The Idolatry of Marriage

By Cathy Norman Peterson

I grew up listening to radio broadcasts of James Dobson and Focus on the Family. I knew advocates of the “quiver is full” movement, those who contended that children are a gift from God, and thus, any kind of birth control is a refusal of God’s good and abundant gifts. I was well aware that God blessed families.

So when my theology professor suggested one day that perhaps we make an idol of the family when we elevate it above the church, I was shocked. The idea went against everything I knew and believed in. The church was the one place where the family was valued. What could be wrong with that?

In their recent posts on singleness, Theoloqui writers Caenisha and Lenore point to why our elevation of the family can be so hurtful in the church. How often do we exclude faithful followers of Jesus from our body when we focus primarily on families as traditionally defined?

Yet when we talk about singleness and marriage, too often we frame these conversations simplistically. How do you define your status? Single? Married? Do you want to be married, or are you ‘called’ to singleness? Are you still looking for ‘the one,’ or are you happily married?

Of course such questions only scratch the surface. As Caenisha writes, she isn’t necessarily struggling to find a way to be content in her singleness. She’s looking for more—for models, for a different kind of conversation, for a different kind of church. She writes that as the only single person in many contexts of her daily life, “I feel like I do not belong anymore. There are not many places where I have been taught that singleness is an expected or natural part of being older.”

And commenter Wendi Dunlap adds, “It feels like I’m doing this Christian woman thing wrong….And it’s in these moments of sorrow and self-doubt that I want to be married, I want to be validated. I do not believe this is an appropriate motivation for marriage. And I’m longing for spaces to explore these feelings.”

This isn’t about checking a different box on a survey. These questions go far deeper—reflecting a more universal grief, a longing to be heard and seen. It is the human need to be truly known.

After 23 years of marriage I have my own conflicted attitudes. The assumption that wives are supposed to submit to husbands sometimes seeps into even the most egalitarian marriage. It’s easy to make throwaway comments about how hard marriage can be—but it’s really hard to admit to the desperate loneliness you might feel in the same room as your spouse. It’s easy to joke about who doesn’t fold the laundry or clean the bathroom, but it’s scary to reveal to anyone that you aren’t sure how to be married anymore.

One of my favorite things about Theoloqui is the space we create to move past the surface, to hear each other’s stories—especially from women who are not like me. This virtual community has become a microcosm of the church for me, where we commit to each other to engage in difficult conversations, share disparate views, and do so with kindness, civility, and vulnerability.

As Lenore and Caenisha show us, the real question we must ask each other is, who are you as God created you, and how can we be in community together? They invite us to move beyond checkboxes into a deeper place where we can hear each other’s stories and struggle for identity. Together we ask, from our unique perspectives, where do I belong? Who will bear witness to my pain? Who will join me in my journey?

 

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