Finally, a defense of marriage act that may be even timelier for today’s church.

You’ve probably heard of Jacksonville-based preachers H.B. Charles, Jr., and Rudolph McKissick Jr. whose sermons against “shackin’ up” led to mass weddings at their churches.

Three of the nine couples who participated in the mass wedding. (Photo Credit: News 4 Jacksonville)

Pastor Charles of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church told his members that “Anyone who wanted to actually take the commitment of marriage seriously, we would do whatever we could to help them by sponsoring this mass wedding.” After six weeks of group counseling 14 couples tied the knot.

Bishop McKissick of Bethel Institutional Baptist Church told his flock, “You’re saying we love the Lord too much to keep living out of His will as a couple. I want you to come to the altar right now.” After weeks of counseling and with the help of volunteers such as, makeup stylists and florists, nine couples said, “I do.”

Recent talks about marriage have focused on debating the rights of same-sex couples. But these sermons are more impactful because the preachers, instead harping on what people should not do, passionately and graciously emphasized to their members, what they SHOULD do according to the Bible. The preachers then left it to the couples to decide for themselves whether to do the right thing. They also delivered resources to help make the weddings happen. But is tying the knot instead of cohabitating truly necessary for Christians these days?

Culturally, it certainly seems that cohabitation is here to stay. U.S. Census data shows that in the 1960s some 450,000 unmarried couples (Christian and non-Christian) lived together, compared to more than 7.5 million now. Why do people choose shackin’ over jumpin’ the broom? The sexual revolution and improved birth control are typical explanations, but also finances.  In previous generations, particularly for women whose career options were limited primarily to working in the home, marriage was a financial safety net. Many now see cohabitating as a money issue. If two people are dating and find themselves spending most of their time together at each other’s homes, the idea of cutting two rents and cable bills down to one seems logical. Cohabitating is like being roommates with extra benefits. Couples don’t necessarily plan to shack, they slide into it.

Another reason is that couples say they’re giving their relationship a trial run. By living together you supposedly get to see what the other person is truly like, and whether you want to deal with them “until death do us part.” However, studies indicate that women tend to see shackin’ as a stepping stone to marriage, while men often see it as a way of enjoying the benefits without the commitment. Meanwhile, many who have shacked first and gotten married know first-hand that people STILL change once the rings are exchanged. Unrealistic expectations can still rise among husbands and wives. And unfortunately for many, divorce still happens even after shackin’.

Yes there are many couples who cohabitate successfully. The label of marriage CAN also increase pressure that can boil an otherwise peaceful home. These couples say that if the partnership ain’t broke don’t fix it with two rings and a certificate because that’s what friends, family and the church say to do. Since God is omnipresent, God knows whether our hearts are committed, they say.

Both Pastor Charles and Bishop McKissick stressed the importance of counseling, which is the key. Their couples underwent weeks of sessions to help them truly understand what they were getting themselves into; that marriage is not an adult version of playing house; that marriage is not merely a financial arrangement, though money is often a major issue. For the Christian, marriage should be a spiritual journey, a covenant that enlightens us to the divine nature and unity of God, Jesus, The Holy spirit and the church.

Sadly, many of us Christians lack successful marriages in this holy image because we too often did not receive quality pre-marital counseling. We fail to grasp this deeper understanding of what we’re truly engaged in. We often jump in and swim based on the models we saw from our parents (if we had two in the home) that were likely flawed. We go into marriage thinking of what we observed from other families or on TV. We get hitched for the children born out of wedlock, not realizing that we’re unequally yoked. The cliché “If you keep the Lord in the middle, everything will be alright” becomes our guide. But how do you accomplish this? Quality pre-marital counseling can help light the way.

There are several Bible verses that illustrate God’s stance on marriage and particularly Hebrews 13:4 touches on cohabitation too: “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all sexually immoral.”

So why were these couples shackin’ despite knowing what the Word says? The answer is in our own homes. We are ALL flawed. We have ALL sinned and fallen short of God’s standards. We are ALL human wrestling with the “law of sin” as articulated by Paul in Romans 7 – doing what we know we shouldn’t do. Many of the couples in the mass weddings said that they where planning to get married, but lacked money for the big ceremony that our culture says a wedding should be. For the Christian, though, the primary concern for marriage should be spiritual not carnal.

Adrian Thatcher, a religion professor at the University of Exeter, UK, urges the Christian church to return to the theological and doctrinal roots of marriage, in order to defend it as “indispensable for the regulation of sexual expression, the raising of children and the pleasing of God…”

Shout out to Pastor Charles, Bishop McKissick and the many other leaders out there who are preaching just that.

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