Why is the issue of being single, and the number of single people, so much greater today, then 50 years ago?
That was the question that I posted on the Issues, Etc comment section for an interview with Adrianne Heins on July 27th as she discussed her new book Hello, My Name is Single.
When asked, Heins replied with the typical, textbook answer that one would entirely expect, not just from a faithful Lutheran, but from anyone who has looked at the sociological changes in society over the past 50 years. We live in a different culture. We live in a culture that does not value marriage, a culture that does not value life, a culture that does not value the Biblical rules and norms that were largely accepted by developed societies since the beginning.
In other words, we, as a society have made it ok to be single. (For the purposes of this post, single will only refer to those who have never been married; we will not deal with widows/widowers).
Now society has made it ok to be single in that sex, once strictly reserved for marriage, is no longer frowned upon when it happens outside of marriage. Thus, one of the key benefits of marriage is now available to both single and married alike. This results in a lack of need to get married, and the lack of a bond holding couples together that do get married.
So what we have is a plethora of single people, all enjoying the primary benefit of marriage, without actually being married.
The result is that the faithful, those in the Church who realize sex is strictly for marriage, find a diminished pool of potential spouses because the faithful refuse to do what society has already approved of. Whereas once a believer could hope to win over a secularized potential spouse, this is increasingly difficult because the number of unfaithful outnumbers significantly the number of faithful.
Which brings us to the Church, facing a significant increase in the number of singles in the pews each Sunday morning. What to do? Preaching marriage, and by relation procreation, which was the common practice for centuries, is now increasingly difficult as the faithful face an increasingly difficult time finding faithful spouses.
So in response, the Church has now declared it ok to be single. Not in the way that society has declared it ok to be single and free to have sex with whomever; but ok to be single in the St. Paul way of being single, in that to be single is a gift of God, and marriage is only an outlet for those who burn with passion.
Heins, among others, extolls the many good things that single people can do because they do not have a spouse and children to care for. Singles are commended for their self-control and are held up as models in a perverse and crooked generation. Heins, and others, advocate for singles to be cared for by others, for sermons to make special mention of singles (Jesus was single after all); and there is even the suggestion that those who are married need to tone it down, so as not to offend the singles.
Do you see what has happened? Being single is depicted as the preferred option over marriage! In the course of a century, the Church has gone from the ideal of being married with ten children, to the ideal being single!
The Church, which for 2000 years has encouraged marriage, which has advocated for families, has reversed itself entirely: the goal is not to marry and have children; the goal is to remain single!
Let’s go back to my original question: Why is the issue of being single, and the number of single people, so much greater today, then 50 years ago?
Here is the answer no one will give: because we, society, the Church, everyone; have made it ok to be single.
Let me ask a new question: is that the right answer? Is it ok to be single? Is being single the preferred option?
Before the howls begin, let me say that some people are called to remain single; I do not know why and I do not know who, but some people are. But let me also be clear that not all are called to remain single. Reaching out to those who are single and lonely and struggling with issues should be encouraged, but the Bible is clear that marriage is the preferred option, not singleness.
To her credit, Heins spends a substantial portion of her book encouraging marriage, offering advice and encouragement to those who are single and seeking a spouse. One chapter in the book includes a list of do’s and don’ts for both men and women when seeking a spouse.
But while she makes no broad suggestions as to how to change the thinking in the Church and society on being single (after all, it is ok to be single), there are things the Church can do: the continued encouragement and promotion of marriage, arranging some gatherings for youth to meet other youth who are Lutheran, more intentional promotion of singles gatherings hosted by Districts, and even the promotion of marriage in society can go a long way to improving the current situation.
Will we change society’s views on marriage? That will take a while; but at least we can start to change the Church’s views on marriage.