Love and marriage are not the same thing
By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
updated 7:30 AM EST, Tue December 20, 2011
Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com and the 2009 winner of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation award for online journalism. Follow him on Twitter:@locs_n_laughs
Grand Rapids, Michigan (CNN) -- Til death do us part.
On my wedding day, I will not be saying that sentence.
Not that I'm not in it to win it -- I am -- only that if two people are told they can never leave, how do they know the other really wants to stay? Marriage is hard enough without the specter of death being the only way out hanging over our heads.
To me, it's just another fire and brimstone tactic absentmindedly handed down from generation to generation just to get people to stay in line. Or give them comfort that once they kiss, they will always be there for each other.
But it's a lot harder than that and sometimes things don't work out. Recognizing that doesn't threaten the relationship, it just means you're paying attention. And in a country with a healthy divorce rate and prenuptial agreements -- which are essentially Plan Bs before the ink on Plan A is even dry -- I think it's safe to assume there are a lot of examples of things not working out to pay attention to.
This is one of the areas where the evangelical church needs to grow most -- learning how to minister to a society that can no longer be scared straight. The fearmongering has been undermined by hypocrisy, and the younger generations now find themselves in the enviable position of marrying and staying married because they want to, not because they're afraid not to.
A recent Pew study found that the number of Americans 18 and older who are married dropped from 72% in 1960 to 57% in 2000 to 51% today.
Combine that with the declining divorce rate, people getting married later in life and with seven in 10 millennials saying it's OK to have premarital sex (according to Public Religion Research Institute), and what you have is a generation that is totally over having their sex lives managed by people they're not having sex with.
Now some religious conservatives would deem this perfect storm humanism and proclaim that the very fabric of society is fraying. They need to say these things because, well, this new-found empowerment threatens a business model that is based on fear.
But church attendance has not been declining since the 1970s because people are shacking up. It's because the church as a whole has become stagnant while the society it's based in continues to evolve. Couple that with the disconnect between how we're told to live our lives and the lives being led by those doing the telling, and you can see why we're just less religious as a country.
At some point, church leaders are going to have to figure out how to minister to a congregation that is not waiting to have sex and not afraid to say it. Not ashamed to say it. That's going to be hard to do but necessary if it wants to stay relevant.
It's not as if people are falling in love less, not if the 13% jump in one year in the number of unmarried couples living together is any indication.
At some point church leaders are going to have to figure out how to minister to a congregation that is not waiting to have sex and not afraid to say it.
So what is the church planning to do when the threat of hell no longer works?
When people exchange "til death do us part" with "you wanna move in?", it may feel less pious, less certain and less concrete, but it's ultimately more tangible because it is based in the here and now, not in a future which may or may not arrive.
No one, with maybe the exception of Kim Kardashian, enters a marriage with the intent of getting a divorce. But there are now people entering relationships with no intentions of getting married and their relationship is not less valid, their love is not less real, their future is not less certain.
The church has to figure out a way to talk about relationships and marriage the way it is framed today, without all of the threats.
Or risk being left behind.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.