Singleness and Sexuality in the Church: A Research Paper by Kelsey Cowie

I wrote this paper when I attended Liberty University. A fellow blogger lulunjapa.wordpress.com did a blog on Singleness and Sexuality in the Church.Back when I was in school I did a research paper on singleness and sexuality in the church and I thought it appropriate to share it on my blog. I normally do posts solely directed at casual sex because with this blog I want to educate women about casual sex but sexuality in the church especially single sexuality is a subject that deserves a platform.  This paper focuses mainly on the issues that single women face in the church.I hope this paper will be helpful and will encourage single women in the body of the church. Happy reading :)!

Abstract

Singleness in the Church especially among women is a new and growing concern. Yet, despite the research which points to a lack of male attendance as the major root of the issues the Church refuses to address it. Rather than adopt new methods for handling singleness, the Church has insisted on using old fashioned methodology. Not only has the Church continued to use old fashioned methodology when interacting with singles, it also has continued to have a prudish attitude towards single sexuality as well. Research shows that cultural influences are penetrating through the Church walls and single Christians are falling into the same temptations as those singles outside of the Church. Because the Church has not adopted a new attitude of handling singles and single sexuality the problem has just continued to spread. Unfortunately the research shows that this matter has yet to be resolved and addressed in the Church.

Introduction

Singleness in the church is now a pervasive issue that has to be addressed. Singleness is a “recent phenomena,” (Wehr, 2011, p.75), times have changed, and people, especially women are getting married at a much later age than they ever did before. Rising college debt and singles’ financial inability to move out from under their parent’s roof is also a factor in why many people are getting married at a much later age. The pressure to get married right away has subsided because of society’s ever changing moral standards. Attitudes towards premarital sex and cohabitation have drastically changed in this generation compared to past generations. The view the media paints of the single woman is also impacting single Christian women, in her book  Single Woman: A Discursive Investigation Jill Reynolds writes, “ Popular media representations are an even more critical influence in creating a  discursive context for singleness,” ( Reynolds, 2008,p.149), meaning  the media does not help single women understand singleness. If a certain single woman was to look at the media portrayals of single women she would be confused by the confusing cacophony of voices rambling on about their views on about their views on single women. Understandably, the influences of the culture have impacted the Church and therefore the number of single women in the church is rising, “ Christian dating agencies report having up to 70 percent women on their books –a trend reflected in other dating agencies,”(Chalmers, 2006).Outside of the church the pressure to get married is not as pertinent. In fact, most non- Christian women do not want to get married until their late twenties because they do not feel morally convicted about sex outside of marriage, and they do not understand the sacredness that Christ teaches about the importance of marriage. And yet, single Christian and non- Christian women alike have to deal with the constant scrutiny of outsiders asking about their relationship status in ways that make them feel like they are incomplete because they lack a significant other,“ In many ways, single women are under constant social surveillance. They are constantly being questioned so what’s new? Are you seeing anyone? What are you waiting for? They are constantly being warned that they are liable to miss their train or die alone,” (Lahad, 2012).  This pressure is heightened even more among the Christian community, as marriage is an important part of helping Christians abstain from premarital sex. There are plenty of similes in the Bible that compare the relationship that Christ has with the Church to marriage. For example, verses in Revelation 19:7-9 and Ephesians 5:25-27 compare a husbands love for his wife to the way Christ loves the Church as well as the church being the bride who makes herself ready for Christ her bridegroom. The Bible states, “ It is not good for man to be alone, I will make him a helper fit for him,” (Genesis 2:18 KJV), in the same chapter it also states, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh,”(Genesis 2:20, KJV).These verses reinforce the importance of marriage to the Christian population and a large number of Christian women are waiting on God to send them their spouse. The majority of women want to be chosen by a man, and those who are single often feel excluded from the married community. Single women in the church often complain that they are treated as if they are a threat to the married women in the church. Many believe that the church has an old fashioned unsympathetic approach to what it means to be single in this present day. Often times the church ignores the sexual desires of the female members in its congregation that are single. In this present day and age the church has to develop an attitude of acceptance and provide a safe environment towards unmarried women in their entirety not overlooking their desire to be married and express their longings to be sexually intimate with someone. Because singleness among women is becoming an overwhelming phenomenon in churches, the Church has to change its attitude towards single women.

Treatment of Single Women in the Church

 Singles as a Threat to Married Couples

Lacking the title of wife, and having no specific ministry directed to them it is easy for single women in the church to feel left out. On top of feeling left out they also feel isolated and rejected. On giving advice to singles and how they should deal with singleness among married couples in their church associate pastor Chelsea Harmon (2013) writes, “Some people may be afraid that your singleness threatens their marriage,” (Harmon, 2013).  This fear of single women breaking up marriages ostracizes them and can push them out of the church. In Furness’s (2013) article on single Christians and the church she acknowledges that “Single women were often treated as a threat to couples, with other’s saying they felt more valued outside the church than within.” Furness based her article on research done by Christian author David Pullinger, who found that out  of 2754 Christians surveyed 37 percent, did not feel like they were treated as family members (Furness, 2013). For Christian institutions this number should be alarming because married as well as single Christians make up the body of Christ. Some view a wedding ring as a sacred passage into a group that excludes all the women who do not have one. In her article Singleness and Scripture, popular ,Christian author Lisa Harper (2011) raises an important question, “Sometimes I wonder if myths about Christians and singleness contribute to making women without a diamond ring on their left hand feel like misfits.” Because the norm in the Church environment is that of a traditional family, consisting of husband and wife and maybe children, it is a lot easier for single Christian women to feel like outsiders. Chalmers (2006), in her article quotes Minister Jenny Mcintosh who, “Fears that single women were feeling alienated and were being pushed away because the norm was to be in a family.”  Single women are be speckled throughout different churches which makes it harder for them to find a community within their home church where they feel they belong.

The Church’s Attitude toward Helping Singles Find a Spouse

Another problem that arises between single women and the Church is that the church does not feel responsible in helping single Christian women find a godly mate. The Church has yet to address the lack of single Christian men and the influx of single Christian women in its congregation.  In her book Single Women a Challenge to the Church? Kristina Aune states, “A quarter of women cited the lack of Christian men as one of the major issues facing single Christian women,” (Aune, 2002, p.56).  Why are there so few Christian men in the church? It is clear that the problem of single women is a reflection of the declining number of male attendance in the Church which might reflect that the Church is not growing at the rate that is should be. Many have the attitude that the reason for going to church should be solely to worship God but fail to address this season of singleness in some of its believers lives. Because there are an abundance of Christian women who desire to get married and are part of the church community but cannot find a suitable spouse it then becomes a problem within the Church. One has to question the reason for lack of godly single men that are nowhere to be found in the church. When Christian women start dating non Christians they are frowned upon. For example, in her article “More black women Single Church Possibly to Blame”, Gheni Platenburg examines the sample focus group of African American Christian women who are single throughout the Church. Her article mentions a recent Yale study pointing out 42 percent of African American women remain unmarried (Platenburg, 2011). Platenburg mentions a quote from a popular blogger Deborah Cooper that the addresses the issues of black women finding a mate outside the Church, “Black women go to Church week after week, hearing over and over again they should be seeking a God fearing man. Sisters in the Church are instructed by their pastors that there should be no room in their lives for a man without faith in the Lord,” (Platenburg, 2011). In this particular example women are encouraged to abstain from dating non-Christian men and seek out Bible believing men but there are not enough of those men in the churches. This leaves this particular group of women with very few options when trying to find a spouse.

It is unfair for the church to ignore this aspect of a single woman’s life. By taking this approach towards helping singles find mates it makes the issue of singleness a topic that needs to be discussed and heard, “Nearly half of the adults who are not married are often treated with ambivalence, leaving many to wonder what their singleness means and where they fit within the Church,” (Wehr,2011,p.75).  Wehr poses two very important questions that are fundamental to understanding a person’s individual struggle with accepting the fact that they are single. Avoiding the growing number of single women and individuals in the church is not helping the church grow. Christian singles should be able to find belongingness and community in the Church.

Singleness as a Gift  

According to her survey Kristin Aune mentions that a large number of Christian women view singleness as a gift, (Aune, 2002, p.3). Those who view singleness as a gift often refer to Paul’s message in 1 Corinthians 7, “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman,” (1 Corinthians 7:1, NIV).  Statistics showed that less than one in ten Christian women saw singleness as a gift (Aune,2002, p. 82). This idea of singleness being a gift is an old fashioned idea, and can be easily misinterpreted.  Lisa Harper agrees that singleness being a gift is a myth, “Perhaps we should stop viewing singleness as a gift, and recognize the true prize undistracted devotion to God,” (Harper, 2011).  Singleness in itself is not the gift, being alone and lacking companionship is not a gift but having the time to devote to God without the distraction of family life is the gift. Calling singleness a gift is insulting to some Christian women. Beth Phillips in her article states that, “The point is that whatever our marital status, we must not let anxieties of this world cloud our undivided devotion to Christ,” (Phillips, 2001, p.124).  If singleness is a gift then what is marriage? Neither one should be placed above the other. For some singleness is a season for others it is a permanent condition and it is up to the church to help its members transition into and out of this stage in their lives. The notion that singleness is a gift is used to pacify the fact that there are more and more single women saturating the church. Actually of the women surveyed in her book Aune found that a number of women felt that singleness was not for the majority of women, (Aune,2011,p.83). Despite the freedoms of singleness many women in the church and outside of the church would prefer not to remain single. God’s word in the New Testament also advocated the importance of companionship, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down,    one can help the other up But pity anyone who falls  and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-11 KJV).  Singleness is not a gift. The Church should not approach single women in this way as it has been shown to be ineffective. Instead the blessing of being single and having time to fully devote to God should be pointed out to singles.

Singleness and Sexuality in the Church

Singleness does not mean that a woman is void of sexual desires. Being single also does not mean Christian single women are destined for a life of celibacy and virginity. A life of celibacy and purely virginal desires are the two most common and incorrect notions that the church has about single Christian women.  “Although as a single person you may not be having sex right now, sexuality is for always. It is an essential part of your being,” (Harmon, 2013).  The Church has yet to find ways to address sexuality among Christian single women. In her book Aune states, “While marital sex is celebrated in the Church environments sexual desire felt by singles I either ignored or assumed to be bad. Little practical advice is given as to how to view and handle sexual desire and whether genital expression such as masturbation is acceptable for Christians,”(Aune, 2002,p.71).This attitude  of not addressing  single sexuality breeds a culture of shame, fear and rebellion surrounding Christian women and their sexuality. A woman’s sexuality whether she is married or single is something that should be celebrated.

Single Sexuality a Gift

Virginity and purity for single women are traditionally viewed as desirable qualities in the Church.  The Church views a woman’s virginity as gift that she gives to her husband. The “gift of virginity” prevents single women from exploring their sexuality in a normal and natural way, “It is a gift to be unwrapped, discovered, and pursued,” (Starr, 2008, p.114). The assumption by some Christians that virginity is a gift dissects a single woman’s sexuality as something separate from who she is.   This attitude towards a single woman’s sexuality does not leave room for single Christian women to express their sexuality in a healthy way. Being single does not eliminate the sexual nature that God created single women with, “Just because you aren’t experiencing some of these forms of intimacy doesn’t mean you don’t -or shouldn’t- have the desire to experience them, (Harmon, 2013). Expressing these sexual desires go against the old fashioned teachings of the church. The church has a bad reputation of reprimanding, denying and dismissing the sexual struggle amongst the single members in its church’s. “The record the church has when it comes to sex has not been stellar. It has, in fact, been characterized by the denial of sex,” (Van Belle, 2013), Harry Van Belle in his article “Where do We Draw the Line” makes a very valid point. Rick Stedman in his article “Sex and the Single Christian, Moving from Don’t to Do” does a great job of summarizing the Church’s view of single sexuality,    “Sexuality is related to personal value. This is the revolutionary thought we must place in singles minds to help them understand the purpose behind the practice of temporary celibacy – separating oneself from sexual activity to establish and enhance personal self-worth” ( Stedman 2013). Stedman makes a valid point in the latter part of his argument in that sexual activity or the lack thereof does not take away from or add to one’s self-worth.   By focusing solely on the purity and virginity of single women the church is denying single women a chance to have safe sexuality.

The Church’s Attitude towards Single’s Sexual Desires

Sexual desires cannot be ignored by the single Christian woman who is feeling them nor should sexuality among single women in the church be dismissed. Christians are engaging in premarital sex quite possibly because the church represses single sexuality. In her article featured in Christianity Today  AFA journal staff writer Rebecca Grace states, “ Three surveys of single Christians conducted in the 1990s turned a lot of premarital sex; Approximately one third of the respondents were virgins – that means, of course, that two thirds were not ,” (Grace, 2005)). This research demonstrates that sexuality is a struggle for the single Christian. Not only is sexuality a physical struggle for single Christians but sex in society has become extremely rampant. One cannot turn on the TV without seeing some form of implied sex. Society in this modern day is all about sexual freeness and being a Christian does not protect single Christian women from the cultures sexual influence. Grace makes reference to Dr. Henry Clouds informal observation of singles and sex in the Church, “Dr. Henry Cloud, clinical psychologist and author, is aware of the problem. It does appear in today’s society that cultural influences of more sexual expression outside of marriage have had its influence in the church,” (Grace, 2005). The Church needs to more than just point out the issue of single sexuality the Church has to get involved with singles and help them deal with their sexuality. Some have suggested that in lieu of simply telling Christians to wait, the church needs to teach Christian singles self-discipline (Wehr, 2011). The old way of ignoring the sexual desires of singles especially that of women is not working, if the Church starts to teach these singles discipline concerning their sexuality it would show that the church is acknowledging the sexual struggle of its singles. The church teaches that single women should live a life of celibacy. Adding his own observations to the discussion on single sexuality among Christians Van belle suggests that, “For much of its history the message of the Church to young people has been to one of abstinence. If you wanted to become a full time servant of God your best bet was to become a nun or unmarried priest,” (Van Belle, 2013). By saying no to the expression of sexuality among singles the church has bred an environment of dishonesty and shame among the members of its congregation that are single and struggle with lust, and or natural sexual passion:

Finally, singles that lack a positive rationale for celibacy can also get caught up in the more serious and dangerous world of pornography, prostitution, homosexuality, and molestation. If someone descends into this behavior there is no easy way out. A positive view of single sexuality, however, will help a person- even in these extreme situations take the appropriate steps to recovery, (Stedman, 2013).

These sexual deviants are formed from an attitude of shame, and hiding. Both women and men suffer from pornography addictions. There is researching that proves that pornography has infiltrated the church. One evangelical leader of a church found that 60 percent of the men in his congregation look at porn; he also found research that showed 1 in 3 visitors to porn sites were women (Morgan, 2008). Porn addiction is generally believed to develop when one is single.  Without proper guidance e from the Church of how to deal with their sexuality singles are looking to outside sources. The Church is guilty of treating single sexuality especially that of the single women as not important. Not discussing single women’s sexuality within the Church has not made the issue go away, instead it has had the adverse effect and led to singles engaging in fornication, excessive masturbation, and feeling disjointed from their sexuality.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the research proves that the Church’s attitude on dealing with single women and their sexuality has not evolved with the changing times. Studies have proven that people are getting married later and later due to economic reasons, and research has shown that the average age of marriage has gone up by about a year (Huffington Post, 2013). Also one has to factor in that society’s view on marriage and sex outside of marriage has changed making the institution of marriage even among Christians lack as much precedence as it did before. Obviously, the culture’s view on marriage has infiltrated the Church and the rising number of single women in the Church does not help the situation.  It is apparent that the Church instead of addressing the issues of singleness and single sexuality has chosen to ignore these issues and therefore the lack of response to these issues in the Church is being reflected in its congregation. Treating singleness and a singles sexuality as a gift is a long held view that does not have a positive effect on singles anymore. Singleness and sexuality in the Church needs to be viewed as one whole function not two separate entities.  Lastly, single women make up a huge number of the body of Christ, and in all fairness their struggles should be heard and not overlooked.

References

Chalmers, A. (2006, September 9). Ah men sigh lone church women. Dominion Post. Retrieved September 12, 2013, from search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/docview/338271034

Furness, H. (2013, April 25). Single People Feel Ignored and Lonely at Church. telegraph. Retrieved September 12, 2013, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10016925/single-people-feel-ignored-and-lonely-at-church.html

Grace, R. (2005). Sex and the Single Christian. American Family Association Journal, 1. Retrieved September 12, 2013, from http://www.afajournal.org/2005/july/705single_christians.asp

Harmon, C., & Belle, H. V. (2013, June 19). Sex, Intimacy and the Single Person. Banner, 1. Retrieved September 12, 2013, from http://www.thebanner.org/features/2013/06/sex-intimacy-and-the-single-person

Harper, L. (2011, May). Singleness And Scripture. Christianity Today, 1. Retrieved September 12, 2013, from http://www.todayschristianwoman.com/articles/2011/may/singleness.html

Lahad, K. (2012). Singlehood, Waiting, and the Sociology of Time. Eastern Sociological Society, 27(1). Retrieved September 12, 2013, from ://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1573-7861.2011.01306.x/full

Morgan, T. (2008, March 7). Porn’s Stranglehold. Christianity Today, 1. Retrieved October 2, 2013, from http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/article&id=53976

Phillips, B. (2001). 1 Corinthians 7 and Singleness in the Church. LEAVEN, 9(3), 123-128. Retrieved September 12, 2013, from http://digitalcommons.pepperdine.edu/leaven/vol9/iss3/4

Platenburg, G. (2011, March 13). More black women single, church possibly to blame. Tribune Business News, p. 3. Retrieved September 12, 2013, from the ProQuest database.

Reynolds, J. (2008). The single woman: a discursive investigation. London: Routledge.

Starr, R. (2008). Virginity at All Costs? Cappadocian Teaching on Virginity for the Life of the Church. LEAVEN, 16(3). Retrieved September 12, 2013, from http://digitalcommons.pepperdine.edu/leaven/vol16/iss3/4

Stedman, R. (2013). Sex and the Single Christian Moving from Don’t to Do. Enrichment Journal, 64. Retrieved September 12, 2013, from enrichmentjournal.ag.org/201103/201103_64_sex_single.cfm

The Huffington Post (2012, March 28). Study Suggests Young People are Delaying Marriage Because Of Riding College Debt.  The Huffington Post. Retrieved September 12, 2013, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/28/study-college-debt-marriage-loans-rates-rising_n_1385548.html

Wehr, K. (2011). Virginity. Singleness and Celibacy: Late Fourth-Century and Recent Evangelical Visions of Unmarried Christians. Theology and Sexuality, 17(1), 75-99. Retrieved September 12, 2013, from the ProQuest database.

 

 

 

 

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