Singleness, Transformation & the Age of Branding

It is not news that women and men are constantly barraged with messages telling them exactly what to do to change into the kind of man or woman that appeals to the opposite sex. It is impossible to spend time watching TV, walking in the grocery store, driving on the highway or checking your social media sites without a seemingly never-ending stream of how to be sexy or what it means to be truly masculine or feminine. The right make-up, the greatest six-pack, all to attain the attention (and singular commitment) of the opposite sex.

In addition, the days of social media we have become accustomed to putting forward a ‘brand’. It is quite easy to get confused about who we really are. Indeed, not only are we told how to change, we are constantly reading things like: “Real women have…” and “Real men do…” Our identity is being challenged, often for things that are beyond our control.

What should our response to this be as Christians? How much should we let these cultural norms and ideals impact the person we put forward as our true self? If we believe, as many Christians do, that the Bible is meant to transform us, what impact does, or even should, it have?  Do we believe that the bible is meant to transform us? our culture? our mind? our relationships? our dating? What do we think as we read:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God– what is good and acceptable and perfect.
(Romans 12: 1-2)

What are we thinking as we read this? How are we meant to apply this to our lives? Where does this passage fit when are finding just the right filter to use when we post just the perfect picture, or when we find the cleverest level of snarky to get many likes on Twitter. I imagine that those who were raised in a purity culture will immediately think of how we were taught to “save ourselves for marriage”. Although this is not at all what this passage is talking about, it has been used for that agenda often in my experience. However, this passage is all about relationships, which is easily noted if you read on in chapter 12 and 13.

I once read a book A Jewel in His Crown by Priscilla Shirer. In it she talks about the kind of transformation that has a more biblical emphasis. In her quest to become a godly woman she was seeking to be transformed from the loud, bold person she naturally was into a quiet, feminine woman. I appreciate what Priscilla brings to the table. She is a talented teacher and writer (and preacher, although I am not sure she would own the label) and I do not want to do her any disservice, but this part of her book is troubling. What do those women who are naturally loud do? Are they supposed to make themselves smaller? How about if they hate make-up and dresses? Does that make them less of a woman?

I have a good friend who struggles with deep insecurities. He is drawn to strong women and would likely do well in a relationship with one but instead, his masculinity is constantly threatened. It is threatened largely because he has bought into a particular idea of what it means to be a man and it is almost completely the opposite of him.

The thing is, I don’t see these kinds of ideas in the Bible. We are told to be transformed by the renewing of our mind, but nowhere does it say that we need to fit into gender stereotypes that are very fluid anyway. (After all, men in the bible wore dresses, something that would be considered female only dress by many in Western culture. Just a very easy example or something much more complex.)

Let’s look at the examples where we see transformations played out.

Peter

He is the picture of brashness and passion. If John Eldredge had a particular biblical character in mind when he wrote Wild at Heart it was likely someone like Peter. Yet Peter has an undisciplined brashness and passion. It pushes him to think of himself and the power (and prestige?) he could attain by aligning himself with the Christ. How does God transform him? Take away his passion? No. Make him into a man who is no longer brash? No, not really. Jesus begins by challenging Peter’s quest for power. He does not challenge Peter’s passion; he challenges the focus of that passion.

Priscilla

            She was a successful businesswoman. Then she finds Jesus. He transforms her passion and drive and focus. She works alongside her husband, but her husband is never the focus. We never hear of her being chastised for taking a dominant role. We never see Paul saying, “No, you must ask Aquilla’s permission to support my ministry. You must let him make those decisions, you must let him step forward; don’t get in the way of him living out his godly masculinity. You must let him deliver (and interpret) my letters.

The thing is, God has created us, without mistake, exactly as we are and he uses the very qualities that he has given us, our personalities, our gifts, our talents, even the accident of our privileged birth or our singleness or married-ness and He takes these very things that are just a part of who we are, and he forms them into tools useful for bringing glory to God and honor to the name Yahweh. God uses it to transform and impact the world around us.

The truth is, when we deny and squelch how we are created we are working at cross-purposes with God. But when we embrace it and let God shape it, we live full and impactful, glorious lives that are being transformed in the image of God.

Being Single in a Married World

For a long time one of my favorite movies was When Harry Met Sally. Although it is no longer my favorite movie, I still enjoy it, but one line has always reverberated in my head. It is when Carrie Fischer’s character tells Meg Ryan’s character, “Well, at least you could say you were married…”

I can be difficult to live as a single person when those who are married are still considered to be ‘winning’ at life, and although much has changed since When Harry Met Sally first came out and people are getting married much later in life, that reality still has not changed.

Now, add to that reality being single in a church context. Over and over, we hear of the church as the bride of Christ. Marriage is a biblical analogy that is used over and over to depict our connection as humans, especially the church, with God, particularly the person of Jesus. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how the institute (some would still say the sacrament) or marriage can attain the level of godliness.

The problem is where does that leave singles? And how does it impact our way of talking to even the very young in our communities (by this, read children, babies, even toddlers). I am dismayed to see two and three year olds encouraged to talk about the opposite sex as boyfriends or girlfriends. This is done in a sexualized way. “Do you want to kiss them?” etc. This way of speaking to even very young children does not exclude the church, in fact I hear much more in the church than outside the church with people who would not claim any particular Christian affinity.

Youth groups can easily descend into dating opportunities and adult singles groups become just a bare step up from the local bar meat market as a way to find a partner. Please don’t misunderstand me. I have zero problems with people meeting and dating in the context of their church community. My issue is that from a very young age we are socialized, even in the church (especially the church?) to only think of the opposite sex as a potential partner. This has a way of objectifying them, making them less than human, and destroys the capability to create healthy relationships and friendships between the genders. More on this later.

Any new person to the singles group is ‘fresh meat’, and they feel like ‘fresh meat’. And it is not much better outside of the singles scene. I could go on for quite awhile on how hard it can be to be friends with married people. How lonely. How awkward. But I have the privilege of having a couple people who are married and are my friends. Simple. No weird dating questions. Not jealousy. No being friends with just the wife and the husband resenting the time we spend together. I am welcomed into their growing family and I am simply their friend.

I wish I had more examples of this. More cases where I am welcomed with open arms. But it is extremely rare. And they are not friends with me because they are taking pity on the poor single person. They love me because I am me. Actually, I was friends with the husband long before they started dating, and she loved me because he did. At first. Now she loves me because she knows me, and I return the feelings. But when I consider how most of us have been socialized, it should not be a shocking that this is a rare thing.

I remember having a somewhat heated discussion about who has it worse as a single person in the church, men or women. My friend maintained that men did. His reasoning? Well, if a woman is single, people feel sorry for you and just think you couldn’t get anyone to marry you. (How awful is this?!) If you are a man and unmarried, they question your masculinity: either you are gay (and don’t even get me started on that) or that you aren’t man enough to 1. Ask in the first place or 2. Capture a woman’s heart. His reasoning speaks volumes.

I remember when I was first getting to know a male friend. He seemed to delight in sending me articles like “Experts Say The More Intelligent a Woman is, the Less Likely She is To Get Married”. Of course, his idea was that men would not marry someone they thought was smarter than them. This particular man was (and is) impressed with my intelligence and these sort of statements were often meant to be a compliment. So, what do we do to change this?

First, I think the church needs to begin to reframe and rethink the way it socializes its children. The world would be so much better off (and the church) if they didn’t tend to think of people in overly sexualized ways. When we have a habit, from a very young age, of thinking of people as potential sex partners, either lovers or the enemy of purity and godliness we come up with things like the “Billy Graham Rule”. We make it extremely difficult to work together in the real world because the other is just a sexual object.

We must stop sexually objectifying little boys and girls (most understand how bad that is, when I put it that way) and start encouraging them to learn how to value friendships across the genders. We must help hormone filled teenagers (both girls and boys) learn to control their thoughts and actions instead of inadvertently teaching them that they are slaves to these things. After all, the bible teaches us that part of the Good News, the gospel, is that because of Jesus we are no longer slaves.

Purity culture pits male against female (and treats anyone who doesn’t fall within a strict ideology of what that means as not quite human). Girls are inadvertently taught that their self-worth and identity comes from being able to capture a male. Guys are taught that their self-worth and identity comes from being able to capture a girl (or even as many girls as possible). Purity culture rises from this ethos.

Second, stop playing with pornography. This is not just a man’s problem. Addiction to pornography is on the rise among women too. It is destroying our ability to interact with the opposite sex. If we are only sexual beings, then even the most innocent of touches will be misconstrued if it comes from the opposite sex. (Actually, that is an oversimplification. Touch becomes more and more complex and fraught with danger in general.)

Third, start reframing our way we talk about God and the church. Yes, it is absolutely ‘biblical’ to use the marriage analogy. But I think we miss the point because we get caught up in the word ‘marriage’. Ultimately it is about deeply personal intimacy.

Fourth, talk differently about marriage. These days, in our highly sexualized world, it has become about sex and procreation, and while these are parts, even important parts, of marriage, they are not the most important parts. The best sex in the world and the most beautiful kids will not, on their own, keep a marriage together. If the intimacy, and I mean so much more than sex, if the intimacy and relationship and communication disappear, the marriage will crumble. We see the same thing in a close friendship and we see the same thing in the church. If I stop listening to my friends, I stop caring about what hurts their hearts or uplifts their soul. If I stop sharing parts of myself, the relationship will ultimately die.

Changing how we interact as humans, single or married, will have the potential to change how we live in the church, deepening our understanding of the relationship between God and the church.

 

 

What’s the Worst That Can Happen?

I have been thinking about singleness a little bit as it is Valentine’s Day.  Someone on the Biblical Christian Egalitarians page, I think, recommended that Valentine’s Day should be a second Thanksgiving.  Although no one I know cooked a turkey today, the concept of being thankful is solid and great for every day.  Gladness is good for the heart (Proverbs 15:13).  Thankfulness is always recommended in prayer and often leads to experiencing God’s peace (Philippians 4:6-7).

I listen to podcasts a lot and pick them with the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  Since I really like Andrew Farley’s focus on Jesus + Nothing, a.k.a. New Covenant grace through Jesus is greater than the Old Covenant Law (see Hebrews), I’ve been listening to a lot of his podcasts and his live show where he answers callers’ questions about grace and applying it to daily life.  He had one podcast featuring a man named Ryan who fought cancer at the young age of 35.  Ryan began to worry that he would die and leave his wife and two kids behind and he mentally ruminated on his wife perhaps marrying a jerk in the future.  He became so concerned that he told his wife about the fact that he was worrying yet knew it was an invitation to trust in God and surrender that worry.  He, in a sense, had a “what’s the worst that could happen?” moment.  So, he decided to trust God with that scenario, that he may die and his wife may remarry, but God is in charge.  No matter what happens, God has got it.  His wife even approaches him, crying, and tells him she’s okay with him dying.  Of course, she does not want him to die, but they both realize that even if the worst happens, God has them.  They will be all right.

It made me think of singleness.  Would it really be so terrible to remain single?  Christian dating sites have made me lean toward the answer “no”.  Lots of Christians seem still hooked on a religious, legalistic, complementarian mindset that I really don’t care for anymore.  It didn’t sit well with me when I was given the questionnaire from a potential suitor about how submissive I would be and how many kids I would be willing to have.  I wanted to reply, “Wow!  Umm, how about we not discuss these things until we meet in person for coffee? Actually, scratch that, I already know I don’t care to meet you no matter how cute you are in a photo.”  I didn’t know such men still existed in the 21st century.

But, all that aside, what if the worst happens?  What if I never get married?  Would it be so bad?  Would it mean God loved me less?  No, of course not.  God doesn’t love anyone less.

Emma from VineLife Manchester mentioned in her podcast episode (11/13/16) about how she and her husband John wanted children and she had a miscarriage very early on in her first pregnancy.  She did not get pregnant for another year and it was the worst year of her life.  She began to believe that if she and John did not have kids that there was nothing but a sad life for them.  She said she realized that thought sounded ridiculous, but I thought it sounded honest and true and reflected back to me and I’m sure many others, too, where our thoughts can sometimes go.  It is kind of natural to go to a hopeless place when things aren’t working out.  She meditated on Philippians 4:11-13 and realized that her contentment comes from Christ.  She does now have two lovely children with her husband John, but when we’re going through things, our vision is very limited.  She wasn’t told that she and John would have Olivia and Asaph.  They got to live into the process of having children.

Maybe to have a dream, the dream does have to die, at least at first or maybe for awhile.  Is that so bad?  Does it mean God is bad because He doesn’t tell us the future?  No.

So I am content in the not knowing and the living with Jesus in the present, knowing that even if the supposed worst thing happened, whatever that is, whether it be death, no naturally born kids, singleness, bad leaders, taxes, etc., that it really wouldn’t be the end of the world.

by Jennifer

Why Singles are Marginalized in the Church: Conclusion

Conclusion of a series. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10 Part 11 Part 12 Part 13 Part 14 Part 15

As any gardener knows, weeds do not discriminate between genders. Weeds grow in the gardens, yards, and fields of men and women alike. Women have to deal with man’s curse of weeds every bit as much as he does.

In the same way, men suffer from the woman’s curse of “and he shall rule over you”.

This curse is evident in the treatment of single people as both single men and single women suffer from the stigmas of singleness that arise mostly from man’s desire to control women.

Those stigmas are most evident in churches where the existence of singles and scripture references to them show the fallacy of many core beliefs in churches today, especially the beliefs used to keep women silent in the church and under the control of men. Is it any wonder that singleness has been marginalized in churches? Is it any wonder that because singleness has been marginalized, many singles, including the author, find church an unwelcoming place to be on Sunday morning? Is it any wonder that many singles have either left the church, Christ, or both?

Yet women’s equality alone is not enough to elevate singles in the church. One of the most awkward moments of my life was when I went to an egalitarian church and had the choice of going to a college age class (I was in my late twenties) or a class for married people. The people in the church were very accepting of me. But after a life of constantly being different, starved for singles specific support, and longing to be “normal”, I could not handle the marriage focus and being the only single woman my age in the church even though one of its pastors was a woman.

Being a singles friendly church is not just respecting and caring for individual singles. It is not just flattering them about who they are as a person. It is about embracing the whole concept of singleness, and teaching it to everyone, especially the youth. It is about openly valuing singles for who they are as singles, and giving them singles specific support and guidance. It is about avoiding double standards and hypocrisy. It is about facing reality and avoiding external appearances.

There is a place for marriage and family, and it is not wrong for people to get married and have a family. The human race would die out without marriage and procreation. But our primary focus on earth is to be God’s image bearers and to serve him. It is not to procreate and serve a spouse. Scripture is crystal clear that one’s relationship with God is more important than whether or not one is married or has children.

The body of Christ is made up of believers of both genders, all nationalities, people with disabilities, singles, the childless, etc. Each member is equal in value, and has a crucial place in the church. When the church marginalizes singles, it tells them that they are inferior in Christ’s body and that they do not have a crucial place in it.

The key for the church is to emphasize individuals to follow God’s calling for their lives, regardless of gender. The key for the church is to treat both genders as equals, and hold marriage and singleness as callings equally in value.

Someday we will all be in heaven and married to God. In heaven, only one thing we have done on earth will matter:

What we have done with Jesus.

 

           

The Church Marginalizes Singles Because Singles are Proof that Marriage is Not Crucial to Being Happy and Fulfilled

Part 15 of a series. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10 Part 11 Part 12 Part 13 Part 14

In her awful book, “Me? Obey Him?” Elizabeth Rice Handford voices the opinion of many Christians regarding singleness when she states “Women have entered the marketplace. They have achieved fame in medicine, in business, in the arts. A woman may choose nearly any occupation she likes, and God values her for herself, whatever occupation she chooses, for it is not His will that every woman marry. (Matt 19:12, Isa.56:3-5). But her fulfillment, in the will of God for her life, will not surpass that which a Godly woman, also in the will of God, finds who, secure in the knowledge of her womanhood and its rightness, builds a home for her husband and children! Her confidence in her ability to be a helpmeet, sufficient for her husband’s needs, comes as she finds her place in the order of authority.”

Despite being the wife and daughter of pastors, Elizabeth Rice Handford chose to ignore I Cor 7 and was not being honest about the lives of singles and married people when she wrote the above.

I Cor 7 makes it crystal clear that singleness is preferable to marriage because singles are free to focus on pleasing God and not their spouse.

When one is honest about the lives of married people and singles, there are many married people who are unhappy and unfulfilled.

And there are many single people who are happy and fulfilled.

Marriage is not the key to happiness and fulfillment.

Knowing Christ is, and because they are single, singles have more freedom to get to know and to serve Christ.

Happy, fulfilled singles are a problem for many churches and church leaders.

How can you tell wives that the only way to please God is to submit to their husbands when there are Godly single women who are living lives pleasing to God who do not have a husband to submit to? How can you tell young women that the only way they will be truly be fulfilled is to be a wife and mother when there are single women around proving otherwise? How can you get a woman to become dependent on and joyfully submissive to a husband when she is happily living an independent life?

How can you tell a man to take the responsibility of a wife and children when he is happily single and independent? How can you tell a man that marriage and family is a crucial part of manhood when there are other single men proving otherwise?

How can you can get a man or woman unhappy and/or being abused in their marriage that if they get divorced, they will become unfulfilled and unhappy when there are happy, fulfilled singles around?

It’s difficult, if not impossible.

By portraying marriage as the only way a person can be happy and fulfilled, churches are free to marginalize singles, keep spouses in abusive  marriages from divorcing their abusive spouse, push people into marriages they don’t want, and keep women under the authority of men.

The Church Marginalizes Singles Because Singles are Perceived as Selfish and Immature

Part 14 of a series. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10 Part 11 Part 12 Part 13

A year or so ago, I made the mistake of looking up the pastor and his wife that I mentioned in an earlier post who are now on the mission field.

I found an article the wife had written for their mission organization’s newsletter. In it, she mentioned that she and her husband had recently enjoyed hosting some single missionary ladies and that it was wonderful that they were not “selfishly following their own interests”.

Those words cut me to the bone. I was struggling to find a career and many times would have given my eye teeth to have a husband and children to care for instead of trying to persuade an employer to hire me. Many times, I would give my eye teeth to have a husband and children to do things for and with, to have a human being besides myself to care for and think about.

Unfortunately, that missionary’s words reflect the attitude of many in the church…and world.

In church and the world, a crucial step of adulthood is marriage. Singles are often seen as immature and selfish. The “problem” of a large percentage of never married singles is sometimes blamed on men not growing up, especially in the church. Single women often face the accusation of that missionary for being selfish because they need to work for a living and are not in highly visible ministries.

Nowhere in scripture is marriage seen as a crucial step to becoming an adult. Nowhere are singles portrayed as immature and selfish. In fact, I Cor 7:32-34 blows the concept of a “selfish” and “immature” single out of the water when it states that singles can focus on the things of the Lord and how to please the Lord, but that a married person’s focus is on the things of the world and how they can please their spouse.

In I Cor 13:11, when Paul talks about becoming a man, he does not mention marriage as a crucial part of manhood. In fact, in I Cor 7:7, he wishes that all men were single like he. Jesus was single, and he willingly became a man, suffered great humiliation, and died on a cross so that we might have eternal life. Anna was single, served God in the temple, and was one of the witnesses to Jesus’ infant dedication.

The idea of a selfish, immature single person is a concept of the world, not the Bible. Selfishness and immaturity are sins, and marriage does not make one immune to them. There are selfish, immature married people. There are selfish, immature single people.

But just because someone is single does not automatically mean they are selfish and immature.

By portraying singles as selfish and immature, churches are enabled to ignore that behavior in married people and push singles into marriages they don’t really want. Portraying singles as selfish and immature allows the church to show partiality to married people and to portray marriage as a higher calling than singleness. Portraying singles as selfish and immature allows married people in the church to lord it over singles and exclude them from opportunities and activities.

By marginalizing singles by portraying them as selfish and immature, churches can freely focus on marriage and thus keep more people under the control of church leadership and women under the authority of men.

The Church Marginalizes Singleness Because it has Neglected Widows

Part 13 of a series. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10 Part 11 Part 12

Over and over in scripture, believers are told to care for widows, and God says strong things against believers who fail to care for widows.

What does your church do to care for widows?

When was the last time your pastor preached about the importance of caring for widows?

When was the last time caring for widows was discussed in your Sunday School class or small group?

When was the last time money in the church budget was set aside for widows?

When was the last time your church did something specifically to help widows?

Chances are if your church does do something for widows, it’s in the form of a support group. One of the monthly highlights for one of my neighbors is the widows club meeting with other widows from her church. On the internet, I have heard of other churches with support groups for widows. But overall, care for widows is lacking in most churches.

Why have churches neglected widows?

Widows make churches face all the realities of singleness, such as a single woman having no male head, husband to submit to, etc. They also make churches face the unpleasant realities of death and aging, and that the life expectancy is higher for women than for men. Widows, many of whom are elderly, don’t make the church look as hip and cool as young people do. Since many widows are past childbearing age, they have no potential for bearing the children churches see as essential for growth.

Caring financially for widows takes money. Financially supporting widows means less money for large, fancy church buildings and programs. Financially supporting widows means less money for the pastor’s salary, requiring him to live in a modest house, drive a modest car, take modest vacations, and not attend so many conferences. Financially supporting widows means less money to hire staff for tasks many pastors dislike, such as visiting shut ins, administrative work, and counseling.

Nor is caring for the needs of widows as ego boosting as creating a special church program, speaking at an event, or writing a book or article.

By marginalizing singleness, churches are enabled to neglect widows and thus ignore some difficult realities of life and spend their money and energy on more ego and finance boosting activities and demographics.

The Church Marginalizes Singleness Because Divorced People are Proof that Divorce is Not the Ultimate Sin

Part 12 of a series. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10 Part 11

This post is dedicated to my maternal grandmother, a woman of God who was living proof that divorce is not the ultimate sin and that divorced people can lead happy, meaningful, blessed lives. This series has been written and posted in the room in Grandma’s beloved “Hoosier House” where her time on earth ended October 17, 1997 with her younger daughter, my mom, and me at her side.

For many Christians, divorce is the ultimate sin. A husband can molest his and other children, beat up, threaten to kill, and verbally abuse his wife and children, rape his wife, get a woman not his wife pregnant, patronize prostitutes, be addicted to pornography, have multiple affairs, and spend all the couple’s money on frivolous things leaving his family starving, in rags, cold, or homeless, yet if his wife divorces him, she is considered to have committed a sin greater than all of his.

A wife can be verbally and physically abusive to her husband and children, get pregnant by a man not her husband, have multiple affairs, and spend all the couple’s money on frivolous things, yet if her husband divorces her he is considered to have committed a sin greater than all of hers.

Spouses seeking divorce are sometimes told that if they divorce their spouse, they will be miserable for the rest of their lives and that the short term happiness of divorce will not be worth the long term pain the rest of their lives. Over and over they hear that God hates divorce, and are often considered to be second class Christians. Many Christians shun them, opportunities in the church are closed to them, and they are constantly exposed to the stigmas of divorce.

Even though divorce is difficult, there are many divorcees who have risen above those challenges to lead happy, meaningful, blessed lives and who were, and are, Godly, wonderful people.

My maternal grandmother was one of them.

Divorce was not something she wanted. But my maternal grandfather did, and scripture says in I Cor 7:15 to let unbelieving spouses depart. So she did, especially as Grandpa, who had already tried to harm her once, might have killed her had she not granted the divorce. It was a painful chapter in a life that had been mostly hard.

But Grandma overcame those difficulties and her faith in God was an inspiration to all. God did not punish her severely or ignore her prayers because of her “sin” of divorce. One of her prayers God answered continues to bless me to this day.

At the time of the prayer, Grandma was living in a big house in Ohio.

Her children-two daughters- and four grandchildren lived in Indiana.

Grandma was getting old, and asked God what to do with her big house and her life.

At the time, my parents-Grandma’s younger daughter and her husband- did not have a garage.

God gave the solution to both Grandma and my parents: build a garage and attach a house for Grandma to it.

They began construction on the building. Grandma put her house on the market and prayed for a buyer.

It sold within a month before Grandma’s “Hoosier House” was finished and she had to live with older daughter who at the time lived just down the road from younger daughter until it was finished.

Grandma lived in that house the rest of her life and Mom thinks they were some of, if not the happiest, years of her life. She ministered to her family, to people in a nearby nursing home, and others whom God put into her path.

When she got sick with her final illness, her daughters, both nurses, took care of her in her home with no assistance except for home hospice care in the last days of her life. She died quietly with Mom and I at her side and the following morning, fall 1997’s first frost carpeted the ground. Grandma had been dreading winter, and God took her just before it hit. When we took her body to its final resting place in Ohio, the trees along part of the route were at their peak autumn colors. To me the lovely trees were a sign of God’s love to one of his departed servants.

As of this writing, I have lived in Grandma’s “Hoosier House” almost nine years and that arrangement has been a blessing to both me and my parents. Before I moved here, we let another family live in the house for several months which was a blessing for them. When the day comes that my parents and I leave the property we have called home for decades, I am sure Grandma’s “Hoosier House” will be a blessing to those who own it after us.

Godly divorcees leading happy, meaningful lives are a problem for churches. How can they preach that God hates divorce, that it is the ultimate sin and that divorcees will be miserable the rest of their lives when there are divorcees in their midst who prove otherwise? How can the church make divorcees seem like horrible people when they are constantly proving otherwise?  How can they discourage spouses miserable in their marriages from divorcing when there are Godly, blessed, happy divorcees around?

By marginalizing singleness, churches can discourage divorce even when it’s the best option for a couple’s marriage, for one or both members of the couple, and for the sake of their children if they have them

Singles are Marginalized in the Church Because the Church is Focused on Marriage and the Family

Part 11 of a series. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9 Part 10

Concerned about the breakdown of the family, the rise of sexual immorality, the growing number of singles, and the “sin” of feminism, churches have become excessively marriage and family focused.

On the surface a marriage and family focused church looks like a wonderful thing.

Under the surface, it’s nasty.

A church focused on marriage and family can shame a woman into staying with her abusive husband because among other things “God hates divorce” “Marriage is not supposed to make you happy; it’s supposed to make you holy” and “marriage and the family are important to God.”

A church focused on marriage and the family can pressure their youth into marrying before they are ready to people they do not really love because “Marriage and family are important to God.”

Churches focused on marriage and the family make those who come from imperfect families, singles with and without children, and childless couples feel like they are horrible sinners in need of repentance and inferior members of Christ’s body.

Churches that are focused on marriage and the family are not relevant to and ignore the needs of singles of all kinds-never married, divorced, widowed, with and without children. Nor are they relevant to and ignore the needs of childless couples and those who have come from imperfect families.

Churches that are marriage and family focused do not prepare young women for careers, which can have serious consequences later on if the young woman never marries, is widowed, divorced, or married to an abusive husband.

Churches that are marriage and family focused do something scripture forbids in James 2:2-9: showing favoritism to some believers while marginalizing others.

Focusing on marriage and the family enables churches to freely focus on their image and finances, thus becoming more like a business than a church.

Many marriage and family focused churches claim that singleness is a high calling, but not normal and thus pretend to be singles friendly while still being marriage and family focused. As we have seen in this series, singleness is normal and desirable in scripture.  Scripture also says to love one another, and that God doesn’t show favorites. When churches teach that singleness is “not normal” they are giving the clear message that singles are flawed and inferior, that the Bible is relevant only to married people and families, and that God plays favorites. They also ignore the command to love one another, for telling someone they are “not normal” is one of the nastiest things one can say to a person. Nor is it love to brush off the needs and concerns of singles because “singleness is not normal”.

Contrary to the popular belief that singleness is a “choice” most singles would happily be married. Churches that focus on marriage and family hoping that it will motivate singles to marry without doing anything to help Christian singles meet each other will just end up driving singles away because their spiritual needs are not being met and they are being made to feel worthless and inferior for being single.

With about 50% of the population in the United States and Europe single, and the number of people who regularly attend church in both places declining, it is time for the church to lose its focus on marriage and the family and to focus on knowing Christ and become welcoming and relevant to every believer regardless of their marital status, family background, and whether or not they have children.

Focusing on marriage and the family enables churches to keep women under the authority of men, control church attendees of both genders, and focus on their finances and image.

Singles are Marginalized in the Church Because Marriage is Seen as a Cure for Sexual Temptation

Part 10 of a series. Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7 Part 8 Part 9

Several years ago, the pastor of the church I attended courted, got engaged to, and married a girl in the church in about three months. Shortly before they married, I seized a chance to ask the bride’s mother why they were getting married so fast.

One of her reasons was the fear of them yielding to sexual temptation.

I was shocked and disgusted.

At the time I was 26 and had managed to live a celibate life with zero support from the church and am not a pastor nor closely related to one. The pastor was five months, ten days younger than me and the son of a pastor. His bride, who was the daughter of a pastor and granddaughter of another, turned 18 several days after their marriage. Despite the lack of church support, I’d been able to resist sexual temptation, so why couldn’t they, especially with their pastoral backgrounds and large amount of church support?

The bride’s mother had married at 18 or 19 to an extremely patriarchal man and her mannerisms indicated that she was not the happiest in her marriage. She knew nothing about the realities of singleness but was clearly aware of I Cor 7:9, which says that it is “better to marry than to burn.”

When one looks at the whole of scripture, it’s clear that marriage is not the cure for sexual temptation, despite what Paul says. David had several wives, yet still raped Bathsheba. Solomon, Jacob, Elkanah, and David all had more than one wife, and all those men except Elkanah had mistresses in addition to their wives. Many rapists and child molesters are married men; both married men and women cheat on each other.

It is highly degrading to marry someone simply to have all the sex one wants. Each person consists of body, soul, and spirit. Souls and spirits exist even when the body fails. Nor is lots of sex always possible in a marriage. Spouses spend time away from each other for various reasons, such as work and ministry related trips. Spouses get sick or exhausted, making sexual intimacy difficult. A loving spouse does not demand sexual intimacy when the other is sick or tired. To get married just for sex is a recipe for potential marital trouble.

So what was Paul saying in I Cor 7:9?

To my understanding it is that marriage is the only place for sexual relations with another person.

Using I Cor 7:9, churches often push their youth into marriage or to pressure a young woman into marrying a sexual offender. They use it to defend marriage and speak out against sexual immorality.

Singles rain on that parade.

Not every single with a strong sex drive can find a spouse with an equally strong sex drive that they can also be soul mates with.

To live a Godly life, they must learn to resist sexual temptation.

By resisting sexual temptation, they prove that marriage is not crucial to resisting sexual temptation.

Thus it is possible for youth with raging hormones to delay marrying until they have found someone who is both soul and body mate.

Delayed marriage is a huge problem for many churches.

Delaying marriage helps individuals, especially women, become more independent and confident. Independence and confidence means that someone will be more likely to question church leadership and stand up to them if they have concerns.

Delaying marriage also means fewer children.

A woman with a strong work history and marketable skills is better equipped to leave and divorce an abusive husband.

Married people are also more likely to attend church than single people.

Marginalizing singleness by promoting marriage as the cure for sexual temptation enables churches to keep both men and women under the authority of church leadership and enables them to yield to the lusts of the flesh.