Just over a month after preaching against cohabitation, a Texas pastor married seven couples from his church for free last weekend in a bid to get their relationships back on a biblical path while making a strong statement on the culture of cohabitation that has swept American life.
"I encouraged couples in our church who were living together to really think through whether that was God's best for them," Senior Pastor Pete Briscoe of Bent Tree Bible Fellowship church in Carrollton, Texas, said after marrying the seven couples on Sunday, according to Charisma News. "At the end of the sermon, we gave them the option that if they felt God was leading them to get married, we would hold a free wedding for them on this one specific day."
In early August, Briscoe began a series he called "Awkward" which focused on conversations about relationships and marriage that people would rather not have because it's "awkward." Along with his sermon on cohabitation, the series also focused on submission in marriage, counseling and remarriage.
After gushing about his daughter's recent wedding and declaring marriage "as a holy estate instituted by God and commanded in Scripture" Briscoe acknowledged the people in his church who cohabitate.
"I know for a fact that some of you here are living together and you're not married so you're feeling a little awkward right now which is OK," he said.
In his discussion of the subject, Briscoe cited studies like one done in 2016 by Barna which shows that a majority of Americans now believe in cohabitation due to pressures like shifting gender roles and expectations, the delay of marriage, and a secularizing culture.
The study noted that there was strong resistance to the cultural shift in religious communities that adhered to more "traditional values and premarital expectations."
Highlighting the message on what marriage is from his daughter's wedding, Briscoe said: "It was ordained for the union, the natural instincts being directed aright. These people might live in purity and honor. It was ordained for the continuance of family life where children might be raised in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord. It was ordained for the welfare of society which can be strong and happy only when the marriage bond is held highly in honor."
Briscoe noted that he understood why many couples today would choose cohabitation as a logical step toward a lasting relationship. He insists, however, that the practice is simply a cheap imitation of marriage he likened to a fake Rolex watched purchased on the streets of the Philippines.
"Marriage is a Rolex watch. It is sparkly and magnificent and beautiful on the day you get it just like a wedding day and then each passing day it grows in value and depth and beauty. Cohabitation, living together before marriage, is like buying a Rolex watch on the streets of the Philippines. It's a poor imitation and you can do much much better," he said.
"I get the thought process. If you think about it logically it makes a little sense. If I'm gonna commit the rest of my life to this person, to live under the same roof, wouldn't it be wise to see if we can get along?" he noted in explaining how he understood people who preferred to "test drive" relationships before making marriage commitments. "I get why people think that. It makes some sense to me."
Unmarried couples, especially millennials, noted Briscoe, might also choose to live together because it's less expensive. Some might also avoid remarriage because they, too, want to avoid losing financial benefits.
"Benefits around insurance. Retirement benefits, benefits from a deceased spouse, or divorce settlements, alimony, that kind of stuff. You can be getting alimony and then if you get remarried you lose your alimony ... so people say, 'Well let's live together and I can keep the checks coming.' That kinda makes sense to me too. Logically it makes sense," the pastor said.
"When you're cohabitating it's like you're single pretending to be married. You're not really experiencing either of those great ways (single or married) to live. And, as a result, you're forfeiting the benefits of both. It's a cheap facsimile of the real thing," Briscoe added.
For Christians, he argued that sharing sexual intimacy without being married is a sin and the Bible urges Christians to flee from it.
He also encouraged cohabiting couples to break up if they decided marriage wasn't in their future or move out and continue seeing each other if they weren't sure, or get married.
Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, along with other colleagues wrote in a study called The Cohabitation-Go-Round: Cohabitation and Family Instability Across the Globe that a rise in the proportion of all births to cohabiting couples is associated with a later rise in the proportion of children living apart from at least one of their biological parents across 68 countries.
Wilcox also noted in Foreign Affairs that children born to cohabiting parents are approximately twice as likely to see their parents break up by the time they turn 12, compared to children born to married parents.
"What's more, even among highly educated American couples with children, cohabitation is about twice as unstable as marriage: 49 percent of college-educated mothers will break up with their partner before their child turns 12, if they were cohabiting at the time of that child's birth, compared to just 18 percent of mothers who were married at that point," Wilcox said. "In the United States, then, marriage comes with a substantial stability premium for children."