There are a lot of issues troubling and dividing the Christian church in Western culture, but if I had to name one (among many) that I believe is heaviest in my heart, it is the treatment of singleness. As someone who has been single for all of her almost-30 years, and a Christian for approximately two-thirds of those years, it’s something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, reading, and talking about.
As I’ve alluded in previous posts, the modern church is in great danger of idolizing marriage–if it doesn’t already. Marriage and family is now the foundation of the faith for many, with defending “the family” more important than defending the faith. Jesus and His other teachings (such as being willing to suffer for Him, visiting prisoners, caring for orphans, and not being anxious) are almost secondary. Getting married–and only having sex after that–and raising children is considered the most important thing you can do in this life, and it’s what everyone should aspire to. Granted, not all churches and Christians subscribe to this attitude, but it is there.
Another matter more volatile, and definitely more talked about, is the church and homosexuality. I think that the two issues are more closely linked than it may appear at first.
Homosexuality might be less of an issue in the modern Christian church today (not that I am proposing to solve the issue completely) if today’s Christian culture idolized marriage less.
Heterosexual singles have essentially been fed the idea of, “Just hold out until you get married, and then you get to be visible and of value to the church community. And you get to have sex and make babies.” Which incorrectly assumes that everyone will get and stay married. Single women who enter Christian bookstores to find advice for their lifestyle meet only an endless selection of books on what to do while waiting for that Prince Charming/Boaz/Mr. Darcy.
Meanwhile, if church doctrine says that Christian homosexuals can’t get married, then what are they waiting for? What are they supposed to do with themselves? Are they even wanted in the church community? How do they serve God from their unique positions? It’s the same questions that most Christian singles face, particularly in churches that do not require singleness/celibacy in certain roles.
If the church treated single and married members with more equal grace and welcomeness and purpose, it would matter less whether the singles were gay or straight. Right now, there’s an attitude among many heterosexual church leaders that is almost greedy, saying “We all get to have this thing, and you can’t, and you just have to deal with it.” But if the church treated both marriage and singleness as equally possible, valid, noble lifestyles that worship God and serve His people in unique ways, then perhaps it would be less of an “us vs. them” attitude—either between homosexuals and heterosexuals, or between singles and marrieds. Perhaps fewer people would feel as though they don’t matter in the church community unless they were married.
What does this look like? As usual, I’m not as good with the practical application, but some ideas I’ve tossed around with my friends include better, wider acknowledgement in the church that marriage is still a flawed, human institution, that it is not the ultimate goal of a Christian’s earthly life. More churches should be willing to give their single members greater authority and leadership and participation in church matters. Honoring God and nurturing community should be central to even the most casual church events, without reducing them to mere matchmaking opportunities.
Don’t assume that all women like or want children. Don’t hold up sex as the greatest gift from God and the greatest experience and goal of Christian living, or as a bribe. Don’t assume that everyone wants to get married, will get married, or will stay married. Hold more open, mature, appropriate discussion of sexuality in the church, among people who will ask and answer tough questions. Sermons should focus on both the abundance of the grace that saved us from our sins, as well as the seriousness of those sins.
None of this, of course, will solve every problem in every church, but I think it is a cultural attitude change that is desperately needed.
(By the way, this post was written under the assumption that homosexual marriage is and should be forbidden in the Christian church. That itself is a topic for heated debate, but I am writing from that assumption because it is 1.) my own belief, 2.) the current stance of many churches, and 3.) simpler for my argument. If any readers want me to elaborate on my beliefs and the reasoning behind them, I can write a separate post for that.)