Millennials and cohabitation: Understanding motivations and ministering well

January 9, 2017

Recently, I sat in my office with a young man considering moving in with his girlfriend. I’m finding myself in this situation a lot. It’s caused me to consider the reasoning behind the increased cohabitation among Millennials, which is the demographic I primarily work with. There are many, but here are a few that were obvious to me:

The attack upon marriage. The direct correlation between the attack on marriage and the increasing likelihood of cohabitation is undeniable. At one point in time, a man and woman living under the same roof meant they were married. The cultural attack upon marriage has caused many Millennials to deny the wisdom of getting married.

The delay of marriage. Fifty years ago, if a man met a woman he liked, he would pursue her, and they would marry shortly after. With the rise of undergraduate studies (and increasingly graduate), Millennials are waiting longer and longer to get married. In 1960, the median age of marriage was 20.3 (females) and 22.8 (males). In 2010, that number had grown to 26.5 (females) and 28.7 (males). Research also shows that in 1960, 72 percent of all adults 18 years and older were married. In 2010, that number dropped to 51 percent of adults. Marriage is no longer seen as a right of passage into adulthood. It’s now considered something that can or will happen once other “things” are in order.

The cultural normalization of cohabitation. According to Barna research, two-thirds of adults believe it is a good idea to live with someone before marriage. Millennials, compared to Elders, are twice as likely to believe cohabitation is a good idea (72 percent, compared to 36 percent). Millennial Christians are hearing advice from others commending them for their desire to live together.

The cultural normalization of sexual activity outside of marriage. One doesn’t have to look far to find explicitly sexual activity on television, within magazines, music and on the internet. Millennials have come to age in a time where sexual activity outside of marriage has become the norm. They’re being persuaded to explore all the boundaries of their relationships with one another.

Rite of passage into marriage. Many couples that I talk with state they want to live together so that they can be sure marriage is right for them. They believe cohabitation should be a prerequisite for marriage. How will you know if someone is clean? How will you know their sleeping habits? How will you know what they are “really” like? Of all the reasons for cohabitation, Barna reports that 84 percent stated “compatibility” as the main motivator. They would even say it’s wise to live together.

Prioritizing financial stability. When I press couples who are already living together, most state that it financially made sense. Usually, one of the partners didn’t have anyone else to live with. This is a poor excuse and more of an indication of their lack of healthy community. Money is a legitimate concern for Millennials, and many times it dictates their behavior (like it does all of us).  

In light of all the cultural norms and pressures, how should we be ministering to this demographic? Here are some things that I practice as I’m meeting with people about this topic:

1. Determine their spiritual condition. Whenever I’m meeting with someone, I want to know whether he identifies himself as a believer or not. His or her answer will help me determine what advice I give and how hard to press. In my most recent conversation, he identified himself as a Christ follower. I told him that he could either continue to make decisions based on what he wanted or he could follow God’s instructions.

In the case of a non-believer, I want to first explain the gospel and its importance. As my professor advised in seminary, the session changes from counseling to evangelizing if the counselee doesn’t profess to know Christ. However, I also try to show him or her the value of research (granted, science and research conclusions can quickly change). The correlation between divorce and cohabitation has been studied closely. In the National Marriage Project, it was concluded, “After 5 to 7 years, 39% of all cohabiting couples have broken their relationship, 40% have married (although the marriage might not have lasted), and only 21% are still cohabiting.” If someone truly loves a person, living together is not what is best for the long term health of their relationship.

According to the National Survey of Family Growth, unplanned pregnancy also rises with cohabitation. Women are 20 percent more likely to become pregnant when living with their dating mate (a male usually responds negatively to this stat).

In all of this, I’m seeking to help them understand that cohabitation is not a wise choice by any standard. It’s not a good “test drive” for marriage. It’s seeking to reap the benefits of marriage without the commitment. Honestly, in my experience, it’s rare to talk a non-believer out of cohabitation. Stats and research don’t change heart affections; only Jesus can.  

2. Speak truth, and use the Bible. Millennials want you to be upfront with them. Don’t dance around the issue. Speak directly about how God would view their cohabitation. Call cohabitation, and sex outside of marriage, what it is—a sin. Remember, we walk a balance between grace and truth. Help them understand you care for them and truly believe honoring God is what is best for them. If they (or he/she) identify themselves as believers, then present a good biblical case for why it’s wrong and dangerous. Many of them have heard it’s wrong (from their parents), but they haven’t heard why the Bible says it’s wrong.

Three verses I use regularly are: Colossians 3:17, where Paul writes, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (ESV). I explain that Paul is addressing what he would consider to be a mark of being a believer—that we should strive to do all things in the name of Jesus. I then ask whoever I’m counseling if they honestly believe living with their girlfriend/boyfriend is to the glory of Jesus or a choice based on what they want. I have yet to meet one Christian Millennial who believes it honors Christ.

I also point them to Philippians 4:8, where Paul writes, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Here, we see Paul addressing the inner thoughts of believers. If Paul set this as a standard for our inner thoughts, wouldn’t it be fair to assume our actions should also reflect what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely and commendable? I ask, “Does living together before being married seem true, honorable, just, pure, lovely or commendable?” Their answer is always, “No.”

Finally, 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 addresses the priority of sex within the confines of marriage. Paul is highlighting the necessity for a husband and wife to have a healthy sex life. When reading this text, it becomes extremely clear that sex is limited to inside the marriage covenant. To have any type of sexual relationship with someone who isn't your spouse is sin. To counter this point, a Millennial may tell me they aren’t having sex. Most likely, this isn’t true, but if it is, then they’re either really self-controlled (not likely, considering our conversation) or not attracted to each other and have a whole different set of problems.

Many might think they are “OK” as long as they have set sexual intimacy boundaries. But, they’re drawing a line that God hasn’t. Intimacy goes deeper than just sex. They don’t realize they’re engaging each other in a type of emotional intimacy (by creating a household together) that is unwise and that I believe God finds displeasure in.

It’s important to avoid only giving “don’t’s,” though. I want the Millennials I’m counseling to know they have a wonderful opportunity to display real, God honoring relationships in a culture that discredits the Christian faith. We each have an opportunity and responsibility to be Christ’s ambassadors to the world (2 Cor. 5:20). What a wonderful time for believers to push back the darkness by setting a dating standard that is unlike the world!

3. Connect them with others. In some cases, we’ve talked couples into separating from living together. Now what? Does our help stop with advice and edification? If we’re going to lovingly present a case against it, we have to lovingly help them find somewhere to live. Find a older couple in your church that has a open room. This is what the local church does. We take care of one another and help meet each other’s needs.

If we want to see more millennials pursue a biblical sexual ethic, it will take thinking deeply about what motivates and influences them. We have a way forward in the gospel. They can both experience enriching dating relationships and honor Christ. We must be willing to step into difficult conversations and speak gospel truth. In my experience, Christian Millennials have a desire to honor Christ in their relationships, but they simply lack the courage, confidence or discernment to make countercultural decisions. Let’s refrain from generalized criticism and, instead, come alongside our Millennial friends and help them make choices that glorify the Lord and serve their good.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24