Whenever I officiate a wedding, I feel all the more confident that things will work out if I know that the couple is already living together.
This is not what you normally hear from a minister.
But it’s true, and I think the trend is better for society.
Bible-quoters would be shocked. What about morality?
In the movie Sophie’s Choice, Meryl Streep beds down with a long-time friend, and when he suggests that they go to live in the South — in his home state of Virginia — she thinks they’re going to live together. The young fellow is aghast. He says, we can’t live together! He explains, “These people are Christians!”
But–here’s an interesting piece of information–these states where people think themselves the “most religious” (the South and the Bible Belt) have a divorce rate higher than the national average!
Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia! All of them! Higher than the national average of divorce. And highest in the nation — Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky and Oklahoma!
Only South Carolina and Maryland (among Southern states) have a rate lower than the national average of 9.2% divorces per 1.000 men and 1,000 women, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
By contrast, the state that many church-goers deride as morally rudderless — California — falls well below the national average for divorce! Perhaps this lower rate is due to how heavily Catholic the state is. But it’s also the location of Hollywood and San Francisco and Berkeley and all of the other liberal sites mocked by fundamentalists.
What may we conclude?
In places like the Bible Belt and the South where there is a stricter social code of not living together until married, more marriages fail than in a place like profligate California!
I’ve heard it said, and I think this is the key to understanding the situation: “You really don’t know another person until you live together.” The surprise of so many couples who were “being good” for the sake of their religious standard is that, “being good” might have worked against staying married! How many couples have a traditional courtship, get engaged, get married, only to find they are incompatible once they start living together?
What is the hang-up, after all, about living together before marriage?
Critics automatically fly into exaggeration: Young people will be copulating like rabbits!
There is a problem with young women winding up pregnant and abandoned. But that problem is not attendant to living together. That is a problem of ignorance. It is known from research in the lives of female teenagers, that many regard intercourse as “a rite of maturity.” Going all the way (they think) means they are now grown up.
Further, it is a problem of ignorance — about birth control. I have heard from black teenage girls that boys don’t use a condom during sex because if they did, it means the boy really doesn’t love you.
None of this is about living together. This is a problem of ignorance — about what it means to be an adult, about what it means to be in love, about birth-control…
Living together is something else. It becomes clear as soon as bills begin arriving. If only one of the two persons is left to take care of the rent, utilities, food and phone — that relationship clarifies quickly.
But what about the morality of the situation? What about the Bible? What about sex outside of marriage?
The Bible is not much help on matters of marriage. That’s because the Scriptures were written in an age when marriage wasn’t about being partners. It wasn’t about mutuality — it was about men being the boss — literally, the owner of the wife and children.
For the woman, virginity wasn’t about morality. It was about property! She was the husband’s property — as was her child. If she became pregnant from someone other than her husband, the horror wasn’t a matter of immorality. The horror was a matter of — damaged merchandise! The woman wasn’t totally the man’s possession, anymore. Somebody else had interfered. Disputes over paternity would arise. Who owned the child?
Far from morality, these concerns are as crude as a society can be!
The 7th Commandment — thou shalt not commit adultery — was addressed not to wayward women, but to men. All of the commandments are addressed to a male audience. Coveting (No. 10) was something that was done against a neighbor’s wife. The caution is directed not towards women but men. The commandments are not for the purpose of moral purity. They are for the purpose of maintaining peace among the men in a community. Commandments 7, 8 and 10 are meant to prevent disputes over property, whether the property be a donkey or land or a woman.
Modern expectations of mutuality in marriage did not exist at the time of the Bible. There is no assumption today as there was years ago that the wife would “obey” the husband. That word is more & more being removed from today’s marriage vows. Even the traditional gesture of the father “giving away” the bride (a vestige of her being the father’s property), I change in the ceremony to the father “blessing” the marriage.
There is expression in the Scriptures about women being modest, and about both men and women avoiding sexual licentiousness. But these are standards for an entire lifetime, not just for premarital conduct. These issues normally occur not when a couple is living together but when they are not living together. They are too immature for self-restraint.
To assume that a couple living together is immodest is a monstrous prejudice about their lives. It assumes they haven’t talked, they haven’t gotten to know one another, they haven’t taken seriously a decision like moving in.
These are all qualities of decision-making and mutuality that are needed for marriage itself to work.
And if the couple tries, and they discover that living together doesn’t work — better to learn that before marriage!