The contradicting state of marriage

July 11, 2016

Marriage has become an increasingly complex subject. Do people still desire it anymore? If so, what are they looking for? Why are people entering marriage much later in life and spending so much time cohabiting before marriage? What’s happening with this important institution?

TIME Magazine featured an important cover story in June on the tremendous importance of marriage, exploring many of these questions. It was unapologetically pro-marriage. Let’s address some of these important questions, taking a quick overview of what’s happening with marriage today, both the good and the bad news, seeing that it provides great opportunities for the Church.

Family formation trends

Marriage rates have generally been declining for some time. This didn’t start with the sexual revolution, but the Industrial Revolution. That revolution changed many things: How a husband and wife earned their household living, moving from working alongside each other on the farm to working alongside other people’s spouses in the factory. Women had more opportunity to remain single and more options to sustain themselves if divorce seemed wise. It created a tremendous change in how families formed and functioned.

In the 40s and 50s, marriage took on an additional shape that had substantial consequences. Sociologists call it the rise of the companionate marriage. Couples focused more on their relationship, friendship and compatibility, rather than on how to establish a life, family and common welfare together. Love has always been a part of marriage, to be sure, but the companionate marriage made this paramount, paving the way for spouses to become each other’s primary source for self-actualization. Each existed to make each other “a better person.” This gradually led to the “soul mate” idea of marriage where one seeks and finds their one, perfect soul mate, rather than becoming soul mates through decades of life together. Ma and Pa Ingalls didn’t “work” on their marriage, it just was, and it worked.

While marriage is declining today as cohabitation and unmarried childbearing among 20-something and 30-something women are growing at substantial rates, the desire for marriage still remains remarkably strong. Nearly everyone, if they could wave a magic wand and drop themselves into a relatively happy life as a spouse and parent would not hesitate to do so. This is consistently shown through many different sociological studies. So why are we seeing these contradicting trends?

Why aren’t people marrying?

People are as pro-marriage as they have ever been, perhaps more so. They want to marry and stay married for life. How can this be when marriage rates are declining and cohabitation and out-of-wedlock childbearing skyrocketing? Curiously, these two factors are directly related. In order to understand why, we must understand a sociological truism. Generations, for good or bad, are formed by the generation from which they came. Look at the kids of the Great Depression. They became the most materially prosperous generation our nation has ever seen. They worked hard, built a robust economy, thanks to World War II, and settled down into a comfortable family life. Their kids rejected their dad as the company man, mom as the dutiful homemaker, nightly pre-dinner cocktails and meals around the evening dinner table as sure as clockwork. Suburbia wasn’t for them, so they went to Woodstock. As they grew and settled down, great numbers of them followed their hearts, asserted their independence and got divorced. This turned their children into ping-ponging latch-key kids, bouncing from mom’s place to dad’s home and back again through the week. They had to let themselves in after school because both parents were working. These children are now today’s emerging adults.

This brings to our answer for our current cultural irony. These young people have been existentially scared by the tremendous family instability they were thrust into and it has no recent historical precedent. It is the mark of their generation. They yearn for family stability for themselves and their own children, but are scared to death they will mess it up – and their own children as they were – just like their parents did. They have no good training or examples. They wonder if successful marriage is even possible. So what do they do?

They choose to cohabit and do so for three general reasons.

  1. They are desperately scared to take to the plunge marriage requires so they just wade safely near the shore.
  2. They cohabit as a relational “place-holder.” Not sure this guy is who I want to marry, but he’s good enough to live with until I find that guy.
  3. This could be the one, so they move into together to road test the relationship.

Each of these still retains successful marriage as the long-term plan. If ladies cannot find a marriageable man who seems to pose no relational risk, they will simply live with one until they find that guy. If they cannot find a marriageable man to answer the tick, tick ticking of their biological clock, they will settle for becoming a single mom with a “good-enough” baby daddy, which is happening among most demographics. These are the reasons we see these seemingly contradictory trends in society today.

Opportunities for the Church

These seemingly insurmountable troubles today are actually a wonderful opportunity for the church, if we will only recognize and seize them.

Our young adults desperately want what they were denied at home: marriage and even a real, meaningful faith. If we can show them with truth, love and imagination how these two go together so intimately, that is a message that will surprise their hearts with joy, hope and encouragement.

Glenn Stanton

Glenn T. Stanton is the director of Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family. He debates and lectures extensively on the issues of gender, sexuality, marriage and parenting at universities and churches around the world. Read More by this Author

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