We were leaving the bursar’s office after learning about the cost for me to attend college in the fall. It was a lot.
In the parking lot, my dad looked at me and asked, “Mijita, are you sure this is where you want to go?” My mom interjected and told him this was the place I could potentially meet my husband as well as receive a good education.
At orientation, many of the speakers made it a point to say that some of us might one day become related through marriage. The freshman girl’s Bible study group for my dorm hall did a prayer journal practice of listing the traits we wanted in a husband. I, too, wondered if this is what my parents were going into debt for.
When I decided to go to seminary, I chose to attend graduate school even further from my family. Again, Dad asked if I was sure I wanted to do that, and again Mom hoped it would be the place I would find my godly man. Alas, I left divinity school with more debt and no co-laborer in Christ.
While interviewing for church jobs, a few search committees openly asked if I was married or dating, and when I was hired, the topic eventually came up in work settings.
I moved to Washington, D.C., and thought it would be easier to date. However, I was not prepared for “Baptist pastor” being a red flag to anyone I met.
The lucky ones who were curious would get a complete rundown of Baptist history and denominations and why I was not that-kind-of-Baptist.
Somewhere in D.C. there are two or three people who now know the difference between ABC, SBC, CBF, PNBC and AOB, and I like to think they correct others when they make blanket statements about Baptists.
Luckily, one of them stuck and wanted to know more!
Figuring out when to introduce him to the church folk was tricky. While introductions were good and pleasant, I could not help but notice the relief some had when I introduced a beau — as if I had finally joined a top-secret club only privy to the equally yoked.
I know plenty of other pastors who have shared similar experiences, feeling like church members were not comfortable connecting with them because they did not have a spouse.
Or, if they were dating someone, the unspoken interest of how said dating pastor spent their time with a significant other.
The root of this is the congregation’s “need” to know what was happening in their personal lives. The privilege of privacy seemingly left only for married pastors.
As a former pastor to young adults, older members thought my ministry role was to be a matchmaker of sorts for our young people, which seems outrageous. But, if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that the church does not know what to do with single people.
Sure, they are welcome in our sanctuaries, Sunday school classes and committees, but do we value single Christians and appreciate their presence beyond the hopes of them someday finding a lifemate?
Long gone are the days of the “the singles” ministry in churches, but have we really left that kind of programming and ideology behind, or have we merely rebranded the church’s repressed sexuality? Do we truly affirm lay people and pastors to express love in any consensual expression outside the bounds of marriage?
I know there is no one answer to this question, as some churches would like to claim a progressive identity while others would rather not broach the subject of sexuality all together aside from the youth pastor equating virginity to chewing gum once a year at a fall retreat for high schoolers.
Either way, we have never had a biblical teaching on dating, and we hardly have one on being single that does not include extreme actions in a context we are no longer in (1 Corinthians 7).
Any time we attempt to cherry pick scripture to justify policing church members, pastors’ bodies and expressions of consensual love, we are doing a disservice to the people of God.
Any time we equate the body as a temple to be a dwelling place for God, sexuality is the idol we burden people with.
What if we valued individuals for who they are outside of a relationship, marriage or partnership and celebrated their goodness because they were made in a divine image?
There is much to learn from the biblical narrative about how to love one another, how to treat one another and how to tend to the needs of others.
And while I strive to live my life by those teachings, I think it would do the church of Jesus Christ a great good to leave the Bible out of dating.