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.

Frozen Masculinity

My sophomore year I played varsity basketball.  I didn’t typically start but I played (a lot) on a team made up of 7 seniors and 3 Juniors.  I was the future.  But my junior year, while I was a better athlete, I was a worse player.  It was hard to describe.  It was like I was out there but I couldn’t fully engage.  I was kind of frozen.  There were many different reasons. I broke my thumb, we switched coaches and systems etc, but really, I was just off.  It was like I wanted it so bad that I couldn’t get it.  I was a starter, but honestly I shouldn’t have been.

One day after a particularly bad game my dad pulled me into his office.  We had a man to man.  He said, “Look, you’ve probably lost your starting job.  I wouldn’t start you.  You’ve got to turn it loose.  Somehow you’ve got to find some reckless abandon.  Sometimes you just have to say F it and go.”  My dad never cussed.  It’s maybe the best advice he’s ever given me.

That night I did start.  I also played freer.  I finished the last few games a little better and then had a good senior year.

Here’s what crazy.  The same thing happened to me in dating.  As a kid I had no game. But when I got to college I suddenly had dates.  I gained confidence and I was fearless.  I’d ask out a person in a store, the waitress, whoever, and they’d say yes.  But then some stuff changed. I had a long relationship that rightly ended but it was then that I knew I needed to date to get married, not just to date.  The pressure kind of mounted.  I was 22.

It was at this point (in my mid 20’s) that the whole “biblical dating” movement happened. Being a young Christian leader I of course wanted to do right.  So I didn’t date to date, never kissed anyone and even did the whole “courting” thing once.  Turns out you can get hurt there too.

When I turned 30 I moved to St. Louis, a much more target rich environment.  But there was a big problem.  I was frozen.  It was like I couldn’t pursue.  I over thought everything.  I was still too religious and when I did like someone I was too try hard.  I over thought, over pursued and felt awkward.  I was the nice guy.  It was seriously crazy.  It was like I was on the court, but not really able to engage.

There are a lot of guys in some sort of similar boat.  We talk all the time about how guys are passive and don’t pursue.  And many times when they do it’s all wrong.  A girl once told me, “I’m so tired of Christian guys.”  This was a gal who loved Jesus.  What she was really saying is, “I’m tired of wuss Christian guys who either won’t pursue me at all or who chase me and are constantly needy.”

We have a serious problem.  Many guys are frozen.  The reasons include but are not limited to:

  • Over-spiritualizing the whole thing.  This includes all I talked about here.  
  • Over-thinking the whole thing.  All of the pretend conversations with girls, trying to figure out if they like me, speculating on how it will all pan out, trying to avoid hurt and on and on
  • Fear of rejection – we are often afraid to ask out who we really want to.  Part of this comes from over thinking and building up the situation to begin with.
  • Fear of commitment – a lot of guys are just scared of marriage
  • Not knowing how to attract girls.  Most men have no training or help on how female attraction works.  They don’t know how to do it.
  • Waiting for the perfect person – you know the one who looks just right, talks just right, and acts just right – before you even know her
  • Worrying about what others think – both the girl we might ask and what others will think of her if we do
  • We’ve spent too much time having our sexual needs met other ways, which drives down the desire for marriage and drives up our shame – bad combination (more here soon)

All of these can play into each other.  It’s a cycle.  I think about it more, which steals more of my identity away from Christ, which makes me more worried about how it will go, which makes me less likely to act, which means when I do it will be awkward, which will make me more unattractive, which will mean I’m rejected, which will make me think about it more . . . . Whew I’m tired.

We’ve got to figure out how to stop it.  We’ve got to figure out how to act with some reckless abandon (which by the way is extremely attractive).  We have to break free and just go.

What freezes you?  What keeps you from fully engaging and pursuing marriage?  What has helped you get past it?