Churches are generally not great for single people. Even churches with vibrant singles ministries only construe them as a place to meet other singles with the hopes of making them no longer single. Protestant churches in particular do not know what to do with single Christians. We have no vocation of singleness to look at, no imagination for what the Christian life looks like as an unmarried person.
My last semester of seminary, I noticed a mad dash to the altar. NOBODY wants to be a single pastor, and with good reason. All of the social events involving my denomination’s structure are geared towards “pastors and their spouses.” I went to my first such meeting this week, and found that I was not only the youngest person there, I was, as far as I could tell, the only one who was likely single and had never been previously married.
What does holiness look like for the single person? How the hell does a single pastor date? My fundamentalist past tell me, “no sex before marriage,” but this is not a positive vision for the single life.
The best I’ve read on the subject is Lauren Winner’s Real Sex. She re-convinced me that the church’s traditional stance on marriage was correct, by being honest and giving sound theological reasons for believing them. I have read nothing better on the subject and encourage all committed Christians, single or not, to check it out.
Again, as a Protestant, I don’t have a tradition of saints to look at, or nuns, monks, and priests who model the single life. What are we to do? “It is better to marry than to burn with desire,” I suppose. But how does a pastor date? Who wants to marry a pastor? (Probably no one, if they knew what they were getting into!) And yet our churches expect married clergy. Truth be told, they expect the spouse to be a bit of an unpaid co-pastor.
We Protestants desperately need to find ways to affirm singleness. Not everyone is called to be married, and if indeed it is OK to, as Paul says, “remain as you were,” they deserve better from us.