In This Article I Will Discuss:
- The Platinum Ideal
- Marriage in the Bible
- The Critical Flaw
- The Consequences of Intransigence
- Singleness in Marriage
- Single People in Churches
- Progressive Solutions
- Single People
The Platinum Ideal
Leave it To Beaver was a 1950s fictional television show about the Cleaver family: Ward, the husband and father, June, the wife and mother, Wally, the oldest boy, and Theodore (Beaver), their curious, but unpredictable youngest boy. It was clean, wholesome, and totally G-rated of course. It was an accurate reflection of life in the US for white, middle-class Americans who fit that demographic. They had a large, beautiful home. Ward was gainfully employed. June was his dutiful and submissive wife. The kids while curious and sometimes problematic, were good kids who never got into any real trouble, nor did they ever really embarrass Ward or June. Who wouldn’t want to have a family and home life like the Cleavers? Leave it To Beaver wasn’t the only show like that. Father Knows Best, My Three Sons, and later The Cosby’s were all about wholesome, ideal, moral married families. Even the shows like My Three Sons, where the father raised three boys with the help of an uncle, the family unit was pictured as wholesome, clean, and again, totally G-rated. Even Blue Bloods, a 2010s police drama starring Tom Selleck as New York City Police Commissioner Frank Reagan, has that wholesome family unit wash to the show. At one point in every episode the Reagans gather after church (Roman Catholic) for Sunday lunch. The whole clan is there, all white, all working and financially secure. Divorce and death have visited the family, but there is always the presumption, if not the statement, that the kids around the table were not the guilty party in a divorce. I am sure that this wholesome ideal does exist for some people, but for so many, this ideal is pure fiction and does not exist in their lives. For some, they don’t even find this ideal even appealing.
Marriage in the Bible
Marriage is mentioned in the Bible, but in those days, it was not nearly as ritualistic or legalistic as it is today. I found a good, short article about marriage in the Bible in The Anabaptist that does a good job of explaining how marriage went from one man and one woman joining together, to the elaborate, expensive, and legalistic ceremonies that characterize marriage today. I have never been married, or even been in a committed relationship, so singleness in evangelical Christianity definitely applies to me. I can only write about marriage in the narrative voice, as I have never experienced it. I have long believed that the concept of marriage that we have today has little to do with the concept that existed in Biblical times, in either Old or New Testaments.
While Leave it To Beaver has been gone for decades, the fantasy and the dream of this idyllic marriage union is proffered by churches across evangelical Christianity. If you are fortunate enough to win the marriage lottery, that being the virtuous ideal marriage union, then life is really great for you. If, though, you are like the rest of us, who have either never been married, or whose marriages are vacuous and broken, then an alternative to the rigid concept of marriage is needed. I believe the concept of marriage that is proffered by so many churches has some egregious flaws and weaknesses that imprisons men and women in relationships that are no longer viable.
The Critical Flaw
Why do we assume that marriage has to last a lifetime? Jesus said that the only reason for divorce is infidelity (Matthew 5:31,32). I believe that far too often church leaders are guilty of elevating Biblical teachings to intransigent doctrines because it suits their ideologies. I think this could be the case here. I make no claims to be a Biblical scholar, but it seems odd that someone like Jesus, who came to earth to set people free from suffocating laws, moral codes and religious systems would imprison men and women in relationships with the only way out being either death or infidelity. It just seems to be inconsistent for Jesus. As He created humankind, it just seems wrong that He would deliberately bind people in relationships when those relationships are no longer viable.
The Consequences of Intransigence
In a church I attended a number of years ago, one of the elders delivered a sermon called, “I am Very Narrow-Minded”. Even in my conservative Baptist days, I didn’t think being narrow-minded was an admirable quality. When it comes to marriage and singleness, evangelical Christians have been far too narrow-minded for far too long. There are serious consequences to this intransigence.
In another post about addiction to porn, I told a story about a man in a marriage that had died a long time ago who was hooked on porn and would binge on it even when his family were asleep in the house. The story itself is fictitious, but it occurs all too often in real life. The man in that story feels trapped in a marriage that perhaps, at one point in his life, was alive, exciting, and meaningful. The consequence of honesty, in this case, would be life as a failure, unless his wife commits adultery, then he would be the innocent party and could escape the relationship and salvage his reputation. So, this man (and it could also be a woman), goes through the motions of a happy marriage, perhaps for the kids, perhaps to save his wife the embarrassment of a divorce, in which people might wonder if she failed, or the ignominy of him being seen as a moral failure by people in his church and community.
When churches commit to accepting a paradigm they define and declare as Biblical truth, when indeed it is really layer upon layer of erroneous teaching, custom, or tradition compiled over decades or centuries, many people suffer untold consequences.
Singleness in Marriage
I wonder how many men and women are actually single people living as married couples? Have you ever wondered that? How many times have we seen couples in their forties, fifties, or beyond, who no longer have anything in common. They take separate vacations. They listen to different music, watch different TV shows, movies, read different books, have different hobbies, perhaps they have different politics, and even go to different churches? In many cases, they may have more in common with friends at church, people at work, or their neighbors, than they do with each other. I have a feeling that these couples once were much different people. Perhaps they met in college or university through a campus Christian group, or a political action group. Maybe they knew each other in high school and dated through post-secondary, then got married after graduation. As they got older, their worldviews drifted apart. Their kids grew up, moved out, found partners of their own, or maybe not, but they live independent lives. Mom and Dad, still living in the family home, may share the same bed, but that is about all they share. Yet, they belong to a conservative church, or perhaps they go to different conservative churches where divorce would pretty much finish them in any ministry roles they might have. The church believes in married for life — till death us do part. Would it be inaccurate to characterize their lives as a fraud, as fiction, an act?
Single People in Churches
Finally! Enough about marriage already! I am single and I go to church and it can be a really, really miserable experience at times.
When you are young, like in your teens, 20s, and even 30s, there are the comments aimed at you, if you are single. Things like, “You’ll find the right person one day. Just be patient.” That is in your teens and 20s. When you get in your 30s, though, the comments can often be a somewhat more pointed. “You just have to be patient and trust God to find you the right person (meaning opposite gender partner). Late 30s and early 40s, some people start to wonder if there might be something wrong with you. Direct comments are not as common. Whispers such as, “Perhaps he doesn’t like women. Maybe he is gay.” Sometimes, the comments are not so dramatic. “Well, she is working all the time. When would she ever have time to raise a family?” An atmosphere like that puts enormous pressure on single people, who may be very happy being single. They may not be married to their profession. They may not be socially inept, isolating in dark rooms looking at porn at night rather than seeking a mate. They may just be happy people who are happy being single and do not see the need, nor have the desire to be married — to anyone. Being single is not a disease. It is not an indication that there is something wrong with the person.
- Recognize that the Leave it to Beaver ideal, is just that, an ideal that may not be suitable for everyone.
- Abandon the idea that “one person for life” is not right for many people.
- Redefine the concept of marriage to a more Biblical concept of a covenant between families as opposed a legal, ritualistic ceremony with the expectation and pressure that it must last for life.
- When covenanted relationships break apart, do away with the stigma that one or both parties failed, and are damaged goods for life.
- When people who are in covenanted relationships reach a point where they would prefer to live life as a single person, offer support for them moving forward.
- Abandon the idea that because someone is single, there is necessarily something wrong with the person.
- Include single people in the whole body of Christ, the church, as one family.
- Recognize that loneliness is not a consequence of singleness; that it happens in many marriages too.
- Integrate single people instead of separating them into separate groups apart from married people.
- Establish love as the foundation for all relationships in churches, so that no one is excluded because of marital status, or the lack thereof.
Evangelical churches need to move to a new paradigm, a new understanding, of relational equality. Being single is not “second best”. It is not just the definition of people who could not get a date to the prom. People who are single are not losers. People who are single are not inferior human beings to people who are married.
A theme that I hope will become consistent, not just on this blog, but begin to weave its way into the mindset of evangelical Christians is ONE NEW HUMANITY. The Apostle Paul wrote: For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (Ephesians 2:14-16 NIV). If that goal is good enough for Jesus, why would it not be good enough for us? Churches spend serious cash developing a “mission statement” or a “vision statement”. For years, I have asked, what’s wrong with the ones Jesus Himself provided in the Bible?
Single people are not different than anyone else. They are included in God’s view: one new humanity.
How did you feel when you read this article? Do you believe that churches should abandon the traditional concept of marriage, between one man and one woman, and move to an understanding of covenanted relationships? How do you think about single people with respect to romance? If you are single, have you ever felt shut out, out of place, isolated, or rejected because you are not married?
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Categories: Christian Ethics and Issues