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Is the acceptance (and practice) of cohabitation by Christians the result of adopting secular cultural norms? Was the discouragement of cohabitation ever biblical to begin with?
Let’s talk about it.
Growing up, I would occasionally hear the term “shacking up” in reference to unmarried couples living together. And, yes, it was meant to sound every bit as negative as it reads. This association of cohabitation with sin is largely derived from the correlation of cohabitation with sexual immorality. Simply put, many Christians believe if you’re “shacking up” you’re likely sharing beds, which means you’re likely having sex prior to marriage. In other words, essentially, cohabitation is not necessarily a sin but the doorway leading to it. Additionally, some believe it is a deterrent to marriage or, at least, significantly delays it. You may have heard this belief expressed as “playing house.”
On the other hand, there are Christians who might argue that this is simply a person’s opinion and not biblical truth since the Bible does not explicitly denounce living with an unmarried partner. Furthermore, the latter argument is rooted in assumptions that can be picked apart piece by piece, emphasizing setting boundaries, exercising self-control, God’s grace and one’s heart posture/intent. Apparently, this stance is held by more Christians than one might think.
According to a 2019 survey by Pew Research, almost 50% of black Protestants and over one-third of white evangelical Protestants say it’s acceptable for an unmarried couple to live together. This survey also found that, culturally, a vast majority of Americans are saying the same. In essence, there seems to be a bit of alignment in Christian and “worldly” views and moral standards. For some, this is concerning.
So, who’s right? Perhaps, both. Maybe, neither. Let me explain.
I’m not sure if the right questions are being asked. More, specifically, are we being distracted by surface-level questions? Is our focus on the prevalence of cohabitation actually distracting us from the increase of skepticism about marriage? There has been significant decline in marriage among both Christians and nonbelievers, alike.
The question is whether or not this is the result of the rise in premarital cohabitation or a change in beliefs about and desires for marriage. Should the concern be whether or not Christians have adopted society’s acceptance of premarital cohabitation? Or should the concern be whether or not Christians have adopted the perspective of singleness as freedom and marriage as an undesirable sacrifice? Has this world of swiping right if you like and left if you don’t, perpetuated the desire to “keep your options open,” even among Christians?
I can’t answer that question. However, I will say this, sometimes religion will leave us so distracted with trying to figure out where the line of what constitutes sin should begin/end, and less focused on building a true relationship with Jesus Christ. I believe this relationship would allow for the Holy Spirit to guide us on what is “right” or “wrong” for us as individuals based on our struggles, our discipline, our relationship.
No one’s walk is the same. No one’s relationship is the same. My convictions may not be your convictions. However, I pray that you are seeking the Lord in every life-decision you make and all that you do. (Matt 6:33)