Marriage has become an idol in the evangelical church. What Paul saw as an inconvenience, the church today sees as a necessity. Complementarian theology implies that women can only follow God by following their husbands. But consider the US. Over half of the American population can’t relate to this. That’s because a little over 50% of American women are unmarried!
The evangelical church has labeled singleness as a disease, something shameful, while exalting marriage to the level of holiness. Don’t get me wrong. I think marriage is wonderful if that’s what God has called you to, but we are not all called to the same path.
Contrary to the stigma associated with singleness, here are three reasons why singleness should be praised.
1. Singleness is a calling.
Sometimes I wish everyone were single like me—a simpler life in many ways! But celibacy is not for everyone any more than marriage is. God gives the gift of the single life to some, the gift of the married life to others (1 Corinthians 7:7).
Just as God calls people to marriage, he also calls people to the single life. It’s odd to me that complementarian theology idolizes some misinterpreted words of Paul concerning marriage (Ephesians 5:22-33), yet it totally ignores his words praising singleness (1 Corinthians 7:7-8, 26-28).
The evangelical church acts as if God doesn’t call people (especially women) to the single life.
Could that be because complementarian theology simply doesn’t work for single women?
I believe that if women truly understood that their worth and value don’t come from submitting to men in relationships, complementarian theology would go up in flames.
It is not wrong to want to get married, but it is wrong to act like God is more impressed with married Christians than he is with singles.
2. Singleness brings unique opportunities.
Anna the prophetess was also there, a daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher. She was by now a very old woman. She had been married seven years and a widow for eighty-four. She never left the Temple area, worshiping night and day with her fastings and prayers. At the very time Simeon was praying, she showed up, broke into an anthem of praise to God, and talked about the child to all who were waiting expectantly for the freeing of Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38)
Anna probably married young, as did most women did in biblical times. She was probably in her early teenage years, which would make her twenty-five or younger when she became a widow. It was also common for young widows to remarry, because a woman’s place in society was that of a wife, mother, and homemaker. But Anna didn’t seem to care about that.
Instead of remarrying and conforming to cultural expectations, Anna chose to spend her life in the temple waiting on the Messiah. What a beautiful picture of a woman, seen as weak and incapable by society, clinging bravely to God regardless of men’s expectations.
In her singleness, Anna found her calling to be a prophetess! I don’t believe that she could have fully devoted herself to God in such a way if she had remarried.
I think many complementarian leaders today would have condemned her for stepping out of her “God-ordained” gender role and walking down a path she was “unfit” for. I imagine they would tell her she was disrespecting God and men by pursuing a position of authority on her own.
This still happens today. God calls many women to singleness and pastoral roles, but they are often disrespected by those who find their passion and influence intimidating.
If a Christian man follows the call of singleness, he is seen as a holy man doing the work of the Lord. If a Christian woman follows the same calling, she is judged for rebelling against the will and order established by God. This is a horrific double standard.
3. Singleness is a gift.
Whether it be for a season or for life, singleness is a gift! It is not a disease or a malfunction, but a heavenly calling.
The evangelical church should be celebrating those given this gift, not shaming them. Unfortunately, that celebration can’t happen under a faulty system of male headship.
For the evangelical church to embrace singleness, it must first embrace the freedom to live without male headship. For it to do that, Christians must accept that Jesus Christ doesn’t choose leaders based on gender. And for female leaders to be empowered, male leaders must step down from their exaggerated pulpits and join hands with their courageous sisters.