Calling all singles of faith, in the church or perhaps checked out of the church. Can you help me sort out a few things? I’ve been thinking about life as a single person in a community of faith, and then wondering about the role and reality of marriage for today’s single.
Here’s why I’m thinking about these two realities. I’ve just finished reading a book by Julia Duin, religion editor for the Washington Post. It’s called Quitting Church and explores the exodus of faith-filled Christians from participation in the local church. One of the realities she kept circling back towards was the life of a single person in the church. The obvious trend is that many people remain single far longer than in past generations, for a variety of factors: extended studies, emphasis on career development, reactivity and fear towards poor or failed marriages, a cultural bias against marriage, our formation within the ethos of individualism leaving us with a diminished capacity for community and commitment to others, the idolatry of choice and the subsequent FOMO paralysis (fear of missing out), a misunderstanding of the nature and function of marriage, etc. (for a pointedly funny piece, check out John Tierney’s classic essay “Picky, picky, picky” here)
I understand all that but here is where Duin surprised me. She wonders why don’t churches offer matchmaking services? If marriage is the good, spiritually formative gift the church affirms it to be, why then won’t churches help singles find mates within the church? She writes: “Singles desperately want to marry, although many feel ashamed to admit it. If churches automatically assisted their singles in finding mates – unless specifically told not to – this would remove the shame factor and restore the marriage process as a natural stage in life.” Wow – didn’t see that one coming at all.
Alongside of this, I pulled up a 2009 article by Mark Regnerus on The Case for Early Marriage, a call for the church to encourage Christians to marry earlier rather than later. You can read the article here. I love the contrarian wisdom he presents. One of his arguments is that while many Christians bemoan the sexual crisis among young adults (the rates of sexual activity among Christian young adults are only slightly less than the dominant culture), in actuality Regnerus names it a marriage crisis. Christians have subtly aided the delay of marriage (“get established first, find the right partner, don’t rush into it” – mostly extra-biblical injunctions) while young adults are entering their peak of sexual maturation and desire, and yet at the same time told them to remain chaste until marriage. Now that seems a recipe for frustration, both sexually and spiritually.
So can we talk, singles? I’ve just tipped on the marriage-single fulcrum in my life, being married for more years than I’ve been single, so help me out here: what are your thoughts and assessment of Duin’s idea and Regnerus’ article? What are your hopes for marriage? Fears? What has kept you single? When do you think is the best time or situation to get married? What are the particular frustrations and struggles you’ve had in seeking a mate, if marriage is a hope for your life? How do you feel about someone helping in the mate selection process? Can you imagine seeking out help to find a mate (other than anonymously, i.e. a dating service)? How might a covenant faith community, like the church, graciously come alongside singles in their hopes for marriage?
I’m not sure how to answer Duin, Regnerus and the many singles in church. And there’s so much more to explore, so will have to post more later. But I first need to shut up and listen.