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.