Ed Stetzer’s Marriage Article on Christianity Today and C. Allen’ s Response
This post first published Feb 2018
Christianity Today magazine (Link): tweeted about an article about marriage by Ed Stetzer.
I have written about another Stetzer piece before, this one:
Ed Stetzer’s Advice: “Avoid Any Hint” – More Like: Re enforce UnBiblical Stereotypes About Men, Women, Sex, and Singles
The CT piece I am (Link): referring to in this post is entitled
“Love & Marriage… Go Together Like… A Few Comments on the Covenantal Practice Today ”
with a sub-heading of,
“Marriage is a created good, is not a ‘must,’ isn’t easy.”
Before I could click on and read the Twitter-based link to the CT piece by Stetzer, I saw a set of Tweets below by someone named C. Allen, who I presume is a woman (though Allen could be a man – I’ll just say for the sake of this post that Allen is a woman).
The link to the main tweet is (Link): here, and if you scroll down, you can see the responses by C. Allen.
Before even reading the actual page by Stetzer, C. Allen’s take on it on Twitter was all I needed to know. (I read the Stetzer page later.)
I replied to Allen, telling her I completely agreed with the comments she Tweeted below the CT Tweet.
Here is Allen’s (Link): first comment in that Twitter thread:
In that entire article, only about two brief paragraphs were dedicated to Christian singleness. The rest was lamenting the degradation of the marital institution and reiterating with the same old words why marriage is important. And people wonder why singles feel disenfranchised.
Here is one of the replies I left for C. Allen on Twitter:
And you’re right, often times, even the Christian articles that profess to esteem singleness either denigrate singleness, OR, they spend 99% of the article extolling the greatness of marriage, with singleness being a mere foot note!! How about making an article 100% singleness?
As to the Stetzer written piece:
Christians like him spend far too much time despairing or complaining how secular culture supposedly does not value marriage any longer and not enough time despairing how the Christian church obsesses over marriage and either ignores adult singleness, or, in other churches, adult singleness is shamed and treated like a deficit or a disease.
The sub-heading on the page, which reads, “Marriage is a created good, is not a ‘must,’ isn’t easy” leads one to think that at least a portion of the editorial will be spent explaining how and why culture and the church should respect singleness and not “pressure” singles into getting married. Such is not the case.
As C. Allen points out the majority of the Stetzer piece is about marriage, marriage, marriage.
Why isn’t Stetzer and other Christians rejoicing that most people in today’s society are remaining single?
The apostle Paul wrote in one of his New Testament letters that it is better to stay single than it is to marry, so Christians should be thrilled to see that singleness is the cultural norm now, not marriage.
Excerpt from the page by Stetzer, which I want to pick apart:
Researchers, writers, and experts across the country are wondering whether or not we should ditch this formal union and leave it in the dust of generations past.
Marriage is hard and promising to stand by someone amidst the chaos and change of life seems unpractical in our modern, ‘have-it-all’ cultural context. Many wonder, like the author of the aforementioned article, why should we bother entering into these life-long commitments if they’re no longer satisfying our needs?
This argument, of course, presupposes that marriage has nothing to do with self-less love, but the selfish desires we have in our own hearts.
It assumes that marriage is a social construct that—just as quickly as it was created—can be dismantled and destroyed to serve a broader cultural agenda.
…Marriage, ultimately, is not about us; it’s all about him [him = God].
I have several problems with this.
I assume that Stetzer is a proponent of something called ‘Christian Gender Complementarianism.’
Complementarianism, which teaches, among other things, that within marriage, that the husband is to rule over the wife and make all “big” decisions (this is called “male headship”), ultimately conveys that for (Christian) women, that the goal or purpose of marriage is not to “honor God” – or whatever else Stetzer is going on about – but that marriage is presented as being nothing but a method to please a man (a woman’s husband) and to keep that man happy.
Reams upon reams of blog posts, books, and articles have been written by complementarians condescendingly lecturing Christian women, if they are married, that the purpose of marriage is for them to treat their husband as though he is a mini-Christ.
I’ve seen a lot of complementarian material over my life which tells women that the main purpose of marriage is for a wife to worship her husband, meet his every need, keep that man happy, have a hot dinner on the table when he gets home from a job (which presupposes the man has a job – complementarians never address what to do when a husband does not meet the complementarian criteria of their ideal husband).
The emphasis for Christian gender complementarians regarding marriage and women is how the woman can and should please a husband, not how the woman can please God.
Can I expect to see Stetzer take on complementarianism and dismantle it for the sexist and marriage-idolizing and husband-idolizing factory that it is?
VIEWS ON MARRIAGE SHIFT WITH CULTURAL CHANGES
Here, Stetzer writes:
Even in our 21st century context, allowing God to redeem marriage means giving it back to him. It means working to understand what this union really means in the greater biblical narrative and leaning into its true created purpose in each of our lives.
I’m afraid this view is off, or mistaken.
Societal attitudes shift over time in regards to many things, marriage being one of them.
According to research on my blog I’ve linked to before, marriage used to be more “outward” based: married couples did not seek to get all or most companionship needs met through their spouse, but used to look to aunts, uncles, co-workers, church members, neighbors, and so on, for friendship.
Consequently, married couples used to spend far more time ministering to those in their communities.
At some point in American culture, though, marriages became “inward focused,” and evolved into what some researchers dub (Link): Greedy Marriages.
I don’t think most people, Christians include, abide by what the Bible says about marriage.
On an unconcious level, a lot of Christians ride along with whatever cultural attitudes are on a host of issues, marriage included. I wouldn’t say this is right or wrong – it simply is what it is.
The Bible itself does not teach or present an American, conservative, evangelical ideal of marriage, as Stetzer seems to be arguing: in the Old Testament, one man could have ten or more wives, for instance.
Maybe polygamy was not God’s intent or ideal for marriage, but, the fact remains that God sat back and “allowed” men of that era to have such marriages.
And, I conclude from that, that the Bible should not necessarily be looked at as a “marriage manual” for determining “how” marriages should be, act, feel, or look.
I don’t see many present-day American evangelicals or Baptists arguing that polygamy is preferable, normal, moral, or that it’s “biblical,” even though God tolerated such marriages as mentioned in the Bible.
More on that:
But, so often in this debate it is Christianity and the Bible that are brought up as the ultimate weapon in defense of a marriage between one man and one woman. The Genesis text that states that a man shall leave his parents and join with his wife to become one flesh is trotted out as “proof” that God has defined marriage as between one man and one woman.
Unfortunately, these folks must have stopped reading their Bibles at the end of Genesis, chapter two. Even a cursory read of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament demonstrates that marriage was not understood or practiced in any way related to the modern idealism we have superimposed on this text.
Marriage in the Bible was much more about property rights, ensuring paternity of offspring, succession, political alliances and tribal stability than it was about companionship, mutual support and affection as we think of marriage today.
The patriarchs of the Jewish and Christian tradition often had sex with multiple women, usually, but not always, for the purpose of procreation. Many of the women in the Bible who were slaves, or servants, or handmaids were reportedly “given” by the legal or primary wife to her husband for the purposes of securing children. The notion of consent, particularly for women, in matters of marriage or sexual intercourse is not a relevant moral norm in most of scripture.
Wives could “give” their female slaves to their husbands for the purpose of sexual intercourse either as co-wives in polygamous marriages or as concubines. Concubines were women engaged in sexual relationships with men whom they did not marry. Both of these practices are commonplace in the Bible
Though I will say that the author of the above piece misunderstood Jesus’ teachings about placing him, Jesus, above one’s own family.
His point was not that one should be cruel to one’s family, but that devotion should go to God alone, that one’s family must not come before devotion to God (read more about that (Link): here).
But the rest of the author’s points about marriage indeed being largely a social construct are pretty much spot-on in many ways.
Another piece, which I offer as food for thought (this page also discusses celibacy and lifelong singleness, among other issues):
SINGLENESS GIVEN SHORT SHRIFT
Out of the much-bloviating about marriage on (Link): this page, here is the small bit Stetzer had to say about singleness:
Marriage is Not a ‘Must’
While we want to give marriage its due, there is another temptation we must be wary of in Christian circles. Often in these conversations it’s easy to respond by elevating marriage past its position of due importance. Instead of rightfully labeling it a created good, we turn it into a created essential that mustn’t be found missing from the Christ follower’s journey.
This, my friends, is simply incorrect.
Marriage, while important, isn’t mandatory nor essential for one’s spiritual development. In fact, Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 praises the calling of singleness, citing its advantages to the Christian journey; namely, one’s ability to focus first and foremost on God—not a spouse.
He affirms the different callings that the Lord places on each of our lives arguing that “each has his own gift from God, one person has this gift, another has that…” (1 Cor. 7:7).
As followers of Christ, we must appreciate and honor the unmarried members of our church communities, thanking God for their service and dedication to him.
Very good that he recognizes that marriage is NOT necessary to make any person more “spiritually mature” or “godly” or anything else. He’s one of the few.
I am constantly tweeting and blogging about how many conservative Christians and conservative think tanks are forever insisting that it’s “biblical” and “God’s desire” for EVERYONE to marry (and have children), because such is necessary, they argue, to become mature or ethical.
(Side note: some Christians will admit that God does not expect or demand that 100% of all adults marry.
However, even these types of Christians are awful in that they will (Link): suggest that God expects or demands that 99% – a majority – of Christians (or any group of adults, Christian or no) marry.
This group thinks of adult singleness as an aberration, mistake, or oddity, which is a very insulting view of singles and singleness, and the facts don’t support it, either, because most of American culture today is (Link): comprised of singles, not married couples.)
But no where does the Bible teach that marriage and having kids is necessary to be mature, godly, or responsible.
As to this comment by Stetzer:
In fact, Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 praises the calling of singleness, citing its advantages to the Christian journey; namely, one’s ability to focus first and foremost on God—not a spouse.
Singleness is not a “calling.” (I also would not categorically refer to it as a “gift” for all singles, just because Paul uses the phrase in the Bible.)
I am over 40 years of age, was not “called to singleness,” yet find myself still single though I had wanted to be married and have a husband.
Referring to ALL types of single adulthood as a “calling” implies that women such as myself wanted to be single over a life time, or that God “cursed” us with singleness that we do not want.
Some single adults may feel as though “God called them” to singleness, which is fine for them – but it’s not fine to use that “calling” phraseology in reference to any and all singles!
Links about that:
For singles who’d like to marry but for whatever the reason have not been able to find a compatible mate, it’s hurtful, insulting, or infuriating (or some combination of all three), for Christians to write in these editorials that “singleness is a calling” or “singleness is a gift.”
Some adult singles may feel that way about their singleness, which is fine, but for those of us who had wanted marriage and it did not happen, it’s rude and insensitive to frame discussion of all singleness by using phrases such as “a calling to…” or “gift of…”
So, there you have it, an editorial which alludes to singleness in the sub-heading, leading one to believe that at least fifty percent of the page will discuss singleness, but it ends up being mainly a post pushing and promoting marriage, with only a brief nod to singleness.
As I told C. Allen, this is common in Christian writing – I’ve seen a lot of articles by Christians which mention singleness in the heading, but the article itself will spend about 90% or more of its content discussing MARRIAGE, not singleness.
That large amount of attention to defending marriage (with only a brief, passing nod to singleness, if any mention of singleness at all) indicates where the Christian author’s heart truly resides, and it’s not in supporting adult singles or praising adult singleness.
I’ll leave you with a few of the very astute comments by C. Allen:
(Comment by C. Allen):
“Church singles are tired of being an afterthought. We are tired of being treated as if we are in a prolonged transition from childhood to “real” adulthood. We’re tired of sitting at the kids’ table.”
“This is especially true of single women, and especially true in contexts where feminine domesticity and holiness are heretically conflated.”
“We’re tired of being told that our singleness is a “waiting period”; that in the interim, we should be practicing for when we do get married and bettering ourselves to be worthy of a spouse.”
“We’re tired of hearing that we are a product of secular values and the spirit of the age: as if our singleness is some kind of conformity to secular forces, influenced by “those evil feminists” or whatever hobgoblin, rather than a lifestyle of extreme consecration.”
C. Allen and I, based on those Tweets, are totally on the same page!
This post was edited after publication to add a few more comments or to fix typos
(Link): Singleness Is Not A Gift
(Link): Male Christian Researcher Mark Regnerus Believes Single Christian Women Should Marry Male Christian Porn Addicts – another Christian betrayal of sexual ethics and more evidence of Christians who do make an idol out of marriage
(Link): Christian Host Pat Robertson Tells Christian Woman Who Married Christian Man Who Turned Out to Be Totally Unethical That She has Discernment of a Slug – Single Women: toss Be Equally Yoked teaching in the trash can