Green Room

‘Forbidding to Marry’ (Reply to Laura)

posted at 9:48 pm on April 22, 2009 by

Your post about Carrie Prejean and same-sex marriage contained this:

If you put something out with the trash . . . it’s not really yours anymore; you’ve relinquished your claim to it. And that’s exactly what we’ve done with marriage. We might as well let gays have it. We’re not using it. . . .
And for my fellow Christian conservatives: we haven’t got a moral leg to stand on. Our divorce rate is identical to the national average.

Well, to repeat the punchline of an old joke, “What do you mean, ‘we,’ Kemosabe?” As of next Monday, I will have been married to the same woman for 20 years. My lovely and long-suffering wife deserves almost all the credit for that achievement, of course, but I have at least been present for the occasion.

Most of what you have written about the marriage crisis is, of course, right on target, especially when you say that Christian churches “fail to create a culture of marriage in our youth and twenty-somethings.” But, as with your statistical generalization about the failure of “we,” I fear that you are missing the trees for the forest on this issue. What has happened, it seems to me, is that everybody’s sitting around moaning about “society” and “the culture,” rather than seeking to intervene directly and personally to make a difference in the lives of those closest to them.

For me, being pro-marriage, pro-family and pro-life is more than a political position. My wife and I have six kids ranging from age 5 to 19, and you can imagine how challenging this has been on a journalist’s pay. (Never mind a blogger‘s pay.) But as my late father advised me long ago, “Son, if you wait to have kids until you can afford to have kids, you’ll never have kids.”

‘TWO AND TIE ‘EM’
Christians believe that marriage is an institution ordained by God, and every marriage is thus blessed. However, in ordaining marriage, God commanded man to “be fruitful and multiply.”  This commandment has never been repealed or amended, no matter what any Malthusian population-control fanatic tries to tell you. One trend that has undermined marriage has been the rise of the Contraceptive Culture, which celebrates sterility as the norm and views fertility as a pathology requiring medical prevention.

How many Christians have embraced this false — dare I say, evil — worldview? How many young Christian married couples use contraception because “we can’t afford children now”? And how many married Christian couples have unwittingly subscribed to the Zero Population Growth ideal of exactly two children per couple? Did you know that surgical sterilization (tubal ligation) is the No. 1 form of birth control for American women? It’s the “two and tie ‘em” mentality: Have exactly two children, then get yourself surgically sterilized.

My wife and I encountered this mentality with our second pregnancy (our twin sons, who are now 16). During a prenatal examination, the obstetrician told my wife, “If you want me to perform a tubal at the time of delivery, it will be cheaper than if you want me to do it later, because the insurance will only have to pay for one hospitalization.” My wife came home in tears: “Am I an unfit mother? Why would he even suggest such a thing?” But millions of women across America not only accept such suggestions, they actively seek sterilization, viewing it as a liberation from the menace of pregnancy.

In this, many “Christian conservatives” seem entirely comfortable with being “conformed to this world,” slavishly following the secular trend. What one confronts is an attitude I call “middle classism”: The belief that the object of life is to accrue the symbols of middle-class status (college education, office job, new cars, home in the suburbs, vacation travel) and to ensure that one’s children accumulate the same symbols.

A SHOCKING CHOICE
Life without these symbols is deemed unworthy — “underprivileged” — and many parents who consider themselves Christian conservatives strongly caution their children against early marriage and early parenthood, since these are perceived as obstacles to obtaining middle-classness. If a 19-year-old returns from her freshman year at college to announce that she is a lesbian, her Christian conservative parents may not approve, but they will still love and cherish their child. Let the same 19-year-old announce that she’s marrying her boyfriend and dropping out of school to start a family, and this would drive her Christian conservative parents to the verge of suicidal grief: “You’re ruining your life!

What is the result of this attitude? I wrote about it a decade ago:

Fact: In 1960, the median age at first marriage for U.S. women was 20. Today, it´s 25. For men, the median age at first marriage has gone from 22 in 1960 to 27 today. Yet researchers report that the average young American today first has sexual intercourse at age 17 or 18.
Judging from these statistics, then, most young people in this country will be “sexually active” . . . for eight to 10 years before marrying. If that is true, what future can there be for the politics of “family values”? . . .
If young Americans are less likely to marry than Americans of a generation ago, they are also less likely to become parents.
Overall, U.S. fertility rates have declined by 43.6 percent since 1960 and like the marriage trends this decline is most pronounced among the young. The birth rate for women aged 20-24 decreased 56.5 percent between 1960 and 2000, according to the Census Bureau. For all the outcry over America´s “teen pregnancy crisis,” the teen birth rate is now 34.7 percent lower than it was in the final year of the Eisenhower administration.

This trend away from marriage and parenthood has not been opposed or condemned by Christian leaders, who are afraid to offend their congregations. Many evangelical Christians like to talk about “stepping out on faith,” even while they live an existence carefully calculated toward attainment of upwardly-mobile middle-classness. Thus, at noon on Sunday, they get into one of their 2.4 cars and drive home from their suburban mega-church to their cul-de-sac development, to their 4BR/5BA house with 1.7 children. And then they wonder why they don’t feel particularly “spiritual.”

Too many people who consider themselves Christian conservatives are disobedient to God’s commandments, yet idolatrously reverent toward the conventions of a middle-class lifestyle. Their true religion is the Theology of Niceness: Get a nice job so you can live in a nice neighborhood with nice schools for your nice children who will wear nice clothes when you drive them in your nice car to play with their nice friends. Everything all neat and tidy, you see? Hard for the Duggars and their 18 children to live nice like that. Yet they work hard and have faith in God, and somehow they don’t all starve to death.

Thou shalt go to college is the first commandment of middle-classness, and the lifestyle idolators don’t consider how this inflexible attitude contributes to the flourishing of adolescent fornication. It’s very good to tell young teens that they should save sex for marriage, but . . . well, how soon can they get married?

“Oh, you’ll have to go to college, start a career and become financially stable first.” And the 13- or 14-year-old does the math and thinks, “Twenty-five? 26? 27? You’re freaking kidding me! That’s like a zillion years in the future! I’ll be practically 30 by that time!” The prospect of an (honestly) white wedding being dangled off in the distant future has a profoundly demoralizing effect on kids. As a result, every church youth leader can tell you stories about the 17-year-old girl who got pregnant after her boyfriend convinced her that “it’s not wrong if we really love each other.” (It’s the oldest line in the book, girls.)

THE DEATH OF ROMANCE
This is why pop songs no longer feature promises of “endless love” and “always and forever.” In 1971, the protagonist of the Temptations’ hit “Just My Imagination” saw a beautiful girl walk past and dreamed:

Soon we’ll be married
And raise a family.
In a cozy little home out in the country
With two children, maybe three.

If such visions of wedded bliss occupy no part of the youthful imagination today, why not? Perhaps because children are indoctrinated to believe that marriage is strictly for grown-ups — heaven forbid an 18-year-old boy should get a job, marry his high-school sweetheart, and start their life together in a tiny little basement apartment. What about college? What about your career? What about the upwardly-mobile ambitions of middle-classness?

If this status idolatry isn’t anti-marriage, what is it? I’m reminded of the fourth chapter of Timothy:

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot ironForbidding to marry . . .

Myself, I try to actively encourage marriage for young people. I’m a relentless matchmaker, and as soon as I see young folks pairing up as boyfriend and girlfriend, I start asking, “When’s the wedding?” (And once they’re married, “When’s the baby due?”) Instead of sitting around waiting for somebody’s legislative agenda, I’m “pro-family” in the most direct, personal way possible.

If young Christian conservatives want to be “pro-family,” then, they need to be getting married and having babies. And what a youth rebellion that would be, huh? “No, mother, I’ve decided against law school. As a matter of fact, Jennifer and I went to the courthouse and got married last Saturday and . . .” Strange to say that the most shocking thing a young person can do in 2009 is to get married. They can change the world one “I do” at a time.

UPDATE: Is this a harmonic convergence or what? While I was writing this, it appears that Laura was updating her post to link my American Spectator column, “Marriage: A Hill to Die On.”

UPDATE II:In the comments at my blog, father-of-five Larry says:

I cannot count the number of times we have been unintentionally insulted by well meaning, self-identified Christians, asking if we know what causes that (pregnancy) . . .

To which I always answer, “Yes, and we’re very good at it.” That shuts ‘em up quick.

In the comments here, meanwhile, Feel of Shadows calls our attention to an article in First Things outlining the role of the decline of the family in the economic crisis:

America’s population has risen from 200 million to 300 million since 1970, while the total number of two-parent families with children is the same today as it was when Richard Nixon took office, at 25 million. In 1973, the United States had 36 million housing units with three or more bedrooms, not many more than the number of two-parent families with children—which means that the supply of family homes was roughly in line with the number of families. By 2005, the number of housing units with three or more bedrooms had doubled to 72 million, though America had the same number of two-parent families with children.
The number of two-parent families with children, the kind of household that requires and can afford a large home, has remained essentially stagnant since 1963, according to the Census Bureau. Between 1963 and 2005, to be sure, the total number of what the Census Bureau categorizes as families grew from 47 million to 77 million. But most of the increase is due to families without children, including what are sometimes rather strangely called “one-person families.”
In place of traditional two-parent families with children, America has seen enormous growth in one-parent families and childless families. The number of one-parent families with children has tripled. Dependent children formed half the U.S. population in 1960, and they add up to only 30 percent today. The dependent elderly doubled as a proportion of the population, from 15 percent in 1960 to 30 percent today.

BTW, we should not neglect to mention that, in myriad ways, government policies have incentivized the decline of the traditional family. Beginning in the 1960s, federal money paid for “family planning” services, numerous welfare programs that fostered unwed motherhood, and policies that tended to destroy the kinds of neighborhoods where young families once got their start.

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