My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism… – James 2:1
It’s no secret that Christianity favors married families with children over everyone else. Even in small churches, there’s always time to run Vacation Bible School so that parents get a break for a few hours for a few days or to put together some family event so the kids can play together while the men socialize and the women prepare and serve the food and then clean-up afterwards. When I scroll through the list of announcements, I see things like: “Mommy Meeting: All women are invited to join us study on teaching our children from the Bible” or “Mother/Daughter Tea: All women are invited to join us for a tea party at which Mrs. Famous Name will speak” or “Women’s ministry: Our aim is to raise women who respect their husbands” or “Father/Son Outing: Men of all ages are invited to join us as we go paint-balling and discuss aiming higher in our walk with Christ.” or “Men’s ministry: God designed men to lead their families and we’re all about telling them how, even single men can protect those that God has placed in their lives.”
In a church where your gender is deeply connected to your role, you aren’t really a woman until you are a wife and a mother and you aren’t really a man until you are a husband and a father. Anything less than that you’re an incomplete person living out some pale shadow of Christianity that lacks the glory and fullness of marriage. In essence, “You’re nothing to us if you aren’t married.” is the unintentional message that a marriage-obsessed Christianity makes.
But for every swing of the pendulum, there’s an opposite point of view – one that says that marriage will break you. Marriage will fail. Marriage will leave you penniless. Marriage will keep you away from your children. That people can best serve God as singles, fully devoted using all of their time and resources to furthering God’s kingdom.
Both try to decide for you what the best way to live is, and since they’re mutually exclusive, there’s really not a happy medium. I happen to like happy mediums. A message that returns both marriage and singleness to “optional” and not a requirement to be in with the group. A message that doesn’t require marriage for a person to be considered a full person. Christianity doesn’t often put the shoe on the other foot – plan it’s events around it’s singles, neglect to give any thought should not-singles wish to participate in an event, focus sermons about how to life the best life a single person can. That’s unfortunate because it’s part of the reason why Christianity lacks perspective.
I was recently told that “The Bible speaks to the needs of married men and women as they need extra help in those areas to be godly spouses and parents.” Which must mean that the failure to mention areas where single men and women need extra help must mean that there are no areas where single men and women need any help at all – if there were, then the inerrant, infallible, inspired Word of God would surely have mentioned it somewhere. Perhaps it would be right up there on the immorality of slavery and racism and prejudice and class-ism, that sort of thing.
Some might say it’s difficult to preach a Biblical sermon about a concept the Bible doesn’t speak to. Sure, there are some mentions of singleness, but there’s no way to make the Biblical Manhood and Biblical Womanhood teachings ‘stick‘ when single men still have to do their own laundry and dishes and single women are their own spiritual leader and are the breadwinner, too. Who knows, perhaps there could be a single’s conference where everyone is taught to be the best Christian we all know how, not with an emphasis on being the best single Christian man or single Christian woman one day.
It’s odd, isn’t it, that we’d put so much stock in words and ideas the guy our religion is named after never even spoke about? Jesus’ message was never: “God made men to be a masculine expression of Christianity.” or “God made woman to be a feminine expression of Christianity.” Jesus did say quite a lot about family – that he had not come to give believers a blue-print for how to bring their families with them to heaven, but that he had come to turn relatives against each other and that anyone who lost their family for his sake would find a new one as Jesus’ spiritual siblings. Somehow Jesus’ family quit being about being brothers and sisters, it became about being a family of families where non-families were not living in the ideal situation and were missing out or left out because of it.
In which case, it shouldn’t be surprising how much money they have riding on the whole thing. The circuit was in the area recently, speakers came from all over, hauling them with them boxes and boxes of books to sell all on the subject of Biblical Manhood, Biblical Womanhood, Marriage, and Complementarianism, among others. Much of it was tailored to the audience who would buy it. After all, there doesn’t seem to be much point in making an edition that acknowledge how it might work for prisoners or their families whose existence doesn’t neatly square with the teaching that’s already been outlined. It doesn’t speak to families that have one or more members that are non-believers. It doesn’t recognize the difficulties refugees or illegal immigrants might have trying to be a biblical family while living in two or more different countries. It works best for: a husband and his wife who are believers and have children and have a good financial head on their shoulders. the ideal is for wives to home-school their children, the second-best solution is to have a church that has a school, but public school is considered to be the very worst option. It would give them just enough money left over to travel to all the conferences to listen to all the speakers and buy all of their books (their oldest daughter can babysit her younger siblings for free while they are away.) Minimum wage earners, prisoners, illegal immigrants, refugees, single parents, widows and widowers are so cash-strapped that there seems to be no point in making material just for them because they can’t spare the money to buy them or the time to read them. So it seems the saying is true, where the money is, there your heart is also. Which is why it seems so few have a heart for the outliers, those who can’t afford to buy what Christianity is selling them.
That’s not to say that the poor don’t get their hands on the material eventually – most of my library is filled with five and ten and fifteen dollar books that cost me all of a quarter at the local Goodwill, but the vast majority of it isn’t written to me or for me, so it’s utterly useless. I think the assumption that just because something hails from a concept or idea in the Bible and was expanded upon to fit our culture or has the word “Biblical” slapped on it then it must be genuine as if it were something Jesus directly spoke is fascinating. The way that every time the questions: “What about single people? etc.” comes up, there’s an uncomfortable shift, sometimes people say: “I don’t know.” Others are more direct: “They’re failures as Christians if they aren’t married.” or “They’re not living the fullest expression of Christianity because they’re selfish.” Like the time I pointed out to my deacon that the book he was teaching from didn’t say anything about what women with abusive husbands should do about their situation: “Huh. You’re right. It doesn’t say anything.” There’s a lot that Christianity doesn’t say to everyone who isn’t living the ideal that these teachings were tailor fit to be made for and to cater to, the sort of people who can afford tailors and catering.
Favoritism does that – it turns Christianity into a judge of who is “best” and who doesn’t measure up, not giving them a fair shot to use their gifts and talents because they don’t have enough boxes checked on the list. Unfortunately, the passage that tells us not to pick favorites uses the example of a rich man and a poor man, it doesn’t speak to turning whole groups of believers into second-class red-headed step-children because they’re not married or not living the ideal. Christians these days don’t just show favoritism, they’ve sanctified it.