Christians often ground their thoughts on human sexuality and marriage with Genesis 2:18: “It is not good for the man to be alone.” Accordingly, individuals and churches often project the message that the one of the chief goals in life is to find a spouse and have a family. Many congregations are structured and segregated into different departments–youth, college, singles, and married–to help parishioners live out this goal.
The expectation is that everyone will progress through these stages. The “singles” department is viewed as little more than a temporary way station; a physical manifestation of ChristianMingle.com. It is designed with a planned obsolescence and individuals in their mid-thirties are seen as party crashers. Within the church, people who never marry are regarded as damaged goods. Whether spoken or not, we often assume that if, after several decades of life, a person is not able to convince one–just one!–out of the seven billion people on the planet to walk down an aisle with them, they must have some seriously twisted issues.
If the Apostle Paul were with us today he would probably say that we have things upside down–it’s the married people that have a problem. In I Corinthians 7:8-9 Paul gives this advice to single people:
To those who are unmarried or widowed, here’s my advice: it is a good thing to stay single as I do. If they do not have self-control, they should go ahead and get married. It is much better to marry than to be obsessed by sexual urges (The Voice).
For Paul, the proper default for human relations is singleness. It is only if a person lacks self-control–in other words, if they have a certain character flaw or spiritual immaturity–should they consider marriage. Why aren’t more churches structured to account for this? Why is it that we married people regard ourselves as healthy and single adults as in need to be fixed up?
We need to rethink our approach to human relations. The first thing we need to do is destigmatize singleness within the church. We need to present singleness as a lifestyle that is appropriate and noble instead of abnormal and dysfunctional. We should highlight the many benefits of singleness and the opportunities for blessing others that it presents. And this message needs to be communicated more than once every blue moon when a sermon series happens upon this passage in 1 Corinthians. This message needs to be embedded within the very fabric of our thought. Certainly, singleness entails hardships and we should be honest about them. But married life brings challenges of its own. No life situation is free of difficulties.
The second thing we should do is reexamine the structures of our churches and assess what these structures communicate. If a church decides to have a “singles” program, the “singles minister” should spend as much effort helping their congregants find contentment in singleness as they do trying to facilitate pairings. And, a “singles” department should be explicitly designed to welcome singles of all kinds–young, middle aged, old, and widowed.
These two thoughts barely scratch the surface of how the church can more fully embrace Paul’s perspective on the value of singleness. What other ideas do you have?