“Just living together”
Are you observing that marriage is gradually becoming more like window shopping or buying a car – young people want a “test drive” before they sign on the marriage certificate’s dotted line? Living together and having sexual relationships without being married (cohabiting) is becoming a culture growing rapidly in modern colleges and universities. Some call it campus marriage but in this piece, I will call it “cohabiting”.
“Ukhuhlalisana/Kuchaya mapoto” is the Ndebele and Shona terms respectively, that are prevalently used to describe cohabitation. This literally means “beating the pots” and this holds some negative connotations which denote that a woman is just cooking for a man who has not formally married her, thereby doing demeaned work compared to that of a woman who is properly married. Put simply, this means the woman is being taken advantage of. This also carries some culturally and/or religiously negative insinuations since the couple is “just staying together” without properly being married to each other. Kuchaya mapoto is a culturally and religiously reprehensible arrangement between two parties (a man and a woman).
In many of our public universities student couples no longer part during the night and walk back to their separate rooms. They are now spending the nights together, not occasionally, but quite steadily. This growing trend is slowly eroding the ‘near absent’ level of morality. Unmarried students do not only live together but many of them engage in sexual activities, among other things, which married people do.
Will, you not agree with me that this is a huge problem? Is it not a deadly trend in modern colleges and universities? Yes, you are right to think that this has destroyed many marriages! But most importantly, kuchaya mapoto has distorted God’s marriage pattern.
If you ask ‘cohabiting sweethearts’ the reasons why they make such arrangements, they have numerous, varied, and strong reasons in their view. Below are some of the major ones:
- Shortage of on-campus accommodation
Students usually resort to renting off-campus residential buildings because of the shortage of on-campus accommodation. In most universities and colleges (particularly in Zimbabwe) accommodation is only available to first and final year students. The rest get it on a “first come first serve” basis. Therefore the majority of students in the second to penultimate years of studies are forced to live off-campus in communities neighboring their institutions. So due to the increase in student population in tertiary institutions and the shortage of on-campus accommodation, cohabitation becomes an available ‘sensible’ arrangement for the students.
- Financial distress
Financial distress is one major reason why students in tertiary institutions cohabit. Some students claim that they cohabit to save on rent, food, and other living expenses that they cannot meet while living alone. While cohabiting, they can at least combine funds and split expenses.
- Companionship and sexual gratification
Cohabiting students in some cases find it difficult to live apart due to the strong physical intimacy between them. Sexual gratification is one key reason for cohabitation. The addictive prowess of sex raises the “need” for ‘mapoto love birds’ to stay together.
- Lack of a strong Christian (gospel-oriented) background or grounding
I take this as the major, if not the only central reason, why students cohabit. Students in tertiary institutions who decide to cohabit and have sexual relations are those with either weak or no Christian inclination. I have observed that most students with Christian fellowship groups that they belong to are less likely to cohabit than those without any Christian affiliations. Most students then live recklessly because their parents and guardians (humans that they can at least fear) will not be close to restrain them.
- Marriage compatibility
Some students argue that they agreed to cohabit because it is by living together that they get to know each other better and more closely as they evaluate if they are compatible for marriage. Thus taking the period of “just living together” as a period to test their compatibility.
Cohabiting has left many young people’s lives damaged and some even almost beyond repair. Early unplanned pregnancy cases are rising and due to limited resources and funding this has led to the high rate of abortion cases in universities and colleges. These early sexual relations has caused many to battle with sexually transmitted diseases as they have little to non-knowledge of how to protect themselves against such infectious diseases.
Apart from being sick cohabitation problems such as abuse and other situations mentioned above have grave psychological trauma that affects health and education. Some students even start failing dismally in their academics and some go to the extent of deferring and dropping out of school. This has made the family fabric to be broken as parents will only get to know about this when they hear or see that their child is failing or is deteriorating in health status. Some even now go to the extent of committing suicide to avoid causes much pain on their parents and still whether dead or alive those around them are always hurt.
What does the Bible say?
What makes this whole issue of cohabiting so much concerning is that it has not spared Christians? It’s really painful to note even as I am writing this, that a huge percentage of these young couples cohabiting identifies themselves as Christians. And not only have that some of them served within the church. The worst part is that most of these cohabiting relationships never lead to marriage eventually, but it always ends up in tears. At this stage, I think it’s worthy to ask ourselves then: Does the Bible say anything concerning this issue?
It can be argued that there is no direct response to this question since the bible does not speak directly to this issue. Rather the Bible addresses issues attached to this problem of cohabiting which we will investigate in-depth as we seek to address the issue Biblically.
- Bible, Sex, and Cohabitation
As already noted above, one of the reasons why people cohabitate is for sexual gratification. Sex between the unmarried has become a norm in this generation. The Biblical view of sex has been lost among many and sadly among Christians too. The Bible views sex as the sacred act between married couples. The sexual act is the glue that seals this one-flesh bond. Hebrews 13:4 says marriage should be held honorable among all people and the marriage bed kept undefiled.
Will, you not agree with me that sexual activity between two unmarried cohabiting male and female is immoral? 1 Thessalonians 4:3 declares, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification that you abstain from sexual immorality.” Because of sexual immorality, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:2 but because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The implication is very clear: sexual intercourse is inappropriate in any other setting. And any sexual act performed outside the confines of marriage is adultery. Therefore “kuchaya mapoto” is an act of adultery before the eyes of God, so it is a sin. For all these reasons we can see that the Bible encourages us to keep ourselves pure until marriage. If we have at one point been involved sexually, confess it to God, and make a commitment to future purit
2. Bible, Marriage, and Cohabitation
The largely accepted Christian process of getting married comprises three stages i.e. courtship, honoring spouses’ parents, and God’s blessing upon a marriage.
Cohabitation, as we have seen, is the staying together of a male and female, as if they are husband and wife, without both parents’ and God’s blessing. How did Christians come to resort to/conclude on the above understanding of a godly relationship?
The Bible seems to encourage spouses to honor their parents through seeking their approval of their marriage union and having their parental blessing. In Genesis 24ff, Isaac and Rebecca’s story illustrates how important it is for a man to seek the woman’s consent, parents’ consent, and the blessing of God. Rebecca was given parental blessing before she left; she did not just disappear or elope to go and cohabit.
In Genesis 2, God gave Eve to Adam as a wife and pronounced a blessing: “be fruitful and multiply.” A marriage worth of God’s blessing is one established by God himself. Do you think God’s blessing to marriage can be received by cohabiting spouses without a parental blessing? God is the ultimate giver of wives and the ultimate epitome of marriage is procreation as we see in Genesis.
Cohabitation grows directly out of our Christian faith and it has destroyed future marriages. To become involved in a living arrangement that includes sexual relations outside the context of marriage is to undermine the biblical meaning of marriage itself. It is to disregard God’s design for human sexuality as it has been outlined in the scriptures. According to the Bible, marriage is a one-flesh union between one man and one woman (Gen 2:24).
As we have seen cohabiting is morally, culturally, and biblically wrong, so as a body of Christ we have to take a stand against it. The question I will leave you with is: How can we as the body of Christ stand against it?