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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Why Wait for Marriage?

By John W. Kennedy
Feb. 14, 2010

Although she doesn’t talk about it much, Christy Rowden has no qualms telling people she’s saving her chastity for marriage.

The fact that Rowden will be 31 in May makes her refreshingly out of step with mainstream society, where two-thirds of those who marry — if they bother to marry at all — live together first. The blonde-haired, green-eyed Rowden is administrative coordinator for the Alliance for Assemblies of God Higher Education.

“I truthfully thought God would bring the person I’m going to marry into my life before now,” says Rowden, who spent six years as an admissions counselor at Evangel University in Springfield Mo., her alma mater. “But if it takes another six months or six years, I still trust God. I have something good to wait for, and I’m not going to ruin that.”

In Christian culture, there is a fair amount of emphasis on the importance of abstinence for teenagers. But with the median age of a first marriage at an all-time high of nearly 28 for men and 26 for women, 20-somethings have little guidance on how to stay pure. (A generation ago, men married at a median age of 23 and women, 20.)

Prevailing culture, on the other hand, presents plenty of pressures for teens and young adults to relinquish virginity.

“Many who call themselves Christians have an intellectual understanding that it’s important to wait in terms of premarital sex,” says Dr. Jody Hagen, a Little Rock, Ark.-based clinical psychologist who is a member of the Association of Biblical Counselors and certified through the International Board of Christian Counselors. “Yet behavior indicates otherwise.”

Single people tend to fall into one of three categories when it comes to premarital sex. Some maintain the traditional biblical view that sex before marriage is wrong. However, in the past generation, many churchgoers have succumbed to a moral relativism, which says it’s OK to engage in sexual relations with a person they probably will marry anyway. Lately, an increasingly prevalent attitude for many non-Christians has been to engage in noncommittal intercourse with whomever they want.

“A lot of young people want to see how far they can push the boundaries without actually being ‘wrong,’ ” Rowden says. “Those who choose not to have sex often try to push how far they can go without figuring out where the line is.”

Some give in, fearing otherwise they will lose their dating partner.

Rowden believes a key to remaining pure is to be surrounded by like-minded people.

“If you’re in the right circles, with the right people as your main influence, there will be fewer opportunities to go off track,” Rowden says.

Dan Morrison, an ordained minister who turns 27 next month, agrees. While serving as a Chi Alpha campus pastor in 2006, Morrison conducted a poll of more than 200 students on a Texas university campus. Overwhelmingly, respondents indicated they wanted to marry a virgin. Yet virtually all admitted to being sexually involved themselves.

“There was a double standard, and gender didn’t matter,” says Morrison, an editorial assistant for the Alliance for Assemblies of God Higher Education who will graduate in May from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. “There was a logical disconnect: People who weren’t sexually pure wanted to marry someone who was sexually pure.”

National Youth Ministries Director Jay Mooney says proper training about healthy sexuality should occur long before a student reaches high school.

“As a parent, I should never abdicate my biblical responsibility for the moral and integral development of my child — to the government or to clergy,” says Mooney, the 48-year-old father of four children ages 12 to 22. “I cannot ask others to do what God has uniquely empowered me to do.”

Media influence
Media — including billboards, motion pictures, music videos, fast-food commercials, gossip magazines, video games and sitcoms — perpetually push the concept of promiscuity. This year, broadcast television networks are fixated with middle-aged single women sleeping with younger men.

ABC’s Cougar Town is the prime example. The series features 45-year-old Courtney Cox as a divorced predatory female wantonly pursuing 31-year-old boyfriend Josh (Nick Zano).

On CBS, Accidentally on Purpose is led by 38-year-old Jenna Elfman as Billie, impregnated by 25-year-old Jon Foster (Zack), whom she met in a bar.

Gary R. Allen, national director of Pastor Care, notes that sexual taboos crumble especially when comedies imply improper behavior is normal. Repeated exposure to such programming has a desensitizing effect, Allen says.

“What is funny to one generation often becomes a value in the next,” says Allen, 64.

“It’s a challenge for young adults to remain pure in our sex-saturated world,” says Dennis Franck, director of Single Adult Ministries. “The longer they’re single, the more challenging it is because the pressure is always there.”

A 2009 National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health reported that 93 percent of those ages 18-23 who were involved in romantic relationships had an active sex life, including nearly 80 percent of unmarried churchgoing evangelicals. A California State University study reports that the average male loses his virginity at 16 years, 9 months. For females, it’s 17 years, 4 months.

Reasons for purity
“The physical act of sex is not the only issue,” Allen says. “It’s the deeper issue of emotional, spiritual and mental bonding to each other as human beings — the realm of two becoming one.”

Allen says the Bible teaches that God values virginity to the point that evidence of a premarital involvement voided the marriage. Joseph (Matthew 1:19) determined to divorce a pregnant Mary before an angel intervened.

“God created us to be intimate with a companion in the context of a lifelong marital commitment where there is security and protection,” says Franck, 58. “Sex doesn’t guarantee intimacy.”

Hagen maintains that parents aren’t intentional enough in touting the benefits of sex within marriage, stressing a “don’t do this” list instead. She says Christian young people need to understand how amazing sexual intimacy can be in the context of a marriage covenant.

Certainly the Bible contains numerous prohibitions of sexual conduct, including adultery, prostitution, homosexuality, bestiality, incest, polygamy and pedophilia. There are repeatedly warnings against premarital sex, including Hebrews 13:4, which says, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (NIV). Throughout Scripture, fidelity between one husband and one wife is the ideal.

“The Bible consistently connects sexual happiness with sexual holiness,” Hagen says. “When people try to pursue passion in the absence of holiness, it leads to perversion and pain. Seeking pleasure for pleasure’s sake becomes a hedonistic paradox.”

Christian discomfort
The unspoken expectation in most church circles is that young singles are remaining pure. The same goes for divorced or widowed persons who have lost a partner, but not necessarily sexual desire.

“For centuries, most churches have not been willing to talk about sex because of a perceived awkwardness,” Allen says. “But teaching about premarital sex is necessary to oppose the wide-open permission that is visible elsewhere.”

While delaying marriage increases the opportunity that a person will have sexual relations beforehand, marrying at an early age isn’t a panacea — even though in 1 Corinthians 7:9 the apostle Paul advises marriage as a better course for passion than burning with sinful lusts.

Multiple studies indicate that marrying too young is a chief factor for divorce. An official AG statement urges caution in early marriage: “For too many young couples, unchecked or uncontrolled sexual expression leads to marriage with an imbalanced focus on the physical relationship.”1

“Often people marry young for the wrong reasons: They want a companion, they want to get out of the home, they want to have sex,” Franck says. “Early marriage may be premature.”

When the topic of sex is mentioned in church, it’s customarily a negative message: Teens should be abstinent, and married couples shouldn’t commit adultery.

“But there is a great silence on how unmarried people between 22 and 30 should live,” Morrison says.

Those who do speak up about sexuality sometimes are insensitive. As the years pass and Rowden remains single, she receives advice on how to fix her “problem.” The clear implication is that she’s abnormal for waiting so long to wed.

Allen says it’s healthier to admit that God created humans as sexual beings, with drives, urges, hormones and attractions — that need to be properly channeled.

“I’ve had so many married clients in their 30s who have been told repeatedly, growing up in a Christian home, that sex is bad,” Hagen says. “Then they get married, and they’re supposed to enjoy sex. Trying to prevent premarital sex by talking about how horrible it is isn’t a good strategy.”

Darrin J. Rodgers, 36, director of the AG’s Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center, says the problem isn’t marrying too young, but rather the incorrect assumption that young people can’t be mature. He believes too many Christians uncritically accept the notion that it is wisest to finish educational pursuits and be on a career path before considering marriage. Rodgers says he regrets that he put achievements ahead of forming a family.

“Marriage is a formative institution — if you postpone marriage until you’re a fully formed individual, you’ll never marry,” says Rodgers, who has a master’s in theology as well as a law school doctorate.

Fallout of falling
Franck lists abundant reasons why premarital sex has negative consequences, including:

• Pregnancy, which some try to end by abortion

• Sexually transmitted diseases

• Disillusionment with and mistrust of the opposite sex

• Ostracism by friends and relatives

• Feelings of guilt, which can linger into other relationships

• Estrangement from God

“When there is disobedience to God, repentance and reconciliation are needed,” Franck says. “Even if we are forgiven, some people are haunted for years by the memories of past immoral sexual encounters.”

According to Mooney, many young people enter marriage without understanding God’s view of the union as a spiritual, not just physical, relationship.

“In their quest for pleasure, they are never able to reach the level of why God designed it,” Mooney says. “Youths who engage in sexual activity will struggle with temptations, battle guilt and shame, and suffer from broken self-esteem.”

And once it’s been given away, virginity can’t be retrieved.

Hagen advocates the practice of courting — getting to know a person in a family and group context, without focusing on a physical relationship, and with the express purpose of marriage.

“If we are called apart from the world, Christians shouldn’t date for the purpose of exploring temporary relationships,” Hagen says.

Great expectations
Rodgers believes that church leaders who echo the societal preference for postponing marriage could be setting their children up for failure.

Still, Rodgers agrees that chaste living is the only moral option for single Christians. He believes the Western church largely has forgotten the Christian ideal of consecration, which calls for full devotion of one’s life to God.

“This was the reason for being of the early Pentecostal Movement,” Rodgers says.

Morrison, who as a teenager made a decision to stay pure because of sermons he heard preached, believes Christian singles undoubtedly are capable of remaining chaste.

“It’s not unreasonable for single people in the church to live sexually pure lives,” Morrison says. “Why should we suddenly elevate this sin above others, where we expect people to abide by the other commands of the Lord, but not this one?”

Hagen, citing Job’s decision to make a covenant with his eyes not to look lustfully at a girl (Job 31:1), questions the sincerity of faith of those who claim they can’t wait.

“Do they say, Remaining sober really isn’t an option for me?” Hagen asks. “This one physical desire isn’t more powerful than an all-powerful God.”

Rowden vows not to enter into a sexual relationship before marriage.

“I have to believe God will do what He has promised, even though it may not happen the way I think it will,” Rowden says. “It’s worth waiting for because it’s special.”


1. See “What does the Assemblies of God teach concerning the biblical view of marriage?”.

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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