"It is... evident that a weakened appreciation of the indissolubility of the marriage covenant, and the widespread rejection of a responsible, mature sexual ethic grounded in the practice of chastity, have led to grave societal problems bearing an immense human and economic cost, ... ignorance of or challenges to church teaching on marriage and sexuality [are] the "intellectual and ethical challenges" to evangelization in the United States today. "
The Pope makes a valid point when he highlights the ignorance of modern youth; Americans under the age of about 35 frequently lack even the most basic understanding of Christian principles and classic Bible stories. What little they think they do know is often incomplete, skewed or entirely out of context.
Unfortunately, by focusing on that ignorance, the Pope is falling into the same trap that has long bound the hands of the Protestant church in America: hammering away at the what at the expense of the why and how.
Let's face it: we Americans are many wonderful things, but docile and obedient never make the list. We're not particularly inclined to do something just because someone says so. Teaching what the Bible says about cohabitation isn't going to get you anything but resistance and resentment unless you couple it with relevant, hard-hitting information on the why and how.
Let's look at the facts for a minute, shall we?
1. Couples who cohabit before marriage are more likely to get a divorce than couples who did not.
2. Having sex with someone permanently fuses certain neural pathways in the brain, cementing deep attachment to that person. This is by design; within marriage, this neural fusing layers upon itself repeatedly over time. It literally wires you into a stronger, more durable relationship with your spouse that helps maintain the marriage during periods of stress or distance (physical or emotional). Obviously, sex outside of marriage sabotages this system.
3. Married men and women are statistically healthier and more successful than their cohabiting or serial-relationship peers. They live longer, and are safer and more financially sound as well.
4. Children of stable married couples are statistically healthier, safer, and more successful as well.
5. Baggage from previous relationships seriously complicates individual and marital happiness, making it in one's best interest to avoid it as much as possible. (The enormous and painful messes that result from such baggage would be self-explanatory, except that so many people have never seen a healthy, functional marriage without such baggage that they have no frame of reference by which to judge.)
6. Widespread social problems including rising poverty and crime rates, lack of access to good education and health care, and domestic violence have been clearly linked to the loss of traditional marriage and family structures.
That's just a quick overview!
Now what do you think is going to make a stronger, more positive impression on people?
A) Hammering on the sinfulness of their actions, or
B) Approaching them in love with genuine concerns for the demonstrable consequences of their actions (as cited above)
This generation loves their "tribes" and everyone wants to know they belong somewhere and make a difference. Make them aware that their acts of self-discipline and self-restraint enroll them in a simple, direct, grass-roots movement that will deeply impact society for the better for generations to come and they'll be tripping over themselves to participate.
Okay, maybe not, but you get the idea. The evidence to prove the benefits of traditional marriage is there; it's long past time for advocates to start arguing smart. In the end, it isn't about who is right or who is wrong, it's about Truth and the heartache and destruction we can prevent by spreading it in love.