us to deal with our sins and wounds if we let it. But if I’m single, I need to deal with those same things, and you know what? – You can. Right now.
People always told me when I was single that one of the things they learned when they got married was how selfish they were. But what’s funny about that is that they were already selfish. They didn’t become selfish when they got married, they just didn’t deal with it until they got married.
In some ways it was an advantage for me when I got married later in that I already knew I was a sinner. I didn’t need a wife to show me that. Now I do see it in some new ways to be sure. But you can’t sit around and wait to get married to deal with sin. That’s a terrible idea. And you don’t have to. You can deal with your sin now.
We don’t need to fear marriage and we need to quit underselling it. Telling a bunch of people who aren’t getting married how hard marriage is seems to me to be sort of counter productive. Marriage is good and can be fun. It actually can make you happier. I’m happier.
God can indeed use marriage to make you more holy if you let Him. But He can, and wants to, use your singleness to do the same thing. God always, every single day, wants to grow us to be more holy. Regardless of context.
When we count on marriage in and of itself to do that we are adding to the idolization of it.
**Recently someone has suggested (on social media) that I am unnecessarily picking on Mohler. They have suggested that Mohler doesn’t actually believe what I’ve attributed to him. First, I want to be clear that I have nothing personal against Mohler. However, I in no way feel that I have misrepresented him here. I have for sure not misquoted or even taken his quotes out of context in any way. If he doesn’t believe it, then he should think about how he says it. I think he does believe it, as do most evangelical leaders – not out of malice or ill intent – but out of modern evangelical tradition on the subject of marriage of which I was once beholden to as well. Their premise is wrong to begin with in this area and it’s killing us. What they are doing is not working. At all.