Is marriage your church’s golden calf?

Monday 20th March, 2023

I designed my future house when I was about seven years old. I say house, mansion is a more appropriate word; I planned to be rich. Naturally my house had two study rooms, one for me and one for my husband, and enough bedrooms for each of the five children to have their own.

There was no question in my mind that I wouldn’t be married with children, I planned to have twins (be careful what you wish for people!) and a lovely supportive husband. Had my house been a cottage, rather than a mansion, it would surely have had a white picket fence and roses round the door.

There were single women in my church, but they weren’t role models. They were objects of pity. The younger ones would forever be matched up with “nice” Christian men, each time practically the whole church praying that this would be ‘the one.’ The older ones were a bit scary, spinsters who sat on the edges, accepting that their cat was their lot in life, the matchmakers having gradually faded alongside their youth.

There’s an expectation in church culture, that a girl will get married and have children, it may not be conscious, deliberate or malicious (in fact I’m sure it isn’t) but for many Christian girls, marriage and family is the end point; the goal. It’s not unique to Christians either; from Miss Havisham to Cruella De Vil: single women are mad, bad or ugly. To end up a bachelor is considered lucky, to end up a spinster, a failure.

Yet in Christian culture there is an added pressure of family sometimes being conflated with faithfulness, marriage is so valued we’ve made it a sacrament and of course, let’s not pretend that waiting for marriage to have sex is easy.

As a result, we may miss, ignore or minimise red flags. Our gut tells us something isn’t right, he behaves in ways that worry us, maybe even frighten us, but we put our uneasiness to one side, talk ourselves round, because this, we have often already decided, is the man God has created for us. When we rush down the aisle, nobody in church bats an eyelid, especially if we’re post 30! And once the ring is on the finger, we best not even think of divorce.

This idolisation of marriage and family is done with the best of intentions, but the results are damaging for many women. Not only those who may ignore the red flags, but those who would otherwise prefer to be single, those who are gay or those who remain childless, by choice, or not. How’s your church doing on this? Does is normalise singleness? Does it inadvertently put pressure on women? Are those married with children the ones in all the leadership positions? Are women asked why they haven’t found a man yet, or when they’re having children? Are all the social events geared up for families? And what about the teaching? Is marriage held in overly high esteem? Divorce stigmatised? Abuse never mentioned?
Is Marriage a Golden Calf?