Marriage, Idolatry, And The Church

I am so thankful that so many of you reading this want to be part of the dialogue about marriage, singleness, and the church. I also love that your approach–and the approach I try to have–is that of all-of-us-in-this-together mentality rather than us-versus-them. Your responses are encouraging, enlightening, and just plain fun to interact with.

After my last post on marriage and singleness went live, I received a really thoughtful response asking for clarification on a statement I made and a great conversation emerged. I’d love to bring that conversation to our community at large today.

I stated and still stand behind the statement that the church (especially the evangelical side of the body) tends to idolize marriage. But how do I see this? Here are some of the thoughts that came out of this great dialogue.

Once upon a time, I was very passionately involved in the purity culture that was so active in the late nineties and early two thousands. I had kissed dating good bye and embraced authentic femininity with Jesus as my prince charming. (And I have lots of thoughts about that time in my life, but that’s a different blog post.) There was so much teaching I subjected myself to that were, frankly, lies verging on spiritual abuse.

We were taught—and many are still taught—that we need to be sexually pure for the sake of our future spouse—not for the sake of godliness or obedience. But what if there is no spouse ahead? Then what was the point?

I remember banking on the words of a popular purity author of the time that essentially amounted to “if you pursue a relationship with God and do everything you’re supposed to as a good Christian girl and you want a marriage hard enough, he will bring that to you.” But is that not just a slanted version of a prosperity gospel? This was based off of the Psalm saying that God will bring us the desires of our hearts. But what if he won’t give us the thing we desire, but instead redeemed desires?

So often the dialogue for young people regarding a future of marriage is that it is the only and expected option. This is what I mean by the idolizing of marriage. It is the assumption that it happens for everyone and if it does not, something is wrong.

The stats a single friend has shared—and according to a Barna study are correct—is that there are twice as many Christian young women in the world than Christian young men. If we are supposed to seek to be equally yoked, the church is going to be seeing more singles, not because the church is falling to the ways of the world, but because marriage is not the only plan God has.

In an unbroken world, yes, I think everyone would find their person, but in our broken world, God draws together so many of us with different stories to make up his body. I think we need to acknowledge this possibility and diversity of God’s plan earlier than we have been with our young people—from jr. high and high schoolers as well as those in adulthood.

Here is a question my friend asked, that I’d love for you to weigh in on: how can these two groups—married and single—not just coexist, but thrive together, and benefit one another? Please weigh in in the comments below!

My friend, Gina Dalfanzo addresses much of this in her fabulous book, One By One. I highly recommend you pick up a copy if this discussion interests you.

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9 thoughts on “Marriage, Idolatry, And The Church

  1. Alexis, some good thoughts here. Truth, marriage is not the only plan God has. The Apostle Paul was single and believed that was God’s plan for him, and he took the world by storm and served the Lord in a much larger capacity than if he were married. As a single person, it is super easier (yes, probably not a “phrase” but …) to have a daily and consistent relationship with Jesus [in Bible reading and prayer] because, technically, we have less responsibility. I’m the first to admit that I fail in this area many times over, but know that I can rise again and begin anew. But I dare not abuse the grace card.

    As for there being many more singles in today’s world, not because the church is failing, might be true; however, in my circle of churches, I lived in an era (those blessed 90s and early 2000s) where purity [in the sense of maintaining friend and romantic relationships between the opposite gender] was put on a ridiculous pedestal, which was very wrong on so many levels. This is not to say I’m a bitter spinster, haha, I am not; just a happy maid wiser in my years of reflecting and truly realizing what IS important in a relationship of any nature, whether it be pure friendship, romantic relationship, or just plain no-ship. 😉

    However, have you considered the level of narcissistic attitudes the last ten or so years? More prevalent in men, this toxicity has crushed the boys who grew up thinking that the woman had to “submit” because the “husband is the King of the castle,” and how “dare they be double-crossed and disrespected.” Perhaps I am speaking out of personal experience; for this has been something I’ve noticed in lately, where family friends’ husbands have left them, divorced them, and several years later, you hear the heart-wrenching tales of abuse, verbal, mental, emotional, and it leaves the children in a world of confusion and hurt; so much that they cannot discern the truth anymore because the church has dropped the ball, has not taught correctly the right way a marriage should behave. So these kids marry abusers and thus begins the vicious cycle. Perhaps this is one reason there are so many singles? Wounded hearts cannot discern fact from fiction, and are too vulnerable to continue on. Not true for some, I realize, but I would surmise it’s the majority of the population.

    Oh, girl, you’re making me write an essay here. 🙂

    I’d rather be single and do all the things God has put desires in me to do than to be married with a dozen children, in which I’m the unhappiest person alive because the marriage was not what I “dreamed”. Rather, my dreams are truly God’s for me, and I know he has someone for me, and if he doesn’t, then he will grant grace, freedom, and serenity on my path of my friendship with him as my provider and protector. Because we all know it’s difficult to live out on your own and make a living. Why do you think both parents work? And I’d rather not get crammed into an apartment with a roomful of roomies—that’s college all over again. 😉 Just kidding. If that happens, the choices had better be well-picked.

    I’d better stop now, copy my words, and craft an article. 🙂 Thanks, Alexis, for your vulnerability in presenting this post, your honesty in presenting the truth, no matter how sad and unfortunate it may be. Ah, but to live free with God–that is so fortunate and beautiful.

    A fellow single,
    Tisha

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    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful response, Tisha! I agree that we are seeing the fallout of purity culture in so many ways. I see people afraid to take emotional risks because they might be giving the wrong idea. I see very one-sided, even abusive marriages, I see even the emergence of spiritual abuse and those recovering from it.
      When we do not have Christ at the center of any of our relating, there are so many consequences—some more subtle or delayed.
      My hope is that the church puts the pursuit of personal holiness in it sight—to have that be the goal no mater what season or stage an individual is in.
      I so value your thoughts and input. Thank you for continuing the discussion!

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  2. Paul makes it pretty clear in 1 Corinthians 7 that it is GOOD, best even, to remain single if one can for spiritual focus, and that everyone “should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them.” So it is wrong for churches to promote marriage as “the only and expected option” – or, probably more accurately, leave kids with that impression because singleness is simply not sufficiently addressed, leaving it implied that marriage is the ultimate option. There is clearly a NEED for single people as well as married people to make the Body function as it ought or God wouldn’t call some to singleness and some to marriage.

    So how do we coexist? We stop making the focus on our status in life and start mutually focusing on how effectively we are seeking, knowing and serving God as individuals in our current states, whatever it is God has called us to. Don’t spiritually challenge me specifically as a wife and/or mother (because that’s a whole other set of difficulty for the childless). Instead, challenge me as a woman of God and how I am living out the gospel in ALL of my relationships. (Crazy me, I think that if I’m getting the “be life-giving” part right, my marriage and mothering will fall into place without having to have sermon series and other specific emphasis on those roles.) Shifting the dialogue that way puts equal importance on each individual, married or single, and their unique role in the church and our community, and places the focus where it should be: our relationships with God and not our status with each other. And then we thrive together in serving and growing together, discussing our common goals and not our divisive stations.

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    1. Amen and amen! I think of 1 Corinthians 12 in this—unified but diverse. The body is made up of different parts working together. We can’t all be ears, just like we can’t all we wives and mothers. Even those who are fulfill those roles in different ways according to their gifts, abilities, and resources. And we need those differences.
      One of the most valuable, life-giving gatherings in my life right now is a book club of women of all different ages, stages, and focuses in life. We are reading the same book on spiritual formation, but our conversations are so rich and challenging because of our differences. Hearing about solitude from a new mom and and empty nester brings so much to the table that I didn’t even expect.
      My prayer is that the church recognizes the beauty in it’s varied participants. That our dialogue shifts to challenge and feed one another as children of God over our secondary roles beyond that.
      Thank you so much for reading and for your input. I so value your comments, Jen!

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  3. Not that I undervalue singleness as a legitimate choice before God, but can I ask what is the basis of the assertion in your picture?

    Also, I really appreciate you bringing up the fact that purity is done for God, not for a future mate. That needs to be said more often.

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    1. Hey Brandon! Thanks reading. I really appreciate it.
      Can you qualify for me what you mean by picture? An image I wrote about? The photo on the post, haha? I’d love to answer well.

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      1. Just the whole “If we are supposed to seek to be equally yoked, the church is going to be seeing more singles, not because the church is falling to the ways of the world, but because marriage is not the only plan God has.” thing. 🙂

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      2. Great question! This is based off the Barna stat in the sentence before. My thought is if there are twice as many Christian single women as Christian single men, and we are to be equally yoked, then there are going to be more unwed women in our churches than in any generation previous.

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