Cohabitation, Covenants, and Christians

on November 12, 2019

For Christians, marriage between a man and a woman is a reflection of God’s intimate relationship with His people. Our understanding of marriage is central to understanding our faith and vice versa. So it’s troubling that a new survey finds cohabitation acceptable to a significant sector of the American Church.

According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 74% of Catholics and 76% of white non-evangelical Protestants in the U.S. believe that it’s acceptable for an unmarried couple to live together, even if they never plan to marry.

The survey, released Wednesday (Nov. 6), also found that more than half of white non-evangelical Protestants (57%) and black Protestants (59%) believe cohabiting couples can raise children as well as married couples. Interestingly, 73% of Hispanic Catholics and 48% of white Catholics share the same view.

Among other key findings, the survey reported that married couples express higher levels of relationship satisfaction and trust compared to cohabitating couples. (It seems there is an application gap among the religiously affiliated.)

It’s interesting a majority of the respondents surveyed–including those Catholics and non-evangelical white Protestants affirming cohabitation–are married. For this research, Pew surveyed 9,834 U.S. adults, which included 5,579 married adults and 880 cohabitating adults. You can read more about the Pew survey here.

So what happens when Christians increasingly find cohabitation acceptable? There will inevitably be a breakdown in our reflection of God’s love for His people.

Susan Cyre, a Presbyterian scholar and author, explains that our human marriages are signposts proclaiming God’s unfailing love in her new book From Genesis to Revelation God Takes a Bride: The Divine Marriage of Which Human Marriage is an Image.

“The marriage covenant shows us the depth of God’s love for us, in that the holy God, Creator of all that exists, unites himself to us, a broken and sinful people,” she writes. “And it is only when we accept that God’s union with his people is actually a marriage that we can understand what the marriage of a man and a woman should be and do.”

The Church must lead the way, says Cyre.

When the Church fails to lead, the result is a revisionist marriage culture that normalizes not only cohabitation but of divorce, adultery, hook-ups, and same-sex unions. When the Church fails to champion marriage, we fail to point the lost towards the Almighty.

  1. Comment by Lee D. Cary on November 12, 2019 at 7:12 am

    Key language: “76% of white non-evangelical Protestants in the U.S.”

    Denominationally, who might that be?

    “When the Church fails to lead, the result is a revisionist marriage culture that normalizes not only cohabitation but of divorce, adultery, hook-ups, and same-sex unions. When the Church fails to champion marriage, we fail to point the lost towards the Almighty.”

    Not to mention the stability of the family.

  2. Comment by Jim on November 12, 2019 at 1:04 pm


    When the Church fails from the pulpit to earnestly exposit the truth of the Bible……

    Let’s get this right- it is directly a result of those in pastoral positions who, in their carelessness and laziness fail to do the hard work of presenting God’s word. More than simply leadership.

  3. Comment by David on November 12, 2019 at 8:18 am

    We should not forget the unaffiliated or “nones” that now outnumber Catholics.

  4. Comment by JR on November 12, 2019 at 9:29 am

    “Among those who are not religiously affiliated, fully nine-in-ten say cohabitation is acceptable even if a couple doesn’t plan to get married, and just 31% say society is better off if couples who want to stay together eventually get married.”

    Interesting tidbits.

    Personally, I’m not against cohabitation, but would be among the “cohabitation when intending to lead to marriage” sector.

    Also, I don’t think there’s anything magical about marriage that makes people better parents.

    But it’s all some interesting perspectives, even where I disagree with them.

  5. Comment by William on November 13, 2019 at 3:30 pm

    Your insults and back handed sarcasm sometimes go beyond the pale. A married heterosexual couple who WORK hard together to raise their biological or adopted children in a real loving family, especially a real loving Christian family, are by default better parents by virtue of TWO married committed people, a FATHER and a MOTHER, working as a team.

    What an insult:

    “Also, I don’t think there’s anything magical about marriage that makes people better parents.”

  6. Comment by JR on November 14, 2019 at 11:36 am

    All married people fit that criteria?

    No unmarried people do?

    All heterosexual couples fit your criteria, while no homosexual couples do?

    I stand by my statement, even though I am a) married, b) heterosexual, and c) consider myself to be a good parent – because I work at it, and the first two items don’t aid or detract from the last one.

    Again, nothing magical.

  7. Comment by John Bean on November 12, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    I lived with my fiance for years before we could afford to get married. Do these people expect young people to pay rent twice? Stop treating real estate like a financial instrument, which has made housing unaffordable for young people.

    Also, the author is also under the false impression that marriage is worth the trouble for people now. No-fault divorce has made it easy for people to steal half of their former partner’s assets, to proceed directly onto government assistance, with kidnapping of children made legal by family courts. Young people see how messed up things are and have logically chosen to opt out!

  8. Comment by Bob on November 14, 2019 at 10:25 pm

    I don’t understand your “affordability” argument. You say that you lived together because you couldn’t afford to marry. How did marriage change the equation? The two of you were sharing housing as singles – that didn’t change with marriage. In fact, there are generally financial benefits to being married; in the tax code, insurance coverage, etc. So what were you waiting to be able to afford? An enormously expensive wedding? A wedding can be very simple and be beautiful and meaningful. So I don’t buy the “economy” argument.

  9. Comment by Charlotte on January 28, 2020 at 6:39 pm

    Amen on that. Ya, sometimes children come into play BEFORE the marriage, which would give the couple a chance at perhaps medicaid paying for the prenatal, birth, and care for the infant. People do it all the time. Sad. Just my 2 cents.

  10. Comment by Greg on November 12, 2019 at 1:20 pm

    We use the world’s views and definitions to determine what we think…

    At the church I attend, when you move in together you are immediately treated as married in the church’s eyes, and it is taught that way as well. So couples understand that – and they understand that no ceremony, or piece of paper is what determines if they are married.

  11. Comment by JR on November 12, 2019 at 2:52 pm

    That’s interesting, and I wouldn’t be averse to that – but how does your church handle a breakup or a (legal) divorce in that situation? Very curious.

  12. Comment by Greg on November 14, 2019 at 8:56 pm

    JR, We have only had a few breakups in the past. They were where someone cheated on the other (in a patterned way no less). We allowed a breakup, with prejudice – to short circuit the discussion, and letters were sent to other nearby churches of like mind that indicated that the person at fault was not allowed to remarry/covenant for a specific amount of time (usually 1 to 2 years depending upon severity). We do not force a person to remarry/covenant with someone whom they divorced/broke up with after they have been cheated on.

    Part of the reason this works is that we also expect that they will have dated/courted for a year prior to the move in/covenant/marriage. So there is a deep appreciation, without legalism, for a process of knowing one another, and being known as a couple in the church and community so that they are supported and lifted in ways that the larger culture does not.

  13. Comment by Gary Bebop on November 12, 2019 at 9:06 pm

    There’s something melancholy about a family that never fully forms itself. George Will speaks of it as “the uncheerful aspect of unintended arrangements.” Once family architecture is weakened (now rampant in America), “no one knows” how to restore it. Cavalier indifference to the marriage covenant will not reclaim family formation. (See George Will, The Conservative Sensibility, page 348-351).

  14. Comment by Bob on November 12, 2019 at 11:41 pm

    Disregard for the sanctity of marriage is indeed rampant within the church. In the UMC we no longer attend, the pastor’s high-school age daughter (who was dating a high-school boy from the congregation) accidentally dropped something from her hip pocket. Birth control pills. If the pastor sanctions pre-marital sex in his own family, how is he going to teach morality from the pulpit? I also have a comment which is purely secular, regarding the high percentage of couples who believe it is okay to raise children without benefit of marriage. This is based on observation, not bias, but we see it a lot in a certain ethnic population in our area. They have children together and purposely do not marry (although many live together) so that the mother can claim welfare benefits that are only available to women with children who have no legally responsible spouse.
    This is also morally wrong.

  15. Comment by Mike on November 13, 2019 at 12:24 am

    Well said, Bob. And the “effect” that follows from (the “cause” of) those unmarried mothers collecting welfare: the rest of us pay to help raise those children. This is also immoral. It is theft from us – taking our resources that we should rightly use to raise our own families.

  16. Comment by David on November 13, 2019 at 6:54 am

    Out-of-wedlock births. “The numbers [in 2012] are very close to last year’s: 72.3 percent of non-Hispanic blacks are now born out-of-wedlock; 66.2 percent of American Indians/Alaska Natives; 53.3 percent of Hispanics; 29.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites; and 17.2 percent of Asians/Pacific Islanders. That’s 40.7 percent overall.”—U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

  17. Comment by William on November 13, 2019 at 6:00 pm

    And, then it becomes a generational phenomenon. This is child abuse in too many instances. And, these victim children are already duplicating their parents in staggering numbers and setting in motion repeating cycles that become virtually impossible to reverse, while inventing more bizarre structures called “families” in the process. Bottom line — as America abandoned God and His created order for marriage and the family, which is probably way past the point of return without a Great Revival/Reformation, the country will tragically continue to decline. This social disaster cannot now be fixed by man.

  18. Comment by Byrom on November 15, 2019 at 6:23 pm

    I am a widower, age 76, dating a widow, age 73. Fairly early in our relationship, we talked briefly about cohabitation. Both of us agreed that we would choose marriage. We are not yet at the point of getting engaged, but I don’t think our positions have changed. However, I suppose the issue could come up again. In that case, as mature Christians, we would have to use our relationships with God as a guide.

  19. Comment by Loren J Golden on November 17, 2019 at 3:54 pm

    “Seventh Commandment.  Thou shalt not commit adultery.
    “The purport of this commandment is, that as God loves chastity and purity, we ought to guard against all uncleanness.  The substance of the commandment therefore is, that we must not defile ourselves with any impurity or libidinous excess.  To this corresponds the affirmative, that we must regulate every part of our conduct chastely and continently.  The thing expressly forbidden is adultery, to which lust naturally tends, that its filthiness (being of a grosser and more palpable form, inasmuch as it casts a stain even on the body) may dispose us to abominate every form of lust.  As the law under which man was created was not to lead a life of solitude, but enjoy a help-meet for him—and ever since he fell under the curse the necessity for this mode of life is increased—the Lord made the requisite provision for us in this respect by the institution of marriage, which, entered into under his authority, he has also sanctified with his blessing.  Hence, it is evident, that any mode of cohabitation different from marriage is cursed in his sight, and that the conjugal relation was ordained as a necessary means of preventing us from giving way to unbridled lust.  Let us beware, therefore, of yielding to indulgence, seeing we are assured that the curse of God lies on every man and woman cohabiting without marriage.”
    —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion II.8.41

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