A survey about Adventist relationships led Spectrum intern Rachel Logan to a conversation about the lack of community in the Seventh-day Adventist church for young adults. It started with jokes about Adventists marrying young.
The running joke is that you are not doing Adventist higher education right if do not graduate with a romantic partner. Satirical websites like Barely Adventist have written several articles on the subject, videos circulate on the Internet making fun of the practice, and Pop Culture websites have taken an interest in the “marrying young” trend among Adventists.
The joke is that young Adventist women go to college to get their Mrs. degree, but is it a joke that points to a more serious reality?
Sure, calling Walla Walla University “Western Wedding University” is a joke, but in reality, schools like WWU and Southern Adventist University are churning out young couples every year. I know ten Adventist college graduates under the age of 24 who married this summer and several more who became engaged.
So despite the fact that the median marrying age in the United States is 27 years old for women and 29 for men, Adventists seem to follow trends closer to those set in the 1960s, when women were marrying at age 20 and men at age 22.
Is it important for young Adventists to find their husbands or wives in college? Not necessarily. But for those people who want to marry an Adventist, what challenges do they face if they graduate without finding someone?
I conducted an anonymous survey that was posted on the Spectrum Magazine Facebook page and on my own personal Facebook page. I asked friends, family, and Spectrum readers questions about Adventist relationships and marriages that have piqued my curiosity.
Over the course of three days, I received 300 responses. Less than one percent of the responses were from those aged 17 and under, 37.58% were aged 26 and older, and 61.74% were between the ages of 18 and 25 years old.
First, I asked: Did Adventists even want to marry other Adventists? Over 76% of the respondents said “yes.”
Sociologist and assistant professor of Social Work at Walla Walla University Emily Tillotson says she often comes across students who are worried about finding "The One".
“In my experience talking to students, there is a lot of family pressure [for them to find a partner],” Tillotson said. “Parents will ask, ‘is this the one? If you’re not dating, then why aren’t you dating?’ That’s one thing I hear over and over in class.”
Forty-five percent of those who took the survey said they felt pressure to find a partner while attending an Adventist university or college because they were afraid they would not be able to find an Adventist partner after graduation; that’s a significant statistic. That means that 135 people of the 300 surveyed felt pressured to make one of the biggest decisions of their lives because of their fear of not finding an Adventist partner later in life.
If finding an Adventist partner is important, every day on an Adventist campus represents an opporunity that data suggests may be gone after graduation. Statistically speaking, millennials will probably not find partners in church because they are not likely to attend.
Tim Floyd, New Haven youth pastor and Bible teacher at Midland Adventist Academy, spoke at the Adventist Forums Conference in San Diego at the beginning of October. Floyd presented data he compiled indicating that 70% of millennials believe that the American church is irrelevant, and that 40-75% of baptized Adventist millennials will leave the church after their last Seventh-day Adventist educational experience. If this is accurate, the majority of millennials will not be attending church after their college graduation. And even if these millennials did make an effort to continue regular church attendance after graduation, 40-50% of baptized Seventh-day Adventist youth will likely end up leaving the church in their mid-twenties, Floyd reported.
“Adventist schools provide a huge community where young Adventists mingle in droves,” says John Lubke, a 25-year-old Walla Walla University School of Theology graduate and former Adventist youth pastor. “Apart from going to an Adventist college, there is no other way to be surrounded by as large a number of bright, young, like-minded single Adventists.”
While 45% felt pressure to find a life partner in college, 43% of respondents to the question said they did not feel pressure to find a partner (11% did not attend an Adventist college).
43% of respondents found it difficult to date casually within the Adventist community because it is expected that Adventist relationships must move at an accelerated rate toward marriage. Thirty-four percent said casual dating was not a problem, 20% responded that this question did not apply to their situation, and less than 2% said they were not Adventist.
What else may be encouraging Adventists to run to the altar sooner than the national average? Does sexual purity still hold an important place in the hearts of millennials? I asked readers to rate this statement: Adventists marry young because they wish to be sexually pure until they are married.
Of the 184 respondents in the 18-25 age group, 55 agreed with this statement and 27 strongly agreed. Forty-three respondents disagreed and 10 strongly disagreed. Forty-nine respondents neither agreed nor disagreed with the statement.
Of the 300 responses recorded across all the age groups, 28% disagreed or strongly disagreed, 29% neither disagreed nor agreed, and 42% agreed or strongly agreed.
As I received Facebook feedback on the survey, I began to notice particular interest in the results from young, married Adventists. I discovered one of the reasons they were interested when I received a Facebook message from Holly Roberts, a recent WWU nursing program graduate and young bride. She explained the progression of her relationship with her boyfriend-turned-husband, Matt. “I married Matt because I found someone who shared the same values as me and also had a similar upbringing,” she said. “I think that’s a huge part of why some of us get married so young.”
She admitted that many people asked her if she was going to marry Matt when they were dating, but she never felt a pressure to marry him. They have now been happily married for over a year.
The Holly and Matt were just one of many married couples who contacted me about my study. Many seemed eager to defend their choice to marry young.
Twenty-three year old freelance videographer, and wife of an M.Div. student at Andrews University, Heather Moor is used to people asking questions about her decision to marry at 21-years-old.
“I was fine being single and getting married in my later 20’s,” she said. “[But] I met Jonny in college and we really clicked. Sometimes, in the hard times, we’ve asked each other if we got married too young. But I don’t think so. It was the right time for us.”
Moor questions the validity of statements like “getting married too young.”
“I almost think that saying ‘we got married too young’ would be a cop-out for our own selfishness and issues,” Moor said. “It isn’t being young that causes marriage to fall apart, it is being a human being.”
When I was a senior studying at an Adventist academy in 2010, I visualized life at an Adventist college where I would be surrounded by hundreds of my Adventist contemporaries. After college, I could not imagine a place where I would be in that position again. College seemed like the place I would most likely find my husband.
“The communities that are present in the college setting drop off after graduation,” said John Lubke. “As such, young people go elsewhere to find their sense of community.”
As a millennial living in a post-college world, I feel as though the Seventh-day Adventist Church does not provide a strong community for young Adventists. There is a gap in church communities. Adventist schools provide an excellent support system through their educational institutions for both parents and students. Students meet friends in their classrooms and parents are able to socialize with other parents through school functions. When school-age children get older, they meet other teens at youth rallies and church youth events. When these teens attend college, their circles continue to easily grow. However, after graduation, young professionals–married or not–frequently must relocate to find work unless they are attending a graduate school like Loma Linda University. This leaves young professionals without the peer community that has surrounded them their entire lives. Often, it is not until these young professionals have children that they are able to reconnect within the Adventist community.
If their experience growing up Adventist was a positive one, young parents will take their children to church and send them to Adventist schools, and thus continue the cycle. However, until that point, young professionals often disassociate with the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
A dating service, like adventistsoulmates.com, isn’t enough; what millennials need is an opportunity to meet other young Adventists in a safe environment. A meeting place would help foster fellowship that seems to be lacking in the traditional church environment.
A community like this could bring support to all types of young Adventist professionals. Those who are newly married could find friendship with other young married couples, and those who aren’t married would be exposed to other young Adventists who might share a similar culture. For myself, as a young professional in a committed relationship, I would be grateful for any community that would connect me with other young Adventists seeking friendship in my area.
“The Adventist model for ministering to people through life’s stages is built more upon older trends,” said Lubke. “Two decades ago, there wasn’t such a need to minister to single Adventists in the their mid to late 20’s because they didn’t exist in the numbers that they do today.”
It is clear that our churches need to create a community for millennials to grow and form friendships. Young Adventists want a church family. However, like the group it is catering to, this millenial community will not be a traditional one. I confess I do not know what such an environment would look like–maybe an online database that connects Adventists within a certain mile radius. But whatever form it takes, it all starts with conversation.
When I started researching for this article, I thought my research would revolve around young Adventists and the pressure some feel to find a partner. However, as I began to write, I realized I was more interested in discovering why that pressure exists. Let’s address this need in our young Adventist communities and move forward.
Title Image: From left to Right: Rachel Logan, Kate Beck, Sonja Rootvik, Kurtis Lamberton, and Karissa Jacobson
Rachel Logan is a writing intern for Spectrum Magazine.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6478