COHABITATION

 

Almost every community in our nation has couples who live together without being married. The practice is called cohabitation. When I was in business in Dalton, Georgia, a young man came into my store and told me that he and his wife had divorced. Immediately after the divorce, his ex-wife's sister said to the man: "If you would like, I will live with you." From that day onward, the two of them lived together without being married. I asked him if his conscience ever bothered him. He replied: "My what?" If this were an isolated case, it would be tragic enough, but the practice is rampant in the United States and in many other countries.

 

USA TODAY (Monday June 9, 2008) published an article with the title, "Living together: No big deal?" The article provides information on how widespread the practice of cohabitation is. In Canada, 18.4% of couples cohabit. The largest percent of cohabiters is in Sweden where more than 28% of the population lives together without being married. In the United States 5.1 % cohabited in 1990. The number rose to 7.6% in 2005. The number in the United States has risen to 10% in 2008. Since 1990 there has been an increase in the rate of cohabitation in all of the following countries: Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Great Britain and the United States.

 

The article quotes Dr. David Popenoe, a highly respected sociologist, as saying: "We're still the most marrying of all these countries, but the data are clearly headed in the one common direction. It's headed in the direction of cohabitation as an alternative" to marriage. Dr. Popenoe also says: "Today, celebrities from Hollywood and elsewhere are looked up to. They have become role models. They are far more influential today than ever in the past." The article reports: "Children of cohabitating couples are more likely to experience emotional problems, alcoholism and drug abuse" (p.5-D)  

 

In the community where I grew to adulthood, if couples had cohabited, they would have been ostracized or run out of town. It simply would not have been allowed. The people of my home community did not even divorce in the 1930s and 1940s. Before I went away to college in 1943, I knew of only one divorce in our community. It was a shock to our people. It may have been justified, but we could not accept a divorce in the Corinth community. Although I do not know what the situation is today, I strongly suspect there are many cohabitating couples in my home county.

 

For many years I taught marriage and family courses at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tennessee. Every year during my tenure at Freed-Hardeman I received marriage and family textbooks from various American publishers. The publishers sent me those books hoping I would adopt them for my classes. One of those textbooks has the title, Marriage and Family Today (New York: Random House, 1980), by Dr. Keith Melville. The consulting editor was Dr. Suzanne Keller, a radical feminist. The information I received with the book claimed that the book was the most popular marriage and family textbook in the United States.

 

Dr. Melville asserts: "Another reason for cohabitation is that it allows sex to be put in its proper perspective" (p. 84). There is a serious problem with that observation: It is inexcusably ridiculous! Marriage allows sex to be put in its proper perspective. If a couple is cohabiting and the woman gets pregnant, the man can simply walk away and most of them do exactly that--or they pressure the woman to have an abortion. There is no legally binding obligation for the man to take care of the woman and her child. Besides, sexual adjustment usually requires months or even years. Either the man or the woman can get dissatisfied and seek another partner. And that is exactly what happens in almost every case.

 

Dr. Melville finds it hard to understand why parents object to their children's cohabiting. I know why my parents would have objected to such an arrangement. They were concerned for my earthly welfare and for my eternal welfare. They knew it would not be a healthy approach to living. They believed that cohabiting - a term they probably never used - was sinful and would cause me to be lost if I did not repent of the sin. I shall return to this theme in a short time.

 

Dr. Melville recognized some problems with cohabiting, but apparently believed that "the practice of cohabitation seems to indicate a more realistic preparation for marriage" (p. 87). It is my deep conviction that scholars must examine every side of a question before speaking their minds. Dr. Melville failed to do that. A national survey was conducted among cohabiting women in Sweden. The survey revealed that women who had lived with a man before marriage were 82% more likely to divorce than those women who had not lived with a man before marriage. Did Dr. Melville know that? If he did not, he has not done his homework. If he knew and failed to mention it, he is not honest.

 

Dr. Melville does mention one problem with cohabitation.  He says:  “The living-together males reported less respect for their partners" (p. 85). Do you have any difficulty understanding why that would be the case? The man probably believes that his partner would live with some other man if she decided to. If he has any moral values, he almost certainly knows he is doing wrong. From my reading of articles on cohabitation, I am convinced that most of the people involved have guilty consciences. They may not admit it, but deep down in their hearts, they know they are violating the laws of God.

 

Barbara Defoe Whitehead responded to the media's foolish criticisms of former Vice President Dan Quayle. Quayle had objected to the publicizing out-of-wedlock pregnancies. Whitehead wrote a major article for Atlantic Monthly with the title, "Dan Quayle was Right." Incidentally, President Clinton also said that Dan Quayle was right. So did Candace Bergen. Whitehead has written an outstanding book with the title, The Divorce Culture: Rethinking Our Commitments to Marriage and Family (New York: Vintage Books, 1996). Whitehead affirms: "Through her example a dating or cohabiting mother may influence her own daughters' attitude toward sexual behavior" (p. 162). If a girl's mother is a cohabiter, what can the mother expect of her daughter?

 

Maggie Gallagher, a nationally syndicated columnist, has written an excellent book entitled The Abolition of Marriage: How We Destroy Lasting Love (Washington, D. C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1996. Gallagher's book has the enthusiastic endorsement of Dr. William Bennett, Judge Robert Bork, Dr. William Kristol and the late William F. Buckley, Jr. Two or three statements from Maggie Gallagher's book may be helpful. "Cohabitation is far more threatening to marriage as an institution than mere promiscuity" (p. 168). "Cohabitation itself appears to make cohabiters who do marry more likely to divorce" (p. 169). "Cohabitating before marriage reduces the happiness of married couples" (pp. 169-170).

 

Kay S. Hymowitz's book, Marriage and Caste in America: Separate and Unequal Families in a Post-Marital Age (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, Publisher, 2006), provides some very valuable information on marriage and family in the 21st century. She does not write from a religious viewpoint. In fact, she claims to be an agnostic (p. 3). She asks: "What, then, do we make of cohabiting parents?" She answers: "Two cohabiting parents also provide few of the benefits for kids that married couples do. The Urban Institute's Robert Lerman has found that even when cohabiters resemble married couples in terms of education, number of children, and income, they experience more material hardship - things like an empty pantry or no phone or an electricity shutoff - and get less help from extended families when they do." There is also more poverty among cohabiting couples (p. 27).

 

With the exception of men and women who identify themselves as secular humanists, most scholars have objections to cohabitation. The book, Humanist Manifestos I and II (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1973) endorses a ridiculous view of human sexuality. It says: "Short of harming others or compelling them to do likewise, individuals should be free to express their sexual proclivities and pursue their life­styles as they desire" (p. 18). Is it possible that secular humanism in our media, in academia and in some churches has led to cohabitation among many Americans? Do the humanists not care if they destroy individuals and marriages?

 

Let us now turn to the scriptures - our infallible guide in matters relating to sex - to ascertain what the word of God says about cohabitation, although the word "cohabitation" does not appear in the sacred text. The book of Proverbs has some very wise advice on sexual matters. Please listen to these words. "For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is a light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life: to keep you from the evil woman, from the flattery of the tongue of a strange woman. Lust not after her beauty in your heart; neither let her take you with her eyelids. For by means of a whorish woman a man is brought to a piece of bread: and the adulteress will hunt for the precious life. Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one go on hot coals, and his feet not be burned? So he who goes in to his neighbor's wife; whosoever touches her shall not be innocent" (Prov. 6:23-29). Does this passage apply to cohabitation? It applies to all sexual activity outside the bonds of holy matrimony.

 

Since neither the Old Testament nor the New uses the word "cohabitation," how can we know it is wrong - always wrong? We know it is wrong because the Bible defines it as being wrong. Tragically, many preachers misunderstand the word "fornication." They imply, if they do not actually say, that fornication means premarital sex and adultery means extramarital sex. The Greek word porneia appears twenty-six times in the New Testament and is always translated "fornication" in the King James Version. The English Standard Version renders the Greek "sexual immorality" and so do most other modem versions.

 

The ancient city of Corinth was devoted to every kind of sexual immorality one can imagine. One member of the Lord's church was accused of incest. Paul told the Corinthians: "It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife" (1 Cor. 5:1). The word "fornication" in this case means incest. But if we cannot discern right and wrong, as some postmodernists insist, how could Paul condemn the man's behavior? Is incest always wrong or does it depend on the situation? Were the incestuous brother and his father's wife cohabiting?

 

Paul provides a list of those who are not going to heaven - fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals nor abusers of themselves with mankind, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, revilers and extortioners (1 Cor. 6:9-10). Later in that same chapter Paul asks: "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them members of a harlot? God forbid. What? Do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body? For two, says he, shall be one flesh. But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit. Flee fornication. Every sin that a man does is without the body; but he who commits fornication sins against his own body. What? Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have of God, and you are not your own? For we are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Cor. 6:15-20).

 

I am fully aware that Paul was addressing members of the body of Christ. He demanded: "Flee fornication." The word "flee" is a present tense verb and means keep on fleeing. Charles Williams renders the expression: "Keep on running from sexual immorality." The Apostle Paul recommends marriage if a person cannot control his sexual appetite. "Nevertheless to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.... But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn" (l Cor. 7:2,9).

 

Even though Paul’s teachings in these verses were aimed primarily at Christians, there is much that non-Christians can learn. Young people need to know that all sins have both earthly and heavenly consequences. When people are sexually immoral, they run a great number of risks - some risks that may be fatal. There is always the danger of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS. Dr. Meg Meeker's outstanding book, Your Kids at Risk: How Teen Sex Threatens Our Sons and Daughters (Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2007), provides information that every American needs. That includes those people who foolishly choose to cohabit. Dr. Meeker does not specifically address cohabitation, but what she writes certainly applies. This book ought to be in the hands of all parents and of all others who work with children.

 

Dr. Meeker says there are 19 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases every year in our nation - 19 million (p. xii of the Introduction). 2 million of those cases are teenagers (p. 13). And many of those diseases will be with them as long as they live. "Today more than 40,000,000 Americans are infected" with genital herpes (p.32). Genital herpes is not usually fatal, but it is not curable. A child born to a mother with herpes may die. Human papilloma virus is widespread in our country. It is the leading cause of cervical cancer. In fact, HPV causes more than 99.7% of all cervical cancers (p. 36). Should not these facts inspire parents to teach their children about the stupidity of engaging in sex outside of a committed monogamous marriage? Should they not also warn cohabiters of the dangers involved in their behavior? A substantial number of the cohabiters have lived with more than one person. Many of them have contracted sexually transmitted diseases from their previous partners. They then pass those diseases on to their current partners. Anyone who doubts those facts is either naive or ignorant or both.

 

The city of Ephesus, like ancient Corinth, was a very immoral city. Paul warned the Christians at Ephesus: "But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let is not be once name among you as becomes saints.... For this you know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.... And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" (Eph. 5:3, 5, 11).

 

Did you know there are churches which do not take a stand against cohabitation? In fact, there are churches that do not take a stand against anything or anyone, except those who take a stand against evil. One preacher was asked if he opposed young people's cohabiting? He said he thought it was wrong, but he did not preach against it because there were too many young people in his congregation who were living together without being married. He did not want to offend those young people.

 

I am reminded of a story I heard about a young man who moved to Louisville, Kentucky, to preach. The very first Sunday he was in Louisville he preached against people's being addicted to tobacco. One of the elders took him aside and told him that Louisville had a number of companies that produced tobacco products. He urged him not to discuss that topic again. The next Sunday he preached on the sin of drunkenness. The same elder took him aside and told him how much whiskey was made in Louisville. The young preacher asked the elder: "What can I preach?" The elder responded: "You can preach on the witchdoctors in Africa. There are none of them in Louisville." I am sure someone made up that story, but tragically, it is not far off base in some modem American churches.

 

There are a great number of serious problems with cohabitation. Not only is it morally stupid, but it sets the wrong example for America's fine young people. Suppose that your son or daughter learns that you have cohabited. How are you going to convince them of the foolishness of such conduct? Cohabitation is a direct attack against God's pattern for the home. Those who cohabit endanger their own souls and the souls of others who may imitate them. Their example may destroy the lives of their neighbors and family members.

 

Paul admonished the Christians at Thessalonica: "For you know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that you should abstain from fornication" (1 Thess. 4:2-3).

 

Winford Claiborne

The International Gospel Hour

P.O. Box 118

Fayetteville, TN 37334