|Two cute little doggies, dressed up like a bride and groom. The groom dog is giving the bride dog a kiss. Image source.|
In general, this "you need to get married very young" is not explicitly taught in purity culture, but it is the inescapable conclusion. I've heard Christians say you should be mature, be able to live independently, work on your own character first before you get married, but honestly this advice is incompatible with the number one foundational teaching of purity culture. Purity culture emphasizes over and over how premarital sex will ruin your life, how it's a mistake that will haunt you forever [growing up in the church, I don't think I ever heard anyone disagree with this], but very little is said about how marrying someone who's not right for you will affect your life long-term. (Instead, we get teaching about how divorce is always bad and if you work hard at it and both spouses really really love God, you can definitely get through any marriage problem and everything will be okay.)
But every now and then, you get someone who comes along as says that yes, we should push kids to get married young. Like Al Mohler, who gave this sermon: The Value of Marrying Young. This isn't some extreme, inconsequential fringe element of purity culture. The webpage at that link says this about Mohler: "Dr. Albert Mohler is the president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a nationally-recognized leader among American evangelicals." He is a council member of The Gospel Coalition [oh my god you guys, there are 60 council members and all of them are men? WTF? I mean I guess I should have expected that, it's The Gospel Coalition, but... wow] and regularly blogs for their site. And the sermon was posted on Focus on the Family's website- I grew up reading magazines and books published by Focus on the Family, I see them as pretty representative of conservative Christianity.
Anyway. The main point of Mohler's talk is that, for Christians, adulthood means marriage. Marriage is not one possible option, it's what YOU MUST DO. There are rare cases when people have "the gift of celibacy" but for most people, nope. Get married NOW OR ELSE.
You think I'm kidding? Here are some fun excerpts:
Now I want to suggest to you that there is no biblical category of enduring singleness. I told you, you wouldn't like it. There is no biblical category of enduring singleness, except for the gift of celibacy and that for God's glory in Gospel service.Wow. You guys, I don't think I've ever heard this particular take on "the gift of singleness." He's saying only people who "can gladly live out [their] days without the pleasures of sex, without the company of a spouse" are called by God to singleness and celibacy. So I guess that generally means people who are asexual and aromantic. (Note: many asexual/aromantic people do get married, just not necessarily for the same reasons that others would.) This is very different from what I've typically heard about singleness in the church- people often talk about how hard it is, how they do wish they were married, but they are obeying God by being single. Mohler is putting forth a truly bizarre idea here: that there are people who want to be married, but are not married, and that shows there is something horribly wrong with them. They are very bad sinners. Umm. Don't you think it's because maybe they haven't met a decent partner yet? Or something about their circumstances prevents them from getting married currently?
Now this is counter-intuitive, because we live in the day where we prize our ability to define our own existence and to choose our own lifestyle. We live in aday of confusion--we're gonna be looking at this very closely--a day of confusionin which marriage has been so marginalized, it has been so postponed, it is now one option among others. And so, what we have is the rise in the society and even in many churches, of enduring singleness seen as one more lifestyle option.
And I believe the Scripture does not leave that option open to us except in extraordinary circumstances, one of them being the celibate gift that God gives certain individuals for His glory and for Gospel service. ...
... Let me be brutally honest. If you have been given the gift of celibacy, you will know it when before your Creator and Lord, you are able to say, "I can gladly live out my days without the pleasures of sex, without the company of a spouse. And I can do so, praising Your name, trusting You for my every provision and I am ready to be deployed in Your service to Your glory." If you can honestly say that, then go and seize the mission, the ministry the Lord would give you and fulfill it to His glory.
And probably the FUNNIEST PART is that, though it's not mentioned in this sermon, Al Mohler believes same-sex marriage is a sin, so presumably he believes gay people just have to be single and celibate. [Unfortunately I couldn't find information on which side of the anti-LGB camp Mohler is in: the "try to be straight" side or the "just be single forever" side.] I find it absolutely hilarious that in this sermon he says the only people who are allowed to not get married are the people who are okay with being single and celibate- and yet this completely contradicts his stance on same-sex marriage. lololololololol.
He makes the claim "there is no biblical category of enduring singleness" based on ... what? Does he know Jesus was single? And Jesus didn't start his ministry til he was 30? What was Jesus doing all through his 20's? Probably dragging his feet about marriage and refusing to commit, like milennials today, am I right?
Here are a few other HILARIOUS lines from that sermon: "And it means that you in this generation, must take up responsibility to understand that marriage is not a lifestyle option" and "Adulthood equals marriage." I mean, you guys, I'm not even angry about this, it's just so FUNNY how he's totally making shit up and claiming it's what the bible says. [I lolled so much listening to this sermon and Hendrix was like "???"] And it's HILARIOUS that Mohler thinks he's the one who "values marriage" while young people who "delay marriage" do not. I mean, which of these sounds more like someone who "values marriage":
- You must get married because that is the expected next step in life, that is what you have to do, whether you like it or not.
- Marriage is a really really big commitment and we should take it very seriously. It's "til death do us part" and I want to be very very sure about that before I say it. In fact, maybe it's such a big deal that I don't want to make that kind of a promise. Maybe marriage isn't for me. Or at least not til I'm really really sure.
Oh hey speaking of ages, Mohler says this:
In the year 1900, the average boy reached sexual maturity at about age 15 and married generally by 20. The average girl reached sexual maturity at about 14 and married somewhere between 18 and 20 or somewhere thereabouts.He doesn't give a specific number- but he does say that in an ideal world, puberty would be the number one factor in choosing when to get married. Yes. Seriously. For people who buy into this ideology, marriage is little more than a permission slip to have sex, and sex is a bigger deal than marriage. They're so afraid of unmarried people having sex that the idea of legally tying two 20-year-olds together for life seems to carry a much smaller risk.
We now have a situation in which sexual maturity comes for many girls, the average before age 13 and for boys, the average at right about age 13. Now what have we done here? We've created this incredible span of time where sexual passion is ignited, but there is no holy means for it to be fulfilled.
Now some of you are immediately doing a calculation, saying, "He's asking us to marry at 16." (Laughter) No, but I want to tell you, I think that in a world that was much less confused and in a world that ordered itself according to biblical priorities, we would have a world in which people could marry much younger, much, much younger and have the full support of the society, which would see the holiness of marriage as the central crucible for adult making. (Applause) But we don't live in that world. (Applause)
I mean, just stop and appreciate how bizarre that is. And how totally terrified they are of sex.
Also this: "What is the ultimate priority God has called us to? In heaven, is the crucible of our saint making going to have been done through our jobs? I don't think so. The Scripture makes clear that it will be done largely through our marriages." LOLOLOLOLOL you guys you guys, oh this is so funny, he's claiming that the bible says our spiritual growth occurs more in the context of marriage than anything else. Like, where does the bible say that? This is completely made-up. Good joke, good joke, I lolled so much.
The bible presents a picture of marriage which doesn't look anything like what these conservative Christians claim. People married for economic reasons and political reasons, not because of love and commitment between two individuals. Wait, did I say two? Yeah, actually in the bible men often had several wives. Also, women had very few rights; if they weren't married, they wouldn't be able to provide for themselves. That's why there's so much concern in the bible for taking care of widows- because society was too sexist for them to be able to take care of themselves.
Also, look at this bit from Mohler's talk:
Marriage is so important because we want our autonomy. We prize our autonomy. We want our personal zone of privacy. We like to define our own lives and autonomy is one of the besetting sins of our time and of our ego and of our drive of the giant "I," that first-person, singular pronoun that stands at the center of who we are. We want our autonomy and marriage says, "You don't have any autonomy."Now, for any of you who have been reading my "Boundaries in Dating" series, where I keep talking about my continued astonishment at the fact that the "Boundaries in Dating" writers are Christians who believe that your own needs, desires, and emotions matter, and you think I'm exaggerating and that the church didn't *really* teach me that my needs/desires/emotions don't matter: here it is. Mohler literally said it. Autonomy is a sin. He said autonomy is a sin.
This is a violent teaching. This is a teaching that tells Christians they should submit when people treat them badly. This is a teaching which ignores the reality of psychological trauma and tells us that our emotions don't matter. It says that we should always put others first, and any moment where we do something purely because we want to is a horrific selfish sin. It keeps Christians from recognizing when they are being mistreated or abused, keeps them from standing up for themselves.
Autonomy. Listen: we are created in the image of God. Does God have autonomy? Yes? Then we do too. Autonomy is NOT a sin. You are meant to be able to make your own choices. You should put your own needs first (while also caring about other people, in ways that are reasonable for whatever type of relationshp you have with them). Your desires matter and your emotions matter- and if people don't respect that, then don't let them in your life.
Elsewhere in the sermon, there's a bunch of gender-essentialist crap about how women need husbands to protect them, but men also need their wives to protect them- for "the protection of his passions." Yeah. A man needs a wife to handle all his sexual passion, to protect him from going out and having sex with any random passerby and thereby ruining his life (as previously mentioned, in this ideology, sex outside of marriage is The Worst Thing Ever). This led to the following exchange between me and my fiance:
me: "Honey, I'm supposed to protect your sexual passions."[But I guess since we don't yet have a piece of paper that says we are committed to each other in a legal sense, it doesn't apply to us?]
Hendrix: "So, do you want to do that tonight?"
me: "Well I guess we have to, Al Mohler said so."
[Girls, feel free to hit on your male partner using the line, "How about we go back to my place and I can protect you, if you know what I mean."]
Throughout the part about husbands and wives "protecting" each other, Mohler keeps saying that this is what the bible says. Again, I find that ABSOLUTELY HILARIOUS because the bible says no such thing. You can find a verse here or there about a husband providing for his family or a wife keeping the home, but there's nothing even remotely close to this concept of "God made men to be the big strong protectors and spiritual leaders of their families, and their role is to pursue a woman, whose role is to be passive." Like that's just absolute nonsense. You won't find anything like that anywhere in the bible.
And there's just one more absolutely hilarious bit I'd like to show you. At the end, one of the Focus on the Family commentators sort of disagrees with Mohler:
John: Well, I've seen the research that says a young adult's brain isn't fully developed until about 25, especially in young men, so don't get married too soon. But my kids are in the 20's. I've got several in their 20's and they know some friends who have gotten married at 20, 21, 22 and they're doin' pretty well. So, I think in spite of the research, there are some at least, examples I see of kids who are making good decisions in that time frame.Oh my goodness, he thinks there are OTHER FACTORS in deciding when to marry BESIDES one's body's ability to have sex. Like, brain development and maturity, for example. He disagrees with Mohler. How about that.
All right. Anyway. I think we've had enough of this ridiculous sermon, huh? His main point is that it's just so sinful how kids these days want to wait til they're like, *ready* to get married. Because OBVIOUSLY the bible teaches that you HAVE TO get married once you're an adult. (Note: the bible doesn't say anything like that.) And isn't it awful that people think they have autonomy. And the timing of marriage should be based on when you go through puberty more than anything else.
Yeah. Okay. I had a good laugh, because none of this nonsense is from the bible.