Southern Baptist Leaders: Christians Should Make Themselves 'Marry-able' Younger

A couple shows a wedding ring as they celebrate in Brasil, Aug. 13, 2011.
A couple shows a wedding ring as they celebrate in Brasil, Aug. 13, 2011. | (Photo: Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino)

Christian couples should marry sooner, an ethicist and a pastor with the largest Protestant denomination in the United States argue.

Andrew Walker, director of policy studies for the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and Jon Akin, senior pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, Tennessee, made the argument in a column for the Baptist Press earlier this week. While not advocating a specific age for marriage and noting the diverse situations for people, young people should still look toward marriage sooner, they said.

"We do not advocate a specific age; rather, we believe that young people should make themselves 'marry-able' younger," wrote Walker and Akin.

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"They need to push against the cultural norm that extends adolescence for an indefinite period of time and reach maturity more quickly so they can be ready for marriage sooner than the national average."

Walker and Akin also stated that it's "impractical and unhelpful to advise and encourage young men and women who reach sexual maturity at the age of 12 or 13 to wait 15 years before marriage and still remain pure."

"Ultimately, there are Southern Baptists who will agree and disagree with us, which is expected given our denomination's size and vastness. Even some in our own churches would disagree with us," continued Walker and Akin.

"The question of when a couple is ready for marriage is one that requires wisdom and discernment for each person considering marriage and, ideally, the involvement of a local church that seeks to shape and influence potential spouses in a way that prioritizes and mirrors the Gospel in covenantal fidelity."

Walker and Akin's column comes at a time when Americans by and large are either not marrying or are waiting to get married.

According to a Pew Research study from December of 2011, "barely half of adults ages 18 and older are married – 51 percent in 2010, compared with 72 percent in 1960."

"This decline is especially notable for young adults: 20% of 18- to 29-year-olds were married in 2010, compared with 59% in 1960," wrote D'Vera Cohn of Pew.

"In 2011, the median age at first marriage is an estimated 28.7 for men and 26.5 for women. That means half of men don't marry until at least about age 29, and half of women don't marry until at least about age 27."
Wendy D. Manning, co-director at the National Center for Family and Marriage Research, told The Christian Post that many factors contributed to this trend.

"One reason is the economic requirements for marriage are high and couples are waiting until they have their economic lives in order before they move into marriage," said Manning.

"A second reason is that there is some 'fear of divorce' and couples may be waiting longer to ensure they are making a sound marital choice in their partner. Third, couples are often cohabiting prior to marriage (over 3 in 4 live together before marriage). The age at cohabitation has not increased so young adults are cohabiting and then waiting to get married."

Walker and Akin are not the only SBC ethicists in recent years to advocate for marriage coming sooner. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, also made a case for marrying early.

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