Dear Southern Baptist Church;
It’s been a full year since the last time I darkened your doors or haunted your hallways as the resident long-term single millennial. Things just weren’t adding up, so I finally began asking questions. My Sunday School class had just finished one of their general studies. The deacon decided that our class was due for something more specific. He looked at the single high school student, the single twenty-something (me), the married twenty-something whose spouse never attended, and the newly-wed couple who had only recently begun attending together and decided that “Covenant Marriage” was exactly what we needed. The other Sunday School class consisted of all the other married couples in the church yet they were learning from David Platt’s Radical. It didn’t make sense to teach a marriage based bible study to a room that had 1.5 couples represented when the other class was easily 15 couples. The deacon was somewhat annoyed when I told him that I would be switching to the other class. He told me, “You’re going to need to know this stuff when you’re married.” I replied, “If and when I get married, I’m sure my husband and I will complete them together, in the mean-time, I’m more interested in Radical than Covenant Marriage.” “Are you sure?” He asked, as if he was giving me a chance to change my mind. Apparently he was unaccustomed to being told ‘no’, but I made it clear that I would stick by my decision. I didn’t realize it then but I was silently asking “Why?”
“Why must I learn these things?” “Because you’ll be married someday.” With marriage studies, it seems inevitable that they’re designed for two people to learn from together, to talk about what they plan to do, and to figure out more about each other along the way. I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine half of that conversation to make up for a person who isn’t there to do their half. I don’t see the point in talking about communication, conflict resolution, or anything Biblical with an empty chair; or worse, being paired up with another single person to ‘represent’ on their behalf. I don’t think I’m wrong to want to wait to do those studies.
“Why must I learn these things?” “Because you will be married someday.” Have you ever seen those commercials that say things like “Use your smartphone right now to call us at …” or “Like us on Facebook!” Both commercials assume that you have a smartphone with you or a Facebook account. Likewise, churches assume that no matter who you are, you will be married. They know better than God does, apparently. That’s why they don’t even flip to 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul affirms and uplifts singleness as valid. The funny thing about bringing up that verse is that it gets this treatment: “It is good for you to be single, but if you can’t control yourself, you have to marry so that you don’t BURN with passion. Since we all know that nobody can control themselves, what it really means is that you gotta get married so that you don’t begin to BURN with passion and lose your way by committing sexual immorality.” It’s always presented as if it’s obviously impossible for people to successfully maintain singleness so the verse is really about getting people to get married as being the better option than promoting singleness. That’s why the church knows better than God, that human nature makes it impossible to be Biblically single and therefore everyone without exception will marry; which is why there’s no such thing as Biblical Singlehood teachings. The other thing though is that being single not only breaks the rules of ‘you gotta get married’ it breaks the gender roles of who can do what in marriage. A single woman is the head of her household and a single man still has to do his own laundry. That doesn’t exactly square with what certain elements of Christianity likes to teach. After all, gender roles are called that because they’re supposed to apply because your gender is your gender, married or not. That’s why single women are often encouraged to defer to single men in mixed gender Bible studies, to affirm their role by placing themselves in second. (Technically third, as God is always number 1.)
But it’s not just about the ‘why’ of having to learn these things – there are other questions: “Does the church realize that by teaching that the relationship of husbands and wives ought to be that of Christ and the Church pretty much throws everyone who isn’t married under the bus?” “Why does Christianity emphasize marriage when single individual very nearly outnumber married couples worldwide?” “Does God really put us on the clock to marry by 25 and have kids by 30?” “Is being married the highest form of Christianity?”
Christianity, if all the Bible asks of us is to exist in a world make up of 50% men and 50% women who are married to each other, you’ve got a problem. Women have always outnumbered men in Church. Women outnumbered men in the first few hundred years when there weren’t enough men in the same class as women to marry them off to. Women outnumber men in almost every individual church. Single women definitely outnumber single men. According to your own rules, that men must be the initiator of relationships, you’re short-handed. Like it or not, there will be men, who for whatever reason, choose not to marry. They choose not to ask for a woman’s hand in marriage. There will be women who, for whatever reason, choose not to marry. They might never be asked. They might be asked and they might decline knowing it’s a bad match. There are men and women who tried marriage and ended up in divorce. There are men and women who outlived their spouses and just aren’t ready to marry again. You have a lot of people who are wondering why marriage is taught as the end-all-and-be-all of Christianity when the guy it’s named after as well as one of his most ardent teachers were single men. You have to wrap your minds around the idea that you’ve missed the point of the Bible – that it’s not about marriage as the most important thing. That marriage serves as a metaphor for something else and that marriage is not the goal.
I imagine that there are hundreds of thousands of us who heard all the sermons, submit this, headship that, love here, respect there … It’s all completely Biblical. And I’m certain it would be invaluable teaching if I was a First Century believer in Jesus living in Corinth who didn’t really love my spouse but got married anyway because that’s what I was told to do because it strengthened my father’s household and united us with another strong family. But I just can’t imagine that Paul somehow knew that his words would work as a cure-all for our problems some two-thousand years later in a society that’s the complete opposite of the one he knew. It’s no wonder that a whole generation has walked away from the church and that same generation is putting off marriage unlike the generations before them. I wonder if the teachings they were taught had something to do with it.
I could go on, but I was curious – do you miss me? Do you miss those who are like me? The strong minded, the independent, the outliers, the unusual, the eccentric, the whole spectrum of personalities that we represent? I can’t say that I miss you. Do you know how great it is not to be asked about my marital status or interrogated as to whether or not there’s a special someone? I’ve spent a year without your marriage teachings and I’m starting to feel great about who I am as just me for the first time. It’s too bad that you never cared to get to know me because to you, I’ll always be somebody else’s ‘half’. That’s your loss, but I’m just figuring that I’m a great person that you never got a chance to know me at all.