After my post two weeks ago asking why Mormons can’t have a pro-women Mormon theology, I thought about a comment I made to Hawkgrrrl’s post contrasting a church of duty with a consumer church. My comment was as follows:
I’m not exactly driven to go to church, but it’s not because there aren’t rock concerts or small prayer groups. It’s because on any given Sunday, it will probably be boring and utterly irrelevant to my life circumstances punctuated with moments of absolute offensiveness.
I think there is conceivably a value to learning how to hear offensive things without even blinking…learning how to regulate internal blood temperature, as it were…but then i realize that baffling things happen in life without seeking it out in a church.
I understand that for some, the LDS church experience can be very relevant and interesting to their lives. I mean, when it comes to building white picket fence families with husband, wife, and 2.5 kids (ok, let’s be real…there will be more kids), LDS church teachings are admirable.
But what happens when someone doesn’t fit that mold?
Over at By Common Consent was a guest post: Thoughts from a Mid-Single Mormon. While I sympathize and hope that things can become more welcoming and inclusive, at the back of my mind was the thought:
This church simply isn’t for you.
In the post, Jennifer remarked:
I go to church to renew my relationship with God, feel spiritual and reverent, and sing hymns with moving lyrics—not to play musical chairs and have my singleness make me feel less than who I really am in this world. I know I am not alone in feeling it a challenge to be single in a family-oriented church.
However, the last few works I’ve quoted really said it all. The LDS church is a family-oriented church. (…And not just for any family.) This isn’t just a “practical” consideration, but a theological one. Renewing one’s relationship with God, feeling spiritual and reverent, and so forth, are all tied with seeking, building, and growing a family (…and not just any kind of family at that.) I know that some folks say that the church focuses on marriage and families (…and not just any kind of family) because it knows that statistically, those who aren’t integrated in families (…and not just any family) in the church are more likely to fall away. But maybe the chicken-and-egg relationship behind this hasn’t been thought out for. Are families (…and not just any family) so strongly stressed because being single is so hazardous to faith, or is being single so hazardous to faith because families (…and not just any family) are so strongly stressed and nothing is left for singles?
The LDS church’s practical ethics and politics are very much tied up with a view that families (and not just any kind of family) aren’t just a theological good, but a social one. So, for any given topic (research on fertility rates, children raised by their biological parents, average age of marriage, etc.,), it’s easy to predict what the church’s attitude will be, and what the church’s solution will be. Lower fertility rates are bad and people should have more kids. Children should be raised by biological parents regardless of other circumstances. People should not put off getting married.
When I posted about this topic elsewhere, one person commented thusly:
…Could it be that the tough reality is that someone is going to get thrown under the bus? And if we have to focus on something, it needs to be families, and others are just going to have to manage?
I mean, I really do think the American family is in crisis and is on the path to becoming irrevocably broken. I see the LDS Church as providing a crucial last bulwark against the cultural tide. I also see our modern culture as celebrating and encouraging the detached single adult lifestyle so much that its just hard for me to see the LDS Church’s role as providing further encouragement.
I also think that if we start focusing on singles in a big way, we are inevitably going to throw families under the bus, acquiesce to the tide of anti-family cultural shift in the US, and become a church without any unique or useful message at all – just like the rest of the liberal Evangelical and Protestant denominations out there that are losing membership in droves.
To this end, the church will not — unless something radically changes — “celebrate” singleness, as the author wishes. Whether by choice or by circumstances, singleness will be seen as less than because it will be seen as not fulfilling one’s reason to be on this earth. (P.S., this is something all same-sex attracted Mormons need to know.)
Do Ideals Have to be Zero-Sum Games?
While I understand that the way the church currently is, it’s probably just not going to be “for” single folks, one thing I wonder is whether advocacy of families (…and not just any kind of family) must be a zero-sum game.
Is it truly impossible to focus on singles while not throwing families under the bus?
…Or is it possible to focus on families while not throwing singles under the bus?
Would it be possible to recognize that not everyone may necessarily have the same ideal, and then, after recognizing that, promote different ideals to different people (or, even better, identify that values behind specific ideals so that people can pursue broader values rather than specific setups)?
Would it really hurt the ideal of families if one recognized that, if someone is single, they can still improve themselves as a single person in ways that don’t just amount to “getting ready for marriage”?
The GOSPEL is for EVERYONE irrespective of marital status.
The Church IS “Family”-Oriented, true, and at times singles, widow(er)s, and divorced folks can feel left out. I do like that at least the Church has gotten with for the Young Adults to put them within their own wards, and, where numbers justify, stakes as well. Now IF they’d just do that with the “middle singles”, ages 30-50 (I’m kinda “taken” so it’d no great concern), some stakes will have a middle singles branch or ward, others absolutely slam the idea, relegating those singles to “family” wards regardless of their needs and ability to fit in.
IMO, although marriage is honorable and important, it’s a question of timing and/or, simply, finding the right partner! (and it be mutual with the ‘right’ partner, of course!) NO ONE should make what is life’s MOST important commitment to another “mortal” (yes, the baptismal commitment to serve Christ is even MORE, I guess, but it doesn’t normally override marriage and/or family obligations) just b/c SOMEONE ELSE thinks they “should”. Being single/divorced/widowed is NOT a handicap, it’s a marital status. I’d rather be single than in an unhappy marriage, though I’d humble myself in whatever manner it takes if married to make it work.
Attending to the needs of singles would NOT ‘throw families under the bus’! How is meeting the needs of various members of the Church involving sacrificing some for the sake of others? This makes no sense unless one sees the glass as perpetually half-empty. And keeping singles active, by defintion, would cause “programmatic self-destruction” anyway…that is, get single men and women together in a constructive environment and let Nature take its course, and to some degree pairing off will occur on its own..hence no need to get heavy-handed with the “you OUGHT to get married! meme”.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is about Jesus Christ and is therefore relevant to anyone in any situation. I firmly believe that if we emphasized the Savior more, and “appendage” doctrines less (as Joseph Smith called them), we would find the Church a welcoming place for everyone.
When the church says family it actually means nuclear family (…and not just any kind of family). On one had I like the attention given to family because it’s hard to find elsewhere and I believe society greatly benefits from strong connected families on the other hand the church seems sooo stuck in a simplified black & white one-size-fits-all kindergarten level theme for (almost) all things. So in the same breath it uses to announce these (often historically temporary) “eternal laws” it also betrays it’s or God’s lack of creativity, love and desire for inclusiveness. In fact the church is so exclusive it would have excluded Jesus and people he wouldn’t have from it’s ideals.
Nice post and important questions. Family-centered ness is part of a “circling the wagons” mentality, a reaction against trends in the modern world. The 19th century church did not celebrate family in this way. An apostle Paul figure would have fit in better back then.
Give the church a couple hundred more years and it will stop being so defensive and just encourage people to follow God’s plan for their lives.
Maybe start by allowing single people to be part of mainstream congregations, rather than shunting them off into meat markets? The idea of “graduating” from a segregated religious community and joining the “normal” Mormons once you FINALLY tie the knot is extremely problematic. Why can’t we all just learn with and from one another? It’s no wonder that single LDS of all ages feel alienated by the current setup.
Here’s one start: treat single who are adults as actual adults. Too often they are treated as adolescents and put under same age married chaperones. That’s pretty insulting.
I fit into this categoy, 36, divorced. I can’t stand my Bishop and one his councillors, I keep praying they get a disease, nothing sinister but enough for them to get released. They are so delusional it’s unreal. Anyways, I attend so I can show God I want a woman that he can bless me with, if I stay away from Church then I won’t be meeting LDS women at home or wherever I am . Plus I like going to Church and sticking it to the man
Warning: This comment isn’t going to show much empathy. I don’t think empathy is helping anyone at this point. I’m in tough love mode.
Wow. Is it any wonder singles feel isolated when we tell them church isn’t for them? Is it any wonder they are perceived as children when they demand church revolve around them?
Take some responsibility!
I am single, and can’t stand being around other singles (in aggregate) because of this constant self-absorption and waily-waily attitude. If we didn’t always whine, if we rolled up our sleeves and got to work, and if we realized that church is not “for” ANYONE, we wouldn’t have to worry so much about our marital status.
You think the woman whose husband is porn-addicted feels any more as if church is “for her?” How about the one being abused by her husband? Or the one whose husband just had to start living off disability? Or their husbands? Or what about the one whose children have all left the church? Or the parents of a suicide? Or the woman who isn’t really into crafts? Or the boy who doesn’t like scouting? I could go on and on.
Church isn’t where we sit on little thrones and soak up oil for our lamps. That is what personal gospel study and prayer is for. Church is where adults roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Time to get out of Primary and into Relief Society…to perform in the Priesthood of a sacrificed God.
Sorry for being so blunt, but I am so tired of the egocentric hand-wringing mixed with fake positivity that so characterizes the LDS singles culture. I don’t think playing into that misconception of singleness does anyone any favors.
Guess what, folks? There are billions of planets in this universe, all flying around billions of suns spinning around billions of galaxies, all spinning around a central point.
That point…is not you.
I have some sympathy with SRs comment.
Is this a new phenomenon? Thinking back to the ward I grew up in there were single members then, who absolutely were fully integrated into the ward, have served in numerous callings over the years, and had, and still have (those still living) a lot of influence, and are viewed with respect. Mainly sisters.
I also recall there were quite a lot of sisters married to non-members, who had been members at the time they married, and they were also fully integrated and accepted. It was viewed as having been a pragmatic decision, there being far more women then men who were members. I recall hearing their stories. How they felt guided by the spirit in who they married. Did their husbands convert? No. Did their children remain members? Some did, some didn’t. But they were happy families, and those husbands were good men, and well-respected by ward members. They would be the generation born in the 30s. I do wonder how what seems to me to be ever-increasing temple marriage or bust rhetoric, and is creating a problem.
However, mostly I don’t feel qualified to comment on single issues, as I’m happily married twenty years, to my best friend.
Silverain is paraphrasing JFK: ask not what your church can do for you, but what you can do for your church.
It’s a philosophy I grew up with, and which we indoctrinate our children into by making primary as boring as possible to prepare for a lifetime of boring adult meetings. Somehow, some children still grow up with the misconception that church is supposed to be personally fulfilling rather than a place of obedience and sacrifice.
…demand church revolve around them?. This is too strong I don’t see singles arguing that the church should revolve around them but I hear them saying the church doesn’t work for them in many ways.
Church is where adults roll up our sleeves and get to work.. This must be a uniquely Mormon concept of church. What does this mean exactly? What work would you have them do that they aren’t doing and how is this work a solution?
It seems that (almost) all LDS complaints are the members fault.
I do see singles arguing that church should revolve around them. “More singles wards,” “teaching the ideal hurts me,” “Church doesn’t work for me.” It’s not supposed to “work for you.”
It is not uniquely Mormon, but it is rare. I would have them doing the work of the Lord, whatever that means for them, rather than sitting around and navel-gazing about why they aren’t married or how they can deal with the fact they aren’t married or how they are oh-so-different than everyone else because they aren’t married.
It’s exhausting just thinking about it.
It’s a solution because of Christ’s teachings: Luke 17:33, Matthew 11:28-30, Matthew 10:37-39. I could go on. Losing ourselves in the work of the Lord will help us handle our own burdens. There is no other way to find peace, whether you are an abused spouse, a never-married, never-will-marry single, doubting the faith of your childhood, or any other burden under the sun.
He paid for it all, and He will carry it all if we dedicate ourselves to carrying His burden of ministering to His children.
Which is why I’ll listen to any individual single who is struggling with these things, feeling unwanted and isolated in the Church. I get it. I feel it so often myself. It is one of many things that drenches my pillow some nights.
But I think if we feed this idea that the Church “isn’t for” singles, we are grossly misunderstanding Church and the core of the gospel. It is baloney. The Church is for all who “labor and are heavy laden,” whatever those burdens may be.
Thank you for explaining. Loosing yourself in the work of the Lord is good advice for all members making them into disciples and as they progress largely making church irrelevant due to their eventual oneness with the divine.. So singles should transcend church? Shouldn’t everyone?
I hear a bunch of different points here and find something to agree with in all of them. I would add this: Single or married, I’ve never been in a ward that suited me completely, never had a job that I liked all the time, am not happy every single minute of my marriage, don’t always enjoy being with my kids, can’t even live with myself some of the time. There is no Nirvana.
But – regardless of my ward or job or wife or kids, the atonement still applies to me. “Church isn’t for me?” Really? Where else do I get that saving power, even though it be attached to imperfect pains in the butt like myself? Ordinances still apply to me. Where else do I find them? Ultimately, for me, though it be imperfect and run by imperfect people, the church still has the “words of eternal life” (John 6:67-69). Where else would I go?
My monopoly right or wrong?
I know quite a few serious Christians both married and single and this topic has never come up in conversation with them probably because Christianity is inclusive.
The married men are above ALL women, married SHAMs are above married working moms, married women are above unmarried women (except faithful widows who seem to retain much of their married status), divorced women are above never married women and single men hierarchy seems to a subconscious (psychological) replay of sibling rivalry with God/church/church leadership playing the parental role as members vie for position/recognition and many relish in their one-up position! Of course this depends on some minority being on the bottom and those roles go to singles in general and more specifically to sister Sweet-Spirit-Never-Married who if she endures in her faithfulness until the end will make some man a wonderful 19th wife in the celestial kingdom and the nearly invisible Bro.Socially-Awkward-Mentally-Backward who’s eternal prognosis is largely uncertain and uninteresting. This is obviously God’s tough love method of motivating lovely sister Sweet-Spirit and Bro.Socially-Awkward to become goddesses and Gods!
Here’s a quick thought, maybe halfway between what SilverRain is saying and what I said. Singles should just assume they are full adults in the church, not on the hunt for a spouse, not incomplete until they can marry and start squeezing out puppies.
My current ward and the one before have both been “magnet” wards for adult singles, and personally I think fully integrating them is great. They bring a unique perspective, as do we all. I love having adult singles in my wards. Given our gender segregation anyway, I don’t really see them as any different than anybody else. They should be teaching GD and RS just like the rest of us. We should simply treat them as an integral part of our communities, not as some incomplete version of an adult or an adult-in-waiting.
I want to put something out there, kinda to take what SilverRain and some others have been saying and try to wrap it back into my thesis.
So, SilverRain says:
But part of my thesis is that when you look at what “rolling up our sleeves and getting to work” looks like, from a Mormon perspective, it is tied heavily to family work. Rolling up our sleeves means being a better wife and mother. It means being a better husband and father. So if you aren’t a wife/husband or mother/father (and aren’t a particular kind of these), you are not, from a Mormon perspective, rolling up your sleeves and getting to work.
SilverRain later says:
It seems to me though that this issue is that families (and not just any kind) are equated to the work of the Lord. People don’t get to define “whatever that means for them” (at least, not in an institutional or communal sense — and we’re already making a distinction between what we do in church vs what we do in personal gospel study.) Rather, doing the work of the Lord *is* getting married and having children, so to the extent one is not doing that, that cues the navel-gazing, etc.,
So, when I ask if it’s possible to change this situation, I am precisely asking if it’s possible for singles in church to make church NOT about navel-gazing about why they aren’t married and instead about productive things to do single. The status quo is that the most productive thing a single person can do in the church is to try to stop being single.
And, for whatever it’s worth, whenever I say “…and not just any kind of family,” I am trying to reach those other examples (and more).
So, when SilverRain says:
I’m not sure if that’s correct. You can’t find the core of the gospel from an LDS perspective just by looking at New Testament verses, because the critical part of Mormonism is that we aren’t just New Testament verses. Mormonism is also what is expounded and emphasized in General Conference etc., And from that perspective, the core of the gospel, the labor that we are to do, is to be married and have children.
That is the issue. That’s why my thesis is the church isn’t “for” singles.
This whole post was worth it just for the Mormonified Hunger Games meme.
In seriousness, though, I resent the implications of some of the comments that singles should just suck it up, quit focusing on themselves, and come to Jesus.
Why can we advocate for making room for LGBT members in the Church but overlook singles, who, in some ways, are possibly facing similar challenges with life-long consequences?
I tend to agree with Andrew– by it’s nature of setting up marriage and children as the earthly ideal and a celestial requirement, the Church is excluding singles (and others), both doctrinally and institutionally.
Is it any wonder why the majority of singles are leaving by their early to mid-thirties?
“Or the woman who isn’t really into crafts?”
Oh yeah, that’s just terrible, right there.
I acknowledge the emphasis on family can sometimes be overwhelming, but most major religions focus on family. (See the Duggars, of 19 and counting fame). I think the difference is that most major faiths don’t believe we’ll have the same kind of family relationships in the afterlife as we enjoy in this life. Therefore, while Catholics eschew divorce and and contraception, they don’t quite pound the pulpit as hard because they believe in a different type of “heaven.” The same goes with most Protestant churches. My experience is that other faiths are just as family centric as ours, and there is a corresponding emphasis on young single adults to marry “within the faith” or at least a compatible faith (Baptist/Methodist, Catholic/Lutharn, etc). As for older singles/divorcees, there are plenty of singles mixers and activities designed to encourage dating and marriage. In other words, I don’t think we’re that unique.
Hehe, I don’t know who originally created it, but when I found it, I knew I had to include Mormon Hunger Games.
But to address the serious point, I would definitely say that the LGBT angle was the main reason why I put “and not just any kind of family” after most, if not all uses of the word family. Because I know plenty of people who are in long-term relationships (and, increasingly *marriages*) but these marriages are not welcomed or approved by the church because both partners are the same sex. The church wants LGBT folks to be celibate, but the basic issue is that the entire church model is not about lifelong celibacy, but about family (and not just any kind) living.
I’m reluctant to engage, but here goes. Being a member of this church goes far beyond being married and having children. To be a good member is to keep the covenants you make at baptism and in the temple. To devote your life to building the kingdom, whether it’s through visiting/home teaching, Sunday callings (teaching, sharing comments and uplifting ideas, organizing/playing music, etc.), weekday callings (YW/YM, scouts), or service opportunities. Primary kids don’t care whether the Primary chorister is single or married, they just need an energetic smiling face that knows the words to the songs and, most importantly, loves the kids. Gospel Doctrine teachers don’t have to be married to be brilliant and share insights from the scriptures. You don’t have to be married to be qualified to teach people how to care about each other and that God loves them. Young women are immensely blessed to have female leaders who don’t fit the SAHM/homemaker stereotype — I know I appreciated it in YW to know that I could still be a valuable church member even if I didn’t fit the manual’s archaic definitions of womanhood. You don’t have to be married to be a member of the bishopric and crazy busy seeing to the needs of ward members (I’ve been in a family ward where a single guy was in the bishopric, so clearly there’s no rules against it). I’ve seen single members connect with kids in ways that others couldn’t — not because they were single, but because they were human beings with unique god-given talents that made them see certain kids in ways that others couldn’t. There is so much more needed in this church than just to get married and have kids.
“Here’s one start: treat single who are adults as actual adults. Too often they are treated as adolescents and put under same age married chaperones. That’s pretty insulting.”
My wife and I were asked to chaperone a mid-single adult dance, and I couldn’t help but ask why they would need to have chaperones. They’re grown men and women, for heaven’s sake. When we got there, we asked specifically what we should do, and we were told that sometimes the men got a little aggressive and we might need to run interference. Say, what?! As the singles from our ward showed up, they came right over to us and said “See, what we have to put up with?” I was apologetic about being a “chaperone”, but they were pretty unanimous about us needing to be there, and told me I needed to be checking the classrooms and chapel for people making out. Say what?! “You just do your job,” they said. I expressed the opinion that if grown people wanted to make out in the classrooms, it was up to them. A couple of them took offense at that, stating that “we are in the church!” and “we don’t want that attitude at our events!”. So, I checked the classrooms. And sure enough, I happened on the same couple twice. The whole thing was like a junior high dance with people my age and older. It was a bit of a nightmare. Made me want to work on my marriage.
I sympathize with aspects of both the OP and SR’s comments, and I don’t see them as all that different from each other at the end of the day. If we created a culture where single adults were treated like adults and expected to contribute to the religious community in a meaningful way, single adults would respond and gladly. They would feel more at home. Everyone would benefit. But as it stands, we have created a culture where singles are treated like children, and people rise to the level of what is expected of them. One of my great frustrations in singles wards has been that the primary focus of church becomes mate-finding, not service or worship. I am of the opinion that we would lose a lot fewer singles if the focus of our worship was Jesus and service rather than creating as many opportunities as possible for extroverts to meet one another. As it is, a person wishing to roll up their sleeves in the singles ward and get to work building the kingdom has an awful lot of time to devote to their calling of assistant Relief Society hymn-book passer-outer. Such a person with the gumption to pull themselves up by the tough love bootstraps is far more likely to find ways to serve and find fulfillment outside of the church.
I also think the navel-gazing is inevitable, natural, and understood by our Savior. Because our theology is so tied to marriage, being single becomes a religious matter–deeply, not just socially.
Ha, moving from singles to married doesn't automatically mean you get to eat at the grownup table. Until you prove your fertility you are most definitely lumped in with the non-adults, or the 'worldly and selfish' if it happens to be Sunday school or priesthood.
Maybe they talk so often about why they aren't married, or how they can (can't?) deal with the fact they aren't married, or how they are oh-so-different, because that is what they hear week after week after week, both over the pulpit and in the classes. We are also told, over and over, these are matters of salvation (Andrew's rolling up our sleeves and getting to work) so after that, what else is there to talk about?
I agree, it is exhausting, likely more so for those that find themselves in this position. Of course, if they were actually considered adults, perceived as adults, and treated as adults, they might start behaving with a bit more maturity and begin to curb their tongues. In the mean time, heaven forbid we make it any easier for them to lay down their burdens and come to the table to sup with us, right?
Perhaps a good way to treat older singles is with specialized home teaching messages of encouragement or a General joyful attitude about thus precious and holy time if life-dating and finding out who you are and what You want. I don’t know much about it, but maybe their could be more support of meeting other LDS singles with volunteer projects that pair far away wards on habitat for humanity or something.
#7 – (Whizzbang)…like a fave commercial…BUT…you ARE the (wo)man! After all, you go to Church!
IDK why you don’t care for your bishopric if you want to elaborate I’ll listen (read). The trouble with members of bishoprics is we have to pick them from the male portion of the “Hew-Mon” race The important thing is that you don’t let THEIR foibles impact your desire and needs for spiritual nourishment and communing with your fellow Saints.
#24 – YESSSS! You hit it right on the spot. WHY, pray tell, do men and women ages 30+, many with kids, careers, and no less responsibilities than “happily married” couples, get treated as if they’re a bunch of horny, rambunctious, undisciplined teenagers?