Single and Stuck: Spiritual Authority and the Dating Game

As I’m working on additional interviews from adults who suffered under authoritarian spiritual leaders, I want to address singlehood under this type of leadership. For some time, I’ve wanted to write about the wrongs our young people face in the area of matrimony. images (7)

My oldest son, before he left for College, said, “Mom, I want to ask you something about your church?” Knowing my son, I knew it was not going to be an easy question. He’s one of those people that doesn’t say much but sees a lot. “Why are there so many single women unmarried? We’ve been there for nearly seven years at this church, and they are all still single? Are they not allowed to date anyone outside of the church?”

 The answer was no.  But it was hard to explain.  Much of this was not explained to anyone until after they became a member.  You would get saved and told “everything you need is in the church”. By that, they meant their denomination.   I was told by one person the “promises were made”.  I didn’t understand that having grown up during a time that the Pastor allowed people to marry whoever they wished.  Son, this is difficult to answer, but I did try. I thought about the usual explanation of “well, it’s just not the Lord’s time for them.” At one point I might have said that, but after hearing many of the difficulties the women had at that church and in their method of marrying people off, that would not have been truthful.  So I truthfully just told him what the Bible said about marriage, that you could marry whoever you wish and that the Bible advises that you marry other believers, but that I honestly could say for every case why a person is not married.  As we talked further,  He understood on a practical level that if one person does not believe in Christ that can present difficulties, but he didn’t understand the Church of God dating game.

Many young people in the church populate programs and choirs.  However, because we tend to have stringent guidelines on dating (must be from our denomination and only certain sections of our faith), the selection of people to date and marry from is limited.  Added in are the difficulties of having to go thru the Pastor,  So this all takes a long time (for some anyway).

Fortunately, none of my children had to face the psychologically struggles of only being able to marry people from their local church. The idea that our church teaching or truth is so specialized and exclusive that no one else but a person from our church circle could be a candidate to marry is just not a biblical concept at all.  But once you’re indoctrinated, you would think no one else in the world truly has salvation except those under a Church of God pastor.  What’s even sadder is that people who are teachers in the religion know that the Bible gives more freedom in marriage but treat the church restrictions as if it’s a command from God to marry only in our particular faith.

I told my son that frankly, we are taught in such a particular way that I imagine many women in our group would not want a man as the head of her home who she thought was from “Babylon” as we called it.   So this is the thing that often gets our young women caught between a rock a hard place.  Not many men in the church, not many leaders evangelizing to get them there, and feeling like they are disobeying God for looking elsewhere.

God gives a whole lot of freedom in who we choose to marry. If you know of other restrictions than these scriptures, please let me know in the comments below.

Hebrews13:4 Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers, God will judge.

Regarding a widow :
I Corinthians 7:9 A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband [a]is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.

Speaking of singles
I Corinthians 7:9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

I Corinthians 7:28-36 But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Such will have [a]trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. ( Paul is speaking of persecutions and dangerous things coming against the church at that time advising people in general not to marry because of these persecutions but telling them that if they must, there was nothing wrong with marrying)

puppetThe Church of God had made its own rules, though. The young man has to go to the Pastor (even in this day and age of the internet), and wait for the Pastor’s ok for him to approach the woman to “court.” So courtship was not allowed unless the Pastor knew about it or had allowed it. What started as a safety measure and protection for women in the church years ago had turned into an avenue of complete control of the dating /marrying process in the church.

Because the atmosphere was one of total control, parents of the young person would often be involved in the selection! Are we still in ancient times? I’m not talking about two 16-year-olds.  Grown people, often 30 and older, with grown jobs and their own property, would submit to this because it had become the church culture–no scripture, just the whim of the Pastor.

I ‘d known of cases where the man had to wait years before he could approach. Why? I have no idea.

Then, add politics into the picture.  If the Pastor liked you or liked the young man, you could get moving faster than others maybe.   This situation where there was a no man’s land of selections had people (parents included) pouncing on the first pair of pants that walked through the door. If anyone made a move for the man, then they were chastised for not staying “hid in Christ”.

Kids Are Smart

What is sad is that my son could see this mess without a word from me.
It gave him a wrong view of what goes on under the name of religion without a word from me. He finally said, ” Well I was just saying something because its a bad witness for your church is all”.   I was sweating but we needed to have that conversation and he was absolutely right.

The atmosphere is so much more important than what comes across in words over the pulpit.

What’s caught is more important than what’s taught.

What I find unbalanced and inappropriate in terms of leadership is that many of these extremely dedicated women who loved God and work hard to promote the gospel were used to populate choirs and keep programs going, but not much care has been shown about their lives and happiness.

I later became aware of situations where men had approached, but the Pastor stopped it, and the woman knew nothing of it. So there she sat thinking no one was interested literally for years.

The Other End- The Yentes
Then you had the other end of the spectrum where Pastors or their wives or influential people in the church were arranging for couples to get involved. Do I know this for certain? Yes.  Things would be said to get a  person interested in another person.  Just as fuel to already normal sexual/emotional fire involved in being single for years on (3)

If the woman didn’t want the person selected by the Pastor, she was not treated well in the church and left to fend for herself (which could be difficult if you confine yourself to 20 X 20 walls of a church).

I had one person from one of these types of congregations tell me, when I asked how their engagement was going, “well, he’s growing on me.”

(my favorite meme)images

Well, I had questions after that statement.  Aren’t you supposed to be in love?  This should be a time that love is almost blind.  Who arranged this for you that you have “grow” to love him? Is this Arranged or Marriage at First Sight?

Granted arranged marriages are the case in some cultures but they all KNOW what the deal is, they aren’t manipulated into it are they?  It was just such a weird statement.

Bottom line.  Too much control is not appropriate for parents or church leaders in such situations. God means for his Spirit to be our guide and wants us to hear and listen to Christ, as the head of our lives. Somebody’s church rules often get in the way of the Holy Spirit.

This is just another thing where spiritual authority is used in the wrong way, and its something I wish the young women in our church would realize. Chart your own destiny with God.

Author: Renee

I am an author and a retired minister. My passion is helping others find their sense of self and identity after so many years of losing my own. So often we go to church and are still not aware of our disconnection with our true selves. The person inside that God deeply values. My husband and I have been married for over 30 years and have 3 children. I love gourmet cooking, swimming, all kinds of music, and political and religious discussion- the two things my mom said never to talk about at the dinner table.

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