By Bob Allen
A Southern Baptist pastor and an expert on moral policy issues made national headlines recently by suggesting that parents who encourage their adult children to delay marriage for educational and financial reasons unwittingly send a message that it’s OK for them to engage in premarital sex.
“What we’ve communicated to our young people is finances are more important than sexual sin, and the Bible seems to say the exact opposite of that,” Jon Akin, senior pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, Tenn., said in a story that appeared Aug. 12 in The Tennessean and USA Today.
Andrew Walker, director of policy studies for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said he can’t prescribe a certain age when Southern Baptists should get married, but it should be far earlier than the late 20s, the current median age for first marriages in the United States.
Akin and Walker penned a Baptist Press commentary Aug. 18 clarifying that contrary to what they believe the headlines conveyed, there is no official policy on when Southern Baptists should marry, but “there are biblical wisdom principles that should influence” when a couple makes that decision.
“Frankly, it is indeed our personal opinion that marrying earlier staves off the hormonal rush that comes with sexual temptation,” they said. “Sadly, we’ve known Southern Baptist parents who have counseled their children to delay marriage while turning a blind eye to their fornication in order to not jeopardize Suzy and Johnny’s education.”
While they do not advocate a specific age, Akin and Walker said they believe that young people should make themselves “marry-able” at a younger age.
“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,” they said.
The duo said there are both theological and practical reasons for marrying sooner rather than later. For one thing, they said, the Bible teaches that God designed men and women to be married, suggesting marriage is a “foundation for life” rather than a “capstone” event.
“The Bible condemns pre-marital sex as sinful and a violation of God’s design for sex in the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman for life,” they said. “It is 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.”
Akin and Walker aren’t the first evangelical thinkers to challenge conventional wisdom discouraging young adults from marrying right out of high school or college.
Mark Regnerus, a University of Texas sociologist who spoke at an April ERLC summit on the gospel and sexuality and is scheduled to return to Nashville Oct. 27-29 for national conference on “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage,” wrote a Washington Post op-ed in April 2009 titled “Freedom to Marry Young.”
Regnerus described a “nearly universal hostile reaction” to the column in a Christianity Today article titled “The Case for Early Marriage.”
“If you think it’s difficult to be pro-life in a pro-choice world, or to be a disciple of Jesus in a sea of skeptics, try advocating for young marriage,” Regnerus said in the Christianity Today article dated July 31, 2009. “Almost no one empathizes, even among the faithful.”
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., made a similar argument even earlier. Speaking in 2004 at a conference sponsored by Sovereign Grace Ministries and hosted by Joshua Harris, pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Md., and author of the 2003 book I Kissed Dating Goodbye, Mohler said males as young as 17 should already be thinking about marriage.
Mohler described a younger generation beset with “the sin of delaying marriage as a lifestyle option among those who intend someday to get married but they just haven’t yet.” By putting off marriage later and later, Mohler said, “We have created this incredible span of time where sexual passion is ignited but there is no holy means for it to be fulfilled.”
“Guys, you know how tough it is to live with this,” Mohler said. “From the time you were very, very young when sexual maturity came to you there is in you a drive and a passion that does not long sleep. It is going to be for you an occasion to sin or an occasion to get serious about getting married.”
Mohler said 13 or 14 is too young to “pop the question,” but “if you’re 17, 18, 19, 20 or in your early 20s, what are you waiting for?”
“I don’t mean to get married this weekend,” he said. “I mean to look for the spouse God has given you.”
Akin and Walker said in a denomination as large and diverse as the Southern Baptist Convention, everyone is not going to agree with their point of view. They said that is likely true even within their own churches.
“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,” they concluded.