‘Single people must be valued at the heart of our society,’ declares a recent article in The Guardian*, boldly restating what many single people have been saying for years. The article, popularised on social media in recent weeks, highlights a report on a 2-year commission into relationships and family in the Church of England, ordered by the archbishops of Canterbury and York.
Predictably, the report touches on the importance of marital relationships and the need to support people both entering and already in marriage, in order to prevent divorce. It then goes on to honour the position of singledom in the church and in broader society, exhorting the church to recognise the growing number of single people and to acknowledge that sometimes singledom is a deliberate or forced choice.
They even mention Jesus, and rightly so: ‘Jesus’ own singleness should ensure that the C of E celebrates singleness and does not regard it as lesser than living in a couple relationship.’*
‘Jesus’ own singleness should ensure that the C of E celebrates singleness and does not regard it as lesser than living in a couple relationship.’
Too right. This is a significant statement, given the church’s traditional emphasis on families of two or more people. Many church programs are set up to support parents and children (which is good and proper), which at times over-caters to this population, and frequently leaves singles feeling like an afterthought or an add-on in the church.
Unfortunately, this has lead to an emphasis, and even idolisation, of all things marital. The mainstream has become the goal. We must ask ourselves: what is the impact of a marriage-prizing culture on the singles in our midst? How does it feel to have preachers wax lyrical about the beauty of marriage when you are not, and may never be, married?
What is the impact of a marriage-prizing culture on the singles in our midst?
The article and report alludes to the answer: singles have been given the message that they are lesser because of their relationship status—less valuable, less mature, less worthy, even less Christian. Which is a load of old codswallop.
The significance of the report cannot be denied. I, for one, am glad the report calls on the church to recongise and value singles and to level the playing field in the church. Jesus, after all, was the great equaliser—sitting with women, dining with prostitutes and tax collectors, dying next to a thief. Surely we can make space to be more intentionally inclusive of single people in our churches.
While I appreciate and praise this report, I do wish the church had arrived at this point a lot faster. Many single people have been hurt and excluded by the church, even driven out of the church, through being made to feel less-than. It is not their fault; it never was. Maybe the church will now see that.
I wish the church had arrived at this point a lot faster.
If you are single and you have ever been made to feel less-than at church or by the church, I am sorry. I hope you know you are equally important, equally valued, as much a part of God’s church as anyone else. I hope the people around you know that too.
And I hope the church can now get to work repairing the damage done.
Have you experienced exclusion or condescension in the church because of being single? How can the church repair its relationship with single people? What about times when you were welcomed, included, or treated as equal with your married brothers and sisters in Christ? What was that like for you? Share your story. Let’s have a countercultural conversation.