An assortment of Southern Baptist pastors and officials are encouraging young people to buck the culture, choose a partner, and get married as early as their teens, according to an enlightening article by Bob Allen at Associated Baptist Press.

wedding-blogJon Akin, pastor of Fairview Church in Lebanon, Tennessee, told USA Today that Southern Baptists used to counsel young people to become financially stable before marriage, but that policy had the effect of encouraging them to have premarital sex. Akin, a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the son of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary president Danny Akin, said “What we’ve communicated to our young people is finances are more important than sexual sin …”

In an op-ed at Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist public relations outlet, Akin and Andrew Walker, director of policy studies for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, wrote that early marriage “staves off the hormonal rush that comes with sexual temptation” and shouldn’t be considered “a capstone to an already-built career.”

Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has long argued that faithful Christians should marry young and have lots of children. In a 2003 book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, he said boys as young as 17 should be thinking about popping the question, and spoke of “the sin of delaying marriage.”

Most of us probably know someone who got married in their teens and are celebrating 50 or 60 year anniversaries. We also know people who married young but realized later that they had no idea what they’d gotten into, or who weren’t mature enough to deal with the stress associated with financial instability or caring for children, and left the marriage early.

We’ve also known people who married later, with the same potential for success or failure.

Akin and Walker express a legitimate concern about taking a lighthearted approach to premarital sex — and teen marriages would certainly increase the number of couples who didn’t have multiple partners before marriage. One has to be a bit skeptical, however, that marrying younger will lead to marrying better.

Good marriages should be based on far more than having a built-in outlet for the rush of insistent sexual hormones, and I’m sure that proponents of early marriage would agree with that. The timing of marriage should also be based on more than whether one has his or her financial house in order — or whether the bride’s parents have enough credit to finance one of those $25,000-plus weddings that have become popular these days.

Marriage is a matter of the heart, not of the calendar or the checkbook. Loose attitudes toward premarital sex may encourage young people to tie the knot later, but strict pressure to marry or stay celibate could push them into marriages that are doomed from the start.

People mature at different rates, and that’s often influenced by the environment in which they live. Whatever the age, marriage is far more than one-dimensional. It’s about love, a deep love shared by two people who can’t imagine how they could live without each other. It’s about commitment, a desire to stick it out through every stress and stage of life. It’s about companionship, a shared life that includes sex, but is much more than that.

Not everyone is cut out for marriage. For those who are, having a successful marriage is not about how old two people are, but how ready they are. No one knows what the future will bring, but when a couple is
committed to facing it together, their chances are good.

Tony Cartledge

About Tony Cartledge

Tony W. Cartledge is contributing editor of Baptists Today, in addition to teaching Old Testament studies and various ministry courses at Campbell University Divinity School. He formerly served as editor of the Biblical Recorder, newspaper of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, and as a pastor for 26 years. Tony is a graduate of the University of Georgia, Southeastern Seminary and Duke University, where he earned a Ph.D. He is the author of several books including the Smyth & Helwys commentary on First and Second Samuel and Telling Stories: Tall Tales and Deep Truths and several Bible study books for Nurturing Faith.