For the past few weeks, I’ve been involved with several blogs–Charles at Single Christian Man, Ted Slater at Boundless, and Debbie Maken, the Diva of the Marriage Mandate Movement–addressing a variety of issues that are somewhat interrelated: singleness, the marriage mandate, “Biblical Dating”, and the authority of the Church in the life of the believer.How are the issues interrelated?
For one, there is a deluge of Christians who are single, possibly in greater proportion than at any time in Church history. Many women in the Church are finding themselves single well into their 30s; many men are opting not to marry; some like myself would like to marry but have just not found a compatible mate. (WTH: it happens; some of us just fall through the cracks).
Debbie Maken has written a a very necessary and scathing indictment of the Church treatment of singles, while being–in my estimation–very hard on the men. She is perhaps the most articulate spokesperson for the marriage mandate movement.
Boundless, unfortunately, has allowed her to excoriate bachelors from their web site while not providing a balanced approach. (That is one of my chief gripes with Slater on this matter: Maken presents a one-sided rant against bachelors, but the folks at Boundless either are ignorant of–or dismissive of–legitimate contentions to her anecdotal evidence.)
Many churches are also seeking alternatives to conventional dating–which is largely inefficient–labeling their approaches “Biblical Dating”. In her book, Maken proposes the agency approach, which is not quite the same as “arranged marriages”, but close.
On one hand, Maken and Boundless–and even the “Biblical Dating” movement–are correct about a number of things:
- They rightfully expose much of the well-intentioned counsel that ministers offer singles, which only keeps singles who ought to be getting married from getting married.
- They rightfully affirm the single who aspires to get married.
- They rightfully excoriate the dating culture that is a product of what Maken calls the Dating Game.
On the other hand, they get several key things wrong:
- Maken takes her affirmation of the single–who aspires to marriage–too far: imposing a marriage mandate involves imposing a commandment that Jesus did not place on His disciples. The marriage covenant is for our benefit; people ought to be taught that the aspiration for marriage is a good thing that is rooted in the first covenant ordained in creation, and that marriage ought to be the general expectation for a person. On the other hand, imposing it as a dogma only creates more of the very Christian phariseeism that we ought to be banishing rather than promoting.
- While they challenge the dating culture–as it is a very inefficient one–they must take serious care not to impose their new approaches universally on believers. Present it as an alternative; do not command that one renounce dating. (I’m not a fan of the dating culture, but I see no “thou shalt not date” in the Bible either.)
- Single men who are in rural/non-metro areas, who often have very little opportunity to find compatible mates, would be quite put off by Maken and Boundless. They are not freaks; they are single for the very reason that Maken was single for many years: the very few women in their churches are either (a) old enough to be their mothers, (b) young enough to be their daughters, (c) taken by a non-believer, (d) fundamentally unstable and/or immature, or (e) divorced. We aren’t finding the parity that Maken herself recommends. It isn’t because we are not looking.
There are other issues to which I could take exception with Maken: she is far too dismissive of Farmer Tom and others who have raised the feminist culture as a reason for the general decline in marriage. The more I think about this, the more I see the dynamic that Maken dismisses. Let me explain…
When Angela Fiori reports from an evangelical minister who observes that women are six times as likely as men to marry outside the Faith, that is quite damning. I can vouch for that minister’s experience: I have yet to see a Christian man who married a non-believer (except in instances where he was a non-believer when he got married). On the other hand, I have seen no small number of (a) Christian women who knowingly marry non-believers and (b) Christian women–divorced–whose non-believing husband divorced them.
It’s almost always the Christian women marrying the non-Christians, and this cuts off the choices for single Christian men. And when (not if) those women get divorced, they end up in singles classes.
Let’s face it: when a woman is divorced, it puts her behind the 8-ball. In general, single Christian men are not going to consider a divorced woman, as the Scriptures seem to discourage this.
(I’m all for extending grace to those who remarry, as–even with the admonitions against remarriage–I would contend that it is still better to marry than to burn. That said, we single men would rather not marry under any controversy, wondering if we are doing the Biblically-correct thing. After all, Jesus had some very pointed teachings regarding divorce and remarriage, with the greater admonition against the man who marries a woman who is divorced.)
Surely, there is a better way than the current dating culture, and it is long past time that the Church took covenants in general–the marriage covenant in particular–more seriously, and raised children and youth in sober preparation for responsibilities as husbands, wives, mothers, and fathers.
To that extent, I absolutely empathize with Maken, Slater, and the folks at Boundless.
On the other hand, we must be very careful that we do not–out of our formulation of a better solution–impose new dogmas on a Church already bogged down with dogma.