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.
It is a very limited way of looking at how God works in each of our lives. Plus, it seems obvious to me that a 20-22 year old is going to discover a lot of about themselves in a new marriage just as a 20-22 year old striking out on their own for the first time is going to discover a lot of different things about themselves (that the married person might take years to grasp and vice versa). There’s such a huge difference between your early and mid 20s because you are literally coming out of childhood into adulthood, but a lot of people who marry young seem to think that the rest of us are stuck at 22 or whatever age they were when they experienced that major change in their lives.
It’s interesting to hear people who married young giving marital advice to people marrying later in life. They often don’t take into account that the older newlywed may have learned something along the way – or sometimes you hear the hesitation after they start spouting off their words of wisdom (usually something about maturity) and then realizing that what may be true for a very young person fresh out of school is not necessarily true for someone who has had to rely almost completely on themselves and God for a number of years.
Even in typing this, I acknowledge that I know little about the growth of people who live with their parents as adults. People make a lot of assumptions that they’re living off of their parents and playing video games in the basement, but in many non-western societies, adult children are expected to stay at home at least until they marry, and sometimes beyond that. They have a different perspective.
I’ve read enough of Mohler and company to know you’re right about him. He is not qualified to whisper one word of advice on this subject. I think one of the main problems Protestants (esp Baptists) have is that they don’t believe it’s possible to control sexual desire after a certain adolescent age. That may be true because they either experienced it in their own lives or in the lives of their family members. According to the SBC’s Andrew Walker, “The reality is, starting at the age of 12, 13, boys and men, growing up into maturity, are hardwired for something that God gave us a desire for and an outlet for.” I wonder if he can provide chapter and verse for that? It’s one of the most bizarre statements I’ve ever read and one that is completely false. Of course, Walker got married at 21 and that makes him an expert on singleness. I think what they are really reacting to is the rates of premarital sex and out of wedlock births. To wait until marriage takes self control. To live out the gift of celibacy faithfully is something of a supernatural nature and I don’t know of any Protestant leader who comprehends that (maybe with the exception of 1 or 2).
It kinda makes sense but it is a reaction lol. Sexual desire can be controlled. The truth is though, that while we are decent at talking about premarital sex, we are totally terrible about talking about pornography and masturbation addiction. The truth is that I learned far more about relationships and dating and marriage and controlling sexual desire from a secular online forum where people commit to breaking the addiction than I ever learned at church.
I learned from anecdotal evidence of others’ testimonies and then my own personal experience:
1) Pornography and masturbation ruins your life and hurts you in mental clarity, productivity, makes you less masculine, causes social anxiety, because,
2) it really messes with your dopamine and testosterone levels. You know how the Bible talks about how bad lust is and how the old testament talks about how God will discipline/punish us in a worldly way b/c of sins, but we will rewarded for following his commands? Totally true when it comes to pornography. Stay away from it 100% and thrive. Fall into it and suffer (even if you are the type to struggle with it off-and-on, you will suffer).
3) Relationships are about connecting. If you have it, you have it. If you don’t, you don’t. It takes two to start and keep up a relationship and a girl has every right to reject you at any time for any reason, and it goes the other way around too.
4) You have to put yourself out there as a single person and socialize and make friends and maybe you’ll meet a girl or woman.
5) We as men need to strive to improve ourselves and be the best version of ourselves because that’s when we are able to appreciate everything around us better and that’s when we have the most to offer to the world and other people. The world is full of boring, selfish people (and that includes girls) and it doesn’t need any more. That is also how you break free of pornography addiction. Because,
6) there is a clear void in the masculine identity of the modern man. I know that sentence reads like I’m some sort of crazy or prick-ish male chauvist pig, but it’s true. Why was the movie Fight Club so popular? Because our society has equated the word “manliness” or “masculinity” with a lot of bad things. And almost every movie and tv show or w/e is about a protagonist who is really a boy in a man’s body. Never grew up. We seem to glorify boyhood and eschew manliness. But a true man is someone with integrity, appreciation for what’s around him, who does things that matter to him (has a personal mission/goals), is aggressive in pursuing that personal mission, is capable of being mentally tough when it matters, and has a strong sense of maturity. It has nothing to do with that messed up idea that society has that manly men are like. The Bible also gets at a lot of those things. Jesus called Nathaniel a “true man of Israel. In him, there is nothing false.” Wow. I wish Jesus would say that about me.
And so many more things. But where was the church in all of that? Somehow, I grew up in the past few years learning a ton of things that the church should’ve probably taught me instead of a bunch of useless ideas on these topics. They’re such serious and heavy and pervasive issues. Like 99% of all males in our society have gone through a period of their life when they would watch porn. And I learned not from the church, but from some (mostly) upright, manly men, who as an online community decided that they had enough of watching porn and live their life instead. Thanks to http://www.reddit.com/r/nofap
God, through is providence, really worked magic here by having me stumble across that wonderful part of the internet.
I don’t always agree with your perceptions or opinions, but this article was one of your best…terrific, spot-on, and helpful.
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