There is an interesting article in Christianity Today and another on MSNBC on abstinence, marriage and the message that young people often hear in Evangelical churches. Churches do stress the importance of sexual purity in the Christian life. Programs like “True Love Waits” stress the importance of chastity and holiness for Christian young people. While the emphasis on chastity is Biblical and unchanging, what has changed is the church’s attitudes toward marriage itself. Christian young adults are pressured by the culture and often by their parents and church to postpone marriage until they are finished with school, have gained life experience, and are economically stable. So there is this double message of no sex before marriage AND waiting before you get married.
Mark Regnerus, a University of Texas sociologist and author of the Christianity Today article ("The Case for Early Marriage") suggests that while the church has stressed chastity, we have also to a degree devalued marriage by “by discouraging it and delaying it.” He goes on to suggest that the church’s emphasis on chastity without a similar emphasis on marriage hasn’t worked very well. He says that about “80 percent of unmarried, church-going, conservative Protestants who are currently dating someone are having sex of some sort.” Christians aren’t that much more likely to wait for marriage than non-Christians. He goes on “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.”
So is the point to make get our kids are married by the end of high school? Of course not. We need to do a better job of teaching the Biblical mandate of sexual purity and chastity. We need to do a better job of preparing our kids for the discipline, self-sacrifice, and faith that is required for successful marriage. We need to do a better job of teaching our children that marriage is a covenant and that divorce is not an option. But maybe we need to do a better job of realizing the incredible pressure created by those dual expectations of waiting for sex until marriage and waiting for marriage until after college-and-career launch. And maybe we need to remember that only one of those two messages is Biblical and non-negotiable.