Rethinking our approach to singleness

Oct 22, 2014 by

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In his opening editorial to the autumn issue of Mutuality, Tim Kruger cites this set of lines from the apostle Paul about singleness:

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 (1 Cor. 7:32-35).

He makes this observation:

Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7 should provide not only comfort, but also inspiration. We should teach them to children and adults alike, and we should encourage our children to aspire to be like Aunt Yiv and Aunt Lii. We should praise singleness as a worthy and admirable path. And we should embrace the unmarried believers in our midst, empowering them to serve and affirming their identities.

But I’d like to focus on the exceptional essay by Kate Wallace as one I know I need and that I can commend to you.

Kate Wallace, in her essay “The (Single) Christian Life,” reminds us that this is a common experience for singles in most of our churches — a “condition” seen by many as abnormal and so unimportant it can be ignored for the “more important” reality: marriage.

Notice these words from Kate:

Most of the relationship advice from church is geared toward people who are married. Sermons about Christian relationships are mostly about how to be a better wife or husband, how to love your spouse through hard situations,
 how to honor God in raising your kids. I have heard many pastors say, “There is no better place to learn forgiveness than in marriage, and “You will never know how God loves his children until you have a child of your own.” Marriage and children are blessings, to be sure. And there is wisdom in those words, but what are they communicating to single Christians? We, too, would like to learn forgiveness in the context of our relationships. Can those of us without children not know the love God has for us? Do we have to be married to experience the fullness of the Christian faith?

She chides complementarians for their stronger emphasis on marriage than we find among others, but then she reminds us — I speak here to preachers, teachers, pastors — of a reality:

I have never heard a pastor in a church give a sermon where the illustration was about single Christians living together and learning how to honor Christ in their friendship and their shared life.

How about you? Do you need to rethink some stories and illustrations so you can intentionally include a largely ignored segment of the Body of Christ?

Here is the reality she reminds us of: 49 percent of Americans are single; 33 percent of adults who attend church are single.

Egalitarians, she contends, need to hear this message all the more:

Egalitarians don’t face the same limitation. The effectiveness of our theology does not depend on how prominently we preach about marriage, because we believe that both men and women can lead and serve outside of marriage. Women do not need to be married with kids in order to live a full Christian life, so the domestic realm comes one of many options for women. This leaves room for both men and women to remain single and still fill an important role in the Christian community.

The issue here is what she calls marriage-centric language (and categories). So what can we do?

  1. Stop talking about singleness as a “pre-married”state, and instead treat it as a legitimate way of life.
  2. Rethink the language used in sermons.
  3. Don’t make marriage and childrearing goals to be met or callings to be fulfilled.
  4. Remember that singles don’t all look alike.
  5. Stop using marriage as an entry ticket into various church activities.

These words are worth pondering:

The church can be a difficult environment for single people to navigate. Theologies that emphasize Christian fulfillment through marriage and parenting have caused marriage and the nuclear family to be so elevated that many singles feel like there is no place for them in Christian community.

Egalitarian theology can better equip churches to reach out to single people, but until it practically implemented into everyday church practices, singles will continue to feel out of place in the church.

Can I get a witness? An amen? And a commitment to begin anew? Thanks Kate.

Scot McKnight is the author of The Jesus Creed. He blogs at Patheos.com, where this post originally appeared.


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