(This article was originally written in February for another blog with much higher traffic than mine. But it appears that the blog does not plan to use it, so I publish it here.)
It is Mothers’ Day. At the front door of my church, two ladies are giving out a little card to each mother passing to enter. I approach the door. Loudly, the one tells the other: “Don’t give one to her. She’s not a mother.”
On face value, that is just another true statement. But her intonation and facial expression said: “… and I am deeply suspicious of someone like her.” Perhaps it even meant: “How could a woman not want to be a mother?”
I am not a mother, because I could not find a husband, and I find the idea of choosing to have children alone and to raise them alone not in the best interest of children. Two loving parents remain ideal when raising children.
And the church should take at least part of the blame for me still being alone. They taught me husbands should be spiritual leaders. I, who loved the Lord and spent a lot of time doing Bible study, thus ignored the interest shown by any young man who does not show evidence of working as hard for the Lord and understanding the Bible better than I do. How could such a man lead me spiritually? (I am over those “he must be the spiritual leader” ideas now, but I am still single.)
Here are a few things I experienced less than positively as a single woman in the church.
Not so good: When the church has a four-sermon series on consecutive Sunday mornings, preaching about (complementarian) marriage. What about the children, widows, divorcees and never-married people attending sermons? Would the pastors ever ignore married people to make the theme, four sermons in a row, Christian widow-hood? Or ignore every church member of another age for weeks, preaching about how to live as a Christian in high school?
Worse: The general feeling, when speaking to church ladies, that I am not one of them, that I do not belong among them. Is the church not supposed to be a family? And even though I may not be like most of the other sisters in this family, I need my brothers and sisters at least as much as anyone else does.
Really bad: Unasked for advice about singleness.
“Don’t settle for second best.”
“If you just pray and trust the Lord, he will give you a husband. (In many churches, there are up to three women in the church for every two men. I seriously doubt that, if all Christian women prayed for Christian husbands, God would give every one of them a husband.)
“Young woman, you should wait for a good Christian man.”
“Don’t pursue men. Live your life. Study. Do what your hand finds to do. He will come along when the time is right.”
“Pursue men. You can’t just sit around and wait for them to come to you.”
“Men don’t like strong, independent women, you feminist! It’s because you live a happy, independent life that men don’t want you!”
“Men don’t like dependent women. Learn to be complete in Christ.”
The “settle and have kids” type sometimes back up their advice by introducing me to a slightly mentally handicapped guy* who lives in a back room in somebody else’s yard. (“Hey, Retha, Jack is also single like you! See? There is already one thing you two have in common.”)
Downright ugly: Gender role doctrine. “God wants everyone to follow their biblical gender roles,” say the proponents of complementarianism.
Okay. What is my biblical gender role as a single woman? I cannot submit to a husband or raise my children well?” I ask.
They do not answer. The message seems to be: “Well, everyone has gender roles. But you, Retha – you are not part of everyone. Am I unreasonable if this makes me feel excluded?
Even worse is the “Christian” patriarchy side of complementarianism (Complementarianism and “Biblical” patriarchy are not two separate things, but related like brown is related to the color of mud). These people can tell me what my “gender role” is, according to them. But their “role” is ridiculous (Stay with my father? He does not even want me there!) and certainly not taught in the Bible. Their “role” is downright offensive and shows hardly any overlap with Bible teaching, wisdom, justice or the gifts God gave me.
*slightly mentally handicapped guy: I believe that the mentally handicapped deserves respectful treatment and patience as much as anyone else. But if a man cannot share responsibilities, but is another “child” to take care of – I have no desire to have said man as a spouse. The two mentally handicapped men that were thus introduced had no interest that I could discern in caring for anyone beside themselves (this is not a characteristic of all mentally handicapped people) either, which made them much less attractive regardless of intellect.