A conversation was going on in front of me during the time between Sunday School and the morning service. Two people from the Sunday School class I am in were talking, one was a 21 year old woman I'll call "Miranda", and "Kelly", the sister of our Sunday School teacher "Jason". (I'm changing names to protect their identity and mine. Both Jason and Kelly are what most people would consider middle aged people (Kelly is 52, her brother Jason is mid/late 40's).
Miranda was saying that her mother has been pressuring her to get married and have children (she really stressed the children, her mom can't wait to be a grandmother), and I was surprised by Kelly's reaction. She said to Miranda that she shouldn't feel pressured into making such a major life decision by anyone, even family. That is something I most definitely didn't expect to hear.
Had Miranda been saying this to any other woman about Kelly's age in the church, I'm quite the reaction would be something along the lines of "Well, your mom just wants what she thinks is best for you, don't worry about it, the right man will come along, and you will want to marry him". Very likely there would be a not so subtle hint inserted in there about what that woman felt was a suitable young man that was single in the church, and she would try to set them up on a date.
I spoke a few minutes later to Kelly's brother Jason about this conversation, and I said I was surprised by his sister's reaction, that wasn't the norm, and that in every Christian circle I have been a part of, there's always been a lot of pressure on people of the younger generations, people like me and Miranda to get married.
There's this perception in evangelical/fundamentalist churches that you should get married by the time you are 25, and have children, and that if you are in your 30's or later and aren't married, that you aren't living a fully fulfilled adult life, or that, quite frankly, you are completely an adult, that you have missed a critical stage in your adult life and maturity.
Jason said he had noticed this too, and like me, doesn't know why there is so much pressure to get married, he said that he is actually happy that he isn't married. He didn't elaborate on why he said that, and before I had the chance to ask him about the service started. (I may ask him later).
We are not the only people to notice this pattern, and there's even some people in the Christian blogging world talking about it. The website The Wartburg Watch has noticed this too (I had the honor recently of having a guest post published there, thanks Dee and Deb).
In a recent series of posts on the topic that you can find here, here and here, they've made observations along similar lines that evangelical churches just don't seem to appreciate their single members, pressure them to get married, view them as odd when they aren't married in what is seen as an appropriate time frame , and also often exclude them from leadership positions.
Many of these churches do not want a single man to be a pastor or deacon, and I like how The Wartburg Watch makes the observation that churches have this mentality that a single person is somehow not qualified to be a leader in the congregation as opposed to a married person, despite the fact that the man who wrote much of the New Testament (Paul) was not only celibate, but said that being both celibate and in a position of spiritual leadership was actually ideal. (Perhaps that is why Catholicism wants it's clergymen to be celibate).
I just don't understand where this mentality comes from that every adult should be married (unless you're gay/bisexual and want to marry someone of the same gender, but that's another topic for another day). What is the driving force behind this mentality?
Also, I have noticed that evangelicals/fundamentalists see marriage in a completely different light than the rest of the population. I have noticed that one of the major rebuttals from them in opposition to gay marriage is that homosexual couples can't naturally have children together, and therefore shouldn't be allowed to get married, since the point of marriage is creating stable families.
First of all, feeling that marriage is only for procreation is insulting to people who are infertile due to old age, health issues, or long term forms of birth control like IUD's and vasectomies. Second, it's rather telling that they look at marriage in this light, and see procreation as the primary (or sole) reason for marriage. It drains all of the romance and passion from marriage. I remember as a teen, having it drilled into me in the Southern Baptist church were I am right now that they had a different view of love.
They kept stressing that love is not a feeling, an emotion, that it is a choice and a commitment. You find someone that you are compatible with, you date them (but don't have sex with them, that's verboten), marry them, make a conscious decision to love them and remain with them for life, and the more romantic, passionate side of marriage will follow.
First of all, that doesn't always happen, I've read many accounts on the blogs of former fundamentalists that the way that these churches try to demonize sexuality outside of marriage, and don't teach young people about sex itself can lead to a lot of guilt, confusion, and rather awkward sexual relationships within marriage.
Second, it makes marriage seem like a perfunctory action, it drains it of passion, and I think that this is a very skewed perception of love. Love in a romantic sense is both. It's both commitment and passion, both are needed, and this view drains love of a very important aspect of it's existence. It makes love seem like a dry commitment, an obligation with no feelings involved, and in the end, it doesn't really feel like a choice at all.
What is really behind the push for marriage and children? Why are single people not seen as normal human beings within these churches? What drives the bizarre (in my opinion) views that they have on marriage?
Is the push for people to get married a way of creating the next generation of like minded fundamentalists? I've noticed that they always like to quote Proverbs 22:6:
Train up a child in the way he should go,They often use that verse as a way of saying that if you raise a child up with "godly principles" (fundamentalist beliefs) that they may at some point in their life stray from it during a "time of rebellion" as young adults, but they will come back to it eventually, and become dedicated believers again. I find that kind of thinking to be rather amusing. How do they explain people like me, Jonny Scaramanga, Libby Anne, or Hausdorf who were once fundamentalists, but are now atheists/agnostics? How do they explain people like Lana, who went from fundamentalist to being a very liberal Christian? Would they then pull out the old "You were never a true Christian" card?
And when he is old he will not depart from it.
The fundamentalist views on marriage and remaining single are really baffling.
(Sheldon's note: If you are a new reader and unfamiliar with my Undercover Agnostic series, check out my page dedicated to this series, which has all previous posts, and my guest post series on MY Secret Atheist blog, talking about my past)