There’s an article in the latest edition of Christianity Today magazine that I’m sure is already getting some attention and buzz. “The Case for Early Marriage,” by Mark Regnerus, is one of the most thought-provoking assessments of our current abstinence culture, the state of marriage in America, and numerous cultural forces that are leaving a mark on people in ways that should cause concern.
While the article is about marriage – not marriage for the sake of legitimizing sex – Regnerus has dropped some thought-provoking and well-reasoned fodder for discussion into what I hope becomes a healthy debate about teenagers, abstinence programs, and what we focus on in youth ministry. Regnerus rightly asserts that “few evangelicals accomplish what their pastors and parents wanted them to” in terms of saving sex for marriage. I agree. I also believe that much of the fervor of parents and pastors is rooted in reckoning with the personal difficulties they had when they were the same age. It’s important to note that Regnerus is not suggesting that teens get married. However, he does support marriage among those three and four years removed from their teenage experience. Again, the implications for those of us doing youth ministry or raising kids are deep.
While I encourage you to read the entire article, here’s just a little of what Regnerus writes to whet your appetite:
Indeed, over 90 percent of American adults experience sexual intercourse before marrying. The percentage of evangelicals who do so is not much lower. In a nationally representative study of young adults, just under 80 percent of unmarried, church-going, conservative Protestants who are currently dating someone are having sex of some sort. I’m certainly not suggesting that they cannot abstain. I’m suggesting that in the domain of sex, most of them don’t and won’t.
What to do? Intensify the abstinence message even more? No. It won’t work. The message must change, because our preoccupation with sex has unwittingly turned our attention away from the damage that Americans – including evangelicals – are doing to the institution of marriage by discouraging and delaying it.
Most young Americans no longer think of marriage as a formative institution, but rather as the institution they enter once they thing they are fully formed. Increasing numbers of young evangelicals think likewise, and, by integrating these ideas with the timeless imperative to abstain from sex before marriage, we’ve created a new optimal life formula for our children: Marriage is glorious, and a big deal. But is must wait. And with it, sex. Which is seldom as patient.
I urge you to give the article a good look. Then, why not let us know what you think.