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Can the church help her members get married?

Churches bear a vital responsibility to encourage matrimony

Can the church help her members get married?
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In America, marriage is on the rocks. The rates of matrimony have plummeted. And, as is so often the case with these sorts of social trends, explanations prove complicated. Pornography, cohabitation, and hook-up culture have warped the landscape, making the process of initiating and growing serious romantic relationships that culminate in marriage very difficult. The simple fact is that our culture does not put much serious or helpful thought into finding and committing to a spouse.

This affects Christian young people. Many of them should be married but aren’t. Yes, church members—including singles—must be cared for and loved. But it is likely that at least some of the outcry against the Church’s focus on married people and families arises from this marriage shortage. These young singles could faithfully fulfill the vocation of matrimony, and they are probably much better suited for that vocation. But, because of our anti-marriage culture, they haven’t found a mate or made the commitment.

Advice from their fellow pew-sitters can range from discouraging to unhelpful. At best, young people will hear about the importance of sexual purity and the biblical profile of a good husband or wife, alongside the injunction “it matters who you marry.” They are given precious little counsel about “how.” The culture’s script on this is libertine, egotistical hogwash. Meanwhile, the Church’s script—if it exists—can appear to reduce to a list of “thou shalt not’s,” concerns that led to the heated “dating debate” of the late 1990s.

What we forget is that courtship, broadly speaking, has always been a somewhat fraught endeavor in human history. By speaking of courtship I don’t mean the school of thought that forbids hand-holding and kissing between non-married couples and the like. I mean the process of getting from single to married. How many myths, plays, poems, and various love stories from history highlight the tensions, difficulties, and dangers involved in young people, their natural desires for a mate, social dynamics, and matrimony? Of wise and foolish marriages? Of how these things affect the whole community, not just the couple? Obviously, Christians are kidding themselves if they don’t think this issue takes some serious time, energy, thought, investment, and effort.

Few of us are born with good sense regarding relationships. We rely upon role models and wise counselors. Simply put, older married Christians—parents in particular—should give some practical courtship advice to their children. They should model what conversations should look like between a man and a woman who are romantically involved and committed to each other. They can share how to make good impressions, carry on a decent conversation with someone of the opposite sex, conduct oneself to become a desirable prospect, and so forth.

What we forget is that courtship, broadly speaking, has always been a somewhat fraught endeavor in human history.

Parents, in particular, should encourage their children to think about and commit to certain values, goals, and principles concerning childbearing, childrearing, finances, devotional life within the home, goals, dreams, and other values that will build the warp and weft of a household. These topics are hard to discuss because they are either sensitive or controversial, yet young people benefit from practical examples showing how to conduct such conversations frequently, clear-headedly, graciously, and well. Otherwise, a serious courtship and eventual marriage will be plagued by dysfunction.

Just as importantly, the Church can provide spaces and opportunities for young people to get to know one another in a relatively safe environment conducive to genuine courtship. Our current culture is deeply isolated and profligate, and fellow traditional Christians can be harder to find. Online resources can be a mixed bag. Personal, face-to-face introductions and interactions are ideal. Churches and various Christian institutions should serve as target-rich environments, as terms of finding potential mates.

In fact, churches should probably become more self-aware of this. As church schools and classical Christian academies proliferate, more and more opportunities will arise in the form of shared activities, parties, and social events. After all, these outings—these opportunities for human festivity and fellowship—have long served as the seedbed for many a marriage. It’s just that our increasingly digital, artificial, superficial, car-dominated, raunchy culture has done its best to eliminate such cultural habits. They were wrongly deemed unimportant or outdated. The Church needs to maintain and bring them back for the sake of its own future.

Happily, God has designed men for women and women for men. They complement each other and are naturally drawn to each other, and God’s good creation of marriage will continue to exist—and show God’s glory—in human society. So the Church should go forth with confidence and shamelessly promote romance and marriage among its young members. The fact that such an approach is profoundly counter-cultural just underlines its importance.

Barton J. Gingerich

The Rev. Barton J. Gingerich is the rector of St. Jude’s Anglican Church (REC) in Richmond, Va. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from Patrick Henry College and a Master of Divinity with a concentration in historical theology from Reformed Episcopal Seminary.

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