In the style of the mosaic generation, I'm going to start with a topic here and swirl off to a related topic that is not necessarily in sequence, but is loosely related by the associations in my own mind.
In an insightful CT article last summer on gender issues, on of the contributors pointed out that the complementarian camp has a tendency to emphasize strongly that a woman's primary role is in the home, as a wife and mother. This doesn't seem like a problematic statement to someone familiar with traditional western culture, until you start to think about possible situations. What about the mother whose children have grown and left home? What about the widow? What about the young, single woman who is yet to be married? Is a woman in one of these situations somehow "out of place" in the kingdom of God because she is not attached to a man? This is clearly not the case. Although marriage certainly gets good press in the New Testament, so does singleness. Women who make investing in their family and home life their top priority should be commended. After all, we have in our culture many more examples of success in a variety of career fields than we have examples of strong, healthy families that nurture children until they become adults who are mature disciples of Christ. But if accepting male headship in the home and the church means that women are not recognized for accomplishments other than being homemakers and volunteering for nursery duty, we have a seriously flawed view of what this means and are regressing from much positive progress western culture has made in the past century. Let us acknowledge and affirm in our thinking and from the pulpit the tremendous contributions that women make in all sectors of society, including, but not limited to the home. Complementarianism that packages a cultural limitation on women's roles in society together with the theologically-supported idea of submission does a disservice to the church and society. Accepting the timeless principles from Paul's writings does not mean railing against mothers who have careers, women who take leadership roles in churches and communities, or who - heaven forbid! - send their children to public school instead of teaching them at home. It simply means setting guidelines that expect male leadership in the top leadership spot in a church assembly and loving headship in the home.
This brings me to my loosely associated topic: how does the evangelical emphasis (found even more so within the subcategory of fundamentalism)on "family values" affect the culture of our churches? In many cases, churches have emphasized being "family churches" and thus been a tremendous boon to families in their community who desired to live out their marriages and raises children in a way that pleases God. Props to these churches for making a difference on a family-by-family, grassroots level! (This is in addition to the political activism on family issues promulgated by many of these churches.) Families need support, encouragement, Biblical teaching and wisdom from Godly mentors and examples to be strong and healthy. I pray that a growing number of godly families develop in our country. But are there any side-effects to this emphasis? Is it in any way related to the fact that single people ages 18-30 are largely absent from our churches? (Since yesterday was February 14 and we observed Single's Awareness Day, this seems an appropriate time for the topic). Is it possible that the unmarried, the divorced, the single parents, the teenagers from broken families, etc., who visit our churches looking for a place to belong as part of a faith community are alienated by the "family values" emphasis? Are we in some cases so enamored with this issue that we forget to broaden applications of teaching and the structure of programs and events to include the listeners who don't have a "properly-arranged" nuclear family?
I do not raise these questions to say that we should in any way relax our stance in support of the biblical view of marriage, divorce, and parental responsibility just because so many in our culture are failing to match it, so that we don't make them feel bad. No, stand strong on these issues. I just have a couple suggestions.
To church leaders: Please be thoughtful to structure the church so that events, small groups, etc. provide a place for singles and "non-traditional families" to interact and be included. Please don't spend weeks and weeks talking about only marriage and family issues. Give us some other messages and applications, too. Teachers and preachers, you could even mention the positive opportunities coming with singleness that Jesus and Paul point out (more than just to say why they aren't an argument against marriage). Challenge singles to develop a vision for how they can use their situation to God's glory.
To church members: Please be hospitable to those who come in to your church alone. Invite them to be part of things, and make them feel welcome and included. Just because you are completely comfortable sitting in your regular pew with your family doesn't mean everyone feels at home as soon as they walk in the door. The young and single are gladly welcomed and freely accepted at bars and parties. They long for a place where they feel like they belong; church should provide it.
To the young and single: Don't abandon your church just because there aren't many people who are like you there. Interaction across generations is good for you. Your church needs you to pour your efforts into it, and to reach out to others in your age group and connect them to church life. And please, don't look for your friends in da club.
Perhaps I am just venting the collective frustrations of me and my friends who are young, single and evangelical. Perhaps we're just self-conscious and self-centered. Or perhaps there's something to this. Give me your thoughts, my friends.
I want to come back at you with some thoughts on what exactly it means to be a Christian family. But this is long-winded enough for today...