By Todd E. Brady
Vice president for University ministries, Union University, Jackson
The Deseret News and the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University recently revealed their findings from the 2021 American Family Survey. This survey seeks to shed light on Americans’ experiences in relationships, marriage and families and how those experiences relate to current events and public policy.
Seven years ago, the same survey revealed that 12 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that marriage is “old fashioned and out-of-date.” This year, 19 percent see marriage as old fashioned and out-of-date.
Those conducting the survey said “There is reason to believe that people are slightly growing less attached to marriage as an institution. Though we would not want to imply that marriage is in trouble as an institution, there is slight erosion in its popularity.”
“… slight erosion in popularity …”
There’s the problem. Marriage and family is not about popularity, and we are not to think about it through the lens of popularity.
Popularity is a never-ending, elusive, and tiring chase — like a hamster running endlessly on a spinning wheel in its cage. What is popular yesterday is not popular today. What is popular today will not be popular tomorrow. Cringe-worthy photos of those high hairdos from the 80s only prove the point.
Actor Matthew McConaughey has said, “Life is not a popularity contest. Take the hill, but first answer the question: What is my hill?”
Climbing any hill is hard. Work is involved. There is sweat. This is why some couples see their 50th Anniversary.
Coasting downhill is easy. It doesn’t require work. This is why so many call it quits and dial a divorce lawyer.
Marriage and family is not only a hill; it’s a blessed hill — one that has been given to us by God. Sure, there are times when it feels like vacation and all we’re eating are Krispy Kreme doughnuts, but most of the time, it’s mundane hard work and there are vegetables to be eaten. Marriage is simultaneously arduous, long-term, and ordinary and glorious, fulfilling, and beautiful.
According to this survey, 7 percent more Americans see marriage as old fashioned and out of date than they did just seven years ago. If this trend continues, almost half of Americans will see marriage as old fashioned and out of date by 2050. Add to this that many people are choosing not to have children and not only will we have a perception crisis about marriage; we may very well have a population crisis.
American society is asking the wrong question. Some seem to be concerned with “What is your opinion about marriage? Instead, we should be asking ourselves the question, “What is marriage?” There is a significant difference between my opinion about something and the reality of that something. What I think about a given reality does not make it more or less vogue or more or less old fashioned.
When it comes to marriage, perhaps we need to use the overused and tired phrase — it is what it is. Marriage is what it is regardless of what I say about it. Marriage is what it is regardless of how society or government defines it.
Someone may say that marriage is old fashioned or that it’s for those for whom it’s not, but a person’s thoughts about a reality does not change that reality.
I am not a regular reader of the King James Version of the Bible, and some may say it’s old fashioned, but I am reminded of what it says in Jeremiah 6:16, “Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls.”
Then we read those disastrous words, “But they said, We will not walk therein.” B&R — Brady is the vice president for university ministries and assistant professor of ministry at Union University.