From Jo Craven McGinty in a June Wall Street Journal…
These relationships were typically preceded by other “starter” co-habitations that only lasted 2-3 years. This is the new reality. 70% of young people are living together before they marry. 70%… seven out of ten! Most… What does this mean? Research suggests that it is not that this generation takes marriage lightly but just the reverse. They hold it in such reverence, abhorring divorce, that they only enter into marriage after a trial period, desperate for a greater certainty than their divorced parents had. Whatever the consequences, the motives are supportable. What will the church do?
The temptation is to use these statistics as evidence of the coming apocalypse. The world is collapsing into a moral sinkhole and even as we erect social bulwarks to protect our children we will be digging out our “The End Is Near” sandwich boards. Ahhh… but we’ve been here before. I can remember the horror of long haired boys from the sixties… and that passed. There was a bit of sex happening then too. And then there are the stories of sexual “accommodations” during WWII, and WWI, and the war before that, and the one before that, and the Civil war general who lent his name to the world’s oldest profession. And the world did not end.
My maternal grandparents were mountain folks who went to town to get legally married but others would just move in and declare themselves “married” with no one disputing the fact. Divorce could be as simple as a man stumbling home to find his packed bags sitting on the front porch. (My grandmother’s friend actually did this to her philandering man.) This was reality and ministry worked within its cultural frame.
So here we are today. If we find a young couple living in our neighborhood we should assume they are not married, at least not yet. 70% aren’t. We should also assume they possess loyalty and faithfulness and all the qualities we value as well. There is no reason to doubt their motives or integrity. There is no room for judgement or that steady pressure to conform to previous norms. This is normal. This is where we start with people as we seek Christ together. As they gain confidence, they will make their relationships even more permanent. We’ll help all along the way.