Image: Raw Story screenshot from Let Them Marry
Last Wednesday we linked to a story at HomeschoolersAnonymous.com, a website we’ve been aware of for a long time. Two newer stories focused on concern over the invitation to early marriage advocate Vaughn Ohlman to speak at a homeschool conference, as well as an updated story concerning a decision by a Salvation Army camp in Kansas to retract a previous arrangement whereby his organization, Let Them Marry, would have hosted a “Get Them Married…” 3-day ‘conference’ at their facility. That got us curious, so we started to delve into the story on the weekend.
Let Them Marry has stripped their website to bare bones, apparently unable to handle the recent publicity. More details were available at Vyckie Garrison’s Patheos blog No Longer Quivering which we’ve also been aware of for a long time. In a May 6th piece she links to an article in the Kansas City Star.
…Vaughn Ohlman, who works as an ambulance driver in Schulenberg, Texas, operates a blog and website devoted to “the idea of Christians focusing more on young, fruitful, Godly marriages – getting rid of some of so many of the obstacles that stand in the way,” he said in an e-mail.
According to biblical interpretations posted on the site, supporters believe it best for girls to be married before age 20, and that their consent is not necessary.
“Scripture speaks of the father of the son ‘taking a wife’ for his son, and the father of the bride ‘giving’ her to her husband,” Ohlman writes, citing passages from Jeremiah, Judges, Ezra and other books.
“It gives example after example of young women being given to young men, without the young woman even being consulted, and often, in some of the most Godly marriages in Scripture, the young man is not consulted.”
How early should girls marry? For some, as young as age 13, says the Let Them Marry website.
According to Ohlman, a girl is ready for marriage when she has breasts, which “promise enjoyment for her husband.” A girl also should be “ready to bear children” and “ready for sexual intercourse sexually and emotionally,” Ohlman writes.
“We do not endorse marriage at ages as young as twelve.”
After news of the Wichita retreat began circulating online Thursday, Ohlman took to his blog to address critics who said the concept of the retreat was offensive and possibly illegal.
Under Kansas law, no one under the age of 15 can marry. Eighteen is the minimum age, although 16- and 17-year-olds can get married with parental consent…
I have often been tempted to write a book on covenant, Christian marriage that I would call, “I Kissed Courtship Goodbye.” The reason for the title would be to address a particular definition of courtship that in essence, operates as two families “dating” each other. It subconsciously goes something like this, “we’ll let our children court for awhile and see how things go, but if things don’t go the direction that we want to, or we discover that they just aren’t “compatible” we can just cut it off and there is no harm done.”… My wife’s and my relationship and attraction grew naturally and as time went by after our covenant making we both revealed and discovered how we, over time, came to the point where we could not see ourselves marrying anyone other than each other. That simple. Relationships are complicated. They are complicated because we complicate them. But as we grow spiritually, mature, and become more like Christ and wisely meditate on the words of God which were not spoken vain, we apply the principles resulting from this learned understanding to gradually and incrementally casting off the complications that man creates and simultaneously embrace the simplicity and beauty of God’s created order. “What are you Doing?” is a casual, and I believe, effective tool of exercising our minds to think more biblically in the realm of how two people covenant together in marriage…
…The basis of the book’s betrothal solution is that any man and woman who are not celibate and are willing to “do good” to a mate are eligible to be married to one another. Further, since this sexual interest is present, they should not seek a potential spouse themselves since that will inevitably lead to some sort of sexually charged relationship. Even a merely verbal relationship will lead to sexual thoughts that defraud the couple if they do not eventually become man and wife. Therefore, the fathers should be the ones to initiate any possible discussions of marriage. The man and woman can certainly have a friendly relationship, but considering each other as potential mates can lead to trouble.
Some will decry the involvement of parents in the choice of a spouse as “arranged marriage”. But careful readers will understand that the author is not proposing a medieval plot where a young girl is chained in a dungeon awaiting puberty and marriage to a toothless old man. Rather, sensible families will welcome a reintroduction of a multi-generational vision in which parents guide their children through life’s major milestones…
Ohlman’s own daughter-in-law describes the process in her blog PrinceCharmingDiapers.com in a post entitled The Betrothal Story:
…I should note that people often get the impression that we got married on blind faith, simply trusting that God would miraculously sort out any difficulties which came along afterwards. I think this is, in large part, a product of people’s own insecurities: they cannot imagine trusting in a vetting process in which they did not directly participate. But when I say “months” of communication went between the two fathers, I hope it’s obvious that we weren’t doing anything on “blind faith”.
Indeed, what really happened is that Joshua and I trusted our respective fathers to do the vetting for us… and to do a much better job than we could have done. Our dads weren’t dealing with raging hormones, crazy emotions, or an overwhelming desire to ignore important issues simply for the sake of getting married. My dad was able to take a serious look at Joshua’s character in a way I would have been unequipped (and unlikely) to do.
Finally, the entire Ohlman family -excluding Joshua- arrived one Wednesday in August (Joshua couldn’t fly in until Friday due to work). The days before Joshua arrived were mildly awkward because everyone was pretending they didn’t know what was going on and that the Ohlmans, a family from Texas, “just happened” to have stopped by to visit a family they’d never met before… in Michigan. At the same time, however, our families hit it off immediately and we felt like life-long friends right away.
When Joshua finally arrived my dad met him at the airport, took him out to lunch, and “grilled” him. Satisfied that he’d done his due diligence, my dad brought Joshua home and introduced him to us all. Dad then took me on a walk and nervously asked me to assure him I was all right being betrothed to someone who was still, emotionally and practically, a stranger. I assured him that I was more than “all right” with it and that I had already grown to love his family.
Less than two hours later we held a small ceremony in our back yard. My dad and Mr. Ohlman gave a short sermon/admonition, each to their respective children… and then my dad put my hand in Joshua’s, thereby giving me away to the man I henceforth have had the privilege of calling my husband! Barring family members, I had never held a man’s hand before. It was so special to do so with only one man, and only after being covenanted with him for life.
I can’t tell you how deliriously happy I was at that point. To have blissfully skipped through all of the nerves, awkwardness, and — even worse — possible heartbreak of courtship in just two hours. To be completely secure in my relationship with Joshua from day one…
Ohlman’s blog, The Practical Theonomist records the text of the covenant — this is the first half — as posted in August, 2013:
It is with great joy in the mighty blessing of the Lord that we, the undersigned, in obedience to God do Covenant or Witness thereto that:Joshua Phillip OhlmanandLaura Marie CampAre this the 23rd day of August, 2013 bound in the sight of God and man in the unbreakable Covenant of Betrothal; are now husband and wife to each other; and await the blessed day when they will come together physically.In this covenant we bind ourselves or our children to the following:A lifelong continual sexual union in which the body of each spouse belongs to the other.A union which shall be ever open to the blessing of children; and where the children shall be raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.A union in which the husband shall love his wife, as Christ loves the Church; washing her in the water of the word.A union in which the wife shall love and respect her husband, love her children, and keep the home; helping raise her children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.A union, under Christ, with the husband as its head, the wife as his submissive helpmeet, and the children bound in obedience to their parents…
On the Progressive Atheist channel at Patheos, the blog Progressive Secular Humanist was able to capture some of the scriptural basis for Let Them Marry before the website was wiped:
Doesn’t a legitimate marriage require the consent of both the people marrying?
Scripture speaks of the father of the son “taking a wife” for his son, and the father of the bride “giving” her to her husband (Jeremiah 29: 6; Judges 21: 7; Ezra 9:12; Nehemiah 10: 30; 1 Corinthians 7:36-38). It gives example after example of young women being given to young men, without the young woman even being consulted…
A “bride price” is anything paid or given by the man or his representative at the time of his betrothal or receiving his bride.
Scripture certainly teaches about it… The law concerning bride price (Exodus 22:16-17) indicates that . . . the bride price was a normal part of the marriage process.
The bride price plays a significant function: It shows the woman’s value, and the point isn’t that the father gets the money but that he keeps it for his daughter, if her husband should ever abandon her.
At the website ChristianToday.com, we learn there is also an historical claim:
Perhaps his most controversial teaching is his advocacy of “young marriage”. He cites Calvin’s view that a woman is in “the flower of her age” between 12 and 20, John Gill’s figure of 12 and a half and Martin Luther’s of 15-18. However, he says: “We do not endorse marriage at ages as young as twelve,” and he flatly denies endorsing paedophilia. He adds: “But we are certainly in agreement with the commentators that marriage (in order to be timely and to accomplish its purposes) ought to happen before the age of twenty for almost everyone.”
While Ohlman’s website has been cleaned up, we do have the benefit of a Google Cache of his FAQ page. This question and answer were carefully worded:
Can a betrothed couple sleep together? No one that is not betrothed should have sex. Such sex is either fornication, adultery, or sexually perverse (as in Sodomy).
What is usually meant by this question is if the couple who is ONLY betrothed can have intercourse, or engage in other sexual activities. My answer would be that the action is legal but not possible.
You see, what separates being ‘only betrothed’ and being fully married is the consummation. So the question is kind of like asking if you can paint on a blank canvas. You are allowed to, obviously, assuming it is your canvas, but if you do it isn’t blank.
Traditionally, including Biblical tradition, the time of consummation includes a celebration called a wedding, marriage supper, marriage feast, or the like. The friends and family of the bride and groom come together to celebrate the new sexual union, the potential for offspring, the joining of the families, and the like. In our modern age we have come, erroneously, to see that ‘wedding’ as the event that authorizes the physical joining (at least in the Church—the world now largely sees the ‘consent’ of the couple as what authorizes sexual union, consent focused on an event by event and sometimes even intra-event basis—a complex subject and beyond the scope of this FAQ).
But Biblically, this was not so. Of those marriages where we have some details, only some of them take place in the context of some kind of celebration. And no law requires, or even hints at, these celebrations. Instead, it speaks of special protections for the betrothed man, so that he can immediately consummate with his new wife before going off to battle, etc.
So there’s an overview, all of which brings us to Ranker.com’s #1 rating of Vaughn Ohlman as the week’s worst person.
So is this just a fringe movement? Again at Patheos blog, Love, Joy, Feminism, writer Libby Anne writes:
I really wish I could just gawk at this, I really do, but I was homeschooled and I knew families who were into things like this. If this had been around when I was a teen, it is very likely that families I knew would have gone—and it is barely possible that my own family might have considered it (though I very much hope they wouldn’t have). These are real people we’re talking about, and the number of fellow homeschool alumni I know who entered into early marriages like these and are now divorced seems to be growing by the month. Need I add that young women typically exit these marriages with little in the way of education, skills, or career prospects?
Media coverage: The video below contains some errors; online consensus seems to be that Ohlman is not connected to the Duggar Family. Warning: There are also language issues in the commentary.