"Preachers of L.A.," the faith-based Oxygen network reality show that Christians seem to love to hate but apparently like to watch in record numbers, has led to online discussions about various hot-button issues. One topic in particular featured in the docu-series that elicited strong responses is "shacking up," or the state of an unmarried couple living together as if they are husband and wife. The situation suggests that a shacking couple is a couple having sex, or facing the temptation to have sex. But is "shacking" even mentioned in the Bible?
In the Oct. 16 airing of episode 2 of "Preachers of L.A." ("Acceptance"), gospel recording artist and former pastor Deitrick Haddon and his fiancée, Dominique dine with Bishop Ron Gibson and his wife, LaVette, for the purposes, according to Haddon, of getting wisdom from the long-time married couple. Despite beginning amicably, the meeting quickly turns south as Bishop Gibson states that "a shaky suspect engagement is indicative of a shaky and suspect marriage." Cutting to the chase, Gibson asks Haddon, "Are you guys shacking?" Haddon, offended by Gibson's question, declares that shacking up isn't in the Bible. Watch a brief clip of the exchange below.
Sammy Lopez, lead pastor of Mighty Fortress Christian Fellowship in San Antonio, Texas, weighed in on Twitter during the noted "Preachers of L.A." episode, dismissing Haddon's suggestion that "shacking" is not in the Bible.
The issue of intimacy involving the Haddons, who have since married, was overshadowed by the fact that Dominique was impregnated by Haddon before his divorce to his first wife was finalized. Haddon, 40, also appeared impatient in early episodes of "Preachers of L.A." to have his wife, 29, and their two-year-old daughter living together with him under one roof, as opposed to Dominique and their child residing with her mother until the wedding ceremony.
In episode 3 aired Oct. 23, "Tea & Sympathy," the shacking conversation continues between LaVette Gibson and Dominique Haddon during a lady's get-together. In an aside exchange, Mrs. Gibson presses the perspective that "the Word" teaches that unmarried Christian couples should not cohabitate. At one point, Mrs. Haddon shares her understanding of the Biblical definition of marriage: once a man "enters" a woman, they are married.
While the controversial reality show has come and gone, the question remains for many viewers — is there a Scriptural prohibition on committed couples living together without ever legally tying the knot?
Oxygen fed into the discussion by polling readers of its "Preachers of L.A." blog, asking viewers to either side with Mrs. Haddon and "let's modernize the church!" or side with Mrs. Gibson who believes "the rules are there for a reason." Eighty-nine percent of voters (575 people) agreed with Gibson, while 11 percent (71 voters) sided with Haddon.
Pastor Harvey Burnett of the New Bethel Church Of God In Christ, writing on his personal blog, specifically honed in on Haddon's suggestion in "Preachers of L.A." that shacking is not in the Bible. According to Burnett, "the Bible is clear" on fornication, which he sees as the ultimate issue.
The Peoria, Ill., minister, who believes there may be many Christians confused about the issue, writes that the New Testament condemns sexual immorality, fornication included, and that "Jesus called sex outside of marriage fornication."
"Porneia (Gk: πορνεία, ας, ἡ) was the word used in the gospels," writes Burnett, citing Matthew 15:19 and Mark 7:21. "Jesus uses a word that does not and in any way indicate selling one's body [prostitution] but has in general been understood to indicate sexual promiscuity or sexual sins. In fact according to Jesus' teachings on the subject, this act emanates from the condition of a defiled heart. So this is not merely a weakness of the flesh, or some action that can be separated from the heart's condition."
Bishop Rudolph McKissick Jr. of Bethel Baptist Institutional Church in Jacksonville, Fla., said he felt led by God the same month the "Preachers of L.A." episode aired to preach about "righteously redefining relationships," although he did not specifically cite the reality show during subsequent media interviews.
McKissick's remarks targeting "shacked up" worshippers led to nine unmarried couples making a commitment during the service to tie the knot, according to WXJT-TV.
"From a Biblical standpoint, you want to do things God's way," McKissick later explained. "God's design is not for a man and a woman to live together, but for a husband and a wife to live together."
"I believe, by my faith, that God assigns a spouse to you. There could be an attachment that's not an assignment, and an attachment that's not an assignment will end up in discouragement," the minister added.
While shacking up may be frowned upon in the Christian community, the National Center for Health Statistics reported in April that more and more unmarried couples in the U.S. were living together. The study also found that these couples were staying together longer and having children. Furthermore, at least 48 percent of women ages 15-44 surveyed indicated that their "first union" was choabitation rather than a marriage.
"Instead of marriage, people are moving into cohabitation as a first union," demographer Casey Copen, the report's lead author, told USA Today. "It's kind of a ubiquitous phenomenon now."