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…”

It 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 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  of it 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.

In church singles groups, Bible studies, meetings, any new person to the 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. No 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

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 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.

Singles are Marginalized in the Church Because Single Men Have no Wife to Qualify Them for Church Leadership

Part 8 of a series. Part I Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7

Church can be a difficult place for single men.  Among other things, single men are often denied leadership and other crucial roles in the church because of one thing: their singleness.

Why?

Because of I Tim 3:2, 12 and Titus 1:6, where church leaders are required to be the husbands of one wife. Many churches interpret these verses to mean that church leaders must be married men. In doing so, they ignore the context and the man who wrote those verses in addition to a large chunk of other scripture.

The man who wrote those verses was Paul, a single man who was a church leader. At the time he wrote those verses, polygamy was rampant. When he specified that church leaders must be the husband of one wife, he was not excluding women or single men from church leadership. He was just specifying that if a male church leader was married, he had to have only one wife.

Paul was not the only single man who wrote scripture and was a church leader. Daniel and Jeremiah were also single. The marital statuses of many of the other male authors of scripture is unknown. Then there’s Jesus. He is the leader of the church…and single.

Oh, and then there’s Ezekiel. He was widowed. Did his wife’s death disqualify him for church leadership?

No.

How many churches who refuse to let single men be church leaders would remove their pastor and other church leaders from their positions of leadership if their wives died? If such churches exist, they are very rare.

Looking at the whole of scripture, it is one’s relationship with Christ and age, not marital status and gender that are requirements for church leadership.

By marginalizing singleness, churches are free restrict to leadership roles to married men and pressure men into marriage.

The Church Marginalizes Singles Because Single Women Make a Literal Application of I Cor 14: 34, 35 Impossible

Part 6 of a series. Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five

I Corinthians 14:34, 35 is one of the passages many churches quote to say that women should keep silent in the church and not be church leaders.

 

The existence of single women creates a problem with translating those verses literally.

 

Verse 35 says that “if a woman wants to learn anything, she must ask her husband at home”.  If a woman must ask her husband if she has any questions regarding church teaching, how is a single woman supposed to grow in Christ from the teaching in church? The verse clearly says husband, not father, brother, son, other male relative, or pastor. For that matter, how can she have a voice in the body as a whole?

 

The answer is found in verses 26, 31, and 36.

Verse 26: How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done decently and in order.

Verse 31: For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.

Verse 36: Or did the word come originally from you? Or was it you only that it reached?

In verses 26 and 31, Paul makes it clear that each person in the church is to have a chance to share when the church meets. Given that Miriam, Huldah, Anna, and Phillip’s daughters were prophetesses, it is clear that women can prophesy.

Verse 36 comes after verses 34 and 35, where women are told to keep silent. The Greek language has no quotation marks. I Corinthians is a letter to the Corinthian church. Obviously, the leaders had written to Paul about whether or not women could speak in the church. Paul quoted them in verses 34 and 35, then responded in verse 36: “No way! The word of God did not come from you [men] originally. Nor did it come to you [men] only.”

 

When churches use I Cor 14:34, 35 to silence women in the church and prevent them from being church leaders, they are not only denying the existence of single women, but making it clear that only married women are allowed to learn about God in the church.

 

Marginalizing singleness enables churches to use I Cor 14: 34, 35 to keep women out of teaching and leadership positions in the church and under the authority of men.

The Church Marginalizes Singles Because Singles are Forced to Develop Skills and Traits Traditionally Associated With the Opposite Gender and Become Independent

In many churches, girls are taught that godly women are quiet, submissive, gentle, and encouraged to develop “feminine” skills such as sewing and cooking. Boys are taught to be assertive and athletic and to develop skills such as carpentry and mechanics. Woe to the girl with the gift of leadership who would rather get greasy working on a car than spending time in the kitchen, or the quiet, gentle boy who prefers books to athletics, for they are often made to feel like something is wrong with them and that they are living in sin for having skills and interests considered inappropriate for their gender.

Single women often have no choice but develop traits and skills not considered “feminine”. Many careers require that a woman be in a leadership role at some point. Assertiveness is crucial to not only get, but be promoted and keep a job. Assertiveness is also crucial for a single woman in her daily life as she manages her transportation, her home, and other affairs.

Without a husband to take care of her car and the home, many single women will learn basic vehicle maintenance and home repair skills. In their careers, single women may develop strong management, leadership, and sales skills, as well a multitude of other skills not seen as “feminine.”

As for the guys, singleness often requires them to cook if they want a homemade meal. With no wife to clean their house and do their laundry, they must hire a house cleaner or learn to clean if they want a clean house and to do laundry if they want clean clothes. If they have children, they may find themselves developing nurturing skills traditionally associated with women.

When scripture talks about secular skills and spiritual gifts, it does not specify that some are given to men and others to women. Yes, some skills and gifts are more dominant in men than women, and vice versa, but just because something does not fit the “norm” does not mean it is wrong. Romans 11:29 says “For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable.” God would never give a person a skill or gift he did not expect them to use, nor put them into a situation where they need to develop a skill or gift that is wrong.

Besides developing and using gifts and traits traditionally associated with the opposite gender, many single people develop a trait many churches consider to be a sin:

Independence.

Without a spouse to submit to or suffer the consequences of the other spouses’ behavior, singles are free to question church leadership and are freer to leave the church if they no longer happy with it. Out of necessity, singles often develop independent behaviors because they have no spouse to rely on for things. In their greater freedom to serve Christ, they can take greater risks in serving him and do things that other people think are crazy.

This independence is a threat in churches where submission to church leaders is king, submission to the church as a whole is queen, and women are expected to submit to men.

Nowhere in scripture is independence considered a sin. Rebellion against God is. Failure to listen to wise wisdom is considered foolish. But choosing to follow God and not man is considered obedience to God. In I Cor 7, singleness is seen as a higher calling than marriage because the single person can focus on God alone and not the needs of their spouse. Unfortunately, much of the commands and advice church leaders give people comes not from God but from the sinful desire for control.

By marginalizing singleness, churches are free to restrict women to the home and to oppress, marginalize, and ostracize men and women who do not fit traditional gender roles and become independent.

Why Singles are Marginalized in the Church: Introduction

Church and its leaders did not prepare me for singleness. During the years I spent in traditional church (my family home churched for several years) I never heard singleness preached about, taught in Sunday School or saw singles valued for who they were as singles. The message was clear: marriage was the ultimate calling for a person, necessary to fit in, to be considered an adult, and to be valued. There were single people in those churches, and I am related to several singles, several of which lived/have lived long enough for me to know them. But to my eyes they were misfits, and I wanted to fit in, to serve God to the fullest.

It was my family and its issues that set me on the path to contentment as a single. From my parent’s marriage, I learned that even when a woman is married, submission is not always possible, for there are men like my father who do not demand it. My mother struggled with the burden that she must submit, and as part of that struggle, I was exposed to the doctrine that it was wrong for a woman to work outside the home.

Even when I did learn that it was not wrong for a woman to work outside the home and saw the futility of total submission, the damage had been done. Deep in my heart I still believed that marriage and motherhood were the ultimate calling for women, and that women should not be assertive leaders. Besides, I loved domestic duties and was an unassertive introvert who hated pushing herself in the world.

Years passed. My plans for a career kept falling through, and a husband never materialized. Despite attending several churches, no one in the churches made an effort to give me the singles specific guidance and support I craved. I became angry and bitter, which made things worse. God in his mercy sent me a Godly single woman who helped me overcome it. And then one day I started to pray that God would bring me a husband soon or make me content to be a single woman.

God answered my prayer in ways I never dreamed. Not only did he give me contentment to be single, but he revealed the egalitarian truth to me and showed me that I as a single, childless woman I was equal in value to a married man and just as much a voice in the church as he does. In the process, I learned why I had never heard anything about singleness from the church.

During the next two months, I will discuss the reasons why singleness is marginalized in the church.