Pastoral Meanderings — A dirty little secret…

April 20th, 2012 Post by

Another excellent post by Pastor Peters over on Pastoral Meanderings. I don’t know about other Pastor’s experiences in pre-marital counselling, but the pastor in our church says when he started in the ministry he would see 1 in 10 people coming in for marriage were in a co-habitation situation; today he’s surprised if people aren’t doing this. It’s even become common for the parents to approve of such a living situation.

For those doing this for “financial reasons”, we offer space in an older couple’s home for one of the couple .. as far as I know noone has taken us up on this as of yet, but it proves to the couple that this isn’t the real reason for them doing this.

Another article by Pastor Scheer about strategies to use is found here.

 

Cohabitation in the United States has increased by more than 1,500 percent in the past half century. In 1960, about 450,000 unmarried couples lived together. Now the number is more than 7.5 million. The majority of young adults in their 20s will live with a romantic partner at least once, and more than half of all marriages will be preceded by cohabitation. This shift has been attributed to the sexual revolution and the availability of birth control, and in our current economy, sharing the bills makes cohabiting appealing. But when you talk to people in their 20s, you also hear about something else: cohabitation as prophylaxis.

In a nationwide survey conducted in 2001 by the National Marriage Project, then at Rutgers and now at the University of Virginia, nearly half of 20-somethings agreed with the statement, “You would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first, so that you could find out whether you really get along.” 

About two-thirds said they believed that moving in together before marriage was a good way to avoid divorce.  But that belief is contradicted by experience. Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages — and more likely to divorce — than couples who do not. These negative outcomes are called the cohabitation effect.

The dirty little secret is that cohabitation is an enemy of a happy marriage.  It has been known for a very long time but the assumption was that those peddling this truth were merely naysayers trying to steal sexual happiness and an adventuresome spirit away from youth.  That is another dirty little secret.  Those who insist that cohabitation is an enemy of marital happiness are not trying to prevent sin (a laudable goal, to be sure) but to assist those seeking to be happy in their lives as husband and wife, joined together until death parts them.

You can read it all here (from the New York Times). It is not the stuff of religious nuts but credible study and very secular researchers.  There are differences to be sure — male to female, religious to agnostic, but one thing they all seem to agree on is that their standards for a live-in partner are lower than they are for a spouse.  In other words, marriage suffers from an idealized relationship compared to relationships which, for all intents and purposes, looked and acted like marriage but without the conversation, commitment and community recognition.  These low-cost, low-risk living situations both become a mine field to a happy marriage and a trap which is hard to get out of — they hold cohabitators captive.

Cohabitation is here to stay and, therefore, so is the disappointment when the cohabiting decide to tie the knot and find out that the person they married is the same old flawed individual they were living with all those years.  One of the things that sustains a young marriage through its rough time of adjustment is the honeymoon (not the trip but the time of newness in which the relationship is fresh and love is willing to overlook wrongs and irritants and make sacrifices).  There is no honeymoon for the cohabiting who marry.  There is only the same old same old.  What began as a test become the predictor of the future — not for good but for ill.  Without anything hidden or any surprises to be revealed, the cohabitors are left with only the past as their future.

BTW… what is so severely disappointing is that Christian young folks and their parents had accepted the fallacy of cohabitation leading to happy marriage and even encourage cohabitors to marry and make legal what is immoral and, not to be forgotten, a marker of sure disappointment to come.


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  1. April 20th, 2012 at 23:31 | #1

    Anybody else run into parents providing quarters for cohabitation of their children and significant others?

  2. Rev. Mike
    April 21st, 2012 at 08:55 | #2

    Thanks for this post!

    I have a lay friend who refuses to go the weddings of those who have been living together before marriage. He says, “You want me to be part of your make-believe sham! Not likely!”

    Is a different rite for the cohabitators a possibility. I try to get them to private confession.

  3. Win
    April 21st, 2012 at 09:58 | #3

    @Rev. Mike #2

    Your friend has likely lost some friends, but certainly is making a statement.

    A different rite for cohabitors? How about, “I’m sorry, but I can’t marry you as long as you are living together and unrepentant.”

    Another thing: I haven’t seen statisics lately, but some time ago, I read that the incidence of spousal abuse is markely higher among those who lived together before marriage. Is that still true today?

  4. Mrs. Hume
    April 21st, 2012 at 10:03 | #4

    Can someone explain the legal marriage connection to me. Where do marriage ceremonies come in historically? Have they always existed? In the Bible it seems that two are married when they and community consider them married. I don’t understand not wanting cohabiters to formalize their relationship. Can someone explain it? When I say I don’t understand, I don’t mean that I disagree, I just mean that I don’t understand. When the church, youth Sunday school teachers, etc., never talk about marriage, can we really expect young people to understand by just inferring in this permissive culture? What should we do to make the procedures and expectations clear in advance?

  5. Dave Likeness
    April 21st, 2012 at 10:30 | #5

    One of the problems is that the local parish has simply winked
    at cohabitation and not called it a sin. How many pastors have
    refused to perform marriages of cohabitating couples? How many
    pastors have insisted that they stop living together before they
    begin pre-marital counseling? How many pastors have asked them
    to repent of this sin of cohabitation and live according to God’s will?

  6. Win
    April 21st, 2012 at 10:36 | #6

    @Dave Likeness #5

    A pastor friend of mine tells such couples that he can’t (won’t) marry them unless they stop living together for, say three or six months. Sometimes they comply, but often it goes over like a brick balloon.

  7. Mrs. Hume
    April 21st, 2012 at 11:59 | #7

    “A pastor friend of mine tells such couples that he can’t (won’t) marry them unless they stop living together for, say three or six months.”

    Okay, but why? What is the basis? Can you explain it? I understand that cohabiters are not seen as legally married by the state due to laws, but why aren’t they considered “married” by the church? Can someone explain it? I am not disagreeing. I just want to understand the basis.

  8. Win
    April 21st, 2012 at 13:19 | #8

    @Mrs. Hume #7
    “Okay, but why? What is the basis? Can you explain it?”

    I hope this helps–I’m no pastor, but have had enough experience with engaged couples and premarital counseling to at least take a stab at answering your questions.

    First, I’m not sure if common-law marriage is still the law in most states, but it used to be that, after having lived together for seven years, the couple was considered legally married. At least in my state.

    Second, In a church-blessed marriage, the couple makes their vows to each other, before God and the church as witnesses. They have entered into a committed relationship, and have vowed publicly to lover, honor, cherish, forsake all others, etc., in all circumstances, in sickness and in health, good times and bad, for better or for worse, etc. This is an oath, is it not? It has a lot more “teeth” than simply saying, “let’s live together with no strings, etc., etc..” The Church blesses such a relationship. How can the Church bless and give approval to a couple who has been “living in sin” in direct defiance of the Sixth Commandment? The Church also recognizes civil marriages, before a judge or JP, for instance. Sometimes, such a marriage is later solemnized (blessed) by the church. I don’t believe the RC Church recognizes civil marriages.

    Hope this helps. The pastors can undoubtedly answer your questions better than this.

  9. April 21st, 2012 at 14:29 | #9

    One problem that I see in this whole mess is this: Let’s say, as a pastor, that you work towards recognition of sin, confession and absolution. You insist that the couple confesses their sin, and then separates until the wedding occurs. They politely excuse themselves from your study … then run like h___ to the Methodist pastor who will give them all the bells and whistles they desire for a first-class wedding, no questions asked … then, after the wedding, the couple humbly comes back to your office to get the kid baptized (if they ever come back at all)!

    Now, I am not in the least bit in favor of cohabitation, for all of the reasons mentioned so far … but this is a real problem in working with couples you would love (as a pastor) to see have a long-term relationship with God and the local congregation. How does one address that issue?

  10. Rev. Mike
    April 21st, 2012 at 14:44 | #10

    Telling them that that they must separate before they will be married goes over like a brick balloon because they are usually very immature Christians who have been heavily influenced by the world around them and by parents who have checked out on the issue because they themselves shacked up in some earlier more groovy day. I see them somewhat as poor souls that are caught up in temptation and sin…. who need to be brought to repentance. Telling them that they must separate in order to be in my good graces does not teach grace, but rather works righteousness.

    And why should cohabitation be singled out? (it’s kind of like the question of why are most excommunications against adulterers) Is this a greater sin than say fantasy masturbation? Should I tell someone who is seeking God’s blessing…let’s say baptism for instance, that if He/she masturbates he must go away for six months and tie his hands to his sides to prove that he is worthy of it? No. I baptize, I teach, I convict, I absolve. I work among people who sin all the time.

    I suppose one might argue the cohabitation is a public sin. So is is swearing, drinking till drunk in the local bar, dancing in a sexual way, and so on and so on. I can see sins in all the people I serve. But I do not tell them to leave the church and fix themselves before they show up again.

    When I discover the couple that has come to me is cohabitating I ask, “Why marriage now?” That always throws them. Before, they didn’t need a piece of paper to do all the things that married peopled do. Now they do. What has this changed? Obviously marriage means something. It means something to God. They have offended God. They need to repent. ultimately it would be cool to have confession of sin during the wedding ceremony…. I have got that to happen once at the suggestion of the couple. Most times, I have led them in private confession about a week before marriage and have asked them to abstain…. but I do not ask them to separate or to spend six months apart or any of that. That wouldn’t be helpful Because they are usually immature Christians who know next to nothing and they just flip it and say “That pastor’s an idiot jerk” and so I loose the opportunity to coax them into repentance and to help them as they start a family.

    So My approach is to show mercy to those who are caught in the sin of cohabitation and at the same time, teach and preach against the practice. …. much like i do with other sins. I preach against them but forgive those who are contrite.

    And I’m not completely sold on what I do. A good argument to the contrary might sway me.

  11. Dave Likeness
    April 21st, 2012 at 14:45 | #11

    Kantor Dennis……Forget the Methodist pastor, in my ministry
    I have seen these couples run to another LCMS parish in our circuit
    and get married by the pastor who turned a blind eye to their
    cohabitation. These parishes say they are doing evangelism
    when they perform the weddings of cohabitators.

  12. Nathan Redman
    April 21st, 2012 at 14:47 | #12

    The pastor isn’t doing the couple any favors by not speaking the truth. My wife and I lived together before marriage (one of the many things have repented for and been forgiven for) and I know if we would have visited our current pastor he would have spoken the truth about cohabitation and at that time I would not have liked it. People do change but the church shouldn’t bend the rules so to speak just to try to keep a young couple in the faith – I suspect if the couple isn’t understanding of the pastors reasons then they are likely to flee to a more liberal church body.

  13. Dutch
    April 21st, 2012 at 15:25 | #13

    I think BJS has touched on this before. However, the one thing I don’t think any of us, has, is if the couple is expecting, when going thru pre-marital counseling. Messy, yes, but it happens, just like this does.

    Mrs. Hume’s question is interesting. When did the Church rite mesh w/the legal ?

  14. Win
    April 21st, 2012 at 15:33 | #14

    @Rev. Mike #10

    You said, “Telling them that they must separate in order to be in my good graces does not teach grace, but rather works righteousness.”

    I’m afraid you’ve jumped to an unwarranted conclusion: I don’t recall saying that that separation was to get in the pastor’s good graces.

    You said, “And why should cohabitation be singled out? (it’s kind of like the question of why are most excommunications against adulterers) Is this a greater sin than say fantasy masturbation?”

    Cohabitation, as you say, is a public sin, and done in full view of the pastor, the parents, and the body of Christ in that place, especially the young people. However, it is no more “singled out” than any other public sin. And, the couple is really sinning against each other as well as everyone else, is it not? We dare not forget that marriage is a picture of Christ and the church, so the implications of this particular sin are sobering, especially in its effect on the body of Christ.

    Nothing was said about “going away”, only refraining from living together. “Leave the church?” Who said that? Jesus showed mercy to the woman caught in adultery, and also said to her, “Go now, and leave your life of sin.” That was hardly a command to “leave the Church.” I did not say that, nor imply it.

    There is much to commend in your approach, however I’m not sure what you mean by “showing mercy,” unless you are attempting move the couple toward a celibate life before the wedding. At any rate, your question, “Why marriage now?” gives them something to think about, and is a great starting point to lead them in that direction. Thanks!

    Respectfully,

    Win

  15. Win
    April 21st, 2012 at 15:46 | #15

    Dutch :I think BJS has touched on this before. However, the one thing I don’t think any of us, has, is if the couple is expecting, when going thru pre-marital counseling. Messy, yes, but it happens, just like this does.
    Mrs. Hume’s question is interesting. When did the Church rite mesh w/the legal ?

    Re: Your second queston: The pastor is an agent of the state, licensed to perform marriages, thus when he marries a couple, it is a legally valid contract. He and the couple execute a marriage license–a legal document. So the Church’s rite does indeed mesh with the legal. And so the two kingdoms intersect, even coincide–the left-hand kingdom in its kingdom of Law creates a legal civil union, at the same time the right-hand kingdom creates and blesses a God-ordained union that is a picture of Christ and the church. “What God hath joined together let not man put asunder.”

  16. Dutch
    April 21st, 2012 at 15:50 | #16

    Win # 15,
    I think maybe, the question was when, did the Church require a license, along w/the Rite of Marriage Vow. That’s US History, not just Church History.
    Legally, divorce is messy & complicated. However, is allowed, for any reason. Not so much, with Christ. Marriage begins, in Christ, when exactly? I think that was the focus, but I could be wrong. Interesting Church History, question, though.
    Do couples go thru pre M counseling, if their/that Pastor, is not officiating? Say marrying overseas, civil ceremony, etc. I can’t imaginge, not sharing that w/a Pastor, but how is that handled? Are members taught, why pre M counseling is important? Why it is done? If one says no, others do say yes, I think. Why? Is this practice only done, if that Pastor is officiating?

  17. Diane
    April 21st, 2012 at 16:14 | #17

    Dutch :
    Win # 15,
    I think maybe, the question was when, did the Church require a license, along w/the Rite of Marriage Vow. That’s US History, not just Church History.
    Legally, divorce is messy & complicated. However, is allowed, for any reason. Not so much, with Christ. Marriage begins, in Christ, when exactly? I think that was the focus, but I could be wrong. Interesting Church History, question, though.
    Do couples go thru pre M counseling, if their/that Pastor, is not officiating? Say marrying overseas, civil ceremony, etc. I can’t imaginge, not sharing that w/a Pastor, but how is that handled? Are members taught, why pre M counseling is important? Why it is done? If one says no, others do say yes, I think. Why? Is this practice only done, if that Pastor is officiating?

    My husband and I were married in 1969. We had one meeting with the pastor before the wedding mostly to go over music and the wedding service itself. This was at a LCMS church where I had been baptized and confirmed. When did pre-marital counseling become the norm? It was never suggested to us. My parents never talked about it and they were married in the same church in 1946. I guess I’m curious about the history of it in the LCMS.

  18. helen
    April 21st, 2012 at 16:14 | #18

    Marriage begins, “in Christ” when He’s invited to be part of the marriage.
    [I'm not sure everyone who has stood before the altar has really thought that through, even w/o pre marital cohabiting. If they did, divorce would not be considered so lightly.]

    I remember one Pastor writing (sorry, I don’t now remember where) that his policy was to invite the cohabiting couple to be married immediately and tell them to plan the public show at their own pace. I cannot say whether that is a solution.

    Having seen a young couple live together seven years, then marry, then in a few more years divorce, I don’t know what is a solution.

    But before you assume everything was “perfect” a few generations ago, ask the oldest person who still has a good memory about the “early” babies in the congregation! [True, most of the couples were "promised" a century or so ago... they also stayed married till they died.]

  19. Dutch
    April 21st, 2012 at 16:54 | #19

    Helen # 18,
    No Denom, can blame their divorce rates, as the sole reason as “co habitation prior to marriage”. It’s not, we all know that.
    Love the “early baby” definition. They did. Something has slipped.
    I heard once, marriage, begins w/at engagement. Rightly so. If ya can’t honor a promise you asked & was accepted, you’ll never be able to hold in honor a vow, let alone one taken in the Face of the Living God.
    Marriage is not by any, to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God. Ya can add the “in that dread day of Judgement”. If He uses it as a comparision to us, regarding Faith, & regarding His Church…something really bad, slipped.

  20. Mrs. Hume
    April 21st, 2012 at 17:27 | #20

    I really struggle with the idea that cohabiting couples that want to marry are sinning. If they have separate residences, often there is merely the appearance of propriety these days. I would say that cohabiting couples that split up are guilty of sin because that is like a divorce, which is a sin. But a couple that is faithful to each other even though they don’t have a piece of paper from the state, how is that sin rather than effectively a state of marriage? The formal contract registered with the state is a creation of the state not the church, or am I confused? I mean, I am not sure. It seems that dissolving the union is sin but faithfully living together seems a gray area. As long as they are faithful to each other, where is the sin, other than defying the state authorities by not registering the relationship? Why isn’t it a marriage without the ceremony and the piece of paper? I mean, technically speaking.

  21. Dutch
    April 21st, 2012 at 17:36 | #21

    Mrs. Hume,
    I can tell ya; I made it work. W/o moving in, letting my apartment go, my job go, driving 3 hrs, to plan my wedding, on the weekends, & still live w/my parents, until the day before my wedding. Huge cost, huge discomfort, but it was the right thing to do. No matter what our situation was. That depends on quite a bit. How many hear that now?
    I hope I did not speak for you or out of turn, forgive me, if I have.

  22. April 21st, 2012 at 17:40 | #22

    Just to put some input into the discussion, a couple thoughts occur to me as I read the posts here.

    1) Engagement between a man and a woman is a private commitment to each other. That does not mean they should cohabit together.

    2) Marriage in the “spiritual kingdom” is when a man and woman make a public commitment to each other and to God. To be cohabit with each prior to the public commitment is sin.

    3) Faithfulness to each other does not trump faithfulness to God.

  23. April 21st, 2012 at 17:41 | #23

    Dutch :
    Mrs. Hume,
    I can tell ya; I made it work. W/o moving in, letting my apartment go, my job go, driving 3 hrs, to plan my wedding, on the weekends, & still live w/my parents, until the day before my wedding. Huge cost, huge discomfort, but it was the right thing to do. No matter what our situation was. That depends on quite a bit. How many hear that now?
    I hope I did not speak for you or out of turn, forgive me, if I have.

    Thanks Dutch!

  24. Dutch
    April 21st, 2012 at 17:47 | #24

    Perry #23,
    Thanks, always wonder about that, lol. No matter what the circumstance, NO MATTER WHAT, sin committed in regards to prior, we must, always follow Christ’s Commands. Vile a sinner, chief of sinners tho I know I was/am, as we may be, in regards to this subject, 2 wrongs, never make a right. Ever. Public Committment, is generally, your Engagement. Your Dad (if a girl, required prior for mine) and close family, is still considered public, isn’t it? Who do we call, once we accept or when she says “yes”? Church history question, I may very well, be wrong & more than likely am.
    So, how do holders of the Office guard & guide those who may have & is Pre Marriage counseling, required for members of a Confessional Lutheran Synod, if they do not ask for his/Congregation service/s?

  25. Win
    April 21st, 2012 at 18:50 | #25

    @Mrs. Hume #20

    I suppose that one could ask what did God mean when He said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” What’s so mysterious about those words? Perry Lund (#22) has clearly defined it. It’s not “the piece of paper”–it’s the public commitment, vowed before God and witnesses that makes it a marriage. Although a formal oath is not involved, nevertheless the vow to be faithful, etc., etc., is tantamount to an oath. With no commitment, the term faithfulness is meaningless. If, as you say, the couple wants to get married, then one may ask Rev. Mike’s great question (#10) a bit differently, “Why not get married now?” The “piece of paper” argument does not hold water–what is the Constitution of the U.S. but a “piece of paper.” Pieces of paper matter–whether a marriage contract or any other type of contract. What is mysterious to me is why a couple doesn’t want to get married. What is the hidden agenda? I believe that the thought of a formal commitment must frighten them. And that says a lot. But, that’s only my opinion. I’d like to know of a Godly reason why a couple should live together without taking the marriage vow. Right now, I can think of none.

  26. Mrs. Hume
    April 21st, 2012 at 18:55 | #26

    @Dutch #21

    Sounds good. Of course it does mean that you would have to have parents who would let you live with them until you get married.

    @Perry Lund #22

    Perry, that still goes back to just the appearance of propriety. Plenty of engaged people with separate residences aren’t chaste till marriage. Contraception just covers it for them.

    I still don’t see the point of having a couple repent of being faithful to each other. I understand that the public propriety of following the laws and customs has value. I just don’t see the sin in living as man and wife without the paper. Now, dissolving the relationship sure looks like sin, because once the couple is united, they are united paper or no paper. The sin is leaving the relationship not entering it. What am I missing in this discussion?

  27. Mrs. Hume
    April 21st, 2012 at 19:01 | #27

    I suppose that one could ask what did God mean when He said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

    Where is the adultery if they are faithful to each other?

    What I see emerging from this discussion is the public commitment. So, are two people who are faithful to each other and want to get married are committing adultery because they haven’t made a public commitment? I guess that is possible, seems a bit of a stretch.

  28. Dutch
    April 21st, 2012 at 19:11 | #28

    Mrs. Hume #26,
    Until we know, how to encourage, couples who have “early babies”, and do what is right, what little value does co-habitation really, …have? What do they do & counsel for them? Is it the same mulitple choice, that has been standard, from ’62 to ’97? This is not blame game.
    My parents, took the same type of test in ’62~same & similar ?’s, & asked, that my husband & I, took in ’97. Co habitation is a focus, it’s easy, it’s the 2 coming, that are held to account, not so. It is also those who choose to abstain from decision & wise counsel, & left to ignorant sheep, to do what is right, good & true regardless, are not of count? And don’t warrant any post, from a holder of the Office? Why?

    Marriage, this is Marriage folks, Pastoral counseling of those who actually tell & share, begins w/a multiple choice written test? Still? Yes, I am w/Helen, something really bad, has slipped.

  29. Richard Lewer
    April 21st, 2012 at 19:30 | #29

    We used to all understand that sex (Intercourse) outside of marriage was a sin (whether they live together or not). Marriage is more than a piece of paper. It is a public commitment “until death do us part.” Is it really “public” legally if there is not a marriage recorded. The “paper” is the public record of that commitment for all to be able to examine.

    Has the constant Hollywood barrage finally confused us all?

    Also – The church is not required to conduct marriages for anyone. There are many large “evangelical” churches that do no weddings. In my opinion, if I do a wedding, I and the church take some responsibility for the marriage. Therefore, I required marriage “counseling.” I had one couple that said, “We have both been married twice. We already know all about marriage.” I did not conduct their ceremony.

  30. Dutch
    April 21st, 2012 at 19:35 | #30

    Richard #29,
    There have been “early babies” for centuries, co habitation & easy divorce, not so much. We know what the sin/s is/are, what do we do to encourage those who don’t take the 2 sins easy way out?

    What does the Church, the Confessional Lutheran Synods, constitute & view as “married”?
    Is it the legal/fed or state paper, or vow? Are the Pre Marital counseling sessions required, for those who choose not to engage that/their Pastor? Simple question, as of yet, no answers from any holder of the Office.

    So, what are the answers?

  31. Jason
    April 21st, 2012 at 20:02 | #31

    Richard Lewer :I had one couple that said, “We have both been married twice. We already know all about marriage.”.

    (laughing) If they really knew what marriage was about, neither would have been divorced twice. Talk about utter ignorance, bordering on willful stupidity.

  32. Richard Lewer
    April 21st, 2012 at 20:09 | #32

    Dutch,

    Is it a public vow if it is secret and not recorded in the court house? I don’t think so. If it does not take a divorce to break it, it must not have been a marriage or been a real binding vow. Vows don’t mean much if they are not really public to all the public. Marriage also includes legal and financial obligations that are beyond so-called “vows” – “vows” which leave no protection for women and children once the passion passes.

    As I wrote, a congregation has no obligation to conduct any marriages. If it does conduct marriages, it has the right to set the rules for those weddings. Most pastors take seriously their responsibility for the marriages for which they conduct weddings.

  33. Mrs. Hume
    April 21st, 2012 at 21:01 | #33

    Is marriage really a public vow? I mean, maybe it is, but I never thought of it that way per se. I thought of it as the literal union of the man and woman. If they stay together permanently and are mutually faithful, then how is it adulterous? If they don’t follow rules like getting a marriage license, then I guess that is a sin of sorts, but it isn’t exactly adultery, is it? If they stay together permanently and some years into the relationship, they get officially married, where is the sin? Where is the adultery?

    I think of my own children. I wouldn’t want them to be cohabiting because I think that cohabiting means that they are planning to eventually end the relationship and don’t want that pesky government interfering and giving the other person some rights. So, it is like planning to sin even though there is a possibility of marriage and an honorable outcome, but the plan is dishonor the other person by ending the relationship.

  34. Win
    April 21st, 2012 at 21:26 | #34

    Mrs. Hume :
    I suppose that one could ask what did God mean when He said, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
    Where is the adultery if they are faithful to each other?
    What I see emerging from this discussion is the public commitment. So, are two people who are faithful to each other and want to get married are committing adultery because they haven’t made a public commitment? I guess that is possible, seems a bit of a stretch.

    What is the motivation for this couple to be faithful to each other?

    You say that they “want to get married?” So what’s to stop them? Why, if they “want” to get married, don’t they get married? What Godly reason can they possibly have NOT to get married? So if they “want” to get married, but don’t, and decide to live together, they’re committing adultery. The reason they are committing adultery is that they have not taken vows. And private vows mean nothing. I would think that if they had taken “private” vows witnessed by as few as two people, neither should they object to having some document that attests to their vows. But let’s take your argument a bit further. Let’s say that they privately swore to God to be faithful to each other (no witnesses). A case could be made that in the eyes of God, they are indeed married. Seems a lot of trouble to avoid making even a semi-public commitment in front of at most two witnesses, does it not? So why not simply do it?

    It is not unreasonable to assume that most couples who live together (cohabit) do not make such private vows before God. So, I repeat, if they “want” to get married, what’s stopping them? Again, what Godly reason can they have for living together without taking those ominous vows? But it must also be stated that, whatever their reasons, the Church stands ready to offer them forgiveness.

    Respectfully,

    Win

  35. April 21st, 2012 at 22:23 | #35

    Mrs. Hume :
    Is marriage really a public vow? I mean, maybe it is, but I never thought of it that way per se. I thought of it as the literal union of the man and woman.

    Yes, marriage is a “public vow” and a vow before our Triune God.

  36. John Eberhart
    April 22nd, 2012 at 12:53 | #36

    Dutch :I heard once, marriage, begins w/at engagement. Rightly so. If ya can’t honor a promise you asked & was accepted, you’ll never be able to hold in honor a vow, let alone one taken in the Face of the Living God.

    In essence I agree with you but practically I’m not sure. The only problem I see with “engagement is marriage’ is if an engagement is broken off. Same as divorce? —- likely not.

  37. helen
    April 22nd, 2012 at 13:31 | #37

    @Mrs. Hume #26
    The sin is leaving the relationship not entering it. What am I missing in this discussion?

    Mrs. Hume,
    I expect you are missing all the college students (or that age, not in college) who agree to move in together so that they don’t have to worry about a date on the weekend. They aren’t worried about permanence.

    You are missing the girls I’ve seen (in only one little corner of the university) who followed a boy to college, helped support him there with not much thought for their own education, and then found that when he graduated from school he graduated from their “arrangement”.

    And you’ve missed all the freshmen girls trotting down to the health service for “the Pill” soon after arriving on campus, so even if it’s a one night stand, they don’t have to worry. You’ve missed the blatant push toward promiscuity in the schools… starting way before college.
    We’ve always heard about the men’s “right” to sow a little “wild oats”.
    Feminists have convinced a lot of girls that they have the same “rights” and any mistakes can be aborted.

    Perhaps “pre-marital counseling” should begin in confirmation class…
    The schools are ahead of you even at that age.

  38. Mrs. Hume
    April 22nd, 2012 at 13:51 | #38

    @helen #37

    Helen, those situations are materially different from a cohabiting couple that wants a marriage ceremony. I agree those situations are all sinful. I am just trying to understand how it is sinful that a cohabiting couple and has been faithful to each other and now wants a marriage ceremony. Where is the sin? It isn’t unfaithfulness. I understand that they aren’t legally married, and the church doesn’t require people to marry in a ceremony in the church to be considered married. Civil marriage counts. So why not cohabiting? I am not arguing for it. I am just asking for the basis. Something beyond social convention.

  39. April 22nd, 2012 at 14:57 | #39

    @Mrs. Hume #7 My first parish I was the assistant pastor, AELC in a dual membership congregation: LCMS and AELC. A couple came to me wanting to be married. The couple were both members in a neighboring LCMS congregation and they decided to live together before their marriage date. The problem: their pastor told them that they could not marry at their home congregation unless they stopped living together. (BTW: this was some 28 years ago and living together was already becoming commonplace then) This made them quite upset. As I talked with them, they really liked the pastor and were quite upset at him for what they considered to such an unreasonable position: after all, they were doing the right thing. This situation also brought up all the problems inherent with a neighboring congregation and pastor. I thought the pastor also was unreasonable but I had to appreciate his stance, though I wondered too, what’s the big deal, they are getting married. I asked the senior pastor about this and he suggested I speak with pastor emeritus, a wise old pastor.

    He and I sat down and Pr. K. talked about it with me. Pr. K. pointed out that marriage is about more than the couple, but it is also a witness to marriage and the Church. A couple doing what they are doing are only thinking about themselves instead of the meaning of marriage for their congregation. This is what happens, taught Pr. K, when a couple decides to live together, it is only about them and their desires. By living together they are sending a signal that is not good regarding the vowed life of marriage to the congregation. Further, they should respect their pastor in this.

    After that discussion, I met with the couple. I repeated almost verbatim what Pr. K. taught me about marriage. They were chagrined…but in the course of the conversation the young man said, “I had left the church after confirmation…and I came back and Pr. S. had me go through his membership class…it was good, it was like coming home again.” BTW: the couple did go back to their home congregation, stopped living together and were married there.

    I learned more about marriage in the conversation I had with Pr. K and in this situation than in 4 years of seminary and I have continued to learn:

    1. Marriage is about more than the couple. “What the couple wants” becomes the mantra for a wedding day or more like “what the bride and her mother wants” :( Old Adam has a way of thinking and living myopically which is poison and it is seen in the way we have helped to make marriage a mess. Marriage is about the community gathered by her Lord around Word and Sacrament.

    2. Marriage is a witness, especially now, to the Church and the world, and it is modeled after Christ and His Church.

    3. The Bible begins and ends with marriage.

    4. “Living together” is a relationship, marriage is NOT a relationship, it is an “estate ordained by God” which includes multiplicity of relationships. A “relationship” can end rather easily…even after a hook-up on a drunken college frat night these days. But not a marriage. (And that over-used “relationship” is used now to sanction same-sex)

    5. Pastors are in the front lines. We want to go over to the other side because it’s easier: they are doing “it” anyway. No, back then, as a then liberal pastor, I respected the very conservative pastor’s stance. We have to remain firm in the Scripture and the Lutheran confessions especially The Small and Large Catechisms: the 6th commandment and it’s meaning. We confess the catechisms and each of the chief parts. Yes, a couple can go to another pastor for a “second opinion” regarding their marriage and it might mean their marriage’s death. If I just said, oh, yeah, sure, I’ll do the “ceremony”…

    Peace in our Lord,
    Pr. Schroeder

  40. Win
    April 22nd, 2012 at 15:03 | #40

    @Mrs. Hume #38
    You asked, “I am just trying to understand how it is sinful that a cohabiting couple and has been faithful to each other and now wants a marriage ceremony. ”

    I think I’ve answered your question, but I’ll try again. If I understand it correctly
    “Cohabit” (among my un-favorite words) means to live together without benefit of either a ceremony in which vows are taken, or private vows (one or two witnesses, preferably). Not having taken vows (“a solemn promise to honor the relationship”), the couple is living in sin–it’s that simple. They are having sexual relations without vows. Whether it’s a one-night stand or a year-long stand or a five-year long stand, or a twenty-year stand, it’s still adultery. The vows are not “social convention.”

    Now to my question–you say they “want to get married.” So, get married already! BTW, Common law marriages came into being to protect the woman, and any children–after, say seven years, they were married in the sight of the law. They may not have taken vows, but now they are married. Another question for you: Is a couple who cohabits (ugh–that word again) but doesn’t want to get married committing a sin? Is there a difference?

    Here’s something from Jennifer Roback Morse (Ruth Institute):
    “Dear Dr. J,
    Why do we see so many children of strong Christian families choosing to cohabit and/or becoming pregnant? (I first wrote “seemingly Christian families” and realized that that is not true – the families that I am thinking of are strong Christian families)
    Just Wondering?”

    “Dear Just:
    People often cohabit because they are afraid of marriage, and they are poorly informed about the effects of cohabitation. They think living together will help them have a better marriage in the end.
    Trouble is: these folks are misinformed. The National Marriage Project at Rutgers University did a thorough study of the literature that was current as of 2002. Their conclusion: “No positive contribution of cohabitation to marriage has ever been found.” Couples who cohabit before marriage have a higher probability of divorce that couples who don’t. That’s because: people make poorer choices about partners when they move in than when they marry; they attach to their partners whether they are good for them or not; and cohabiting couples learn a whole lot of habits that are destructive to marriage, that they have to unlearn once they get married.
    You can get the Rutgers University Study here (note: link no longer operative)
    My article on cohabitation has been reprinted more than anything I have ever written. You can read “Why Not Take Her for a Test Drive?”
    http://ruthinstitute.org/articles/cohabitationFastFacts.html

  41. Win
    April 22nd, 2012 at 15:10 | #41

    @Pr. Mark Schroeder #39

    Amen, and yea, verily!

    I knew there was at least one pastor out there someplace who could answer the question better than I.

    Thank-you.

  42. Ted Crandall
    April 22nd, 2012 at 16:09 | #42

    @Win #40
    My article on cohabitation has been reprinted more than anything I have ever written. You can read “Why Not Take Her for a Test Drive?”
    http://ruthinstitute.org/articles/cohabitationFastFacts.html

    1. “Win” is Jennifer Roback Morse?

    2. Did you see where one study finally indicated that maybe, just maybe, couples who cohabit before marriage have no difference in probability of divorce than couples who don’t? http://www.freep.com/article/20120325/FEATURES14/203250308/Trial-nuptials-really-can-last The NY Times immediately concluded that all the previous literature was obsolete — not that the NYT is biased or anything…

    3. “That’s because: people make poorer choices…” Correlation is not necessarily causation, right? So, what basis is there to reach any conclusions regarding the cause of the higher divorce rate among those who shack up before marriage? (I see that “cohabit” offends you. ;) ) I always wondered if the rate was higher because people who disrespect marriage enough to shack up before marriage will continue to have little respect for marriage even after they marry.

  43. Win
    April 22nd, 2012 at 17:45 | #43

    @Ted Crandall #42

    You said, “1. “Win” is Jennifer Roback Morse?” Perhaps I didn’t do a good job with punctuation. After the words “Ruth Institute” the rest of the entire contribution is a quote from the Ruth Institute. In any case, I hope Mrs. Morse will not be offended to learn that I am a “he”, but thanks for the compliment anyways.

    It used to be claimed that by shacking up, people could avoid divorce later on. Mrs. Morse’s data simply exposes another one of Satan’s lies.

    You also said, “I always wondered if the rate was higher because people who disrespect marriage enough to shack up before marriage will continue to have little respect for marriage even after they marry.”

    Sounds reasonable to me. What is worse is that this disrespect for marriage is contagious.

  44. helen
    April 22nd, 2012 at 18:28 | #44

    @Mrs. Hume #38
    @helen #37
    Helen, those situations are materially different from a cohabiting couple that wants a marriage ceremony. I agree those situations are all sinful. I am just trying to understand how it is sinful that a cohabiting couple and has been faithful to each other and now wants a marriage ceremony. Where is the sin?

    I’m sorry I wasn’t clear. What I intended to suggest to you is that any or all of the scenarios may have been present in the lives of your “faithful co-habiting couple” before they found each other.
    Do you disregard all the prior ‘connections’ and say, “oh, but now they are being faithful” ?

    I’ll tell you where the sin is.
    Girls who want to wait for marriage are made to feel like stupid prudes… because so many other girls can be had for the price of a good dinner out and maybe some dancing. [The 'prices' were discussed one afternoon on "Car Talk".]

    So guess who stays home on “date night”!

    But to change that, you have to change the boys’ attitudes, too. Maybe some of the men here can tell me how that will be done.
    Somehow I don’t think taking the sons to Hooters as a post confirmation treat is going to do it. (Yes, I heard the fathers talk about it.)

  45. Mrs. Hume
    April 22nd, 2012 at 20:10 | #45

    Maybe if I offer some scenarios, I can tease out what I haven’t figured out yet.

    1. A cohabiting couple where one is the child of a member and now wants to marry his/her partner. Neither the child of the member nor the partner are themselves members. The partner has never been a member of any church. The child of the member was baptised as a child but never had much instruction. The member parent was the non custodial parent after a divorce. They attend church and bible class and so does their toddler. Now they want to join the church and get married.
    What do you say to them?

    2. Three lifelong confirmed members. Man has affair with woman and wife divorces him. She and the children leave the church. Man and his girlfriend attend church. They have separate residences. Now they want to get married in the church.
    What do you say to them?

    The way it looks to me, couple number one realize that they are wrong and need to do better and are going in that direction. Couple number two know better but feel entitled to have what they want. Now, these are fiction, but similar situations likely exist somewhere. Do you tell both of them to just have a civil ceremony elsewhere or can either of them marry in the church. I mean couple two are not living together, but are adulterous.

    As for the vow, can you point me to the basis for the notion that there has to be a public vow for it to be a marriage. I am not arguing against it. I would just like to know where it comes from.

  46. Pr. Duane Meissner
    April 22nd, 2012 at 21:49 | #46

    My 12 cents, FWIW:

    Marriage is a left hand realm thing – something God gives to the state. They decide what procedures it takes for two people to be married. Pastors get their authority to marry from them. As long as the state says a piece of paper is required, that’s the way it is in God’s eyes.

    “faithfully” Living together without marriage means nothing. Participants in a one night stand are “faithful” to each other for that night. A “5-year stand” is no less deplorable to God. The peace of paper actually does make all the difference in the world to God.

    Pastors are being neither loving nor faithful when they do not insist that co-habitors separate, or when they do not insist that sinners of any kind stop their sin for that matter.

    How can we in good conscience marry two people who do not respect the institution of marriage or God’s will enough to go through the inconvenience of doing the right thing?

    So let’s say we allow them to continue in their sin and as a result they don’t leave the church. Ok, what have we really gained? What kind of credibility will we have as pastors when we let our people “get away” with sin? What reason will they have to believe us when we preach the Gospel?

    Figuring out our job is really not that difficult: lovingly loose the sins of the repentant and lovingly BIND the sins of the unrepentant. God doesn’t add the exception “unless you can keep them in the church by turning a blind eye.”. Let’s do what he instructs us to do, and let Him take it from there. Any other approach by a pastor is assuming way to much power and authority.

  47. Win
    April 22nd, 2012 at 22:21 | #47

    @Mrs. Hume #45

    Couple (1). Pastor: “So you realize you are wrong and need to do better. Why not get married, say this Saturday, in a little private ceremony with your closest friends present? Or, if you’d like, I can marry you immediately You can continue in instruction and then we’ll receive you as members. If you’d like, we can later have a solemnization of your vows, or if you’d rather not, that’s OK, too.”

    Couple (2). It sounds as tho they are unrepentant about their affair. As you say, they are living in a sinful life, if still in separate residences. Undoubtedly, they are should not be allowed to receive communion. Now they want to get married? Why do they want to get married in the church? Under what circumstances should the pastor agree to marry them? This pastor has a lot of work to do with them. It’s out of my pay grade, as they say. But Pastor Meissner (#46) seems up to the task. Thanks, Pastor.

    As for the reason for vows, I’d recommend a thorough and careful search of the internet, or better yet some good Christian/Lutheran references. Your pastor can probably recommend something.

  48. Mrs. Hume
    April 22nd, 2012 at 22:52 | #48

    Thanks for all the thoughtful responses.

    @Pr. Duane Meissner #46

    “As long as the state says a piece of paper is required, that’s the way it is in God’s eyes.”

    Okay, I understand that we need to follow reasonable laws like getting a driver’s license or in this case a marriage license. So, I can see that point. The church expects Christians to follow the law. But does the civil law really define adultery for the church by passing a law that says marriages have to be registered? What if the state decided to stop registering marriages? That certainly wouldn’t make adultery impossible. It just seems that the way to end the sinful state is for the couple to marry.

    Consider this. A cohabiting couple wishes to marry. Then they separate. Then for whatever reason their relationship ends and one of them wishes to marry someone else. That seems more like adultery than if they had stayed together. They were already united albeit unofficially. Do you follow what I am saying? Where am I getting off track?

    I would really like to have this clearer in my mind so I can communicate correctly to my children, who someday likely will have a discussion of this topic in some form.

  49. Win
    April 22nd, 2012 at 23:07 | #49

    @Mrs. Hume #48

    Which part of “Thou shalt not” don’t your hypothetical couples understand? They sound like Bill Clinton’s “depends on what you mean by ‘is.’”

  50. Mrs. Hume
    April 22nd, 2012 at 23:58 | #50

    I got the “thou shalt not” part. It is just that I have always thought of adultery as leaving a spouse for someone else (or many someones) and infidelity. So, cohabiting seems more like marriage than adultery. It hadn’t occurred to me that the public vow or official recognition by the state is the big thing, rather the “have and hold, for better for worse, in sickness and health as long as both shall live” is the big part. I mean if the couple fulfills the vow, even without the ceremony or the document, then they are faithful. If they take the vow and break it, that is adultery. Do you follow this reasoning? I don’t expect folks be persuaded to it. It is just how I have thought of it. So, it is hard for me to shift to thinking the public vow is the big thing rather than the actual living out of the married life. I agree that ideally a couple would have both. But if they already have one, then it seems they could add the other, rather than start over. I mean, if one spouse is unfaithful, should we advise divorce or reconciliation?

    What about baptising the children of cohabiting couples? Are cohabiting couples with children considered different?

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