Our Culture is Abandoning Marriage

By Jim Tonkowich Published on May 28, 2015

Jessie, after twenty years of marriage, is in the market for an affair. According to a Washington Post article entitled “How to break free from monogamy without destroying marriage,” Jessie is one of a growing number of men and women who are accessing online dating sites for the already married.

Not that she’s exactly cheating on her husband. She made that mistake years ago and her first marriage ended as a result. “Instead,” the article says, “she sat her husband down and told him something that more and more progressive couples are beginning to realize. They loved each other and wanted to stay together — but in the age of Tinder and Ashley Madison and OkCupid, they also both wanted to have other options. Options they knew were just a click away.” Rather than call it adultery, Jessie, prefers “ethical non-monogamy.” Others refer to being “monogamish” and still others (or Anthony Esolen anyway) call it “pseudogamous.”

The article quotes sources all of whom see monogamy as a thing of the past — at least of the recent past. Brandon Wade, founder of OpenMinded, the non-monogamy website where Jessie posted her profile, told the Post that marriage was created for an agricultural economy and today, “We’re shedding all these agricultural traditions … [and] returning to the way we were millions of years ago.” (There’s a scary thought.)

As Jessie put it, apparently confusing love with romantic/sexual involvement, “We’re told we only have enough love for one person. Does that sound right to you?”

As I read Jessie’s story, I thought of Abigail Rine’s article at First Things, “What is Marriage to Evangelical Millennials?” Evangelical millennials and Jessie, as it turns out, have more in common than you might think.

Rine, who teaches English at George Fox University, explains that when she assigns the article “What is Marriage?” by Sherif Girgis, Robert George, and Ryan Anderson, a defense of conjugal, one-man-one-woman marriage, her young evangelical students hate it vehemently.

“Students now arrive in my class,” she writes, “thoroughly versed in the language and categories of identity politics; they are reticent to disagree with anything for fear of seeming intolerant — except, of course, what they perceive to be intolerant. Like, for example, ‘What is Marriage?’”

“As I tried to explain the reasoning behind the conjugal view of marriage and its attitude toward sex,” she goes on, “I received dubious stares in response. I realized, as I listened to the discussion, that the idea of ‘redefining’ marriage was nonsensical to them, because they had never encountered the philosophy behind the conjugal view of marriage. … What the article names as a ‘revisionist’ idea of marriage — marriage as an emotional, romantic, sexual bond between two people — does not seem ‘new’ to my students at all, because this is the view of marriage they were raised with, albeit with a scriptural, heterosexual gloss.”

The constituent parts of “traditional” or “conjugal” marriage are lost and have been lost for a long time. Marriage as most people understand it is, using Rine’s words, “an emotional, romantic, sexual bond between two people” (soon to be “between people” since the number can’t possibly matter as Jessie’s story illustrates). The notion that sex is to be exclusive, male/female, only within life-long marriage, and has something to do with children is no longer plausible. It’s not just that people won’t believe it; they can’t believe it. And again, it’s been this way for years.

A friend told me that twenty years ago when he worked at a Silicon Valley high-tech firm, he was considered odd since he and his wife had (gasp) four children. Most of his married colleagues had no intention of having even one. Children were an expensive option for married couples — emphasis on “option.” I know evangelical Christians who have similarly opted for endless contraception rather than bring children into their marriage.

Thus, same-sex marriage is not the first attempt to redefine marriage. Our culture started redefining marriage decades ago, redefining it into something that is gay and lesbian friendly. And as Abigail Rine points out, as the public has shifted on the question of same-sex marriage, “so have many young evangelicals.” Alas, so have some older evangelicals.

While we should applaud and support those making the case for marriage in the public square, if you’re waiting for a solution to come from Washington, DC or from your state capitol, you will be sadly disappointed. The culture of “ethnical non-monogamy,” confused young evangelicals, and redefined marriage undermines much hard work.

A solution will come from the Church and from faithful Christians living out and handing down a consistent culture of marriage and family or there will be no solution.

Which is, I suppose, a long overdue challenge to us all.


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  • ManWithPlan

    It would seem to me religious communities are getting diminishing returns from trying to pressure people into marriage. One must also look at the corrupt divorce & family courts, and the alarming divorce rate, as another reason people are avoiding marriage. Economic choices are about incentives. If we want people to marry, we need to make it worth their while. If we want people to avoid marriage, we should keep doing what we’re doing.

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