The average age at which Americans first marry is at a historic high – 27 for women and 29 for men. Should Christians welcome or beat back this trend? The Christian Post asked three Christian leaders to weigh in on this topic.
Bishop Harry Jackson believes Christians should be encouraged to marry young. He will begin preaching on the topic this month and is planning to include the topic in some marriage seminars and youth ministry teaching. As a black pastor, he is particularly concerned about the devastation wrought by single parenthood in black communities.
"With three-fourths of kids in the black community being born out of wedlock and 40 percent of young black women not planning to ever get married, I think what we're doing right now is definitely not working. I want to abandon ship on that other way as quick as I can," said Jackson, senior pastor at Hope Christian Church, Beltsville, Md., and chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and a senior editorial advisor for The Christian Post.
The problem, as Jackson sees it, is an "over-sexualized culture" combined with the expectation that one should wait until they are in their late 20's before they get married. If young people wait that long before they get married, Jackson believes, they are more likely to either have multiple sex partners or an addiction to porn by the time they get married, both of which will cause many problems for the marriage itself. Eighteen to 25 is about the right age for young people to look at getting married, Jackson believes.
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse believes that teen marriage should be discouraged but there is no reason for those in their early 20's to postpone marriage. Morse is an economics professor who now serves as founder and president of The Ruth Institute, whose mission is to "promote life-long married love to college students by creating an intellectual and social climate favorable to marriage." Teen marriages often fail, Morse said, but the divorce rate of those who get married in their early 20's is about the same as it is for those who wait until later.
One of Morse's primary concerns, which she has written and lectured about, is that culture works against nature by encouraging women to wait until long past their peak childbearing years before they have children.
"The truth is, women's bodies are geared up to have babies in their late teens and early twenties, that's the biology of the situation," Morse said. "The sociology of the situation is we're telling people you're not ready until you as an individual woman can take care of your child completely by yourself because ... if your husband leaves you, we're not going to do anything about it. Don't get married until you're ready for divorce is the social message. That's the message that has to be challenged.
"We're telling women you have to postpone childbearing until well past the time of their peak fertility. I think that's just inhuman, to tell people that and to make them wait. It's not good for the body."
In the "contraceptive culture," Women are encouraged, Morse says, to be sexually active, delay marriage until the late 20's and have their first child in their 30's: "we will give you pills and medication and things to stop you from getting pregnant, so you can have as much sex as you want without getting pregnant, and, by the way, you can't get married until you're ready, 27, 28 [years old] ... now that you're ready to have a child you have to pump your body full of other chemicals in order to help you have the child. This whole path is objectionable. It would be better to just leave the body alone, stop messing with women's bodies."
Eric Teetsel does not believe young marriages are right for every Christian but wants to reinvigorate "a culture of marriage and family that would lead to people being married at a younger age." Marriage should be a realistic consideration for anyone in their early 20's, he believes. Teetsel is executive director of The Manhattan Declaration, a Christian advocacy organization concerned about religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and attempts to redefine marriage. He also has experience working at Christian colleges.
Teetsel would like to see churches teach more about how marriage benefits the common good.
"We should promote marriage as a really wonderful thing, and as a responsible thing to do, and it's a responsibility young people have to contribute to their community, their church, and really, to the nation," he said. "I think the church should do a better job of teaching the civic necessity of marriage, and how it is a sacrificial act, in many ways, but not in terms of sacrificing your own freedom or happiness, but giving yourself in order to contribute to the common good, in both your community and of the country."
Teetsel believes that the current trend of marrying late in life is mostly a male problem.
"There are lots and lots of marriable young women, Christian women, who all want to get married, but a real derth of adequate young men, or men who want to get married, and are taking the steps in order to make it happen," he said.
Teetsel believes there are many reasons for that. Echoing some of Jackson's thoughts, Teetsel mentioned the problems of premarital sex and pornography.
A desire for sex should naturally encourage men to desire marriage, but "there are men who can have sex with women without marriage so they have no need to get married." And pornography "enables young men to satiate sexual desire in a way that they are not compelled to become and do the kinds of things that are required in order to get marriage so that you can have sex. [They] become emasculated and yet fulfilled at a sort of base level through it."
The interviewees were also asked about what should be done when teenagers make a baby out of wedlock. Should their pastor and parents encourage them to marry so that the baby can be raised by both parents? All three agreed that there is no single answer for every situation; each case must be dealt with seperately. They also all agreed, though, that marriage should not be ruled out as one option in that circumstance.
For Jackson, his thoughts go to the child: "in an urban setting that means that kid is another destined for poverty, destined for poor academic performance and all the other things that come out of single parenthood in urban environments."