New York Times features free church weddings for cohabiting couples, with predictable criticism

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The story is about a Texas church offering free weddings for cohabiting couples who agree to undergo premarital counseling.

The publication is the New York Times.

So it’s no surprise that the feature eventually gets around to same-sex marriage and how the church involved won’t allow it.

But overall, it’s an interesting piece.

Let’s start at the top:

A few months before Kelvin Evans married his live-in girlfriend, Pa Shoua Pha, in 2016, uncertainty gripped him.

“I had convinced myself that I wasn’t going to have any more children,” said Mr. Evans, 44, the father of two boys from a previous relationship. But his girlfriend, he said, wanted to start a family and “it became a huge sticking point.”

Fortunately, the couple had a support network through the Concord Church, a nondenominational Christian church, in Dallas. Alongside five other cohabiting couples, they signed up for a “step into marriage” challenge and worked out their issues. On Aug. 27, 2016, all six couples, plus 19 other couples who also took the challenge, married in a mass ceremony. Mr. and Ms. Evans now have a daughter, Ava Naomi, who was born this past March, and Mr. Evans couldn’t be happier. “If I was doing any better,” he said, “it would probably be illegal.”

“If I was doing any better, it would probably be illegal.” Love it! I appreciate it when the writer rewards the reader with a great quote up high.

The nut graf:

Every three years since 2010, Pastor Bryan Carter has issued a call to arms to his 8,500 parishioners at Concord, in South Dallas: Disavow living together and commit to marriage. To sweeten the deal, he throws in a free wedding, complete with white gown, tuxedo, wedding bands, bouquets and a post-wedding reception. Mr. Carter officiates for the couples who make it through the 11 weeks of premarital counseling, which is part of the challenge. The handful that bow out of marriage can receive one month’s rent (up to $750) toward a new place to live, so long as it doesn’t include a cohabiting partner.

The Times notes that Carter “believes cohabitation is not the correct lifestyle choice for couples in committed relationships.” The newspaper makes no mention of Scriptural teachings on marriage, but I wonder if Carter did, and the Times chose not to include it.

The same question strikes me later in the story when the Times reports that Carter says Concord welcomes the LGBTQ community but “believes in more traditional model of marriage.” Did Carter reference the Bible? Also, what does he mean by “welcomes” the LGBTQ community? Does this church consider same-sex relationships a sin or not?

Earlier in the piece, the Times quotes Scott Stanley, a researcher in the psychology department at the University of Denver, as backing up Carter’s view on the drawbacks of couples living together outside of marriage. Stanley is a well-known marriage expert whom I recall mentioning in a 2002 series that I wrote for The Oklahoman on a state-funded marriage initiative.

Besides quoting a Unitarian pastor and a Jewish rabbi with questions about Carter’s approach, the Times includes the age-old question about whether the church’s resources might be better spent on the poor:

Rabbi Gewirtz also wonders if the church’s resources might be better spent feeding the hungry or housing the homeless. “But that’s just a different point of view,” he said.

It is a view Mr. Carter is familiar with. His Twitter announcement of this year’s challenge reached 300,000 people, he said, and most feedback was positive. “But we had a few detractors who said, ‘Why would the church be concerned about someone’s relationship? Couldn’t it do more with that money to feed people?’” he said.

Mr. Evans, who will be a best man in this year’s mass wedding for a cousin taking the challenge, thinks the program does help the community.

“This process has prepared me to be successful in my marriage,” he said. “Now we’re in a place where we can help other people in our community thrive.”

Apparently, the Times missed a recent article I wrote for Facts & Trends magazine about the growing marriage gap between the rich and poor — and the potential socioeconomic (as well as spiritual) benefits of saying “I do.”

Photo by Sweet Ice Cream Photography on Unsplash

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