In a recent article by Christianity Today, The Cohabitation Dilemma Comes For America's Pastors, David Ayers outlines the struggle many American pastors face as they grapple with how to best navigate wedding policies and premarital counseling among cohabiting congregants.
Ayers's interviews with pastors brought him to discover one pastor who shared that he had stopped conducting weddings because so many of his engaged couples were cohabiting and got angry when the issue was addressed. Another pastor shared that he had suffered criticism from church members when he dismissed a church employee who refused to leave a cohabiting arrangement.
A Pew Research survey in 2019 found that young evangelicals believe cohabitating is acceptable if a couple plans to eventually marry. The survey also indicated that evangelicals, especially those under the age of 40, increasingly see cohabitation as morally acceptable.
"There is hope," Ayer writes. "The cohabitating habit is less acute among those who are theologically conservative and attend church weekly. Even with shifting cultural attitudes, the studies show that evangelicals who attend church and regard their faith as very important to their daily lives are much less likely to plan on cohabitating or to actually do so."
While preservation of the marriage covenant must continue to be held in high regard by church leadership, individuals within church congregations must recognize the need for discipleship among fellow church members.
To value and cherish marriage as a relationship orchestrated by God, one must see marriage modeled by others and continually learn through God's Word what marriage means for those believing in Christ. Understanding that marriage is a reflection of Christ and His Church, believers must share truth and continue to raise the bar!