Singles: Orphans of the American Church

Soon my first non-fiction book will be on the market. It deals with a very important topic within Christian circles. The issue of where singles fit into the mix. There are several reasons this topic is important. Hopefully, I will be able to bring some insight in these posts. Ultimately, the lion’s share of my research will be in book. However, I’ll have some lateral freedom to fill in some of the conceptual gaps here. When we look at the American church honestly, we have to ask a few questions.

Why does the Bible tell us it is better to be single, but our churches push singles into the margins? Why, if Paul, a minister of the Gospel, wished everyone could be single, as he was, do we require our pastors to be married with children? Why does the lion’s share of our resources and programming go to marrieds and children when half of the population is single? Where does such a divergence come from? How do we go from applauding devoted singles for the kingdom to pushing them to the sidelines and tucking them away in ecclesial ghettos called singles’ ministries?

Through my research into this topic, I’d like to bring to light three of the many reasons singles get a bad wrap in churches. 1. We believe singles are de facto sexually deviant. 2. We believe singleness is a problem that needs to be solved with marriage. 3. Singles are incomplete.

False Assumption #1: Singles Are Sexually Licentious

Most of us would never say this out loud. However, an underlying assumption is that singles are having an inordinate amount of sex. We get our assumptions from TV shows such as “Sex in the City” and anything on late night premium cable channels. The truth of the matter is, singles have a fraction of the amount of sex compared to their married counterparts. I believe much of this is grounded on married people’s unwillingness to comprehend that an adult with a functioning libido can actually be quite happy without having sex.

Don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty of unmarried sex occurring in our society. However, it is probably not as rampant as we think it is. One thing to keep in mind is that we can’t expect the lost to live according to the principles of the Bible, especially when they know about as much about the real words of the Bible as most Christians do about Taoism.

But what about Christian singles. Are Christian singles out in the world joining orgies and moving in with toxic partners? If they are, it would hardly be worthwhile to call them Christians. True single followers of Christ aren’t driven by their libido. They have a reverent respect for the ways of God. In fact, their ability maintain chastity when marrieds could not and would not, exhibits an exercise in self-control that needs to be respected and admired.

False Assumption # 2: Singles are a Problem, Marriage Is the Solution

With an uber-marriage culture, it is easy to assume singleness is the negative opposite to marriage’s positive. American Christians have developed a culture that views marriage as the right for faithful believers. Those who don’t marry must have a debilitating problem. We didn’t get this assumption from the Bible. It came from somewhere else. In fact, there are more New Testament passages that deal with singleness positively than there are for marriage. So where did this idea come about that says marriage is the ultimate good and singleness is a pitiable state? From what I’ve studied, it seems to be a combination of three factors.

1. Anti-Catholic Sentiments

Since the Reformation, there has been a significant amount of bad blood between Catholics and Protestants. A simple look at the Hundred Years War shows European princes using Catholicism and Protestantism as a means for political advancement. Without going into too much detail, much of the criticism regarding Roman Catholicism was legitimate in the 15th and 16th centuries. However, such an ardent reaction to Rome’s abuses led many Protestant leaders to tip the scales in an unhealthy balance to the other extreme.

Even though the rallying cry of the Reformation is Sola Scriptura, modern Protestants only hold to parts of Scripture that fit within their interpretive framework. The expectation for all people with a libido to marry reveals that 1 Corinthians 7 doesn’t hold much weight in their daily practice. This is amplified by the expectation that senior leaders, pastors, elders be married. Single pastors in Protestant churches are an extreme rarity, another reflection that Protestant practice seems to be more anti-Catholic than it is Sola Scriptura. It would be one thing for us to admit this to be the case instead of doing interpretive acrobatics with the Bible to prove our position.

2. Freud

The concept of sexual repression wasn’t openly discussed before the 19th century. It was largely brought about by the psychoanalyses of Sigmund Freud. Before Freud, the popular belief and practice revolved around celibacy being the an ultimate aim. After Freud, that belief and practice began to revolve around the orgasm. Instead of esteemed celibacy, it became esteemed orgasm. If people didn’t orgasm, it was an aberration. Over the decades, Freud’s concepts made their way into the university and then into the church.

Thanks to Freud, the general Christian consensus is sexual expression within monogamous, heterosexual marriage is the ultimate goal. Celibacy was the result of something wrong. I find it interesting that the regard for celibate singles in Freud’s mind is eerily similar to the way modern Christians regard it. To hold to a belief that someone who’s celibate and single into their forties and beyond really betrays how much Freud’s philosophy has permeated Christian culture. (Note: There are exceptions for unwell people not marrying. However, we cannot impose that on every single we come across).

What is sad to note is that Freud was an atheist. His interpretations of sexuality were based in a materialist worldview. He even viewed a belief in God as a psychological crutch that fulfilled an internal malady needing an all-powerful Pater Familias. Yet Freud’s atheistic psychoanalyses has permeated the modern Christian mindset more effectively than clear New Covenant teachings in regards to sex, sexuality, and marriage.

3. The Two World Wars

So we take the first two elements of our modern Western cultural views on sex, marriage, and sexuality and add a third: the two World Wars. Both world wars are estimated to have been the cause of almost 100 million deaths (Note: War takes lives including soldiers & civilians. Direct military action and war torn disasters like disease and famine).

With 100 million deaths happening within the span of 30 years, the best and most able-bodied of all the major Western countries’ young men were killed off, leaving the rest of society to piece a life back together. It was a struggle to rebuild a level of normalcy for people. In fact, Berlin still has brick rubble in parts of the city that they have not been able to rebuild.

In an era where death and hardship was the lot of most nations, some sort of normalcy was needed both for societal needs and for psychological needs. It was in the rebuilding after the world wars that much of what we consider Evangelical Christian culture started. Having a culturally imbedded sense of moral suburban family units (the nuclear family) became seen as the good “American Christian” thing to do. Thus married life became “canonized” as the only legitimate expression for Evangelical Christians. This was a major change from the pre-war eras, where celibacy was generally more respected in societies. Now if you didn’t have a spouse and children, you were not only considered a bad American, you were also considered a bad Christian.

That started 80 years ago. A lot has happened in our culture since then. With the Sexual Revolution and the Civil Rights movement of the ’60s, with Vietnam in the ’70s, with the Cold War, advances in technology, and the decriminalization of homosexuality in the ’80s, the 2000s are a far stretch from the 1950s. Yet many of the assumptions and models in our churches are still based on 1950s thinking. It seems to me, in most areas, churches are like government agencies, they’re at least 20 years behind the modern world. maybe even 100. Yet there is still more that contributes to the stigmatization of singles. American culture believes singles are incomplete until they find a spouse.

False Assumption # 3: Singles Are Incomplete

“You complete me” is one of the famous phrases in Jerry McGuire. That phrase sums up the mindset of most Westerners. We view marriage as a milestone of arrival. A path to completion. It is a worldly sentiment. Anyone who really believes that a spouse will complete them is headed toward a co-dependent relationship. Do we need intimate relationships to be healthy? Yes. However, we have so muddled the phrase intimate with sex that we have confused the two. Sexual encounters are not the completing factors in a person’s life. That goes even moreso for Christians. Completion in Christianity is predicated upon the presence of Christ in someone’s life. To fulfill the abundant life in the New Covenant, one needs to be wholly surrendered to Jesus. At best, New Covenant Christianity acknowledges that marriage and sex are a prevalent norm, but are not necessary for the Great Commission. We populate heaven by conversion, not procreation.

Since the 1950s, we have intermingled Evangelical Christianity with good ole’ American Patriotism. “The Patriotic thing to do is the Christian thing to do.” Yet Christianity has always called its followers to be counter-cultural. We are to be counter-cultural in that we are whole-heartedly and whole-mindedly focused on the Kingdom of Heaven. Sometimes our priorities line up with the world. Most of the time it doesn’t. Completion in marriage is one of those divergent issues. Our spouse does not complete us. If we even try to make that a reality, we will destroy the relationship.

The best marriage counseling I’ve come across says that in marriage neither independence nor dependence are healthy characteristics. It is interdependence. Interdependence is when two self-sustaining, independent individuals rely on each other and work together–what the Bible calls “unity.”

I hope you found this first Christian Issues post insightful and informative. Maybe you agree with it. Maybe you don’t. Either way, let us know your thoughts in the comments. As with everything related to my literary works, I hope this helped “expand your mind through the power of words.”

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