Many western Christians mistakenly believe the following about sexual stewardship:
God gave me desires to marry and have kids because He wants me to get married.
Marriage is about companionship and mutual fulfillment.
I only have to have kids if and when I want them.
God calls a select few to vocational singleness and sustains them spiritually.
Friendship can’t provide what marriage can and shouldn’t be too close.
At the core of many of these misbeliefs is the idol of romance.
An idol is something we put in the place of God or prioritize over God’s priorities, often from a false promise to provide us with something only God can provide in a way different than He has ordered. We idolize when we misuse or overuse something good into being something ultimate.
While various reasonable definition exist, let’s describe romance as
an emotional desire for sensual love with another person and the courtship behaviors undertaken by an individual to express those feelings on a trajectory of erotic love
Imagine an understanding of romance particularly related to eros that includes exclusivity and certain physical intimacy associated with dating and marriage.
The idol of romance, then, promises us love, belonging, family, pleasure, and an escape from loneliness. At what costs? Abortion, thoughtless contraception, divorce, adultery, casual connection, and codependency.
You might notice I’ve been intentional to focus on romance idolatry, not marriage idolatry. Why? Because healthy theology and practice of Christian marriage are not the problem. And romance idolatry takes root long before marriage. Disney movies and Taylor Swift songs teach our children that magically coupled love is the best thing the world has to offer.
Christians offer the idol of romance, too.
Unfortunately, Christians offer the same idolatry, but with a facade of spirituality. Do you recognize this quote from a top-selling book about Christian masculinity?
“Deep in his heart, every man longs for a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue… A woman doesn’t want to be the adventure; she wants to be caught up into something greater than herself…every woman wants to have a beauty to unveil…to simply and truly be the beauty, and be delighted in.”
Do you notice the idol of romance? From an early age, parents and pastors highlight Bible stories and holidays centering romance and marriage. When parents comment, “When you get married…” or ask, “Are you dating anyone?” they leave no room for stories or celebrations of singleness for the sake of Christ’s kingdom. Christian teens assume they are free to indulge in romance as much as they want, as long as they don’t cross certain lines. 72% of pastors surveyed by Equip believe “If a person desires to marry and have kids, then God wants them to marry.”
This leads to painful results. Half of Christian marriages end in divorce, and studies show that singles struggle more with depression, anxiety, doubt in God’s existence, and rebounding from doubt.¹
Romance isn’t necessary to be fully human.
In contrast, neither sex nor romance is promised in Scripture or necessary to meet our intimacy needs. Quite the opposite. Jesus didn’t have sex. Paul was committed to celibacy. Many of the mothers and fathers of the Church have been celibate. And Jesus says that in Heaven, there won’t be any more marriage or sex.
In Matthew 22:30, He says this: “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” It doesn’t make too much sense that the example of our faith was celibate or that we will all be celibate in Heaven if marriage and sex are necessary to be fully human.
Discernment is the solution.
Instead of taking whatever we want, the Scriptures say God wants to give us a good gift of either vocational singleness or Christian marriage, and we should seek His preference through discernment.
The best way to confront romance idolatry isn’t by tearing down marriage, but instead lifting up biblical teaching about discernment and vocational singleness.
Learn more with our recent post on how leaders can help young adults discern celibacy and marriage.
¹ Barna Group. (2017, July 17). Two-thirds of Christians face doubt. Barna Group. Retrieved May 8, 2022, from https://www.barna.com/research/two-thirds-christians-face-doubt/