Why marriage can do what ideology cannot.
Just FYI to everyone here, I have *very* much appreciated the feedback to this one. I'm going to be doing a follow up post interacting with much of it, so thank you for your thoughtful replies. Thinking through this out loud with you all is a big part of what makes this writing thing worth it.
You’ve certainly struck a nerve, and I commend you for your thoughtful analysis and for the courage to be blunt in your solution.
While I enjoy the blessing of marriage, and I do hope that my children get married, I don’t believe that marriage alone provides the solution to these issues, or even provides the best solution. For starters, married men and married women can have these same attitudes towards others who are not their spouses. And if I’m being frank, few Christian men and women I know have meaningful friendships or even relationships with members of the other sex. In a sense, single men and women can hypersexualize one another, viewing each other almost exclusively through the lens of potential spouse-hood.
No, I think a better way is to develop our theology of spiritual family. Namely, we are brothers and sisters in Christ before we are husbands and wives. This is true first in a Christian marriage, but it is also true in the church. The Christian women in my church are my sisters, and their spiritual gifting builds up the body- both male and female. The same holds true for men using their spiritual gifts to build up their brothers and sisters. If the two sexes cannot relate to each other, how can they build up one another according to 1 Corinthians 12? Our churches will suffer not because people are single; they will suffer because they don’t biblically love one another.
Marriage is temporary; spiritual brotherhood/sisterhood is eternal. And while marriage will likely help to bridge some of these differences, we as Christians must do better than fearing that fornication will be the inevitable end to a possible friendship/relationship with the other sex (a la “When Harry Met Sally”). I would suggest that a better solution is the one where we work hard at seeing one another for what we were adopted to be: spiritual siblings.
I think the deeper dynamics at play that you look to highlight here are important to look at, and this is definitely worth thinking through. But man do I think we are going to need wisdom to navigate this tightrope in our communication of talking about marriage/singleness. As a church how do we rightly care about the decline of marriage and look to respond faithfully? But also still hold up a life of singleness as also being a life full of rich meaning as well, and that single Christians are not JV Christians. A thought-provoking post.
I was with you up until the last paragraph. I think it is potentially incredibly harmful to go back to the weird culture that makes singleness something bad or undesirable. I do think that we should normalize singleness and marriage as two wonderful options for a Christian. Jesus and Paul certainly did. They acknowledged that most can’t do it. But singleness is a good thing. Marriage won’t last forever. We need to be very careful not to breed discontentment in single people, especially single women, who are often taught that their value lies primarily in being a wife and mother, which I know you agree is not what their value lies in.
As the mother of two single daughters of marriageable age I contend that there is a big disparity between single women in the church and single men. Single men don't seem to go to church in the part of the country where we live (upper Midwest) and my daughters do not meet Christian men in their workplaces and are not interested in online dating. They are convinced that the Lord will provide them a spouse if He desires for them to be married, an attitude for which I am grateful. The churches that they attend are also not focused on helping singles find mates although when there are few single men in the church that is understandable. So what choice do my daughters have but to prepare to life a single life, focusing on their professions and volunteering at church when they can? It is even difficult for them to find godly female friends and thus they spend many weekend nights home alone unless a family invites them to participate in their activities which happens for one daughter but not the other. Yes marriage should be held in high regard in the church but it is a delicate balance to tell singles to marry when there are no candidates. TGC has posted an article similar to this recently and my reaction was the same: bring on the godly Christian men!
Make this your next book.
This article strikes upon some vital nerve in its analysis of the modern malaise between the sexes and the difficulty of pairing up.
Nonetheless, I cannot but feel Foster is nearer a more accurate reading of our times. He says what our culture refuses to accept, and therefore needs to hear. Gregoire has the zeitgeist in her sails and what she says will be lapped up by the world. The culture knows masculine abuse is bad and condemns the sin at every opportunity. But the modern world hates masculinity because it ultimately hates God, who is masculine (paraphrasing Lewis). That is the deeper suspicion the Church must confront.
What frustrates me about this piece is that there are plenty of single women in the church who long to be married. I was one of them. I knew several women like me in college, Christian, love God, but were men interested in us? Were there any Christian men around? Did we get approached? Nope. You act like we are all out here selfishly turning down a long line of proposals from eligible, Godly suitors, because we want to kill babies or something, I don't know. There. aren't. enough. single. Christian. men. by a long shot. I have gone to churches in now, three different areas of the country, several different denominations, and the story is the same: walk into church on a Sunday morning, single, and you are either the only one, or the only other singles there are women. None of these churches have ever had single men in them, and these are denominations ranging from Nazarene to Episcopal. It's all the same story. Instead of kicking people who are already down, why don't you try being encouraging, and at the very least, kind? No one is saying marriage doesn't matter, in the church OR in culture. Marriage mattering is in the air we breathe. But you don't see that, because you have never lived as a single woman past the age of 25. I wish you were more empathetic.
One of the issues I have noticed is a trend that we shouldn't "give up our dreams" for anyone, especially if we think they are "God-ordained". Spouses and children have a habit of getting in the way of our dreams, so better to stay single. However, we are called to die to selves, putting Christ first.
What if the greatest ministry for most of us is actually to our own families. As husbands and wives, to our spouse and our children. The value of Godly parents raising children in the faith is undervalued. As someone who has taken a step back in a worldly sense, I do not regret the increased opportunities this has given me to build into the lives of my wife and children.
If fatherhood and motherhood were seen as commendable ministries, more of us would desire marriage since you can't have a family until you have a spouse.
Great piece! I am now a widower but was happily married for 27 years. I was purposefully introduced to my future wife by no less than Mark Dever, and to tremendous success! Any idea why overt matchmaking should not be encouraged?
I think you have highlighted a real problem, for the culture as well as for the church. At least we in the church have resources in Scripture and the Holy Spirit to help navigate our way to a solution. But we will need to be willing to listen to people who see the other aspects of this multi-faceted issue that you have pointed out. And we will need to create spaces for healthy male/female friendships that can lead to marriage.
I don’t even know where to start on this. Number one, reflecting the fact that I’m a Pentecostal, is that we need to recognize the spiritual attack of all of this. Not saying humans don’t do this on our own because we certainly do. Also not saying that blaming an outside force is the be-all, end-all solution. But yeah, making this a matter of serious prayer is in order.
Second, from my perspective I see at least part of this is the result in our neck deep immersion into philosophies and politics and cultural wars. Blame the seeker movement, blame the human desire for political power, blame our human nature. Blame isn’t the answer though, just acknowledging the reality of being human and what comes from that.
Third, and you get this, it is the buffeting of all of it: church sex abuse, misogyny from the pulpit, and that our men are failing to the point that even formal education has finally acknowledged this. Your answer seems to be marriage, inculcating an atmosphere that upholds marriage while not disparaging being single. That’s a tightrope walk.
I’m not going to chicken-v-egg this but to say, there is a reason that God ordains marriage as the right way forward. In my biased opinion, we’re failing our men on many fronts, including, especially economically. I don’t have the energy or knowledge to write a treatise on that.
From my own view, the Church has to take a serious look at how it handles and talks about divorce. God hates divorce. Should we lie about that to make people feel better? Back in the day, the result of divorce had a disproportionate effect on women so it is no surprise that women can now take care of themselves.
So talk about marriage sure, but also talk about divorce.
You should check out "The Meaning of Singleness" by Dani Treweek. Reading it now. Don't agree with all of it. But it's pushing me to think more deeply about how I view singleness.
While diving into married life is worth encouraging for the reasons you say, we still need to reckon with the reality that, in our times, by the time many reach a marriageable age, they have suffered a novel lack of experiential instruction needful for processing all of life.
We under-40s grew up in a, literally, less material ecosystem than our predecessors. Play was more programmed and fenced-in, rather than unmonitored and lightly restricted. More social interactions were two dimensional, passing between glowing screens, versus the normally multisensory in-person relationships of the older generations. Every hour spent hunched over in screen socializing or entertainment was an hour not moving, and there is strong science that tells us gross motor movement enhances brain development, which has something to do with our capacities to understand one another.
And so once the younger folks arrive at adulthood, it is no wonder they have less appetite for something so physical and hard as getting married and raising a family.
I've been fascinated by the research mainstream psychologist Jonathan Haidt is sharing on this topic. I'm thinking both of his thesis in the Coddling of the American Mind and the current work he's doing on adolescents and social media. While insufficient for a fully Christian understanding, of course, there seems to be real wisdom in his observations. The tension you illustrated with Foster & Gregoire reminded me of this piece. Your focus is gender, but I'm thinking it is part and parcel of something broader: https://jonathanhaidt.substack.com/p/mental-health-liberal-girls