Q: I find a prevalence of people (including Christians) who believe it is okay to live together before marriage. I am baffled by how clergy and parishioners excuse this as no longer being sin. I am recently engaged to be married and have been asked repeatedly if my betrothed is going to move in with me. Some express a lack of understanding and frustration when I respond "No." How do you respond in these situations without sounding judgmental?
A: Your question is not about whether it's okay to live together outside of marriage. The question is about how to maintain "your own standards" without sounding judgmental of others and their differing choices and beliefs.
How about swapping roles? How about changing from the one who is "baffled" to the one doing the "baffling?"
You're reading the culture correctly. More young people (and not so young people) live together outside of marriage today than ever before. Some of these couples, no doubt, see this "arrangement" as a step toward marriage. Many do not. It's simply the way they choose to live "in the moment." You are baffled by the response of clergy and laity alike because both the pastor and the person in the pew are befuddled by the same issue.
How do we "hold the line" without coming off as judgmental?
What about the idea of simply not worrying about appearing to be judgmental? What about simply being genuinely who you are and holding to that which you believe to be God's best for your life? The simple answer to those who ask you if you're "moving in together," is, "No, we're not."
Peter encouraged the Christians of his day to "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15, NIV). It seems to me that, just as we are called to demonstrate a hope that "baffles" those who watch us, we are also called to live lives of holiness in ways that may confuse a world with little moral direction.
In our earnest desire to obey Jesus' command to "judge not," we often fail to provide the Holy Spirit with the opportunity to do his work of convincing the world of "sin and righteousness and judgment." Of course you can say to your friends, "We're not moving in together and neither should you." This response will "baffle" no one." They've heard this before.
On the other hand if you simply smile and say, "Why, no, we're not." The needle on their "baffle-o-meter" will begin to move sharply to the right. And that's when the questions begin. "Really, you're not?" Why on earth not? And, if I might paraphrase Peter, that's when you should "always be ready to answer the person who asks about the holiness that's displayed in your life."
You've made the choice to live into God's best for your life. That choice is going to return benefit and blessing for years to come. Your gracious response to those who wonder if you've "lost your mind" may well spark a redemptive conversation with a friend who is just about to lose the way.
Gene Schandorff is chaplain at Northwest Nazarene University. Prior to that, he pastored churches in Southern and Northern California.
Holiness Today, Jan/Feb 2013