The Voice of The Salvation Army in Canada and BermudaView RSS Feed
Sep11FriWhy are women leaving the church at alarmingly high rates? September 11, 2020 by Captain Laura Van Schaick
Katie Gaddini is senior teaching fellow at University College London and affiliated researcher at Cambridge University’s department of sociology. After studying single evangelical women for the past five years, she discovered that, in the United Kingdom, single women are the most likely group to leave the church. Numbers in the United States tell a similar story, as they most likely would in Canada and Bermuda.
- Filed Under:
- Opinion & Critical Thought
But why are they leaving? Gaddini indicates that many single Christian women are leaving because they are, well, single.
The evangelical church has long exhorted that marriage is God’s design for humankind. The family unit and Christian family values have been promoted and even idolized. Single women are weighed down with questions of “Are you dating anyone?” or “When are you going to settle down and get married?” like it’s a requirement or, at the very least, an expectation.
As someone who “settled down” early in life, I’ve been guilty of asking these questions and was confronted about it by a friend. I am thankful for her honesty and have committed to changing my views and words, but this verbiage is still prevalent in Christian circles and damaging to singles.
For Christian women who want to marry, many struggle to find a spouse who shares their Christian faith. The odds don’t work in their favour, with most churches seeing as much as a 4-1 ratio of women to men. At times, the dating competition is enough to push some away.
For those who do not want to pursue marriage, even greater exclusions can apply as they continue to feel left out of church programs that revolve primarily around the nuclear family. As young adults, they find themselves grouped with much younger unmarried youth. As they age, many feel expected to fill the role of compulsory childcare provider because they do not have children of their own. The result can be isolating, to say the least.
What’s more, single women often reported their voices not being respected in church discussions. Gaddini shares that the word “intimidating” came up often in her interviews with single Christian women as they told her of accusations that had been launched at those who were career-focused rather than family-focused. Many felt that marriage afforded women a certain authority and acceptance within the church that they otherwise lacked, and this affected their ability to contribute to the church community at a level beyond that of front-line service roles.
But by far the most overwhelming factor that Gaddini found causing single women to leave the church is sex. Single women reported struggling with the church’s messaging regarding sexual purity and its unwillingness to discuss human sexuality at its most basic level. Those in their 30s and 40s are too old to relate to messaging regarding abstinence targeted at teens, while messages about intimacy aimed at married couples also don’t resonate. And in mixed-gender settings, some were even accused of being a temptation to the married men present.
It’s no wonder single women find it difficult to stay in the church. And while some do—much of Gaddini’s research focused on the courage and strength it took for single Christian women to stay connected to the church—it should raise questions about what the church can do to ensure that everyone feels loved, welcomed and accepted, regardless of marital status.
While the Old Testament views marriage as the solution to loneliness (see Genesis 2:18, 24), the New Testament shifts this. It views the church, rather than marriage, as the primary place where human love is best expressed and experienced. Jesus indicated that there is no greater love than sacrificial love toward a friend (see John 15:13). Thus, the answer to belonging is not marriage but the church community that God has called into being, with Jesus as the head, led by the Spirit and marked by mutual, sacrificial love between its members.
Loving our single sisters may involve sacrifice. It may involve a shift in our worldview, programs and messages we deliver from the pulpit to ensure our gatherings and language are more inclusive. It may involve engaging in conversation on difficult topics, welcoming singles’ voices and asking them how they can feel more respected. It will most definitely involve learning from our single sisters, asking forgiveness for past ignorance and reconciling broken relationships. If we do this, we will be acting like the church as Jesus intended it to be.
Let’s ensure we are creating a safe space for the single women among us.
Captain Laura Van Schaick is the divisional secretary for women’s ministries in the Ontario Division.