I Was Almost a Child Bride

OK, that headline is somewhat misleading because my parents NEVER would have consented to me marrying before the age of 18, but there was a much older man in our church who expressed interest in marrying me when I was only 14. Can you imagine? But I'm getting ahead of myself....

I have absolutely no statistics on the age of marriage in the Church of Christ, but anecdotally, I can tell you that people tend to marry young, either right out of high school or college. Since most of them in the noninstitutional churches tend to go to 2-year colleges like Florida College, they're getting married in the 18-21-year-old range. Most people I knew in the church were married by age 25. Anyone who was still single at 30 was written off as a "confirmed bachelor" or a spinster. Still, most people in the Midwestern churches I knew waited until they were at least 18 to marry. I did know a few people who married much earlier, though, and all the stuff in the news recently about Roy Moore brought those memories flooding back, including the memory of the preacher who wanted to date me when I was only 14.

Our church hired this preacher when I was 13. I'll never forget when his mom visited for the first time. We all marveled at how young she looked to have a son in his early 20s. Turns out that she got married really young herself (she was either 14 or 15, I can't remember now). This woman had never met me before, but the first thing she did upon meeting me was to give me a copy of this book, "Fascinating Womanhood" and told me that it would help me get a husband. I was flabbergasted! I wasn't even remotely thinking about marriage at that point. I was still in junior high and was focused on getting good grades so I could get into college someday. For years, I wondered why she gave that book to me and why she even had a copy of it on her. Did she carry it around just in case she met a teenage girl who "needed" it? In retrospect, I suspect that her son mentioned me to her, and she thought she could groom me to be the perfect submissive wife for him.

I did keep the book for many years because, frankly, it's hilarious. The advice boils down to telling women that, to get and keep a man, they should act helpless and stupid so that a man feels strong and powerful and feels the urge to protect them. A friend and I used to read passages of it aloud to each other just to crack ourselves up. A few years ago, I ran across it when I was doing a book purge and I gave it to my friend. She still has it and pulls it out every now and then when she needs a laugh.

My parents felt sorry for this young preacher, since he was alone in a new town with no family, so they invited him over to our place for dinner quite often. To be clear: he never touched me and he never said anything to me that was overtly offensive, but I did catch him leering at me on many occasions. I told my parents that I didn't like him and that I thought he was a creep, but when they would ask me for specifics, I couldn't say anything other than that he just made me feel uncomfortable. Again, he hadn't actually done anything that would be considered criminal or overtly inappropriate, and I was also bashful about the situation. No 13-year-old girl wants to tell her conservative religious parents that she caught the preacher staring at her boobs. I think my folks chalked it up to me being a sullen teenager. There also may have been a little bit of "preacher worship" going on. I don't think it occurred to them that "a man of God" would do anything inappropriate with their daughter. They were a bit naive, let's be honest.

About a year or so after he started preaching at our congregation, the creep finally tipped his hand and asked my parents if he could go out with me, with the goal of us marrying someday. My parents were absolutely shocked and horrified. They felt completely betrayed by this man they had invited into their home. They told him that, no, he would not be allowed to date me, that it was completely inappropriate for him to be interested in underage girls, and that he needed to date women his own age. After that, they didn't invite him to our house alone. If they had potlucks where the entire congregation was invited, that was fine, but they didn't want him to be around me and my sister any more than necessary.

Years later, he married a girl even younger than me. Her parents had also gotten married as teenagers, so I guess it seemed normal to them. When people in the church found out that he was dating an underage girl, the men of the church asked him to leave. Even though he had her parents' consent, they still thought it was inappropriate and set a bad example. That's one of the few times that I agreed with a decision those guys made.

I think underage marriage should be illegal in all 50 states, with no religious exceptions whatsoever. It almost always involves exploitation of a young girl who has no idea what she's getting into, even if she's willing to get married. Frankly, I think the legal age of marriage should be raised to 21. If you can't legally have a glass of champagne at your own wedding, then you're too young to be getting married.

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