The Ideology Of Underage Marriages In Conservative Christianity

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Andrew Malone.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Laura Lawrence’s blog The Rambling Soapbox. It was originally published on September 8, 2015.

A Teen by Definition is Not “Mature”

*Little disclaimer: By “mature” I mean as physically developed and/or experienced in life as adults. I am not referring to responsibility, which many teens are better at than some adults. 

I was just 16 but I knew it was love, and my boyfriend, also 16, and I secretly but seriously discussed our future. It was my 18th birthday when my new boyfriend and Sr. year highschool sweetheart proposed to me at our favorite park. I was 18 still when we married and my 19th birthday came one week later. My husband was barely 20.

Over the past 13 years of marriage, we have occasionally reflected on the past. On this issue, we both have come to the conclusion that marrying so young is not something we would now recommend to others. We were in love, but we were not prepared. We were not prepared financially, reproductive-wise, and he was not prepared mentally. Until my new husband kindly walked me through the steps, I had never paid a bill before. I didn’t know how to cook beyond pasta salad and boxed mac and cheese. We had no long-term plans, no goals other than my determination to get my Bachelor’s (it took 7 years, but I finally did).

We were strongly encouraged to marry fast in order to avoid living or falling into sin (sex), and we happily and naively agreed for the sake of our spiritual health and physical desires. It never occurred to our superiors/supporters that if we couldn’t be mature and responsible sexually before marriage, we weren’t mature enough for marriage. Our best friends and family were devastated and deeply concerned. They thought we were being way too hasty.

We struggled much for the first few years, forced to grow up very quickly and alone, for our friends were still in college when we began having babies. Not knowing how to budget, how to pay bills, or how to plan for long-term savings, and neither of us having a college degree, we suffered financially. Some decisions we made so long ago still haunt us today. We were encouraged not to take birth control since they were “full of toxins” and “not natural”, but to try the spit and microscope method of birth control instead. Wouldn’t you know it? Within 7 months I was pregnant.


Underage Marriage in the United States?

I was skeptical when a spiritual abuse blog I follow, posted an article on their FB page about child marriages in certain fundamental, homeschool, patriarchal, Christian circles. I knew it happened in many developing countries. I knew about the practice in fundamental Mormon (FLDS) churches out West. I knew it was a growing issue in the US due to the influx of immigrant cultures, but surely this article was grossly exaggerating the occurrence of underage marriages in these Protestant Christian groups. The article only highlighted two instances of child marriage, and both happened in the same family with a mother (married at 15) and her daughter (married at 16).

I asked for more information, and the moderator of the Spiritual Sounding Board Facebook page generously provided me with 3 more articles. While none of them could make a convincing case for the actual practice of child marriages, the positive mindset among several general commenters, the remarks of Kevin Swanson and Dave Bruehner (two big names in the conservative Christian homeschooling movement), and even Phil Robertson of “Duck Dynasty” fame, began to show a disturbing trend.

There is a legal, and for some, ethical, difference between underage child marriages which occur between 12-17 (more typically, 15-17) years of age, and young or early marriage, which happens between 18-22 years of age, generally speaking. While the latter has been increasingly pushed by some in Evangelical circles to prevent or reduce sin, when the former does occur or is promoted, many times it is for very similar reasons.


Early/Young Marriage, 18-22

Today there is “a sort of attitude … magical thinking, that if we get you married, then you’ll be fine and we don’t have to worry about anti-poverty programs… we don’t have to worry about child care.” Scholars, pundits and other policy elites need to end their magical thinking about marriage and acknowledge the widespread nature of marital poverty and economic hardship. Married Without Means, p. 3

Statistics have told those with “ears to hear” for years that the rate of divorce decreases, the older a couple is when married. Couples between the ages of 18-24 (or younger) have the highest rates of divorce among married couples. This age group of married couples also tend to suffer significantly lower incomes, many times at or even below poverty level. Poverty’s fallout among young people and society includes poor education, single parenting (related both to the high divorce rate and young, unmarried mothers), severe stress, poor mental and physical health, drug abuse, child abuse, abortion, and the ignominious welfare state-all issues that conservative Christians are deeply worried about.

Still, there are many examples of conservative celebrity Christians, politicians, and leaders who strongly promote the idea of early marriage as a panacea for society’s ills. The often-cited op-ed article from Christianity Today called, The Case for Early Marriage (July 2009), by Mark Regnerus—a sociologist with much to say on the topic of young marriages in the church (see also Regnerus’s similar article titled, Freedom to Marry Young, April 2009, from the Washington Post)—seems to be mostly concerned with abstinence (rather a lack thereof), baby-making, the “decreasing market value of women” as they age, and economics; it is cheaper to live together with someone, pooling resources, than living alone, he insists. Continuing in the CT article, Regnerus appears to idolize marriage as a “formative institution” and elevates it to the status of duty, meanwhile stigmatizing singles (especially women) as if they are forced to settle into their singleness. Regnerus is a real romantic.

The Duggar Family’s long-running reality TV show has garnered them much influence. The Duggars, of “19 Kids and Counting” fame, do not self-identify as a Quiverfull family, but they do maintain similar strict beliefs concerning children, homeschooling, marriage, modesty, patriarchy, and courtship. “Jim Bob and Michelle were married on July 21, 1984, just after Michelle’s high school graduation. She was 17 and he was 19 when they married; neither went to college, according to “19_Kids_and_Counting.

It would seem that oldest son Josh Duggar and his wife, Anna, were married when they were both 20. Anna says on their webpage, she first saw Josh via the TV show when they were both 13. They met at a homeschooling conference in 2006, when they would have both been 18. After a carefully cultivated courtship, they were married in 2008 and now have 4 children.

Josh was recently found to have cheated on his wife with a sex worker (at least once), engaging in rough, unprotected sex and potentially exposing both his wife and unborn child to venereal disease. Of Josh’s two married sisters, one was married at 20, the other waited until the ripe old age of 24. Both young women became pregnant immediately, none of the Duggars have gone to or have been encouraged to attend college. Although the Duggars’ lifestyle has worked for them financially because of their celebrity status, the average couple who marries early becomes just another statistic.


Child Marriage: A Rose by Any Other Name

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8-10

Rather than at least remaining neutral on the subject or better yet, speaking up for voiceless girls and young women like the Bible adjures Christians to do, certain teachers, preachers, and celebrities like Swanson, Bruehner, Robertson, the Duggar family, and others, actively encourage early marriage, even child marriage, although most Evangelicals draw the line at age 18-20 (*Disclaimer: I do not know that the Duggars advocate for child marriage, but the others in this list have, as has already been discussed in this article).

“At a Sportsmen’s Ministry talk in 2009, [Phil] Robertson had some advice for a young man. “Make sure that she can cook a meal, you need to eat some meals that she cooks, check that out,” he said. “Make sure she carries her Bible. That’ll save you a lot of trouble down the road. And if she picks your ducks, now, that’s a woman.” 

“They got to where they’re getting hard to find,” Robertson remarked. “Mainly because these boys are waiting until they get to be about 20 years old before they marry ’em. Look, you wait until they get to be 20 years old, the only picking that’s going to take place is your pocket.” The Duck Commander company founder added: “You got to marry these girls when they are about 15 or 16, they’ll pick your ducks. You need to check with mom and dad about that of course.” “ 

And Robertson practices what he preaches. He began dating his wife, Kay, when she was only 14 and he was 18. They waited until Kay was 16 to get married. See “Duck Dynasty Star: Girls Should Carry a Bible Cook and Marry When They are 15″ from Raw Story.

In a radio broadcast defending Phil Robertson’s comments above, former Executive Director of Christian Home Educators of Colorado, and current head of Generations with Vision, Kevin Swanson stated: “Remember that one concern people had over Duck Dynasty, when the guy came out and said the girls, 15 or 16 years of age, she’s able to get married, they got all mad. Because boy, you get a girl married at 15 or 16 years of age, that’s a sin! Dave Bruehner: Well it is because she doesn’t have a whole life of fornication ahead of her anymore. Later on, the men remarked, “I mean, think about what the president of the Girl Scouts would say about this, Dave, if we said, “Hey, these 15 year old girls, 16 year old girls, they may be ready to get married. They don’t have to live these, you know, independent lifestyles.””

The story of Matthew Chapman is famous/infamous depending on your perspective. He is well-known in conservative homeschooling groups for courting a young teen named Maranatha while she was 13 and he 25, eventually marrying her with her father’s permission and approval when she was 15 and Matthew was 27.

It seems that Matthew Chapman is going to be a keynote speaker at Christian Home Educators of Ohio’s annual homeschool convention this summer. This is a major convention…In addition to Matthew serving as keynote speaker, his wife Maranatha is slated as a featured speaker. Matthew runs Kindling Publications, and both Maranatha and Lauren is featured heavily on organization’s website. See “Matthew Chapman and Why I Included Lauren’s Picture” by Love, Joy, Feminism.

Attorneys claim Phillips, a close friend to the Duggar family and an associate of actor Kirk Cameron, “methodically groomed” Lourdes Torres since she was 15 years old and led her to believe they would be married. Phillips told the girl this was possible because his wife, Beall Phillips, “was going to die soon.” See “Lawsuit Reveals Teen was Groomed as Personal Sex Slave in the Duggar Family’s Movement” via Raw Story.

Child marriages heralded by the above-mentioned men, seem genuinely logical in their anachronistic culture which sometimes encompasses such names as Quiverfull, Patriarchy, and Evangelical Homeschool Movement (*there is much overlap here; not all families that adhere to these labels believe all the same things, perhaps especially on the issue of underage marriages). These movements, along with some Fundamental Evangelical Christians and churches, strive to bring back a romanticized 1950s, in some cases 1850s, believing those times to be Christianity’s heyday in America. Interestingly, or perhaps not surprisingly, those eras in history saw higher rates of underage marriages and sexual abuse, wife submission, and patriarchy-centered households -all hallmarks of the above-mentioned movements. It wasn’t until women’s groups moved strongly to shed light on the issues and promote change, that child marriage began to become a thing of the past.

While many might consider child marriages to be a form of pedophilia, medically and legally speaking, pedophilia is limited to sexual attraction to prepubescent children and child molestation is limited to the sexual touching of children 14 and younger. Sexual abuse, then is the term to be used concerning the topic of child marriages.

UNICEF has stated that child marriage “represents perhaps the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of girls”.[5] The effects of child sexual abuse can include depression,[6] post-traumatic stress disorder,[7] anxiety,[8] complex post-traumatic stress disorder,[9] propensity to further victimization in adulthood,[10] and physical injury to the child, among other problems.[11]  From “End Child Marriage PDF-UNICEF, p. 8.”

The main debate points against pedophilia concern:

  • The lack of true consent on the part of the child
  • The manipulation and power plays on the part of adult authority figures/taking advantage of a child’s innocence, naivete, and inability to say “no”
  • The safety and health of a child which includes the possibility of pregnancy, STDs, and/or physical damage
  • Using a child for the gratification of an adult

While the legal definitions exclude underage, child marriages from being classified as pedophilia or child molestation, there are still strong similarities because of the unique, fundamental culture of the groups that propose it:

  • The young girls in such families are not able to give their own consent, because the consent is settled between the father-patriarch and the bridegroom.
  • There are significant power plays on the part of older adults as they take advantage of such a sheltered girl’s innocence, naivete, and inability to say “no”.
  • The safety and health of the young lady is not taken into consideration, since medicine has shown how dangerous pregnancy can be for teens and their babies, yet in many of these families, contraception is considered a terrible sin against God. As was seen in the Josh Duggar-Ashley Madison case (see link above), these innocent teen girls may still be at risk of STDs as well.
  • Finally, these young marriages are pushed or arranged purely for the gratification of the adults involved and not the benefit of the girl.

Conclusion

  • Young/Early marriages occur between at least one party who is between 18-24 years old. In most cases, the couple are peers in age.
  • Young/Early marriages are often encouraged among traditionally-minded churches and religious groups as a way to reduce sexual sin and single parenthood.
  • Young/Early marriages and child marriages have the highest rates of divorce among married couples. Many times, young couples are uneducated, leading to poverty, which in turn leads to a variety of personal, familial, and social problems.
  • Child marriages are marriages that occur between at least one party who is between 12-17 years old. In many cases, the minor is a female and the bridegroom is in his mid-20s or older.
  • Child marriages are happening in the United States due to the culture of immigrants coming in and religious fundamental cults throughout the states.
  • Child marriages are a form of sexual abuse, no matter how prettily packaged they may seem.

References and Research:

Orthodox Pedophile: I Married My Child Victim So There was No Sexual Abuse

Early Marriage Survives in the USChicago Tribune

DayoftheGirl.org

Child Marriage in the United States and its Association with Mental Health in WomenPediatrics Journal

Child Marriage and Christian FundamentalistsRepublic of Gilead Blog

On Child Marriage: Kevin Swanson and Dave Bruehner Defend Phil Robertson—Homeschoolers Anonymous

Red Sex, Blue SexThe New Yorker

Wait for Sex and Marriage? Evangelicals Convicted

Unsatisfied With Pushing Abstinence Alone, Evangelicals Begin Pushing Early Marriages As WellJezebel

Teenage Brides and Titus 2 Women of the Homeschool ApostatesBecoming Worldly

Robert Van Handel: A Disturbing Look into the Mind of a Pedophile Priest

Child Marriage: I Dodged the Bullet

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Kierstyn King’s blog Bridging the Gap.  It was originally published on January 12, 2014.

I don’t know that I’ve written much about the process of the relationship Alex and I had before we got married. I started my blog after the fact and before I had even begun to process the hellmouth that was my childhood.

With three creepy-as-fuck-patriarchs coming out in favor of child marriage – something they’d always been in favor of, I suppose, but just now coming to light – I keep remembering how close I was to that being my story, our story.

This might be timey-wimey.

*****

Ever since I can remember, my mom really really really wanted to be pregnant at the same time as me.

I don’t know why, I just remember her telling me this, often, and it creeping  me out before I was 10 — and after I was 10, but I remember being really damn young when she was telling me this. I feel like I was 8.

When we started homechurching, my mom become obsessed, I mean obsessed with jewish culture. Like everything about it was perfect and not at all weird, and by jewish culture, I guess I should clarify, I mean old testament jewishness, and whatever of that was referenced in the new testament. Yes, how women were property and bought/traded for dowries, and how they were surprised for when they were getting married, and their parents picked out their husbands (my mom is also obsessed with betrothal), and then how they wait for the couple to do it, and then they bring out a sheet that had better have a bloodstain on it to prove…virginity – because, obv’s everyone bleeds (<nope).

(HA note: Kiery’s mom was not just wrong in a moral sense, but wrong in a religious sense; for an accurate description of how Jewish weddings work, please see Rachel’s comment here and Petticoat Philosopher’s comment here.)

She had, before I was a teenager even, basically planned out my wedding to be like that. Complete with my future husband building an apartment attached to their house, and even as a kid who knew nothing, this was the thing I fought against, this was the battle I always chose, I was not going to allow my mom to pick out my husband, and dictate my wedding and create the most humiliating ceremony I could imagine – just so she could get her jewish fix and fulfill her dream of carrying children simultaneously.

For context: She had also decided that I would marry at 18 to ensure that pregnancy thing would be feasible.

She was pregnant when I was 18 (I’m 18 years and one-week older than my youngest sibling) and I did end up getting married at 18, but the simultaneous pregnancy hasn’t happened (and never will, thanks to my own birth control and my grandparents stepping in after the last baby and paying for my mom’s sterilization).

Anyway, back to the story…

So, my childhood was already riddled with disturbing fantasies from my mom in relation to my future love-life, and I had been fighting this battle for as long as I can remember. Thankfully, my dad was on my side here, and also thought that my mom’s whole wanting to control all of that thing was ridiculous, which made it easier to just look at her and say no whenever she mentioned it (that was the only thing I was ever able to do that with) even though she ignored it.

I had read too much Elsie Dinsmore to be cool with the idea of betrothal.

Anyway, after we moved to Atlanta I went to TeenPact State Class and then TeenPact National Convention where I met Alex and we became fast friends over the course of the year. Later that year my parents told me they were done teaching me/had taught me everything I needed to know when I was 15 and they said I’d graduated. It was 2006. I turned 16 in February of 2007, had my graduation ceremony at the state homeschool convention in May, and Alex came down for camp, and that fall we started courting (which is, in our case, another kind of hell). Because he lived in Maine, our relationship was Long Distance and we saw eachother less than a handful of times a year – which means most of our relationship involved lots and lots and lots of talking and getting to know each other over IM/Email/Phone calls.

Nonetheless, as soon as my dad said “okay” to us courting in September of 2007, my parents – especially my mom- heard wedding bells. Courting is basically like, “dating with the intent to marry” but with everyone sticking their hands and ideas into the situation but without actually caring about or getting to know the two people involved – they just want power and think they can because they’re parents, so they must be right, right? (no)

My mom, at this time, had just had my second brother, and so, my broom services weren’t as desperately needed.

By december they were pushing Alex to propose, made him buy me a promise ring, and kept asking about when we were getting married, anddon’t you love him? (yes) don’t you want to marry him? (sure) but why not NOW? (because I’m 16) We’ll sign the paperwork! eventually I just looked at them and told them, I feel like you’re pushing me out, and I don’t know why. They were like, we’re not pushing you out! and I forget what else they said, but in retrospect, that conversation, and me not coming home engaged after visiting and meeting his family for the first time after christmas changed things.

But one thing remained, they wanted me married. Stat. They wanted him to propose like, right away, and when he didn’t propose by my birthday, in February (because we both decided it wasn’t a good idea to get married at like, 17 and 19) they got pissed and over the course of the summer of 2008, decided to do everything they could to sabotage our relationship.

It was brutal and nasty and deserving of more than one post because it was fraught with verbal and emotional abuse, withholding, and bribery – complete turns of opinions and demeanor’s, saying one thing and then the next morning saying something else, the last pregnancy that ruined everything, and the reason I had to run away.

If I had complied, as I did in every other thing, my relationship with my parents would have been less strained for a short time, but neither Alex or I would be in a healthy place. 16 is too youngMuch too young.

So when people talk about child-marriage proponents, I remember being 16 and pressured, unbelievably pressured by my parents, to make my boyfriend propose and marry me.

because it’s better to marry than to burn with passion 

I wonder if some of the logic of Swanson, Maranatha’s dad and husband, and Creepy Duck Guy wasn’t part of the logic my parents had too: female independence is bad, marry them off young so they can do what god commanded women to do – be fruitful and multiply.

On Child Marriage: Kevin Swanson and Dave Bruehner Defend Phil Robertson

Kevin Swanson (and Dave Bruehner) have now publicly joined the ranks of Phil Robertson and Matthew Chapman in advocacy of child marriage.
Kevin Swanson (and Dave Bruehner) have now publicly joined the ranks of Phil Robertson and Matthew Chapman in defense of child marriage.

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

Kevin Swanson and Dave Bruehner have now publicly joined with Phil Robertson (in particular) and Matthew Chapman (in general) in defense of child marriage.

In their latest Generations with Vision broadcast, “Sexting and Christian Modesty,” Swanson and Bruehner propose that liberals want pre-teen and early teen girls “sexing” it up all over the place, whereas biblically-based Christians should want them… “sexing” it up at that age only in marriage?

Generations with Vision describes the program in the following way: “Public junior high schools are doing more sexting, and Kevin Swanson recommends a biblical view of womanhood and modesty for Christian families.”

Starting at the 13:45 mark, Swanson and Bruehner mount a defense of Phil Robertson’s advocacy for child marriage. Shortly thereafter, Swanson presents his own ideas about child marriage. The transcript of the section is as follows:

*****

Kevin Swanson:

Remember that one concern people had over Duck Dynasty, when the guy came out and said the girls, 15 or 16 years of age, she’s able to get married, they got all mad. Because boy, you get a girl married at 15 or 16 years of age, that’s a sin!

Dave Bruehner:

Well it is because she doesn’t have a whole life of fornication ahead of her anymore.

Swanson:

Yeah!

Bruehner:

I mean, there’s a whole junior high, soon to be a high school, there’s the staff, there’s the janitors, there’s… there’s the police department, there are so many sexual opportunities for a young woman that are cut off if she actually commits to one guy and tries to live a pure life.

Swanson:

Yeah! Yeah! So see, again, the liberals are really excited about getting the kids doing as much fornication as possible. But the rest of us are saying, “Hey, what about God’s law? What about God’s law?” By the way, nothing in God’s law that would prohibit a young girl who’s ready to get married, at 15 or 16 years of age — now it takes some wisdom, it takes some wisdom — but nothing in God’s law that forbids — it’s not like immoral. There’s nothing in God’s law: “it’s immoral for a 15 or 16 year old to get married.”

By the way, my grandmother was married at 15. I think it was 15. My grandmother on my father’s side was married at 15. It was during the Great Depression. Her father had died and her mother was trying to provide for the 5 kids or whatever. So you know it just made sense. She was 15 years old, she was ready to get married. So that kind of thing has happened, friends. But a sin! A sin in a modern world?

I mean, think about what the president of the Girl Scouts would say about this, Dave, if we said, “Hey, these 15 year old girls, 16 year old girls, they may be ready to get married. They don’t have to live these, you know, independent lifestyles.”

Like Matthew Chapman, Duck Dynasty Star Endorsed Child Marriage

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on December 30, 2013.

It has just come out that Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson, so recently suspended over homophobic and racist comments and then reinstated after backlash from his supporters, endorsed child marriage in a sermon in 2009.

At a Sportsmen’s Ministry talk in 2009, Robertson had some advice for a young man.

“Make sure that she can cook a meal, you need to eat some meals that she cooks, check that out,” he said. “Make sure she carries her Bible. That’ll save you a lot of trouble down the road. And if she picks your ducks, now, that’s a woman.”

“They got to where they’re getting hard to find,” Robertson remarked. “Mainly because these boys are waiting until they get to be about 20 years old before they marry ‘em. Look, you wait until they get to be 20 years old, the only picking that’s going to take place is your pocket.”

The Duck Commander company founder added: “You got to marry these girls when they are about 15 or 16, they’ll pick your ducks. You need to check with mom and dad about that of course.”

He went on to say that the Bible gave Americans the right to hunt.

And Robertson practices what he preaches. He began dating his wife, Kay, when she was only 14 and he was 18. They waited until Kay was 16 to get married.

Those who are regular readers will remember my coverage last month of Matthew Chapman, a homeschool father who runs a small ministry and has similarly endorsed child marriage.

I know that in my case, I cannot even begin to fully communicate the wonderful gift Maranatha’s father gave to me in his daughter on the day we married [Maranatha was 15 when she was married to 27-year-old Matthew]. All her life, he had called her to trust him and follow him, even when she didn’t understand or, perhaps, even agree with how he was leading her, and she did. A few nights before our wedding feast, when Maranatha was dressed and ready and waiting for me to come, the doorbell rang and it was her dad who showed up instead. He assured her the wedding feast was not that particular night, and asked her to change her clothes and join him for a special dinner. He took her to a nice restaurant where they had a wonderful evening talking and sharing and laughing and crying together. Then, at one point, he told her, “Sweetheart, all your life you have submitted to me, trusted me, and followed me, and you have done this well. But, when Matthew comes and takes you, all of that transfers over to him, even if that means he leads you in ways that vary from how I would do things.” And when I went to get her, she followed her dad’s final lead right into my headship of her. Wow! Did I walk into a good deal or what?!

Parents, I would also charge you to consider this. The way many Christian homeschooling parents raise their daughters, they mature rather quickly and develop significant capacities by a relatively young age. By their middle-teens, many daughters (but by no means all) possess the maturity and skills to run their own home. My point is to encourage you to be open to the Lord and take to heart that some of your daughters may be ready to marry sooner than your preconceived ideas have allowed for. And why not, if they are truly ready? What is the purpose of holding out for a predetermined numeric age if they are legitimately prepared and the Lord has brought His choice of a young man along for her? Don’t be surprised if this is some of the fruit of your good parenting in bringing forth mature, well-equipped, Godly young daughters. However, I seldom think this will be the case for most young men—it takes them (us) a lot longer to get to where they need to be. I have also seen that, oftentimes, a difference in age—even a significant one—with the man being older, helps make for a better fit.

Matthew married his own daughter off at weeks after her sixteenth birthday. In both cases, the reasons for endorsing child marriage are essentially identical: girls married off at 15 are children, not adults, and are therefore more pliable, less assertive, and more easily led. They do not have life experience or a fully developed sense of self.

It remains to be seen whether Robertson’s endorsement of child marriage will be defended by his loyal following.

Matthew and Maranatha Chapman Withdraw from 2014 CHEO Convention

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

As of yesterday, Matthew and Maranatha Chapman are no longer presenting at Christian Home Educators of Ohio’s (CHEO) annual homeschool convention this summer. 

The Chapmans have recently provoked controversy due to increased attention to their advocacy of marrying homeschool girls in their “middle-teens” to older men.
The Chapmans have recently provoked controversy due to increased attention to their advocacy of marrying homeschool girls in their “middle-teens” to older men.

Matthew Chapman was a keynote speakers and his wife Maranatha was slated as a featured speaker. The Chapmans have recently provoked controversy due to increased attention to their advocacy of marrying homeschool girls in their “middle-teens” to older men.

The following statement appeared on CHEO’s convention page as of December 16, 2013 (PDF version):

The CHEO board regrets to inform Ohio homeschoolers that Matthew and Maranatha Chapman have notified us that they will not be attending the upcoming CHEO convention in 2014 as previously planned. The Chapmans deeply desire that all those attending the convention would be built up and encouraged in the Lord, and expressed that they will miss seeing the many friends and acquaintances they made from when they were here several years ago. CHEO appreciates their humble service in ministry and wish for them the best.

CHEO has not specified the reasons for the Chapmans’ change of plans, nor have they made any public comment or statement on the Chapmans’ advocacy of child marriage or whether this advocacy was the reason for withdrawal.

Matthew Chapman to Headline the 2014 CHEO Convention

Source: Kindling Publications
Source: Kindling Publications

HA note: The following is reprinted in a modified format with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on December 3, 2013 with the title, “Matthew Chapman, and Why I Included Lauren’s Picture.”

Matthew Chapman wrote the following in 2003, five years before he gave his daughter Lauren away in marriage. In it he referred to his marriage at age 27 to Lauren’s mother Maranatha, who was only 15 at her wedding:

I know that in my case, I cannot even begin to fully communicate the wonderful gift Maranatha’s father gave to me in his daughter on the day we married. All her life, he had called her to trust him and follow him, even when she didn’t understand or, perhaps, even agree with how he was leading her, and she did. A few nights before our wedding feast, when Maranatha was dressed and ready and waiting for me to come, the doorbell rang and it was her dad who showed up instead. He assured her the wedding feast was not that particular night, and asked her to change her clothes and join him for a special dinner. He took her to a nice restaurant where they had a wonderful evening talking and sharing and laughing and crying together. Then, at one point, he told her, “Sweetheart, all your life you have submitted to me, trusted me, and followed me, and you have done this well. But, when Matthew comes and takes you, all of that transfers over to him, even if that means he leads you in ways that vary from how I would do things.” And when I went to get her, she followed her dad’s final lead right into my headship of her. Wow! Did I walk into a good deal or what?!

…I had no idea how common this sort of thing was, because no one in my homeschool community had married before age 18, and I still don’t know how common it is—but it’s clearly more common than I had hoped. What really bothers me here is the age difference bit. If these parents were marrying their 16-year-old daughters off to other families’ 17-year-old sons I would still be concerned, but when they’re marrying their 16-year-old daughters off to full grown men significantly older in both years and experience, I am appalled—and not in small part because of quotes like Matthew Chapman’s.

I also learned is that Matthew Chapman is going to be a keynote speaker at Christian Home Educators of Ohio’s annual homeschool convention this summer.

This is a major convention, and this past summer the now-discredited Doug Phillips was a keynote speaker. Voddie Baucham spoke there in 2012, as did Eric Ludy. In addition to Matthew serving as keynote speaker, his wife Maranatha is slated as a featured speaker. Matthew runs Kindling Publications, and both Maranatha and Lauren is featured heavily on organization’s website.

Like it or not, it appears that the mainstream of the Christian homeschooling movement, its major convention circuit, has chosen to give a platform to those who practice and promote the marriage of girls of 15 and 16 to much-older men. Here is something else Matthew Chapman wrote in 2003:

Parents, I would also charge you to consider this. The way many Christian homeschooling parents raise their daughters, they mature rather quickly and develop significant capacities by a relatively young age. By their middle-teens, many daughters (but by no means all) possess the maturity and skills to run their own home. My point is to encourage you to be open to the Lord and take to heart that some of your daughters may be ready to marry sooner than your preconceived ideas have allowed for. And why not, if they are truly ready? What is the purpose of holding out for a predetermined numeric age if they are legitimately prepared and the Lord has brought His choice of a young man along for her? Don’t be surprised if this is some of the fruit of your good parenting in bringing forth mature, well-equipped, Godly young daughters. However, I seldom think this will be the case for most young men—it takes them (us) a lot longer to get to where they need to be. I have also seen that, oftentimes, a difference in age—even a significant one—with the man being older, helps make for a better fit.

This is the man who is now being given the keynote slot at major Christian homeschooling conventions.

People need to know this.

Matthew Chapman promotes the marriage of homeschool girls in their “middle-teens” to older men, endorsing an age difference, “even a significant one,” as making “for a better fit.” Matthew Chapman not only followed this advice in his own marriage, but also in marrying his daughter Lauren off immediately after her sixteenth birthday to a man of twenty-six.

What does this say of the Christian homeschooling movement?

…Where are the voices speaking out against this? Where are the Christian homeschooling leaders saying that this is wrong?

I’m searching for them, but I’m finding only crickets—crickets, and Matthew Chapman serving as keynote speaker at major Christian homeschooling conventions.

Jonathan Lindvall and Child Marriage: The Maranatha Story

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Libby Anne’s blog Love Joy Feminism. It was originally published on Patheos on December 2, 2013

Maranatha’s courtship story has been told and retold in homeschooling circles at least since the 1990s, and is held up by many as an ideal. But there’s one thing that is routinely left out of the story. Just how old was Maranatha Owen when she married Matthew Chapman at the culmination of a parent-guided courtship/betrothal process?

We often think about child marriage as something that happens in other countries, but not here.

I’ve generally thought of it that way too, even with my background. I grew up in a conservative evangelical/fundamentalist homeschool community where no one dated and everyone talked about and aspired to courtship. But in my community essentially no one started courting before attaining legal adulthood. Recently I’ve been hearing other stories, though, far different stories—and one of those stories is Maranatha’s, which I will tell in a moment.

There were a couple of relevant reasons those in my community put off courtship. First, courtship was scary, and the consequences were huge. If you courted and then broke it off that had the potential to look really really bad. After all, the whole reason for foregoing dating was the idea that for every romantic relationship you have, you give away a piece of your heart that you will never get back. Second, courtship was about finding a marriage partner, and long courtships or engagements were seen as causes for fleshly temptation. Therefore it made no sense to begin a courtship before you were actually ready for marriage. And thus we waited.

There are some Christian homeschooling leaders, Jonathan Lindvall primary among them, who brush these reasons aside and preach the godliness of youthful courtship.

Lindvall argues for avoiding the heartache of broken courtship by means of heavy parental control and what he likes to term “betrothals.” If parents help their children find godly partners, love will follow eventually, or so his argument goes. Lindvall and others like him also argue that young people are ready for marriage far earlier than “the world” may recognize, and that waiting rather than marrying young only leads to temptation and the possibility of going astray.

And now we turn to the story of the 1988 betrothal and marriage of Matthew Chapmen and Maranatha Owen. I will begin by summarizing the story as told by Lindvall, and will then answer the question of the couple’s age.

Having began saved at age 19, Matthew Chapman felt led to the ministry. He attended Baylor University’s ministerial program and began serving as a ministerial intern at a large church in Waco, Texas. During this time he began to look for mentorship from an older man at the church, a homeschooling father named Stan Owen. Stan became Matthew’s spiritual father, and the two spent a great deal of time together. In the summer of 1986, Stan began to feel that God had destined Matthew to marry his daughter Maranatha. Without talking to either Matthew, his spiritual son, or Maranatha, his biological daughter, Stan dedicated the two together in marriage in prayer before God.

In early fall of 1986, Matthew confessed to Stan that he was troubled by a strong attraction to Stan’s daughter Maranatha.

He confessed that he found her “very attractive” and that she had become “a distraction.” “I don’t know what to do about it,” he said. According to Lindvall’s telling, “Matthew was certain this attraction could not be right since Maranatha was so much younger than he.” ”Have you ever considered that this may be a good thing?” Stan asked him in response, “How do you know this isn’t from the Lord?” But Stan went on to tell Matthew that Maranatha wasn’t ready for marriage yet, and that he therefore needed to put a hold on his feelings for a while. Matthew continued to be a frequent guest in Stan’s home, constantly in contact with Maranatha and the rest of the family, but was forbidden to tell Maranatha about his feelings or have any physical contact with her.

Shortly after this Maranatha told her father that she had “an interest” in Matthew. As time went by Maranatha found her “attraction” to Matthew “increasingly distracting.” She told her father about her crush as she had been taught to do. Stan told Maranatha that she needed to “keep her heart pure and focused on the Lord” and to “wholly give herself to the Lord without any lingering desire for Matthew.” And Maranatha obediently sought to do just that. Of course, Stan had already decided to give Maranatha to Matthew, so this was simply a matter of biding his time until he decided Maranatha was ready.

A year later, in early fall of 1987, Matthew felt that God had told him by direct communication that he, Matthew, was to marry Maranatha. Matthew shared with his mentor what God had told him, and asked permission to propose to Maranatha. Stan confirmed that the thoughts may well have been from God, but asked Matthew to wait a little longer, promising to share when he had heard from God himself.

Several months went by and Christmas arrived. Stan’s Christmas present to Matthew was a Christmas card with the words “This year for Christmas, I am going to give you the greatest gift I could ever give you” on the front.

Inside was a photograph of Maranatha.

There were also instructions: “On January 1st, you may ask Maranatha to marry you.” The instructions stated, however, that while Matthew and Maranatha could become engaged Stan would not give Maranatha to Matthew until he determined she was ready, which might be months or years. Matthew proposed and Maranatha accepted.

Stan wanted to do things as they were done in the Bible, when betrothal was legally binding. Therefore, on February 22, 1988, just over a month after Matthew’s proposal and Maranatha’s acceptance, the two were legally married at the courthouse. Maranatha continued to live in her father’s home until her official “wedding” day, which, although she was already legally married, would be when she would begin her married life.

The summer of 1988, Stan decided that Maranatha was ready. In the six or so months since Matthew’s proposal and Maranatha’s acceptance, Matthew had prepared a home for them to live in and Maranatha had sewed a wedding dress. After dinner one day, Stan unexpectedly and without prior warning informed Matthew and Maranatha that the time was fast approaching. But Stan wanted to reenact the Biblical story of Jesus as bridegroom and the Church as his bride, so he did not give either Matthew or Maranatha a date.

Immediately after Stan’s surprise announcement, Maranatha was taken by her family members to the home of another Christian family. There Maranatha waited for Matthew to come and claim her. Every day between 3 pm and midnight she dressed in her wedding dress and sat with her suitcase, waiting. Finally, at long last, Stan told Matthew that the day had arrived, and Matthew came to the house where Maranatha was staying, claimed her, and took her to a surprise wedding feast Stan had prepared, complete with guests, singing, and dancing. The couple then left on their honeymoon and began their married life.

So now let’s talk ages.

When Matthew first expressed his interest in Maranatha—interest Stan affirmed as from God but asked Matthew to put on hold—Maranatha was 13 and Matthew was 26.

When Matthew heard from God that he was to marry Maranatha, and begged Stan to let him propose marriage to her, Maranatha was 14 and Matthew was 27. When Stan gave Matthew the go ahead to propose to his daughter, Maranatha was 15 and Matthew was 27. They were the same ages when they married just over a month later, and when Maranatha left her father’s home and the couple began their married life together Maranatha was 15 and Matthew was 28.

The original story doesn’t include any ages at all. I suspect that Lindvall and others felt these ages were appropriate, but were concerned that some might be put off by the idea of a 15-year-old girl marrying a 27-year-old man. I found the ages by looking them up on public record. They’re not available on the internet or in print otherwise.

Marrying girls off so early does several things. For one thing, it precludes them having other options. They have not finished their academic education and are not qualified for anything besides homemaking. And even then, what fifteen-year-old is truly ready to run a home in today’s world? For another thing, such early marriage means a girl marries before she has time to completely mature and form her own outlook on life. But then, sadly, that’s rather part of the point. This sort of arrangement, after all, functions not as an independent adult making her own decisions but rather as a property transfer—and it is explicitly stated as such.

Matthew wrote this in an article titled Thoughts on Betrothal (15 Years Later):

I know that in my case, I cannot even begin to fully communicate the wonderful gift Maranatha’s father gave to me in his daughter on the day we married. All her life, he had called her to trust him and follow him, even when she didn’t understand or, perhaps, even agree with how he was leading her, and she did. A few nights before our wedding feast, when Maranatha was dressed and ready and waiting for me to come, the doorbell rang and it was her dad who showed up instead. He assured her the wedding feast was not that particular night, and asked her to change her clothes and join him for a special dinner. He took her to a nice restaurant where they had a wonderful evening talking and sharing and laughing and crying together. Then, at one point, he told her, “Sweetheart, all your life you have submitted to me, trusted me, and followed me, and you have done this well. But, when Matthew comes and takes you, all of that transfers over to him, even if that means he leads you in ways that vary from how I would do things.” And when I went to get her, she followed her dad’s final lead right into my headship of her. Wow! Did I walk into a good deal or what?! I’ll tell you what though, having a wife with a heart like that makes you all the more want to seek the Lord and lead her faithfully.

Parents, I would also charge you to consider this. The way many Christian homeschooling parents raise their daughters, they mature rather quickly and develop significant capacities by a relatively young age. By their middle-teens, many daughters (but by no means all) possess the maturity and skills to run their own home. My point is to encourage you to be open to the Lord and take to heart that some of your daughters may be ready to marry sooner than your preconceived ideas have allowed for. And why not, if they are truly ready? What is the purpose of holding out for a predetermined numeric age if they are legitimately prepared and the Lord has brought His choice of a young man along for her? Don’t be surprised if this is some of the fruit of your good parenting in bringing forth mature, well-equipped, Godly young daughters. However, I seldom think this will be the case for most young men—it takes them (us) a lot longer to get to where they need to be. I have also seen that, oftentimes, a difference in age—even a significant one—with the man being older, helps make for a better fit.

Matthew says that homeschooled girls mature quickly.

While I’m sure there are some homeschooled girls for whom this is true, I know the sort of homeschooled girls he’s talking about—they’re the ones raised to care for big families, cook, clean, and take care of babies, wear long dresses, practice submission, and learn a modest temperament. Maturity isn’t the ability to make a pie or change a diaper. Maturity isn’t the ability to quote a Bible verse or stay silent rather than gushing over the latest fad. And while we’re at it, running a home in today’s world takes more than knowledge of cooking, cleaning, and childcare.

Let me take a moment to address two objections I’ve seen raised. First, it is true that many girls in mainstream society date as early as 14. However, the courtship or betrothal process is closer to actual literal wedding planning than it is to dating. Courtship and betrothal are quite literally about getting married, and not at some nebulous time in the future but now. Second, it is true that it used to be more common for women to marry younger, even as young as 15. However, it was never as common to marry so young as we tend to think it was looking back (in fact, there are entire historical periods where people married just as late as we do today), and besides, the world today is not the same as the world of the past. Average age of marriage is generally a result of societal and economic factors that actually, like, matter.

Maranatha’s story is an extreme, yes, but it is not the only one of its kind. In 2008, only weeks after turning 16, Maranatha’s daughter Lauren married a man who was 26, a man who had already been interested in her for several years. And I’ve been hearing other stories too, stories of courtships begun at age 14 and marriages entered into at 16 or 17. Right now, my heart is sad for girls married off before they have the time to live, to learn who they are, to forge their own beliefs and outlook on life—girls married off so early other options are severely limited, and in such a patriarchal setting that even consent is curtailed.

In case you’re wondering, Matthew and Maranatha were married in Texas.

The law in that state requires parental permission for marriages involving those who are 16 or 17, and a special court dispensation for marriages involving those under 16. I suspect that the law was different in 1988, and that this is the reason Maranatha’s daughter Lauren married immediately after turning 16 rather than before.