The Tragedy Of Age Segregation

ageism

 

Age, gender, and race are the three predominant social categories we place people in.  Some researchers call them “automatic” or “primitive” categories.  They are primitive because they are necessary for our survival and reproduction.  When we meet people on the street, they are assessed in the blink of an eye.  “A good looking girl in her 20s.”  Simple.  Natural.  Harmless.  But we now have a society that has taken age categorization back to the time of the Pharisees in the form of ageism. 

Ageism is a modern concept that began in the 20th century around the time of the industrial revolution.  Older workers were not able to relocate to different jobs and the value of their experience was replaced by the ability to change and adapt to new technology.  The invention of the printing press was also responsible for the fall in status of older workers, since their traditions and history could now be recorded in books.  These social changes also crossed over to religious life and gave the church hierarchy even more rules to enforce, all the way down to today.  Not only is ageism seen against older people, but against children as well.  For traditional Protestants, it can be seen in form of  Sunday School an hour before worship service.  I’ve seen every age division possible:  4-11, 6-12, 2-6, 50 or older, grades 4 and 5, 4 and up, 40-50.  On top of this, we have ever changing definitions of youth groups, middle age, and senior citizens.  Give me a number and I can match a church for you.  But when you stop and consider how fast the morals of our country are spiraling downward, shouldn’t we ask questions about even the most basic, the most taken for granted, the most traditional customs in our society?  Haven’t we reached a point where everything is on the table?  I hope so. 

Age segregation is not scriptural.  The Bible never mentions dividing up a group based on age.  As a matter of fact, Jesus made light of it on several occasions.  In Matthew 19:13-15: “Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them.   But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.   And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.”  Apparently the Pharisees had already gone down this road of age segregation.  So when people started to bring children to Jesus, the disciples didn’t just roll their eyes in disapproval, they said “hey! don’t bring those kids in here!”  It only took Jesus three words to trump the rebuke:  “Suffer little children.”  The word “suffer” means to permit or to allow.  The Pharisees may have had their little ones in a children’s church. Maybe they were talking about their adulterous lives.  Sound familiar?  Maybe there were some sick kids who needed to touch his garment and this was their chance.  Maybe that’s why they were brought to Jesus.  But of course the Pharisees wanted to place tradition over scripture and pride over common sense.  You know, they probably had their own parking spaces in the parking lot.  Sound familiar?  So this is not a case where the Bible was silent on an issue  It speaks definitively.  Jesus also showed how meaningless age was when Elisabeth became pregnant with John in her old age (Luke 1).  And Noah was 600 years old when the earth was flooded.  Since age does not put a limit on anything in God’s eyes, are there negative consequences today when we do segregate based on age?

The gravest consequence is that it prohibits the younger generation from hearing the stories of the older generation and prevents Christian values from being passed from one generation to the next. Could that explain the rise in teen sex?  If a Sunday School class is made up of only 4th, 5th, and 6th grade boys, how will they ever hear the stories and instructions from older men in the church?  What is the driving force of ageism today in churches?  What motivates parents to want to keep their children amongst those of the same age?  A lot does come down to sex.  Parents are afraid little Johnny will find out something “dirty” from older teenagers.  After all, parents today have been duped into believing that they always know best, that they are the only ones who can protect their children.  The body of the church, including those of all ages, working in unison is a foreign concept to them.  Now many youth come to church without their parents. They love the idea of age segregation. “Hand me that guitar and crank up the amp dude!” A couple of hours to do what they want.  What could be further from heaven?  And the cycle will continue until we take the numbers off of doors, mix young and old, swallow our pride, and create an atmosphere where we learn from each other.

 

Fake Wedding Rings

wedding-ring-on-finger-web

 

It’s another phenomenon I’m still trying to fully comprehend, single girls wearing fake wedding rings.  Has the glorification of marriage actually risen to the point of literally bowing down to idols of gold and silver?  I understand the main reason they are worn is to “ward off” unwanted men.  But I think someone with halfway a degree of discernment can avoid that.  From a cultural point of view, what is that saying about men today?  If they see all of them as wild dogs with their eyeballs popping out of their head, it can’t be too good.  It seems that this phenomenon even reinforces the old stereotype that women are blind and stoic creatures, at the mercy of whatever meat falls in their lap. And in my opinion it does objectify women, denying the natural male-female attraction.  What does it say about the kind of men they want to marry?  Do they expect to find him with eyes fix on their bodies, down on his knees proposing marriage before even meeting him? 

The finger ring goes all the way back to the time of the Egyptians.  The Bible indicates that the signet ring was used in Egypt as a symbol for authority and identification.  And Pliny the Elder told the story of how Prometheus was accused of stealing fire for Zeus and shackled in chains.  He was eventually pardoned and forced to wear a remnant of one of the links as punishment.   You can even read about the signet ring in Genesis 41:41-44 when the “Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck.”  And the wearing of bethrothal rings can  be traced to ancient Rome.  Around 70 AD, they were being made from iron and approximately the second century gold was introduced.  Most scholars agree that they started out as secular symbols, but were quickly sanctioned by the church.  By the 11th century, they were part of the benediction in the wedding ceremony. 

Down through the centuries, wedding rings have been used to symbolize a couple’s commitment to each other.  And just as important, they have been used to communicate who is available and who is not available for marriage.  Single men have relied on them to answer that question in less than a second, thus avoiding any awkwardness or miscommunication. 

Symbols play an important role when it comes to passing values from generation to generation.  One of the values we don’t need to pass to the next generation is objectification of women.  Playing musical chairs with wedding rings only adds to this problem.  Not to mention what it does to honesty and trust. The only time I can think of for a single to wear one is if they’re positively not going to marry.  Who knows, in a few years, you may be able to choose if you want to be a man or women on any particular day.  I don’t think that’s the society we want to build for the next generation.

The Future Of Singles’ Virtue In A Married World

Joan of Arc-web

I was about 16 when I felt called to the single life. Through high school and college, I don’t remember reading or hearing anything about it, other than what I found in the Bible. Every once in a while, a church would have a class on the spiritual gifts. I remember getting the booklets and quickly going through them to find something on the gift of singleness. It was never there. I asked myself, “do they even recognize it as one of the spiritual gifts?” In my mind, I put that question on the back burner because I assumed it was so rare that nobody knew anything about it, and that I would eventually stumble upon the piles of books on the subject or find an expert who could give me advice. I never found them.

After 50+ years of celibacy, has anything changed? Not too much. Purity has culturally been assigned to teenage girls. Instead of no encouragement with regards to celibacy, now the church considers it a sin if you don’t marry and blames all the problems in the world on fornicating singles. It’s one of the most disturbing trends I’ve seen in my lifetime. Approximately 5-10 years ago when I first heard these mumblings, I thought they were just a few crazy theologians who had gone off the deep end with their idolization of marriage and sex. I remember Albert Mohler saying that “deliberate singleness on the part of those who know they have not been given the gift of celibacy is, at best, a neglect of a Christian responsibility (http://www.albertmohler.com/2004/08/20/looking-back-at-the-mystery-of-marriage-part-two/)”. Isn’t the gift of celibacy . . . deliberate singleness? That’s an interesting statement because the Baptist church has never offered any discernment in this regard.

But was Mohler a fluke? I’m afraid not. Since 2000, there have been a multitude of Protestant leaders who have criticized the gift of singleness while glorifying marriage and family. And sadly, the vast majority of Southern Baptist Churches have completely cancelled their singles ministries. In 2013, there is one 35+ singles ministry I’m aware of in the southeastern United States. There is not one Protestant pastor who is single. And many will tell you that the word “single” today even has negative connotations. According to Adam Stadtmiller in his recent Christianity Today article: “Being single, while accepted among those in their twenties, is often seen as something of a stigma after passing a certain “acceptable” age. In America that age is around 30 years old (http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2012/summer/singlesministry.html).” One of the respondents was a singles leader in a church who even commented that “disbanding the singles’ ministry is one of the better things that we’ve done.”

James Dobson of course has been on the family bandwagon for years: “. . . a Christian man is obligated to lead his family to the best of his ability…. God apparently expects a man to be the ultimate decision maker in his family (http://www.abpnews.com/opinion/commentaries/item/8304-getting-marriage-wrong#.UesENqIo6M8).” Women writers have piled on, like Elisabeth Elliot: “Where are the holy men of God willing to shoulder the full responsibility of manhood, to take the risks and make the sacrifices of courting and winning a wife, marrying her and fathering children in obedience to the command to be fruitful (http://faithandsociety.wordpress.com/category/religiontheology/)? And David Platt, pastor of one of the largest SBC churches in Alabama made this recent comment: “Resist the ever present trend and temptation in our day to prolong adolescence and consequence, singleness into twenties and thirties. Grow up. Some of you stop playing videogames and get a date (http://blogs.christianpost.com/videos/pastors-matt-chandler-and-david-platt-challenge-single-men-to-get-married-16360/).” Imagine, a married preacher telling Apostle Paul to grow up and get a date. What a laugh.

Perhaps most troubling though is the SBC’s new Ethics Commission President Russell Moore’s recent call for all Christians to marry young: “I am not suggesting that we totally ban the language of “premarital sex” or “abstinence,” especially when we’re trying to explain a Christian ethic to the outside world using categories already in play. I am suggesting, though, that part of what it means to recover a Christian vision of sexuality is to recover a lexicon worthy of the gravity of human sexuality. We don’t simply wish to say, “Wait more patiently.” True love waits, yes, but, more importantly, true love mates.” So he not only dismisses the Baptist’s own abstinence campaign, True Love Waits, but calls on all young people to get married as soon as possible. Sadly, a true love for Christ is not even part of Baptist theology. Instead, he says the “root problem” is singles committing fornication. According to Moore: “With “premarital sex,” on the other hand, marriage seems to have fixed the problem. But the fornicator now married, unlike the repentant adulterer now caught, often doesn’t see the ongoing nature of his problem. He also believes that “adultery is in some ways easier to repent of.” So everybody in the world is either a “fornicator now married” or “adulterer now caught.” Wow. Have the theologians reached a new pessimistic low point? So what if a new lexicon worthy of the gravity of sexuality is written overnight? Is putting the sting back in these sins with appropriate biblical lingo going to solve our problems? I think not. While we’re changing the lexicon, let’s be consistent. The word “single” is not used in the Bible either to refer to a marital state. I wonder why Moore didn’t mention that pesky little word? As a matter of fact, only married, widowed, unmarried, and virgins are referred to in the Bible. I challenge all churches to cut to the chase and adopt these four categories of ministry. Shouldn’t that little update in the lexicon clear things up Mr. Moore? The church cannot explain ethics to the outside world while turning a blind eye to their own ethical problems. http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=26-01-020-v

This focus on marriage and family and dismissal of virtuous singles will have devastating long term effects on Christianity. Some effects are not known yet. I predict pornography will be legal in all 50 states in 20 years. Others are obvious today. For example, when churches perceive all singles guilty of fornication, they dismiss the few who serve as reference points and mentors for the next generation; a generation that will view traditional marriage as a quaint notion while “committed relationships” will become the new moral benchmark. Taking singles out of the equation will have the same long term effect as putting a homosexual preacher in every pulpit. Expectations do guide a society’s moral standards and much does depend on the church’s ability to communicate to the outside world. But living witnesses are absolutely mandatory. We can be thankful for the stories of the saints, but they cannot communicate to young lost souls today. I know this is not the best analogy, but the church is sort of like a group of fishermen preparing for a big tournament. If they expect to catch no fish over 10 pounds, their tackle will reflect that with their choice of lines, reels, rods, bait, etc. They could probably go to their local Walmart and find their supplies. But what if there were a couple of 40 pound fish in the river? Would they even be aware of their presence? Probably not. They won’t go to Bass Pro Shop to spend a little more money on better tackle. Not only has the church today settled for less, but they have gone fishing in a shallow backyard swimming pool. The biggest fish the SBC expects to catch is “one million men to give up porn” while they “love their “gay and lesbian neighbors as Jesus does (http://www.russellmoore.com/2013/06/26/how-should-same-sex-marriage-change-the-churchs-witness/).” What message does that communicate to the outside world? Not only has the intelligence of our country been dumbed down, but its moral standards have been perverted downward. What effect does that have on society? We have made divorce easier, taken fornication and adultery for granted, dismissed single virtue, put porn in the church pew, killed at least 20% of the U.S. population through abortion, and turned a soft shoulder to gay marriage. The reversal of cultural trends can only be possible when there are standards for singleness as well as marriage.