Saturday, August 3, 2013

Single People Often Feel Alienated in Churches

The great Christian blog The Wartburg Watch has had a series recently about how single Christians often feel alienated and rejected by conservative churches. Whether they were divorced, widowed or simply hadn’t married by the time they were in their late 20’s on up, many people have been sending in their stories to The Wartburg Watch.

People have talked about feeling pressured into poorly run singles groups organized seemingly for the purpose of trying to set up singles in relationships so they will get married, (some called them “meat markets”), people trying to set them up with other church members, when they clearly weren’t ready for a relationship yet.

Other issues have been people questioning whether they were gay because they chose to remain single (which would be scandalous in conservative/anti-gay churches), pastors constantly giving sermons on marriage, but not sermons of advice or encouragement to single people, and single people being made to feel that they are inferior to married couples (implications that get married and having children is god’s “perfect plan” for people).

Here are some quotes from the series:

From an e-mail titled “Singlness: SGM Style”:

I will provide background in my email below, but what strikes me most about how singles are treated in the church is that they seem to want to treat our "condition" as temporary. Little focus is given to singles because the goal is to get you married so you can become a couple and really be part of the vision of the church. So why invest too much time in ministry to singles when the goal is to get you out of singlehood as soon as possible. 
  I am stunned to believe that churches invest so much in children's ministry, college ministry, and family centered ministries and then if you don't get your MRS or MR in college (Bible college that is) you fall into a black hole. Singles are treated like they are in the waiting room of God's Will. We really don't matter until we get married and start having all those babies and homeschooling our kids. I also want to stress that by and large I believe most of my encounters within these churches were with earnest believers who truly want to serve God and were interacting with me in love - they are just misguided.
From an e-mail titled “Singles Groups Are Like Kids' Sunday School Classes With Bigger Chairs”:

Being single, especially an older single person in the church is (to put it mildly) not fun. Having found Jesus as the age of 35 and having now spent 11 years in assorted churches, I can genuinely say that most churches would be just as happy to have no single people. I found that there’s not a lot of space for someone who just does not want to get married.  
 There are plenty of sermons, programs, etc., talking about getting married, problems in marriage, marriage and kids, but very little about living life solo.  The churches I’ve attended didn’t have a lot of space to just be a single person serving the church. They know you’re there, but don’t really see you.  Most things are geared towards couples and families. I used to just love when the inevitable marriage conferences came around and the singles in the church would be encouraged to go because “you’ll need it if you get married.” 
 Singles groups feel like kids Sunday School with bigger chairs. I never found a lot of substance being taught. I don’t imagine many churches would say so, but as a single person you can start to wonder if the church really sees you as a full person. I suspect it may be worse if you're an older man than it is for me as a woman. Also, if you want to be a minister and get credentialed, there aren't many pastorates open to a single person whether old or young. And if you're a woman?  Piffle. 
 That’s my rant. I’m working on a graduate degree in religion and I’m hoping to be able to teach someday, but it may be at my local coffeehouse with whoever happens to be there because it is unlikely to ever happen at a church.
You can read more of these stories at The Wartburg Watch, here’s all three posts so far this week, there will be more in the following weeks:

I also wrote about this very issue back in April in my post Why the Obsession With Getting Married and Having Children?, a post in my Undercover Agnostic series.

Speaking of Christianity and marriage, the blog Defeating the Dragons, written by Samantha Field (I had a Q&A interview with her for the blog back in June), recently had a great guest post for the “Learning the Words” series about the word “partner”. The Learning the Words series is a guest post series written by former fundamentalists/evangelicals about what different words meant in that subculture, and how their meaning may be different from the outside world.

The most recent post in the series was by one of my favorite bloggers, Jonny Scaramanga of Leaving Fundamentalism, he talked about the connotations that the word “partner” had when he was growing up as a fundamentalist Pentecostal in England:

I used to hear about it when I was a child. Usually it was a customer or business associate of my dad’s, who didn’t have a wife – he had a ‘partner’. I could almost hear the scare quotes even then. If I hadn’t picked up the disapproval in my parents’ voices, it would be made explicit soon enough. 
 ‘Partners’. These people rejected the institution of Christian marriage and instead were living in sin. ‘Partners’ were people who didn’t make proper commitments. When relationships got tough, they just took their partners to the scrap yard and exchanged them for a new model. They obviously weren’t Christians, or they wouldn’t be ‘partners’. 
Because they weren’t Christians, they were still in bondage to their sin nature. They probably weren’t even capable of true love or commitment. Those were things that Christians could do, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Without Jesus, everyone was loveless and depraved. These ‘partners’ had meaningless relationships based on nothing more than lust. 
 Worst of all, the term was gender-neutral. If you met a man with a partner, he might be a gay! At the very least, the partner might be a feminist, which was just another way of describing a woman trying to be a man.

I find it interesting the differences in the connotations of the word “partner”, both in the fundamentalist world, and in England. I’m from the St. Louis area, and here in the Midwest, the term partner doesn’t have a similar meaning. I’ve never heard someone use the word here in the context of a straight relationship, if you tell someone here you have a “partner”, almost everyone will assume that you mean a gay lover.

Only in the media, and on the internet (mostly from people of other regions of the US), have I ever heard the word used in the context of a heterosexual relationship, and that’s just been in the last 2 years or so, but it’s starting to catch on slowly.


  1. Regarding the word "partner", almost everyone I know uses that term for their significant other, gay or straight, married or unmarried. There's no stigma surrounding the word in my social circles, so it surprises me that some fundamentalists have a bad reaction to it. Maybe it shouldn't surprise me.

    As for churches and singles, I wonder how conservative churches feel about married couples who cannot or choose not to have children? I imagine they treat childfree people with scorn.

    1. Hmm... Maybe it's a combination of being on the east coast, and working for a liberal organization.

    2. "As for churches and singles, I wonder how conservative churches feel about married couples who cannot or choose not to have children? I imagine they treat childfree people with scorn."

      I can't remember any couples in my time in fundamentalism that simply choose not to have children. Those who couldn't were often pitied, and they would grieve alongside them. Mostly the woman in the couple in those situations tortured herself wondering why she couldn't have kids, and desperately trying to find any medical solution possible.

      I remember one former co-worker who was a youth pastor, and his wife couldn't have her own biological children. They ended up adopting two kids, but she still struggled, they tried IVF several times with no success (and lost a lot of money in the process), and she ended up becoming rather depressed, and started struggling with feelings that she thought god hated her for some reason.


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