The Marriage Recession

December 3, 2012 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Marriage 1I’m not surprised, but I am saddened.  A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center confirms what we already know:  the estate of marriage has been in decline now for decades and it continues to decline.  Richard Fry summarizes the study’s findings:

In 2011, 4.2 million adults were newly married, about the same number as in 2010 and sharply lower than the 4.5 million newlyweds estimated in 2008…The decline in nuptials from 2008 to 2011 is in keeping with a general trend away from marriage in the U.S. Barely half of adults (51%) were married in 2011, according to ACS data, compared with 72% in 1960.  Marriage increasingly is being replaced by cohabitation, single-person households and other adult living arrangements.[1]

Two things are striking about Fry’s summary.  First, the rapid decline of married households from 1960 to 2011 is astonishing.  It represents nothing less than a seismic shift in premium our culture places on marriage.  Clearly, the value that people place on marriage has taken a precipitous fall.  Second, Fry’s observation that “marriage is increasingly being replaced by cohabitation” is also tremendously significant, for it marks a radical departure from God’s ideal of a covenanted relationship between one man and one woman who share and confront life together (cf. Genesis 2:24).

Of course, there are some who applaud this shift away from marriage toward cohabitation as the inevitable unleashing of a long-suppressed epicurean desire that has finally managed to shake itself free from the asphyxiating antiquated constraints of Victorian mores.  What these jubilant celebrants who eagerly preside over marriage’s funeral fail to notice, however, is the disturbing darkness that the decline of marriage reveals in the hearts of humans, not only as it pertains to sexual passions, but as it pertains to a basic lack of concern for others.

One of the blessings of marriage is the commitment it demands.  Rather than arbitrarily living with someone to whom there is no formal, long-term, and, indeed, life-long commitment, marriage demands the kind of fidelity that does not shift with better times or with worse times, with riches or with poverty, with sickness or with health.  The promises a person makes in his or her marriage vows are to remain firm even when everything else in life is in continual flux.  Thus, marriage vows are not primarily for the benefit of the one who makes them, though there are certainly blessings to be found in God-pleasing vows, but for the one who receives what they promise, for the vows focus especially on the interests of the partner to whom they are made.  A refusal to make these vows and instead cohabitate can allow some couples to unscrupulously hop from one relationship to the next, discarding any lover who a person feels no longer “meets their needs.”  In its worst form, then, cohabitation can amount to little more than rank selfishness on display.

Ultimately, at the same time marriage forges our character, it also reveals our character.  Marriage forges our character because it calls us to remain committed to another person even when our natural inclination would tend toward severing a relationship.  Marriage reveals our character because whether or not we are willing to enter into such a relationship in the first place says a lot about how willing we are to trade our own self-interest for service to another.  Marriage matters – not just because it safeguards the romantic relationships we have, but because it exposes the kind of people we are.  My prayer is that more and more people commit to be individuals of fidelity and service rather than sensuality and selfishness.

[1] Richard Fry, “No Reversal in Decline of Marriage,” Pew Research Center (11.20.12).

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dwight Andreas  |  December 3, 2012 at 8:22 am

    Pastor Zach, This mornings blog is of special interest to me as it reminds me of a question posed to me a while back. A Christian gentleman who recently lost his wife asked what I thought of older couples cohabitation for the expressed purpose of companionship. This question came up in a bible study that my friend leads. This is a group of like aged men, around 80 years old, many of whom are widowed.

    This question caught me by surprise, especially coming from the man that asked it. I didn’t have a ready answer, though I know the Sunday School answer, and so does he.

    He went on to explain that if many of these people were to legally marry, it could be financially damaging to them both now and in the future. I am well aware that we should render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s. Caesar however, has gotten a little out of control.

    Rather than having a handy dandy answer, a new question formed in my mind. Just what exactly constitutes a marriage in God’s eyes? is it the rings? Is it a piece of paper that says you paid a tax? Is it standing in front of a Pastor agreeing to some terms and answering a few questions? What about civil weddings? (Zach, please understand that I am not trying to be trite or argumentative. This is truly a question that has vexed me since asked. I am not a very good writer, annnnnd you know my penchant for tact and diplomacy.)

    I am certainly not a biblical scholar. I know a man should leave his father and mother, and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. In the case stated above, I have serious doubts concerning the “one flesh thing”.

    I am not aware of any biblical instruction on how to properly perform a marriage,even though there may be. I do believe the commitment these Christian people  make to each other would be honored in more cases than not, certainly more than the general population. I have first hand experience as a resident of the general population.

    I have seen this type of relationship in our own congregation. And in fact the one’s I am aware of, they loved the Lord, attended church regulary, served the congregation, and served each other until death did them part.

    I know that if I was so inclined to get married at my present age and situation, I would have a formal church wedding. I can however understand the concerns that some of these people have.

    I know this is going to make your day! I am on pins and needles awaiting your wise counsel.

    See you at MBB tomorrow morning



    • 2. Pastor Zach  |  December 3, 2012 at 10:02 am


      You’re turning to me for wise counsel? I don’t know if that’s very wise of you! Nevertheless, let me give your question my best shot.

      Let’s begin by what constitutes a wedding. There are two components. First, there is the theological component. In the Bible, marriage is conceived of as a covenant between two people in the sight of God a la Genesis 2:24. God is the one who joins these two people together (Matthew 19:6), hence, the reason we acknowledge this truth with a wedding worship service. The vows in the service echo what Paul says about marriage in Ephesians 5:22-27. Though there is no formal order of service for a wedding given in the Bible, weddings clearly took place (e.g., Judges 14:20, John 2:1-11). Thus, we as Christians continue to celebrate weddings in anticipation of the final wedding of Christ to His Church (cf. Revelation 19:7). Weddings, then, are important for couples who are committed to each other and are not to be rejected.

      Second, there is a civic component to marriage. The government does want to know who is and who is not married. It does this via wedding licenses. And because we are to honor the government as long as it does not contradict divine law (cf. Romans 13:1), we should let the government know if and when we get married.

      When it comes to elderly couples who are concerned about the civic financial repercussions of getting married, I simply advise that they come and talk to their pastor. There are real financial concerns that are sometimes associated with getting married, especially in someone’s twilight years. Fortunately, many times, people can enjoy the best of both worlds: They can honor God by living together as husband and wife and they can figure out a way to make the finances work out. But this takes some one-on-one counsel. So, if you know someone who is concerned about the financial ramifications of getting married, please advise them to come and talk to one of us! We want to help in any way we can!

      We can talk about this some more tomorrow, if you want to. And no, you’re not being combative at all. You raise a good and important point!



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