You’ve probably noticed that the views toward and practices of marriage have changed. But how? And how do Christian views and practices differ?
That’s what Mark Regnerus set out to discover in a global study of Christians from across denominations. You’ll find the results in his new book, The Future of Christian Marriage, published by Oxford University Press. Mark is a professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and author of many important books, including Cheap Sex and the Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy and Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers.
You might not read a lot of sociology. But if you’re a church leader, you need to read this book. He put into words what I’ve observed but did not understand. He gave me context for the trends and a sense of urgency about the consequences.
Regnerus found that marriage is no longer something Christians pursue in order to meet life goals. It’s something they aspire to do someday if life works out in the meantime. The result is far fewer marriages, of course. But this shift means a lot more, not only for Christian marriage, but for Christian ministry. Regnerus describes the intrusion of the market mentality into our homes, marriages, and bedrooms. He writes, “Our most intimate relationships are being treated as a means, often discarded, to attain those ends and acquisitions that have been most effectively marketed to us.”
And what is the result for Christian marriage? Nothing good, Regnerus warns: “Young adults are offered no guidance about maturation, mortgages, or marriage—save for words of caution, counsel to delay, and cost-benefit evaluation.”
Regnerus joined me on Gospelbound to discuss the “monumental, consequential, and subtle” shift in Christian marriage and way too many questions than I had time to ask.
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Collin Hansen: You’ve probably noticed that the views toward and practices of marriage have changed. But how? And how do Christian views and practices differ? Well, that’s what Mark Regnerus set out to discover in a global study of Christians from across denominations. You’ll find the results in his new book, The Future of Christian Marriage, published by Oxford University Press.
Collin Hansen: Mark is a professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin and author of many important books, including Cheap Sex and the Transformation of Men, Marriage, and Monogamy, which we’re going to talk about in this interview as well. And also, Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers. So, you can see how this book builds on Mark’s previous work.
Collin Hansen: You might not read a lot of sociology, but if you’re a church leader, you need to read this book. He put into words what I’ve observed but did not understand. It gave me context for the trends and a sense of urgency about the consequences.
Collin Hansen: Mark found that marriage is no longer something Christians pursue in order to meet life goals. It’s something they aspire to do someday if life works out in the meantime. The result is far fewer marriages of course, but this shift means a lot more, not only for Christian marriage but for Christian ministry. Mark describes the intrusion of the market mentality into our homes, marriages and bedrooms.
Collin Hansen: He writes this: “Our most intimate relationships are being treated as a means, often discarded, to attain those ends and acquisitions that have been most effectively marketed to us.” And what is the result for Christian marriage? Nothing good, Mark warns. “Young adults are offered no guidance about maturation, mortgages or marriage, say for words of caution, counsel to delay and cost-benefit evaluation.”
Collin Hansen: Mark joins me on Gospelbound to discuss the monumental, consequential and subtle shift in Christian marriage. And well, also way too many questions than I have time to ask. Thank you for joining me, Mark.
Mark Regnerus: Happy to be here, Collin. Thanks.
Collin Hansen: All right, Mark, let’s start with this. Most basic question which I found that really you just can’t assume today, why should church leaders care about trends in marriage? Because after all, Paul told us it’s better to stay single. Jesus showed us that way through his example, has been the history of the Western church, in many cases, to prioritize singleness. And I know a lot of listeners think that the problem with the church today is that it overemphasizes marriage.
Mark Regnerus: Yeah, I hear that last one a lot that, oh, we’re obsessed with it. That’s all we talk about. And there’s only one right way to live as Christians. And of course, that’s not true. I don’t know too many pastors who would say such things. You can get that impression perhaps. But part of the deal is that religion in general and certainly, Christianity tends to flourish in the presence of a vibrant family life and sort of healthy reproduction rates. I mean, it sounds kind of crass and crude, and maybe even secular, but the institutions of religion and family historically track together pretty well.
Mark Regnerus: So, those two things just track together and where you see families recede, you’re going to see congregational size recede, probably congregational activity recede. It kind of seeps into all aspects of congregational life. You think about like the voluntary sector and congregations, I mean, all of it is tied back to, not all of it, but most of it, to reproduction and what are people doing in their marriages and in their families.
Collin Hansen: If I’m not mistaken, the thesis of your book seems to revolve around your description of the capstone view of marriage as applied to Christians. So, why don’t you go ahead and explain what the capstone view of marriage is, why it’s a problem. Because as you pointed out in the book, basically everybody assumes that this is a sign of success.
Mark Regnerus: Right. The capstone model of marriage is kind of where we’re at today. It’s in contrast to what I call this a foundational model of marriage. So, I went to a wedding just this past weekend. It was delightful, et cetera. And the bride and groom were fresh out of college, which is increasingly rare. I know a lot of us still see them. But I don’t think those are certainly not the normative kinds of weddings we’re going to these days.
Mark Regnerus: And I’ve said to my wife, “Well, there is a foundational marriage happening.” They’re an ambitious pair, they have great goals in mind, but they’re going to work those things out together and support each other through it. So, that’s the foundational vision. That’s the kind of thing like when we go back to our parents or grandparents are married when they’re 18 or something. Yeah, they built something together, which is completely different in many ways from this capstone vision, which is now normative if not always in practice, certainly in mentality.
Mark Regnerus: The idea that it’s a capstone, it’s the thing that you finish off the sort of successful young adulthood with is, if the foundation is the bottom of the house, the capstone is the piece that crowns it in some ways or completes it. You sort of work your way towards marriage in the capstone mentality and you accomplish things in part in order to make oneself more marriageable. I’ll get a good job, a career, a car, house.
Collin Hansen: To get rid of some of this debt.
Mark Regnerus: Exactly. In order to sort of make yourself more attractive, theoretically. But it’s a mentality that I have to achieve marriage and instead of this sort of we’re meeting and falling in love and marrying in order to then do those things together. We will retire debt together. We will live a period of poverty together and it will be formatted for us. We’ll benefit from that.
Mark Regnerus: And I think there’s kind of a generational divide in here. I’m not sure exactly when that happened. But where you’ll see parents or grandparents reflect on how it used to be quite different. But this thing has happened, this drift. It’s not necessarily directly tied to the sexual revolution, although there are connections there we can explore. But this mentality permeates how most people, including most Christians, think about marriage. It’s something you do when you’ve got it together.
Collin Hansen: Well, you go at length about why this is a problem. And one of the problems is pretty simple. A lot fewer people get married, and a lot fewer people then who want to get married, get married. That’s one of the things that happens with this delayed marriage. But one of the other examples here, I think is going to be embedded in my next question.
Collin Hansen: One of the reasons I appreciate you as a scholar and as a writer is you’re not afraid to say controversial things. What makes you say marriage is the social justice issue of our time?
Mark Regnerus: Right. Yeah, I remember writing that and concluding that. And you look around sort of our situation today and we can even talk about equality, inequalities and the sort of the success sequence that some sociologists like Brad Wilcox, my friend, writes about. And you know that people who get married, stay married, tended to flourish over the long run better than people who don’t, or who get married and fall out of love, get divorced, et cetera.
Mark Regnerus: It’s not a simple thing. It doesn’t necessarily mean your marriage will be permanently happy or among the top 50 percent of marriages in terms of quality or satisfaction. But it really isn a justice issue.
Mark Regnerus: And I go into this in part because Bruce Wydick. He’s an evangelical economist at University of San Francisco. He observed in Christianity Today several years ago that sort of the move towards cohabitation that he sees in general and that I increasingly see in the Christian church, he thinks that’s rooted in an injustice typically do towards women and that most women on average, when they fall in love, they eventually want to get married to this person. And now we’re seeing this sort of slow move towards the altar, often increasingly with a spell of cohabitation. And we wonder why is that and who’s benefiting from that more than other people?
Mark Regnerus: And so, that’s when you see sort of, well, it looks like a better deal for men. You have access to sex. You will live together. She does other things for you and what do you do, you’re holding back from that other person, as a total gift of self. Typically speaking, also you don’t want to have children when you’re cohabiting.
Mark Regnerus: So, my model of marriage that I talk about, I call it an observed model because you just look around you and this is what you see. That kind of cohabitation mentality strips the core of marriage of its four key supports, including totality permanence. Because if you’re cohabiting, you’re not thinking about is this going to last. Fidelity, well, we’ll see about that. And expectation of children, no, you don’t want to have children when you’re cohabiting.
Mark Regnerus: So, this sort of thing looks unjust and it looks more unjust towards women than towards men. But we don’t actually hear much about marriage as a matter of justice today and I think that’s really unfortunate.
Collin Hansen: And you also point out that it’s one of the best means available to us to be able to improve our economic situation.
Mark Regnerus: Right.
Collin Hansen: Strongly correlated to that. So, if you’re just talking economic and justice, there’s one of the single best things that somebody can do is to get married and stay married, on average statistically speaking.
Mark Regnerus: On average, right, and that raises, of course, questions about the kinds of people who are ready for marriage or a self-selectivity we call it. And then we can probe into well, why is this person or that person not ready for marriage? Why do they have poor marital prospect? Then we can dig deeper and find that, well, probably because they too grew up in a divided household.
Mark Regnerus: I mean, I think I say in this book, divorce is the gift that keeps on taking. And it’s not prep for marriage. And people whose parents divorced, those parents tend on average to counsel their kids to be very careful, to have your own job, et cetera. Make your own money. All this stuff is very, very much so this capstone mentality. Basically, like only marry if you absolutely don’t need it.
Collin Hansen: And that accords with what we’ve seen sociologically that divorce is infectious.
Mark Regnerus: Right, yeah.
Collin Hansen: The more you see people divorce or the more you’ve experienced divorce, the more likely you are to divorce, which is one of those factors that I think people get completely thrown off with when they see the scary 50 percent statistic or whatever, which when you qualify it a number of different ways makes a lot more sense. But one of them is, if your parents are divorced or you’ve been divorced before, you’re much more likely to divorce yourself.
Collin Hansen: There’s so many different directions to go in this book of just fascinating paths that we could go down. One of them is how you describe that most Christians now see two jobs, two incomes as necessary, economically necessary. But then beyond that, they also see it as a complete improvement over traditional norms, however, you might want to define that, but especially often with the wife and mother staying home.
Collin Hansen: But I’m wondering, based on your research, based on your writing here, is there anything you’d want to tell these couples about those traditional norms that they may not realize until it’s too late?
Mark Regnerus: I mean, the book is not about trying to get people to return to some older model. I’m writing down what people are up to and what the kind of norms are. And the norms are clearly flowing in the direction of this is the expectation that we’re going to have two full-time careerists in the household. Now, if people can thwart that and I talk about when people see it and wish to thwart it and plenty of people do. But across seven different countries, it’s remarkable to see that it doesn’t even cross people’s minds.
Mark Regnerus: Now, some of that has to do with situations in different countries that are just categorically different than ours. We have the advantage and disadvantage of having a lot of wide open space. And you can move around in search of jobs, although doing that kind of separates you from your family of origin, which creates risk and is a sadness and over the long term from lots of people, compared to other countries where I talked about Lebanon where if you can’t make it in Beirut, you can’t make it in Lebanon. And so, a lot of people there moved to England or the gulf states if they really just can’t seem to make it on one and they want one income.
Collin Hansen: One of the things I observe if we’re using those categories is it doesn’t really matter what your views on traditional roles, doesn’t even matter your views on Christian or not being a Christian, ultimately, two parents, two incomes with especially multiple children is very hard and it’s rare that I ever see a circumstance where one of the parents doesn’t have to step back at some level career wise, could just mean settling for not progressing up the ladder, which often includes moving, might mean having to stay near additional family help.
Collin Hansen: You can go in a lot of different directions, but I find with different religious practices and observances within my own broader family, those dynamics don’t necessarily change because parenting and marriage and simply keeping up a home, and especially if that home is very large, and then especially if you’ve built that on top of graduate school dollars, that’s a lot of upkeep and then a lot of debt to service as well.
Collin Hansen: And more or less whether you’ve thought this was a good idea or not, you’re pretty well backed into it. So, yeah, that’s kind of why I phrased the question that way as I did of like, what do they maybe want to know about this before it’s too late. Because I think one of those things is, well, the decisions you make about schooling and about where you go to school, what you study, how long you study, where you live, what size house you have, what expectations you have for living, those decisions are not set in stone, but they may force you into certain decisions about career and family, whether you were intending to arrive there or not.
Collin Hansen: I mentioned that I wanted to talk with you about one of the things that you’re well known for writing about, this concept of cheap sex. I think I could summarize your findings by saying that sex is considered cheap by nonmarried Christians. To be clear, we’re talking here about Christians. That’s what the book is, The Future of Christian Marriage. Sex is considered by nonmarried Christians to be cheap, while abstinence feels costly. Why is that the case?
Mark Regnerus: Because in their social realities, this is just the world they’re living in. I mean, I guess I was a little bit surprised when we posed the question. Is sex easy in your orbit? I was surprised by how many people said yeah, yeah, yeah.
Mark Regnerus: I mean, back when I was 18, 20, 22, that didn’t seem easy at all. It seemed very difficult. So, I guess I’m just stunned at that they are giving me the same response that I heard from largely secular folks that I interviewed for cheap sex. That didn’t mean that they were engaging in sex themselves somewhere. But I was just taken aback by how they felt there was … That abstinence was expensive, and no guarantee of working out the way they had hoped.
Mark Regnerus: They really do feel like they’re put in a bit of a vise from different corners that you engage too early with the wrong person and that’s going to mess things up. You wait too long and say no to people, maybe your opportunities will run out.
Mark Regnerus: So, I hear that kind of anxiety a fair amount from Christians, especially women. It’s the reason why I’ve said in the book that Christian men who are committed to chastity, abstinence until marriage are far more likely to realize it in their life because in the modern marriage market, they are more in the driver’s seat than women, for reasons I explained fairly extensively in that other books, although I do highlight it.
Collin Hansen: Yeah, it comes up. I mean, it comes up and I guess the contrast here is that you’re saying there really does not appear to be a substantial difference between Christians and non-Christians. Women feel pressured to be able to give up sex fairly quickly, to be able to get in return commitment, and that men do not feel as though the commitment is necessarily required and they also tend to get the sex. So, again, that seems to be the basic concept that you find is pretty similar for most Christians I run into.
Mark Regnerus: Christians have to sort that mentality and the sort of the practices that kind of flourish around it, if they’re going to remove themselves from that experience.
Collin Hansen: Right. Right. And we’ll get into this in some of the subsequent questions of some of the models of what Christians can do because you actually have some recommendations on that based on what you’ve seen work through the study. But let’s continue through, especially another topic related to the cheap sex, online dating.
Collin Hansen: I’ve been around long enough to remember that it was kind of a taboo for Christians, something that you wouldn’t necessarily talk about if you were doing. But you point out in The Future of Christian Marriage, it’s now something of the norm. But with that becoming the norm does either correspond or contribute to differing views of marriage. So, how does this shift affect these views and practices of marriage?
Mark Regnerus: Right. Yeah, it is certainly normative now. Very few people that we talked to though liked that turn. I mean it’s a thing that has occurred. Some people say advantage to it, some people see disadvantage to it. But it’s often this kind of backstop. There was this time when people weren’t marrying right out of college or in their early to mid-20s.
Mark Regnerus: And then, before online dating came around, there was this kind of like if you were 27 and 28, you’re like, “I don’t know how I’m going to do this.” And then along comes online dating, which seemed a solution to a lot of people once they sort of the stigma got over that and that’s definitely long gone, that stigma.
Mark Regnerus: And yet, I talked in the book about the way it operates, its underlying kind of algorithmic orientation, it doesn’t vary widely between say, eHarmony, Christian Mingle, Catholic Match and Tinder frankly. I mean, we’re talking about some of the same ways that people use it.
Mark Regnerus: It signals still that the way the world operates and the way Christians operate comes together in this way because the way online dating work is privileges, physical attractiveness of people and any sort of status markers you can discern. And, even more importantly, perhaps it privileges efficiency, right. That’s why it’s there.
Mark Regnerus: You’re able to cycle through persons quickly and I don’t think we were designed to cycle through persons quickly. So, it makes us pickier, less likely to solve upfront problems. In this book or Cheap Sex, I talk about my wife-
Collin Hansen: Right.
Mark Regnerus: Back in 1989 and well, there wasn’t really competition for me. So now, if I was single, even at 49, I mean, I’m sure that I could get attention. But that kind of approach makes you think that all of this stuff is equivalent. Oh, sure, I could find somebody else. And it gives us a sense of, oh, there’s no rush to this. This is a backstop. I can always do it.
Mark Regnerus: But I think there’s plenty of horror stories to this that I think there’s a wisdom in getting rid of the computer algorithm and relying on people as intermediaries to help you accomplish this. Now, that becomes a problem when the dominant mentality is, oh, of course, we’ll meet online, right? Then you become the freak if you don’t want to do that, which is highly unfortunate.
Collin Hansen: Well, I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of remarks I want to deliver for this wedding that I’m performing on Saturday. And this is a couple who met through my church and even through the home group that we lead. And one of the things and I’d help to encourage the man to reach out to the woman and help to kind of start that process. And one of the things that I plan to say is that this wasn’t because I thought the two of you would be compatible. It wasn’t because I thought the two of you were somehow an excellent match. It’s because I knew the two of you love Jesus and you love serving him.
Mark Regnerus: Yeah.
Collin Hansen: I was like and if you were committed to that, that’s not a guarantee of anything, but it’s far more important than whatever kind of compatibility algorithm, any kind of online dating could produce there. Not to mention your ability in a social setting to be able to observe that person and also be able to observe to talk with trusted people who also observe that person.
Mark Regnerus: Right. The mentality with online dating is it fosters this, I call it exogenous match quality or this notion of chemistry. But we can do it better than you people can do it yourself. You have to get matched before you meet, rather than meeting people and making a match work, which is more endogenous, inside the relationship. There’s so much about marriage that people eventually find out, oh, I didn’t get prepped for that. The algorithm didn’t help me with that. It’s learned behavior.
Collin Hansen: I think it’s noteworthy also that that kind of algorithmic expectations was really fostered by Christians and marketed to Christians, especially from eHarmony, I mean, those ads from the early 2000s. So, it’s not like in your book being The Future of Christian Marriage, it’s not like these trends are somehow dramatically different inside the church, in many cases, such as this one, the whole soulmate idea or you need to match, you need to be compatible, you need to have that spark. That chemistry was often explicitly promoted by Christians for some kind of at least quasi-Christian motivation.
Collin Hansen: And Mark, your work has been controversial. And I think in part because you’re looking at data and you’re telling people what doesn’t necessarily conform to the acceptable narrative, whether inside the academy or sometimes inside the church. You point out that critics react strongly when you point out the influence of contraception on modern mating dynamics. Why do people flip out when you point out what is, I think rather obvious?
Mark Regnerus: Yeah, you would think it’s obvious. I said in the book, I don’t know why people, people in this case my academic peers outside the church, why they go bananas when I sort of suggest that there’s a downstream problem here with artificial contraception. It’s almost as if I say in the book just by poking holes in it, the whole contraceptive world will collapse and people will steal their pills.
Collin Hansen: It seems very fragile for some reason. Like the whole edifice is just waiting to collapse if somebody … I mean, talking to a lot of young couples, I find that you set out how there’s just very little Christian education about marriage. Contraception is one of those things that through my position at The Gospel Coalition, my leadership in a local church, multiple churches, people just don’t talk about it.
Mark Regnerus: Yeah, I know when we got married, it was just an assumption.
Collin Hansen: Right.
Mark Regnerus: It did not require a conversation.
Collin Hansen: Yeah. Yeah.
Mark Regnerus: And I wish we had thought through this stuff and frankly, it mixes the need for both a woman and her husband to care about her body and fertility and what that means and how that works. Just like here in this enlightened age of easily accessible knowledge, we don’t actually want to even know how the body works.
Collin Hansen: The market has overtaken a lot of traditional Christian understandings and practice and also because your book is as a global perspective means that you find that across the seven countries, widespread uniformity.
Mark Regnerus: Yeah.
Collin Hansen: Not every case.
Mark Regnerus: It’s stunning. I started writing the book and traveling and listening different people’s perspectives because I wanted to know if the stuff that I’d written about in Cheap Sex, the book, was happening elsewhere, or maybe things were better in Christian communities around the world. And so, I did learn that there are some places where things are a little bit better on some of these counts, not necessarily all of them. And some places where things were worse.
Mark Regnerus: But I’m somewhat stunned to think like, wow, all the way from Lagos, Nigeria, Beirut, Lebanon, Moscow, Russia, Mexico City, they all look like Americans in terms of their mentalities and increasingly the behaviors.
Collin Hansen: Power of the market and the power of media.
Mark Regnerus: Totally, totally, absolutely, almost 100 percent.
Collin Hansen: And I think if readers can, and this is why I recommend it so widely to church leaders, if you can recognize that if that’s true of Moscow, Russia, then you better believe that that’s going to be true of your church here in the United States, whether or not you’re teaching the complete opposite of that, because people are going to be picking up these broader cultural narratives, even if you’ve done a pretty good job of buttoning that up and showing a different model.
Collin Hansen: But you have a whole list, I guess I could pull it up in the book, but you have a whole list of how it changes Christian marriage. Could you give us a few examples of how the market mentality changes Christian marriage?
Mark Regnerus: Yeah, yeah. These are things too that you and I probably, and I certainly admit it in the book that I’ve done a variety of these things.
Collin Hansen: Oh, yeah. That’s right. Yeah.
Mark Regnerus: Yeah. We plow more time into our work, especially men, thinking I’m doing this for my family. We overwork. I overwork still a lot even though I know this is not good, not good for your family. And my wife reminds me of this in no uncertain terms. But I’m saving up for college, I mean, I have two kids in college. So, you always justify these things in economic terms.
Mark Regnerus: The Sabbath used to be sacred. Now, it’s half a work day quite often for many people, including Christians. We outsource the care of children to other people. We outsource the care of our parents to strangers. Because it’s more efficient and because well, we’re working. We have other things to do, and, oh, they don’t want to be with us anyway. I don’t want to be a burden to my children.
Mark Regnerus: All of these things that are kind of not the way families are kind of designed to be in the first place. So, I have this list that I kind of go through. All of which are profoundly mundane normal behaviors. And yet I say in the book, like we don’t even realize how penetrated we have been by market mentalities. So, I don’t have a problem with the idea of markets. And I’m a big fan of the free market.
Mark Regnerus: At the same time, I know that it has no loyalty to family and to marriage. It doesn’t stop at the front door of the house. It wants in. It wants to colonize your home. It wants to colonize your bedroom. And it doesn’t belong there. This is where I lean on. I believe it was my Aristotle. Where, from the beginning, marriage and family are meant to be served by the economy and the state, not subservient to them.
Collin Hansen: Well, I think I would take it a step further. You say that the free market has no loyalty to family and marriage. I would go further to say that it actually has an incentive to undermine them. I mean, in a pursuit of you talk about cheap sex, well, let’s talk about cheap labor.
Mark Regnerus: Yeah.
Collin Hansen: One of the easiest ways to get cheap labor is to double the workforce.
Mark Regnerus: Yeah. And one of the ways to get expensive housing in a housing market is by requiring two people to work full time to get it.
Collin Hansen: Yeah, exactly. I mean, builders, you make more money if you build an $800,000 house than you build a $200,000 house. So, what do we get? We get more $800,000 houses. The more $800,000 houses, we get more major professional incomes, debt, professional debt, I mean, just on and on and on. It feeds itself. I mean, it creates the entire market.
Collin Hansen: That’s just why I find the book so helpful is because you’re engaging these different disciplines, especially sociology, your expertise, but you bring in economics. You bring in history. You bring in a little bit of philosophy there, not to mention Bible and theology to be able to help bring a full picture that I think a lot of people miss, of how much these phenomena can change and how they can change rather quickly, in a matter of a couple generations or even just one generation.
Collin Hansen: But with the time left that we have, time with Mark Regnerus on The Future of Christian Marriage, I do want to be constructive here and ask what can churches do to encourage better views of Christian marriage?
Mark Regnerus: Yeah. So, chapter six, I think it is out of seven, explores eight different ways in which we might be able to sort of stimulate marriage and our myths. Not all of these are kind of focused on things that congregations or individuals can do. A few of them are sort of more social, collective ideas.
Mark Regnerus: But first, I think we need to hear more stories from people. I heard this with considerable frequency from people. They need to see exemplars, hear exemplars. I give this one example of this was an archbishop that I met, whose mother and father had been separated by the Iron Curtain for 16 years before he managed to be reunited with his wife, and then he was born 16 years after his oldest or his only sister.
Mark Regnerus: And I think to myself, I was like, “Can I ever be a man like that? Could I do that? Could I have the patience and the fortitude to hang in there?” I mean, these kinds of stories are really important for people to hear and to see. So, I think we need to tell more stories.
Mark Regnerus: I talked also about creating or recovering marriage friendly subcultures. And this is where parents now, parents of small children, parents of older children can work on those things like make your house sort of a haven and what Chris Lasch called a heartless world. So, make marriage attractive to your children for these reasons, right. And I explore about some examples of how to make that happen in reality.
Mark Regnerus: I think effective marital preparation is unusual, but really, really important, probably more important than ever, especially when you think about, well, in the foundational era of marriage, people just kind of figured it out, right? Well, that era is gone. We’ve got to tell them how to do these things. And so, there are better and worse ways of prepping. And I think a lot of people recognize that marriage prep is critically important. And we’re doing a better job at it.
Collin Hansen: More examples in the book that I would love to … I mean, that’s why I want to give people enough from this interview so that they go and pick up the book. I just kept taking these notes and I kept writing these long lists, and I thought, “Well, let’s just hope we get them a flavor.” But I got just one more question about the book and then a bonus in the end.
Mark Regnerus: Sure.
Collin Hansen: But we’ll dig a little bit deeper into the academic sociology here. This is going to be over some people’s head because they’re not necessarily trained in this, but could you explain your embattled and thriving paradigm shift for viewing Christian marriage within the wider culture? I think it relates to the previous question, but …
Mark Regnerus: Right, right. So, in the last chapter, I sort of talked about these kind of competing theories, the embattle but thriving mentality that Christian Smith, my advisor from graduate school days had written about in American Evangelicalism. Oh, that was probably 20 years ago already.
Collin Hansen: Yeah.
Mark Regnerus: So, this mentality that it doesn’t matter what the world around you is doing, is you can have healthy thriving subcultures that are kind of built in opposition to that world a little bit like Rod Dreher’s Benedict.
Collin Hansen: Benedict Option, yeah.
Mark Regnerus: Not entirely the same, but a little bit of that mentality, juxtapose that theory versus the moral community’s theory, that as what goes on around you rolls forward, that will affect the church no matter how much you’re trying to do the embattle but thriving thing. And just in terms of the observations in seven countries, I see more evidence of that moral communities thesis like as a society corrodes, et cetera, it is very difficult, at least in this domain of marriage and family, for it not to corrode the church, in terms of its conduct of marriages and families.
Mark Regnerus: Yes, you can have kind of examples of embattled but thriving people, groups, congregations maybe, but frankly, I start the book looking at international marriage rates since 1980 and how they have collapsed practically. And so, it’s no surprise then that marriages among Christians are suffering in terms of their rates.
Mark Regnerus: But I think we’re better positioned. We have theological foundations to build upon. We have good ideas. We care about this. So, the future is not determined or decided but left to our own devices like we were lurched in that direction.
Collin Hansen: You go so far as to say that we could see fairly, I don’t know exactly what your timeframe is, that marriage will be a Christian thing.
Mark Regnerus: Yeah. So, one of the predictions in the book is, as marriage recedes, it’s receding faster, on average outside the church than inside the church, so that will largely mean that over time, marriage comes to be equated with the religious of the world, especially conservative Christians, Muslims, Orthodox Jews, et cetera. It becomes a conservative thing but also a religious thing in the United States, particularly Christian.
Mark Regnerus: So, we can kind of equate caring about marriage is a Christian idea. But frankly, marriage is old. Marriage is not limited to the church or to religion. But it’s becoming more so. And the argument I make is that Christians want marriage more than other people want it.
Collin Hansen: My guest has been Mark Regnerus from the University of Texas at Austin talking about his book, The Future of Christian Marriage, just brand new out from Oxford University Press. Mark, last question I always love to ask on Gospelbound is what’s the best, great book you’ve read lately?
Mark Regnerus: The best, great book I’ve read-
Collin Hansen: First thing off the top of your head. This is not supposed to be polished.
Mark Regnerus: You know, every now and then I read a novel. I really liked All the Light You Cannot See.
Collin Hansen: Oh, that’s a good one. That’s a good one.
Mark Regnerus: It takes place in France in the Second World War. I liked that. It’s not something that sort of moved my thinking or anything like that. But a good novel takes me away from the kind of the grind that I feel like I work in.
Collin Hansen: That’s why I asked the question. I love to bring it there, because people will usually give you the honest answer, which is the first thing they can think of, which is the book that stuck with them. So, that’s why I asked you that way.
Mark Regnerus: Yeah.
Collin Hansen: All right, Mark, you’ve been a great guest. And again, I encourage all Christian leaders to pick up the book because this is the world that you live in, the world you inhabit and the world that you’re ministering to people in. Thank you, Mark.
Mark Regnerus: You’re welcome, Collin. Thanks.