Relational Aggression

It was a nice day outside, so we were allowed to have recess in the front parking lot while the playground was being remodeled. Some kids were playing four square, others were just hanging out. I was playing with the girl scout and her friends – some make-believe game, I think. A few minutes into it, the cheerleader came up to us. We all thought it was cool that the most popular girl in school would play with us, after all, it could only increase our social capital to know her and to play with her. To say that we were playing together would be the wrong word. She took over the game, changed it completely.

“One last thing.” She said, “I’ll play with all of you, but not her.” She was referring to me. Needless to say, I was dropped from the group like a hot potato. So I stood there and watched the cheerleader play with a group of kids whom I thought were my friends. Such events characterized recess for me more often than not.

Back then, that was a typical interaction between peer groups – particularly girls. A normal setting of boundaries between in-group and out-group members. Today we would call it relational agression – a form of bullying typical for girls and women, but exists in the form of cyber-bullying that also affects boys and men.

Relational agression includes excluding others from social activities, damaging a person’s reputation by spreading rumors, gossiping, and humiliating them in front of others, as well as withdrawing attention and friendship. It doesn’t happen in schools alone; but it can also happen in workplaces as well as houses of worship.

Perhaps it’s the outsider in me that more easily sees the connection. It’s hard to deny the prominence marriage has in modern Christianity – the church took on culture in a big way not for biblical singleness, but Biblical Marriage. Many churches struggle to put together a decent singles’ program, but often have a thriving marriage program. Church events are designed for or around the needs of the married members more often than those of the single members. Bible Studies are often about marriage or point to marriage as a metaphor for gospel truths rather than singleness. As such, being married gives a person higher social capital in the church than being single. The only thing worse is being divorced because that’s like having fallen from God’s good graces – to have fully known and experienced the truth of marriage and lost it.

Already we can see that the church tends to withdraw attention to it’s singles as well as excludes them on a regular basis from the events that are designed for the marrieds. Singles have noted being called ‘selfish’ and ‘immature’ for not being married – which could easily account for aspects of spreading rumors, gossiping, and humiliation – their experiences vary so for some it’s worse than others.

As relational bullies, the goal is to control another person through their relationships. You cut them off if you’re displeased with them by any means available to you. You do not hinder their relationships if you’re okay with where they’re at. By relegating singles to nursery workers and isolating them from group activities you’re sending them the message that they don’t belong because they don’t please you. The only real way to defeat this form of bullying is to be radically inclusive in every way. You’d have to learn to accept and talk about singleness and to stop doing ministries for marrieds only. Doing anything less would be complicit in allowing relational aggression to persist unchecked and unchallenged.

You would have to fold these diverse suits of cards in order to form one deck – of course they won’t be all the same and that’s the point. A deck of cards made up of hearts and clubs isn’t complete without it’s diamonds and spades – and when we don’t play with a full deck, there’s no winning at all.

11/11: Singles’ Day

Growing up, there was ever one valid verse on singleness that was regularly preached from the Bible: ” Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7:8-9) It was always interpreted as an impossible task; so the emphasis on this verse wasn’t on how good singleness was, but on how necessary marriage is. As if being tempted and losing control was a foregone conclusion and only marriage could serve as the proper outlet for one’s passions – this was something without exception. For some odd reason, the rest of 1 Corinthians 7 was never included on the discussion of singleness, but to be fair, they never really talked about singleness except to use it as a segue onto marriage, the only thing the church really cares about. Had they read the rest of it, they might have seen this passage (among others):

“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.”

Christianity finds itself in a world of increasing singleness; to which it’s sole response is to continually preach about marriage and only marriage as the right way to live. It’s failure to speak to singleness means that an increasing number of people are being sent the wrong message – one that says that they’re selfish or immature for not having graduated to the next level and they have nothing to say to them until they do.

But the thing is – the stories of the Bible aren’t just stories of husbands for husbands to replicate or examples of wives for wives to follow – they’re human stories featuring a cast of characters from all walks of life; old, young, married, single, wealthy, poor, in a simple relationship, in a complicated relationship, from a good family, from a bad family – for many of these people and their stories, their marriage isn’t exactly the most important thing about them. After all, we know that David and Saul were both very married, but you’d be hard pressed to find mention of all their wives by names. Deborah was married, but there’s barely a mention of her husband – probably because being married is a part of their story, but it is not who they are as people.

Which is something singles need to hear – being single is a part of your story, but it’s not necessarily who you are as a person. The pressure to marry young and have children early is a way of keeping a young couple busy – by taking away any time they might have used to figure out who they were, what they like, but it’s also a dangerous time as a young person might realize that they’re quite capable and not necessarily helpless on their own. They run the risk of getting set in their ways – which explains why there’s the rush to get young people married. But for the long-term single, he or she has all the time in the world to write their own story and find that which brings him or her satisfaction and happiness. Which isn’t the worst thing in the world. Instead of bringing self-doubt to into any future relationship, self-knowledge creates a firm foundation of confidence and a frame of reference for someone you’re getting to know and someone who is getting to know you.

And some, like a co-worker of mine, is quite happy in his singleness and not looking to change that in the foreseeable future. Why should he continually be subjected to messages like: “You’re not really happy unless you’re dating/married!”? Maybe it’s more of a self-fulfilling prophecy, the churches’ relentless messages about marriage, singles feeling frustrated about their situation, wondering if the grass truly is greener on the other side … it’s just that the church never really puts that shoe on the other foot.

“You married people will be single again one day, perhaps you’ll be widows and widowers, so pay attention to these directions so that you’ll know how to live …”
But the core of Christianity is a message for anyone from any walk of life, that you are loved, that you have a spiritual family, that you are needed, that sort of thing. And so here’s to the ones who are so very often left out and on their own. May you find your long-due measure of happiness. As for me, I’m having a slice of Singles’ Day cake … and then maybe a game of solitaire. Let’s do what the world doesn’t celebrate every one of us – because there will only be one of each of us.

Do you even miss me?

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.

Getting Ready for What Comes Next

“I have ordered the books for the next bible and they will arrive next week.” The elder said as he held up a brand new book. “I’m certainly looking forward to it.”

With that, the Sunday School class was over with. I took a moment to ask if I could take a closer look at the book. “Certainly. I think you’ll really benefit from the material in this book.” He said as he handed it to me.

I flipped through the pages – I don’t know what I was looking for. But the two most prominent words on the cover of the book, covenant and marriage, were more than enough to let me know that I wasn’t the least bit interested in spending the next few months discussing the topic. “I don’t think I’ll be sitting in for this one. I’m a little more interested in the topic of the other Sunday School class, they just started on Radical by David Platt.”

He seemed slightly upset as he asked, “Are you sure? You might get married one day and then you’ll need to know this stuff.”

I answered; “I’m sure. If and when I get married, then my spouse and I can go through studies like this together all the time. But until then I want to expand my horizons and learn as much as I can about as many different things as I can.”

That was a couple of years ago and it was shortly before we left that church. I always thought that it was an odd selection. My class consisted of the only high school student, me, a young family, and I think one or two others that sort of came and went. Before that, we had done Erasing Hell, Lifework, and Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong – all in all, pretty general books that weren’t really specific to any particular role in life. But not this time. To me it seemed awkward to have the church elder take us through this book, after all the other adult class contained all of the church’s married couples except for the one that attended my class and they were so exceedingly busy that usually only one of them was actually in class. Surely Radical would have been a better choice for us – as it was more along the lines of the general studies that we had done.

I didn’t realize it then, but I was defying my one role in the church. Apparently the unwritten rule for the role of all young single Christian women is to prepare themselves for marriage for however long it takes for them to get married. The theory is that the better one is prepared to be married, the more quickly God will bring ‘the one’ into the picture. That doesn’t really explain why there are no shortage of single Christian women in their forties, fifties, and even sixties, but it’s easier to pretend that they don’t exist so they don’t have to be counted as actual women with feelings and opinions on the subject. I happen to think something written from their perspective would be an outstanding resource for younger generations who aren’t sure about what they want. We tend to get the ‘get married quick, get married young’ message early and often, but very rarely does a single elderly women get to share her wisdom with her younger counterparts.

Imagine that one day, a good friend promises to give you your very own vacation house, no strings attached, in great condition, and for free. What do you do with this knowledge? Do you prepare to decorate it by filling storage lockers up with pieces of furniture? Do you prepare to live in it by picking out the perfect wardrobe? Do you prepare to host parties by planning out what kinds of food to serve? You don’t even know if the vacation house is on an island where you cannot ship a household of furniture to for a reasonable price or whether or not the furniture you chose will not be damaged by it’s environment or how much furniture you’d need to fill it up. You don’t know if it’s a vacation house in the mountains where a beach wardrobe will get precious little use or if it is somewhere unconventional like a small town on the interior of Italy. You don’t even know what the customs or language of your neighbors will be or whether or not the foods you want to serve are readily available. You also don’t know when the keys to the vacation house will arrive. We could be talking about decades worth of preparation that isn’t necessarily guaranteed to bring you winning results for your efforts.

I know, I’m not married, but I’m pretty sure that one cannot prepare themselves for the entire experience of married life. No number of Christian covenant marriage Bible studies is going to prepare anyone for the experience. It’s something you have to do together. Which is why I thought it was odd for a church elder to lead a class of mostly single Christians through a book about covenant marriages. At least when a husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend goes through such a book together they can really talk about what it means to them as they walk together into the next stage that life presents them. A single person can only have half of that conversation – for the rest they have to use their imagination. But isn’t the reality of marriage a far cry from what what it was imagined to be like? Granted, there are some practical things one can be prepared to do – like learning CPR, which is useful in saving lives even when people aren’t married.

I just think that the idea that young women should prepare to live their future lives make them miss out on living their lives in the present. God didn’t just look down from heaven saying; “Methuselah! Why won’t you die already? I want to flood the world and you lingering on like this is holding up my plans.” He didn’t hit the fast-forward button during the forty years that Israel wandered the wilderness either. Even in the new Testament, Jesus’ ministry had to wait thirty three years before it was the right time. Solomon noted that there was a time for everything, that means that there is a time to be single just as much as there is a time to be married. If we really believe that God has perfect timing, then nothing we can do can hurry him up or slow him down. We need to respect the time that has been given to us to live each stage of life one day at a time, not trying to hurry up to get to the next one because we never know what the next stage in life will be.

What am I, chopped liver?

I haven’t extensively written on Complementarianism in the past. I’ve often felt unqualified to speak on it. Then I saw this video:

One thing I noticed is that throughout he consistently explained the ‘roles’ in terms of men and women, but not in terms of husbands and wives. Why is this significant? Because not all men are husbands and not all women are wives, but the scripture speaks more to husbands and wives than it does to men and women in general – hence male headship. It’s not enough for husbands to be the head of their families, but males are the heads of their church or so the teachings go when carried out to their logical extreme.

My former denomination doubled-down on gender role teachings. We heard more about what husbands and fathers were supposed to do as servant leaders in Christ-like love and what wives and mothers were supposed to do in joyful submission than we did about the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, on faith, love, prayer, or any other teaching. As a result, one clear message was sent: single people are chopped liver (but they had to learn all about these things so that one day when they’re married they can be the best leadership servant and joyfully submissive helper they can be.)

The ‘roles’ teaching describes men as the spiritual leaders of their family and also the physical leaders of their family, always getting to make the final decision and have the last word in everything. This puts them in charge at church as well because all churches are groups of families. Because of the 1 Timothy qualifications, the vast majority of pastors you will ever meet are married men. Going from being married to separated or divorced is usually sufficient grounds to disqualify one from their ministry. Single people are not allowed to be leaders in the church but they can be helpers.

Paul once wrote that single people can devote all of their energy to serving the Lord without the distractions that a family brings to the table of married couples. If only the church would let them! Given the reality that statistically there are more single people than married couples, requiring marriage as a qualification for ministry means that more than of the church – the half with no distractions cannot serve God. The ones that are in church have a hand tied behind their backs because they are married and that distracts them from God having to consider their spouses and children at every turn.

I’ve heard it said that people can learn a lot through marriage, about taking two lives and making them one. But let’s not forget that singleness is also a learning opportunity – to have to rely on God alone. The church needs both perspectives.

But its not only marriage that is preferred over singleness, but as the Wretched video says – the roles of men and women are for women to submit to men and for men to lead women. He didn’t specify that was for the context of marriage, and by not doing so he might as well have said “all women are to submit to all men in general.” That’s where the chopped liver message hurts most. Statistically, there are more women than men in church. Last I had heard it was closer to a 60:40 ratio of women to men. Married or not, that 60 will never lead, teach, and in some churches they aren’t even permitted to speak. Out of the 40, only the married will advance ‘further up and further in’ the kingdom if and only if they are favored by the other leaders. The rest will only get ‘so far and no further’. One of my churches even wrote in it’s doctrinal statement that ‘Divorced men were not qualified for leadership – but exceptions could be made on a case-by-case basis.’ They also believed that women were not qualified for leadership and there were no exceptions, ever.

If I were to marry, then I would get more status. If I were to have children, then I would get more status. I forget which Bible verse says that all Christian men and women are to marry one another and have children in order to be true believers and leaders in the faith, but I’m sure it’s right up there with Paul’s words on the value of singleness. That’s what bothers me. As I am, before their eyes, I’m chopped liver. I could maintain a blog for a decade, talking about the Bible, living as bet I know how in order to follow Jesus’ teachings, but that’s apparently selfishness on my part. If these church leaders really knew me as an individual, they would see that I’m almost as unselfish as a person can be – married or single. They don’t care that I’ve learned a second language so that I can tell more people about Jesus. They don’t care about the gifts and talents I can bring to the table unless I can bring it the right way – by being married* (*it helps to be married to a man from a richer family, with connections to leaders in Christian circles, a future leader-type to get as much status as possible.) No one has ever asked to marry me – I’ve always been the only single person in my church. Even so, because churches here have so few people, finding a compatible partner with whom chemistry exists isn’t a given. You just can’t throw a guy at a girl, declare them to be married, and tell them that God will bless their relationship. It doesn’t work that way unless it’s an arranged marriage, and one cannot always arrange for one person to love another.

Jesus and Paul are often highlighted as two single men who are great examples of what one can do for the faith. Scripture doesn’t indicate what their female counterpart ought to be like. Almost all women in Scripture are described in relation to their husbands. There’s no Paulette – no precedent to define how a single woman ought to serve God in a feminine capacity. Even when Anna (a widow) is invoked, she is upheld as an ‘extraordinary Biblical example’, actually, every woman in the Bible is an extraordinary Biblical example that no woman could ever hope to match, but all men are normal examples that can be learned from and lived out even here and now. That’s probably because the idea that there’s a pink or blue approach to being Christians is a modern innovation that has no basis in Scripture.

Men and women alike are called to pray alike, men and women alike are called to take up their cross and follow Jesus alike – there’s no masculine (blue) way or feminine (pink) way of going about it. Both are to find commonalities in Christlikeness in ways that transcend gender as we know it. Because God transcends gender and marriage in ways we can’t even fathom. Yet to a Being like that, we’re not chopped liver, each of us as we are in all walks of life and lost in all sorts of sinfulness happen to be worth dying for. Was it not the prostitutes and tax collectors who beat the Pharisees into the Kingdom of God? If only the Church could realize that! If only the church could stop treating people like chopped liver, but let each individual live up to the potential that Jesus sees in each of us. Not just as wives and mothers or husbands and fathers, but as prophets, prophetesses, teachers, leaders, helpers, deacons, deaconesses, priests, priestesses, and so much more then we might just see what it is to belong to the kingdom of God in a real tangible way. We can only do that if we don’t interpret scripture while wearing pink-colored or blue-colored glasses.

Church of One

Sometimes I don’t know where I fit in Christianity. It’s been that way for awhile now. As a single young woman who is barely a twenty-something, I’m too old for the college-age group. I’m not eligible for the other groups and I don’t really fit anywhere. It’s been the same problem in the last three or four churches … I’m a group of one.

I’ve heard the sermons over and over again ‘just in case’ God will introduce ‘the one’ in the near future, I know what role I’m expected to fill and what Bible verses support that teaching. Just as Christ loves the Church, my future husband is supposed to love me. Christ = Husband. Church = Wife.

That means somewhere out there, there’s a Christ who doesn’t have a Church. A Christ that’s supposed to be the initator of our relationship that’s doing anything but what he’s supposed to be doing. Sometimes the way this teaching is taught, the Church is supposed to call her Christ lord and Jesus Christ Lord. My Lord, where is my lord?

Perhaps you can see the problem I have with this whole teaching. It puts me in a position where I have no say over anything. As a single woman, I have the audacity to tell God that his plan doesn’t work for me. That I don’t want to be a wife just yet, that I don’t want to have a lord just yet, and that I don’t want to be that Church any longer.

That’s why I think they don’t know what to do with single people. After all, Paul was married to his ministry, but Scripture has no Paulettes. When they talk about singleness being a gift, they always emphasize “but it’s better to marry, let they burn with passion.” Which is why there aren’t any groups aimed at encouraging single people to take things one day at a time, follow God for that day, and to let everything else fall into place. No, the idea seems to be to create family outings (and invite the singles so that they have an example of proper Christian families), center mens and womens groups on being fathers and mothers (and invite the singles so that they have lots of good helpful advice when they get started), and do nothing but preach about the greatness of marriage being just like being a Christian. Marriages are okay, but Christian marriages are a far holier thing that God expects of everyone.

Something they’re doing must be working really well … I can testify that the last four churches I attended had no one else my age to hear these messages. Is it possible that the Church has it all wrong? That they are sending the wrong message and cannot see the dozens, the hundreds, and the countless thousands that leave the church every day because they no longer fit? What if the reverse message, that Jesus came to seek and save the lost … not for the lost to be saved they need to seek the church is what really needs to be heard. One thing I do know, the longer they keep up this teaching, the more people who don’t fit will flee from it. Quite possibly, I’ll be among them wandering and wondering just where I fit … where I was meant to belong.