The Case for Early Marriage
Enduring Gospel Witness
Abstinence is not to blame for our marital crisis. But promoting it has come at a cost in a permissive world in which we are increasingly postponing marriage. While I am no fan of the demographic realities I outlined earlier, one thing I will remember is that while sex matters, marriage matters more. The importance of Christian marriage as a symbol of God's covenantal faithfulness to his people—and a witness to the future union of Christ and his bride—will only grow in significance as the wider Western culture diminishes both the meaning and actual practice of marriage. Marriage itself will become a witness to the gospel.
Romantic relationship formation is what I study. I've spoken with hundreds of young adults about not only what they think or hope for, but also what they actually do. Time and again, I've listened to Christian undergraduates recount to me how their relationships turned sexual. One thing I never ask them is why. I know why. Because sex feels great, it feels connectional, it feels deeply human. I never blame them for wanting that. Sex is intended to deepen personal relationships, and desire for it is intended to promote marriage. Such are the impulses of many young Christians in love. In an environment where parents and peers are encouraging them to delay thoughts of marriage, I'm not surprised that their sexuality remains difficult to suppress and the source of considerable angst. We would do well to recognize some of these relationships for what they are: marriages in the making. If a young couple displays maturity, faith, fidelity, a commitment to understanding marriage as a covenant, and a sense of realism about marriage, then it's our duty—indeed, our pleasure—to help them expedite the part of marriage that involves public recognition and celebration of what God is already knitting together. We ought to "rejoice and delight" in them, and praise their love (Song of Sol. 1:4).
Mark Regnerus, Ph.D., is the author of Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford, 2007). He's an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas, Austin, where he lives with his wife, Deeann, and their three children.
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This story was posted with "Restless, Reformed, and Single." Christianity Today will also post three responses to "The Case for Early Marriage" on Monday.
Previous Christianity Today articles about singleness, chastity, or marriage include:
My Top Five Books on Marriage | By Charles W. Tackett, CEO of PursuingHeart.com (May 7, 2009)
Choosing Celibacy | How to stop thinking of singleness as a problem. (September 12, 2008)
Practicing Chastity | A lifelong spiritual discipline for singles and marrieds. Lauren F. Winner reviews Dawn Eden's The Thrill of the Chaste. (March 15, 2007)
30 and Single? It's Your Own Fault | There are more unmarried people in our congregations than ever, and some say that's just sinful. (June 21, 2006)
Sex in the Body of Christ | Chastity is a spiritual discipline for the whole church. (May 13, 2005)
Reflections: Sex, Love, and Marriage | Quotations to stir the heart and mind (February 1, 2003)