The following blog is written by Greg Coles. Greg is part of The Center's collaborative team and is the author of the book Single, Gay, Christian.
Normally, I’m reluctant to give specific examples of Christians idolizing marriage. After all, I think most of the Christians who pooh-pooh (metaphorically) the vocation of singleness have good intentions. It’s not that they’re trying to make singleness sound miserable and hopeless. They’re just really stoked about marriage… and in their admirable excitement, they teeter off balance, forgetting about the New Testament’s equal enthusiasm for celibacy. I’m loath to turn the ill-advised words of sweet and well-meaning people into case studies of What Not to Do.
But every once in a while, an example comes along that is so blatantly awful that I’m quite pleased to make fun of it. This is one of those examples.
The Amazon.com book browsing algorithm recently noticed my interest in books on singleness and rewarded me by recommending a book called 7 Days to Pray the Single Away: Breaking The Chains of Singleness One Day at a Time. (I’m not going to link to it here, but you can Google it if you want to fact-check me.) Here’s the book description:
God never intended for man or woman to dwell on this earth alone. No matter your circumstances, God has designed someone for everyone. 7 Days to Pray the Single Away is a book divinely appointed and inspired by the Spirit of God specifically designed to break the chains of singleness, which has plagued many women in the 21st century. Through incorporating the principles of this book and strategic scripturally based prayers for seven days with a prayer partner, you will emerge spiritually rejuvenated and fully prepared for your rightful place before God at the altar.
Prayer is the key to breaking those chains in our lives, delivering us from bondage, and cleansing us through the blood of Jesus from anything which has been delaying or restraining us from the unlimited amount of blessings God wants for all His children. It is up to us through our prayer and supplication to prepare and place ourselves in a state of spiritual well-being in order to properly receive these wonderful blessings. Remember, YOU are a DAUGHTER of the MOST HIGH, and your FATHER wants nothing but the best husband for His daughter which means you must be prepared to be the best wife for His son.
If this were satire, it would be brilliant satire.
There are some obvious targets of ridicule here, of course. The questionable grammar. The name-it-and-claim-it theology, complete with an “unlimited amount of blessings” for those who follow the program. The self-aggrandizing claim that this book is “divinely appointed and inspired by the Spirit of God.” The use of capital letters to call ATTENTION to some VERY IMPORTANT words in the last SENTENCE.
But what interests me far more than the book’s eyebrow-raising prose is the attitude toward singleness on which the whole project is built. To be single, we read, is a spiritual defect, a bondage from which people (or women, at any rate) must be freed. It is a plague: the Bubonic Celibacy. Taking “your rightful place before God at the altar” apparently means taking your place opposite a spouse at the marriage altar. Discipleship and courtship become synonyms.
“The single,” like “the gay,” can simply be prayed away, we are told. And until it is prayed away—as long as singleness lingers—the one who suffers from it must thereby be spiritually deficient.
Though most evangelical Christians would never say it so bluntly, this kind of thinking pervades our churches. If you don’t believe me, just ask your single friends how long it’s been since someone reassured them that God was using this “season of singleness” to “refine” them for eventual marriage. Attend a few weddings and listen to the pastoral prestidigitation that transforms perfectly good Bible verses—“it is not good for the man to be alone” in Genesis, or “pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” in Ecclesiastes—into pseudo-biblical marriage mandates: “Get thee a spouse, because verily, being single and alone doth suck.”
In his insightful book Breaking the Marriage Idol (InterVarsity Press, 2018), Kutter Callaway describes the prevailing evangelical Christian view of singleness this way:
Singleness functions as a kind of extended purgatory. At best, it is a time of sexual purification that one must endure or suffer through. At worst, celibate singleness is understood to be simply impossible. Indeed, because faithful Christian discipleship demands that the single person abstain from that which is taken to be ultimate (sex), singleness simply cannot be seen as a gift or a calling. It can only be a curse. (78)
In short, Callaway suggests, the low view of singleness so plainly exhibited in 7 Days to Pray the Single Away exists elsewhere in far subtler forms. Too many evangelicals still believe that marriage ought to be the normative calling for followers of Jesus. Instead of celebrating singleness as a unique occasion for devotion to God, as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 7, evangelicals wish it away. No wonder so many churches have responded to the gay celibate crowd with consternation—we don’t have the tools to honor or support any celibate crowd, sexual orientation aside.
I can’t stop evangelicals from praying that God supplies future spouses for all their children. I can’t stop them from structuring their church events and sermon illustrations around biological nuclear families. I can’t stop them from using the promise of mind-blowing marital sex as an incentive against premarital sex in their youth groups. And I certainly can’t stop them from giving wedding homilies about how marriage is the best and truest form of human love.
But if I could, I’d write a blog post divinely appointed and inspired by the Spirit of God specifically designed to do just that.
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