Singlism, the ways in which single people are stereotyped, stigmatized, and ignored, is evident in many different domains, as well as in the ordinary interactions of everyday life. It can be especially hurtful when singlism occurs in places that are supposed to be all about love and caring and healing and wide open arms. I’m talking about churches and other places of worship.
A few years ago, I had heard from enough different single people about their disappointing experiences as single people in their religious venues that I started a series of posts on the topic. (The links are at the end of this post.)
Recently, Christena Cleveland, a single woman and author of Disunity in Christ, wrote an especially smart and thoughtful post about how singles are singled out in the church and how churches can turn that around. I’ll share some highlights here but if you are interested, you may want to read the entire article. It has already attracted hundreds of comments.
Cleveland’s article begins with her story about visiting a church in Dallas, where a scholarly pastor gave a profound and inspiring sermon about marriage. She tells us about the hopeful anticipation she experienced as the pastor said, “I know that over 40% of you are single, so I should probably say something about singleness as well.”
Go ahead, readers, and try to predict what this pastor, who had just spoken so movingly about marriage, had to say about single people and single life.
Okay, that was unfair. No one could predict this:
“Here’s what I want to say to all you single people: Don’t have sex before you get married. Then when you get married, make up for lost time. [wink, wink]”
The Christian church is dominated by married people, Cleveland tells us, and that “results in a Christian world in which single people are often misunderstood, ignored, overlooked for leadership positions, caricatured, equated with immaturity, and little more than a punchline or afterthought.”
She is not just complaining, though. At the heart of Cleveland’s article are 6 tips for married Christians about embracing single adults. Her advice is not just a series of bullet points; it is grounded in a consciousness-raising perspective about single people and single life. Here are a few examples:
“Singleness isn’t a junior varsity version of marriage. It’s an entirely different sport – and if you haven’t played it, you haven’t mastered it. The average marrying age is 29.8 years for men and 26.9 for women. If you got married before these ages, then it makes sense to acknowledge that your experience as a single adult is below average.”
“Like marriage, singleness is complex. The challenges and joys of singleness are equal to but different than the challenges and joys of marriage.”
“Married people aren’t more holy or godly or mature than single people. Married people haven’t “arrived” in a way that single people haven’t. Married people aren’t even “on track” in a way that single people aren’t. I can see why people are confused about this though. There are plenty of (married) Christian leaders who teach that married people are better candidates for holiness than single people.”
As promised, here are my previous posts on the topic. The first is just about my own background so it is perhaps less relevant than the others.
- Which religions are welcoming to singles? Part I: Introduction
- Which religions are welcoming to singles? Part II: Judaism
- Which religions are welcoming to singles? Part III: Christian ministries
- Which religions are welcoming to singles? Part IV: Catholicism
- A sermon about Singled Out
- Do you agree with the New York Times on the pervasiveness of singlism?
- Marriage wars: The real fight is over moral superiority
- There is also a section on singlism in religion in Singlism. It includes a brief chapter by Rev. Mark Almlie, “From Prejudice to Acceptance,” and another short contribution by Rachel Stone, “Why an Unmarried Pastor Needs Labor Rights.”
[Note. Thanks to Monica Pignotti for the heads-up about Christena Cleveland’s post.]
Woman in church image available from Shutterstock.