Image from Flickr, by Jeyheich.
By Darcy, Homeschoolers Anonymous Editorial Team
Update: The current advertised retreat had its venue cancelled today by the Salvation Army, owners of Camp Hiawatha in Wichita. The Ohlmans have also posted an update after the “flood of attention” and clarified that there are “no current plans” for future events.
Update 2, editor’s note: The original age of Mrs. Ohlman at the time of her betrothal was written here as 16. According to a comment left on her blog on May 2nd, she states she was 19 at the time of the betrothal. This story has been edited to reflect her correct age.
Arranged marriages, child brides, teenage grooms, patriarchs, and bride prices. These sound like stories from faraway lands. However, this story today comes from Wichita, Kansas, where one man and his followers are showing the world exactly what it looks like when Christian patriarchy, authoritarianism, and “Biblical marriage” are taken to an extreme.
Vauhn Ohlman, who runs a site called Let Them Marry, is facilitating a family camp in Wichita Kansas this November, titled “Get Them Married Retreat”. The purpose of the camp? As stated on their website, “The Get Them Married Retreat is a 3-day retreat designed to bring together like-minded families (and their unmarried young men and women) who are committed to young, fruitful marriage …our major focus and priority will be bringing together unmarried young people and their families so they can intentionally network together with a goal of arriving at God-glorifying marriages.”
So just how does Ohlman define “God-glorifying, young, fruitful marriage”?
The betrothal covenant is the covenant that makes a man and a woman into a husband and wife. It has no specific Biblical form; indeed it is expressed in Scripture in a whole variety of different ways, from fairly formal to purely physical…. The couple who are in the betrothal covenant, but have not yet come together physically, are said to be ‘betrothed’; and the time period where they are like that is called ‘betrothal’.
Ohlman goes on to further explain in detail his doctrine of betrothal:
We on our site use the word ‘betrothal’ to refer to the entire set of principles, which differ from those of courtship and dating, which are taught by Scriptures for the path to marriage and several related subjects. These include:
A) The sufficiency of Scripture for the path to marriage
B) The authority of the father over the marriage of their virgin children
C) The continuing authority of the father after marriage
D) The importance of the betrothal covenant versus:
E) The problematic nature of the quasi-covenants of dating, courting, or engagement
F) The importance of young, fruitful marriages
G) That a ‘bad’ marriage is to be preferred over no marriage
H) That a couple is not supposed to ‘fall in love’ before they are in covenant; they are to be brothers and sisters to each other
I) That marriage is ordained for the prevention of fornication
J) That ‘unready’ people should marry
K) That early, fruitful marriage is normative
L) That the gift of being successfully celibate is very rare. [emphasis mine]
So according to Ohlman, the entire purpose of life is godly marriage. But not just godly marriage, young godly marriage. How young? Ohlman says that girls are ready for marriage when their bodies are developed enough to have children, when they start having interest in the opposite sex, thus increasing chances of fornication. Ohlman skirts around the question of when is too young, by quoting people like John Calvin who claim that twelve to twenty years of age is appropriate, and using phrases like “the flower of her age”.
But what does “flower of her age” mean to Ohlman? He goes on to further explain in detail how he determines readiness for marriage for girls:
The ‘youth’ ready for marriage has breasts. A woman who is to be married is one who has breasts; breasts which signal her readiness for marriage, and breasts who promise enjoyment for her husband. (We believe that ‘breasts’ here stand as a symbol for all forms of full secondary sexual characteristics.)
“The ‘youth’ ready for marriage is ready to bear children. Unlike modern society Scripture sees the woman as a bearer, nurser, and raiser of children. The ‘young woman’ is the woman whose body is physically ready for these things, physically mature enough to handle them without damage.”
“… the above points represent, not a certain exact age, but a level of physical and sexual maturity. Not ‘maturity’ as in ‘been there, done that’, nor even a ‘maturity’ as in ‘have been at this level for a long time’, but a point of arrival…. The woman who has arrived physically and sexually at a point where she is ‘ready’ for a husband, is ready for a husband, else we make God out to be a liar… Calvin and Gill, quoting the Jewish authorities in reference to the term Paul uses in I Cor 7:36, place the lower limit of this at twelve years old for girls. Again, not that every, or even very many, girls reach this milestone at that age.
So while he says that they do not “endorse” marriage of 12-yr-olds, he implies that should a 12-yr-old display all the physical and emotional signs of marriage, she would be thus ready and her father needs to be on the lookout for a husband for her.
But what about the consent of the parties to be married? Do they get a say in the matter? Ohlman says, no. They don’t get to consent, they only obey their authorities, that consent is a product of the evil world and not Biblical.
Scripture speaks of the father of the son “taking a wife” for his son, and the father of the bride “giving” her to her husband (Jeremiah 29: 6; Judges 21: 7; Ezra 9:12; Nehemiah 10: 30; 1 Corinthians 7:36-38). It gives example after example of young women being given to young men, without the young woman even being consulted, and often, in some of the most Godly marriages in Scripture, the young man is not consulted.
First of all, Scripture never, ever mentions the idea of “consent” in regard to marriage.
Some use the idea of “consent” to deny the very relevance of the action of their authorities to bind them in covenant, as if a covenant was of no effect whatsoever and all that matters is what the person themselves decide.
In contrast, our study of Scripture has shown that the Word of God considers a covenant made by an authority to be meaningful and binding upon the those under his or her authority. Biblical consent is not the “consent” of dating or courtship. It is not a “veto” power. It does not presume to cast judgment over their father’s actions. And so, a lack of consent of the individual concerned is a choice of disobedience, a breach of a vow and of a relationship. God has designed the marriage relationship (in particular that of the virgin daughter marrying the virgin son) to be a relationship initiated by the parents, in particular the fathers, of the young couple.[emphasis mine]
Also on his website, is the story of his son and daughter-in-law, Joshua and Laura, and their betrothal. Ohlman and the father of a young girl (whom he had never met) decided their children should marry, so they arranged the entire “covenant” over long-distance. The children did not meet until 2 hours before their betrothal ceremony and were said to be too nervous to even speak to each other, thus letting their parents discuss details of the ceremony. The desires and the consent of the children did not matter, as Ohlman teaches they have to follow the authority of their fathers in this matter. In the words of Laura Ohlman:
Indeed, what really happened is that Joshua and I trusted our respective fathers to do the vetting for us… and to do a much better job than we could have done. Our dads weren’t dealing with raging hormones, crazy emotions, or an overwhelming desire to ignore important issues simply for the sake of getting married. My dad was able to take a serious look at Joshua’s character in a way I would have been unequipped (and unlikely) to do.
Less than two hours later [after they met for the first time] we held a small ceremony in our back yard. My dad and Mr. Ohlman gave a short sermon/admonition, each to their respective children… and then my dad put my hand in Joshua’s, thereby giving me away to the man I henceforth have had the privilege of calling my husband! Barring family members, I had never held a man’s hand before.
With this background and story in mind, we go back to the planned retreat in November.
It is, quite explicitly, a place for families to get together to arrange non-consenting marriages between their teenage children.
Kansas laws regarding child marriage state that a 15-yr-old can get married with special consent from a judge, and that 16 is the age at which marriage is legal with parental consent. However, Ohlman and his cronies practice betrothal which is not legal marriage, and can be done as soon as they determine a girl has breasts and her period. So the implications are that families can come here to sell off their young daughters in marriage, some much earlier than 15 if the betrothal period is taken into account. All without the consent of the children being married. (It should be noted that teenage boys are in a vulnerable and trapped position here as well, since Ohlman teaches that boys are always under the authority of their fathers, even after marriage, and that the betrothed wife moves in with the groom’s family and takes her her new life with them, under the authority of her husband.)
Critics are calling this legal sex slavery. It’s not that extreme of a definition. Young girls sold off as sex slaves to please their husbands and bear them babies, without their consent, young boys are expected to have sex and bear children and raise a family, also without their consent, and all organized by men in positions of power. The definition fits. We often think of child brides as a travesty that happens in other countries and other religions, but in reality, it’s happening right here in America, often under the guise of Christianity.