Winter 2015 | Volume 24, Number 1 Musings from Silver Spring with Claudio Consuegra
More Unmarried than Married People
A very big change has taken place in America as about 50.2 percent, or 124.6 million American adults, are not married; in 1950, that number was about 22 percent.1 In spite of online dating, there’s an increase in the number of singles. Eric Klinenberg, a sociology professor at New York University and the author of Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone, explains that, “It’s actually probably easier to meet people now than ever before, if you think about all of the incredible technologies we have to connect.”
At the same time, social media and online dating sites give singles more choices than ever, which actually seem to be driving them away from the wedding bells. Klinenberg explains: “I do think there’s a little bit of that paradox-of-choice problem. You have so many different options that it’s easy to find the flaws with each one and difficult to just pick some person with all their flaws — since we all do have them — and just stay with it.” For many, living alone and “happily single,” is something that many evidently do not want to give up.
In this issue of Family Life, we consider the unmarried in our churches and communities. While they may be a large number of our church membership, if not the majority, often they are neglected, abandoned, and forgotten. We want to explore some of the dynamics of single life and how family life professionals may be better able to educate the church to be more affirming and supportive, and to minister better to the unmarried in their pews.
This issue of Family Life also marks three important changes in its publication. First of all, the term of office for Dr. H. Peter Swanson, who served for half a dozen years as the VP for Publications and editor of this newsletter, ended at the end of 2014. Peter has been very faithful to his duties and has done his editorial job with distinction. On behalf of the AAFLP board members, we express our deepest appreciation to Peter for his work and service to this association and for his outstanding work as editor of this newsletter.
Secondly, we welcome Dr. Jeff Brown as the VP for Publications and the new editor of Family Life. Jeff comes with a rich background as university professor, published author, and most recently as the president of the Bermuda Conference. Even now, as he transitions to his new post at Oakwood University, Jeff is already assisting us with this edition of the newsletter and helping us make changes to cover very important topics in the next few years. We welcome Jeff, who has served as a member-at-large of the AAFLP board, to his new post as VP for Publications and editor of Family Life.
Finally, Family Life will only be available as an electronic newsletter. You will receive it in your e-mail and you can also download it from the AAFLP page which is found as part of the NAD Family Ministries website (www.NADFamily.org). We will now begin the transition, later this year, to a professional, peer-reviewed journal, which will better represent the goals of the AAFLP and which will become a positive resource for Adventist family life professionals in the North American Division and other parts of the world. We will share more information as it becomes available. Thank you for your continued support of the AAFLP; our hope is that it will become a very viable, valuable, and vibrant association for the benefit of Adventist families as well as families in the community.
1http://www.pri.org/stories/2014-09-14/singles-now-outnumber-married-people-america-and-thats-good-thing.From the Editor with Jeffrey O. Brown
Glad to be a Part of the Family of God
The 28 Fundamental Beliefs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church have been changed. Did you get the memo? Entitled, “Fundamental Beliefs Get an Update,” it read: “With the exception of the addition of a 28th belief in 2005, the Fundamental Beliefs have remained untouched until now.”1 So what has changed? Fundamental Belief no. 23, Marriage and the Family, for one. Don’t worry, it’s not doom or gloom, neither is it covert or controversial. It is actually both transparent and tremendous. How so? Let me back up.
The Fundamental Beliefs Review Committee invited church members from around the world to submit suggestions. It received about 200 letters and the committee incorporated the suggestions it found useful. One of them concerned Fundamental Belief no. 23, and the absence of any meaningful inclusion of singles. If Fundamental Belief no. 23 were simply entitled Marriage, then excluding singles could be considered appropriate. However, as it is entitled, Marriage and the Family, then the full spectrum of Christian family relations — singleness, marriage, and parenting — must be included.
Singleness is not a second-rate option, it is a gift of God. Jesus acknowledges, “Marriage isn’t for everyone. Some, from birth seemingly, never give marriage a thought. Others never get asked—or accepted. And some decide not to get married for kingdom reasons. But if you’re capable of growing into the largeness of marriage, do it” (Matt. 19:12, Message). The period of one’s adult life spent in marriage requires the application of a gift of grace, to survive and to thrive. Similarly, the period of one’s adult life spent in singleness requires the application of a gift of grace, to survive and to thrive. So Paul affirms that while marriage is a gift, singleness, whether a temporary or permanent state, is also a gift. “Sometimes I wish everyone were single like me—a simpler life in many ways! But celibacy is not for everyone any more than marriage is. God gives the gift of the single life to some, the gift of the married life to others.” (1 Cor. 7:7, Message).
Both of the above texts (Matt. 19:12; 1 Cor. 7:7) have now been added to Fundamental Beliefs no. 23. The previous wording in Fundamental Beliefs no. 23 stated that we “are invited to become members of Christ’s body, the family of God...” The following words have now been added: “... which embraces both single and married persons.” Hallelujah. We commend our church leaders for proposing to the 2015 General Conference Session delegates in San Antonio, Texas, such a revision. Adventist World news editor Andrew McChesney says this addition “for the first time identifies single people as members of the family.”2 Artur Stele, chair of the committee, states: “This addition acknowledges that single church members are part of the family of God and as valuable to the church as married couples.”3 McChesney concludes, “The revisions are a milestone in the history of the fundamental beliefs.”
We rejoice in this long-overdue milestone. Singleness provides unparalleled opportunities for mission. Paul says, “When you’re unmarried, you’re free to concentrate on simply pleasing the Master. Marriage involves you in all the nuts and bolts of domestic life and in wanting to please your spouse, leading to so many more demands on your attention. The time and energy that married people spend on caring for and nurturing each other, the unmarried can spend in becoming whole and holy instruments of God” (1 Cor. 7:33, 34, Message).
Jesus and Paul affirm that, whether by choice or circumstance, singles are invaluable members of the family of God. “Don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life” (1 Cor. 7:17, Message). Jesus and Paul spoke about singleness and marriage in light of the imminent eschaton — so must Seventh-day Adventists. I’m so glad singles are a part of the family of God.
1McChesney, Andrew. “Fundamental Beliefs Get an Update.” Adventist World, Dec. 2014, pp. 3-5
3http://www.adventistreview.org/assets/public/news/2014-10/FUNDAMENTAL_BELIEFS_STATEMENT-last_version.pdfPresidentially Speaking with David Sedlacek
Single Family Ministry
Generally, when we think about family ministry from a church perspective, our minds turn to the married couples of the church, most often those with children. We conduct seminars about marriage enrichment, sexuality, communication, conflict resolution, and parenting where the main focus is on families with multiple members, either adults or children. I have, at times, received feedback from singles stating that they feel left out and not included when the focus of these seminars is on married couples with children. I would suggest that we need to look more carefully at how we define “family” in the context of the church.
How we define family in the church shapes our programs and ministries. Most often “family ministry” and “singles ministry” are structured with different leaders and are not seen as connected at all. This perhaps flows from a limited definition of family that tends to exclude singles as legitimate members of a “family.” In this, the church is lagging behind society in general. Diana Garland, in her book The Family, comments: “More than 20 years ago, a poll found that Americans no longer saw the family in structural terms, that is, as defined by blood relationships, marriage or adoption. Instead, they defined their families in emotional terms, as a group of people who love and care for one another” (p. 48). That means that families can be created with a set of others who are intentionally chosen. This definition of family challenges many of our traditional church ministry structures and nudges us to think differently about how to integrate singles into the fabric of the church.
Too often single women and single men are seen as individuals who have simply not yet found someone to marry. With this stereotype comes shame connected to the attitude that single life is inferior to married life and that there must be something wrong with a single person who has not yet found a mate. This subtle contempt deepens when a single person is divorced and not remarried. Not only has the person failed at marriage, but he/she has also failed to find another person to love them.
Redefining family in emotional terms as a group of people who love and care for one another broadens our possibilities but also challenges our stereotypes. For example, if a husband and wife hate and abuse each other, are they really a “family” at all? In biblical terms, the love and care of family relationships include empowerment (mutual service), covenant (mutual love), grace (mutual forgiveness), and intimacy (to know and be known). Is it not possible for single individuals to have deep relationships with one another, and even with married friends, that are characterized by empowerment, covenantal love, grace, and intimacy? Can the single life be fulfilling rather than empty and alive rather than lonely? It is time to put away these stereotypic emotions too often connected with singleness. Married people can live empty and lonely lives as well.
It is true that God said that it is not good that the man should be alone (Genesis 2:18). However, Paul also advocates for the single life when he says “In everything you do, I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. But a married man can’t do that so well. He has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be more devoted to the Lord in body and in spirit, while the married woman must be concerned about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband” (1 Cor. 7:32-34). Paul’s call is not to a lonely or empty life, but to one of deep fulfillment.
It is vital to understand that no human relationship, whether it is with parent, spouse, child, or friend can be an adequate substitute for our relationship with God. He is ultimate LOVE and can supply every human need because he made us for himself. He is the originator of covenant, grace, empowerment, and intimacy. Of course, God wants us to enjoy human relationships as well, but what tends to happen is that we get hung up by the pink elephant in the living room – sex. Our minds consciously or unconsciously filter our thinking about singleness through the lens of sexuality. Sexual expression can certainly be a satisfying aspect of a married relationship, but there can also be sex in marriage without intimacy.
The question needs to be asked, “Can single persons experience satisfying sexuality?” I would suggest that when we understand human sexuality at its deepest level which is oneness with God and with another human being, that a single person can have this kind of intimacy without crossing the boundary into sexual sin. Intimacy first involves connection with God and then connection with oneself at the deepest levels of being. It is only then that we are well prepared to be intimately connected with another human person. Too many single people rush into a relationship and ultimately into marriage because they are blindly following societal norms and expectations. They may know about God but don’t know him. Likewise, they don’t really know themselves and have not faced themselves as humans in a broken, fallen world. Relationships in a single context are an excellent way to learn about intimacy with God and with oneself.
As family life educators, we need to begin thinking differently about singleness. As Paul suggests, we can learn to be content in whatever station we find ourselves. Singles are an essential part of the church family. Their contributions can be immeasurable! Let’s embrace them as equals in every way as we lead family ministries in our churches.
Preaching and Practicing the “Forbidden Rule”
She sat in my office, tears running down her puffy cheeks. It appeared that she was not getting through to me it and she thought she needed to repeat herself with the hope of eliciting my sympathy and gaining my support. Unquestionably a lifetime member of the church, she was faithful in her giving, her commitment, and her service. It was apparent she expected deference; she should be allowed a compromise, to marry someone not of her faith. She became hostile, angry and resentful when I refused to accommodate her expected compromise. Many of her friends, family, and even members of the church board had a penchant to support her position. The church seemed conflicted, the atmosphere was tense, and the ‘forbidden rule of marriage’ was being questioned.
What is the forbidden rule of marriage? In 2 Corinthians 6:14 we find Paul’s admonition to the church: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” What is the meaning of Paul’s warning? How does one reconcile this text with other biblical examples of unequally yoked in marriage?
Several rationalizations have been hypothesized as to the meaning of this phrase. There are those who claim that one can be unequally yoked in areas of finance, intellect, disposition, ethnicity, etc. However, Paul is speaking in the context of spiritual relationship formation. Ellen G. White says:
Never should God’s people venture upon forbidden ground. Marriage between believers and unbelievers is forbidden by God. But too often the unconverted heart follows its own desires, and marriages unsanctioned by God are formed. Those who are ruled by passion and impulse will have a bitter harvest to reap in this life, and their course may result in the loss of their souls.1
Some argue that there are many biblical examples of unequally yoked marriages:
1. Samson married a Philistine (Judges 14:1-4).
Samson was supposed to be the champion and judge of Israel, but his choice of marrying a Philistine daughter gives the sordid picture of a chosen child of God whose indulgence of weakness and lust made it impossible for him to fulfill God’s plan for his life. Sampson’s unquenched desires became his fatal destiny. His captivating fantasy became his delusionary dementia. His paranoid passion became his beacon of blindness. His irrational love became the pivot of his cognitive dissonance. His obsessive-compulsive behavior became his cesspool of destruction. And his dysfunctional desire became the apex of his parent’s pain. Ellen G. White warns, “To connect with an unbeliever is to place yourself on Satan’s ground. You grieve the Spirit of God and forfeit His protection. Can you afford to have such terrible odds against you in fighting the battle for everlasting life?2
2. Esau married a Hittite (Gen 26:34)
Esau went out and married a Hittite woman. The Hittites are mentioned frequently in the Old Testament. Their craftsmanship was mediocre when compared to other nations; however, they had a monopoly on the production of iron and iron weapons. Their religion is still somewhat obscure, but their chief god was the weather god “Teshub”3 It is evident that Esau’s’ marriage to the Hittite was wrong because verse 35 of the text says it caused grief to Isaac and Rebekah.
3. Joseph married the daughter of a pagan (Gen 41:45)
Joseph’s marriage to Asenath, seems to go against the Old Testament directive to avoid intermarriage with pagans (Neh 13:27). This action of Joseph begs the question, Was Joseph’s embracing of Egyptian culture sinful when he accepted Pharaoh’s gift? What was the will of God for Joseph? A closer examination of Joseph’s action shows that Joseph was “given” a wife by Pharaoh. He was taken from prison to interpret a prophetic dream for the King. When he successfully interpreted the dream, the king honored him with a position in his Egyptian kingdom. He also placed him in charge of coordinating plans in preparation of the pending famine. So Joseph was rewarded for his good work with a new position, a new Egyptian name (“Zaphenath-Paneah”), and an Egyptian wife.
One could argue that God permitted Joseph to take this wife, because through Asenath, Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim, later became two of the 12 tribes in Israel. One school of thought is that Joseph did not sin by accepting Asenath as his wife for at that time the Old Testament Law had not yet been given, and the New Testament teachings regarding marriage did not exist. However, today we have both Old and New Testament scriptures, so we are without excuse. Paul says, “And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” (Act 17:30).
The argument has been purported that there are those who have married outside of their faith and the marriage has been healthy and productive. Some of these spouses later accepted the faith. While this is true in some cases, it does not nullify the Word of God. The fact that someone smoked cigarettes and did not develop lung cancer does not mean that smoking does not cause lung cancer. When selecting a spouse, God provides us with a guiding principle, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” This is the ‘rule’ and not the ‘exception’. Ellen White stated:
The plea is sometimes made that the unbeliever is favorable to religion and is all that could be desired in a companion except in one thing — he is not a Christian. Although the better judgment of the believer may suggest the impropriety of a union for life with an unbeliever, yet, in nine cases out of ten, inclination triumphs. Spiritual declension commences the moment the vow is made at the altar; religious fervor is dampened, and one stronghold after another is broken down, until both stand side by side under the black banner of Satan.4
As unpopular as the ‘forbidden rule’ might be, pastors need to preach it. There is always danger in disregarding God’s counsels. In an age when the construct of marriage is under siege, let us abide by the Word of God.
1E. G. White, Adventist Home, p. 63
2E. G. White, Adventist Home, p. 67
3Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary, Vol. 8, p. 502
4E. G. White, Adventist Home, p. 65Positive Parenting with Susan E. Murray
Marriages: If not Arranged, Most Certainly Assisted
All societies have created some kind of system for matching individuals for marriage and parenthood. This has ranged from a village religious leader selecting a mate according to astrological signs to individual choice based on personal attraction and love. In some cultures, couples are matched while they are still infants. In others, the bride or groom must prove fertility to producing children before either is eligible for marriage.
From a historical perspective, we see that throughout most of world history, courtship has been generally brief. In most cultures, the parents of the bride and groom selected a future spouse and made most of the arrangements for the marriage ceremony. The pattern common in United States, developed largely since the late 19th century, is that individuals spend months or even years in dating and choosing a mate.
Although couples in the United States view parent-arranged marriage as strange, and even uncivilized, in other cultures the practice is still considered the norm. For example, it has been reported that some young people in India become distressed if they have to choose their own mate, fearing they might make the wrong choice (Olson, DeFrain & Olson, p. 20). Even though parent-arranged marriages are less common today, and there is continuing movement toward freedom of choice in marriage, parents may still exercise considerable influence over a couple’s courtship and choice of a mate.
Historically, parents in a traditional society didn’t focus on love but more on external considerations such as economic security, family stability, and who would be a good parent. If we look at societies in which arranged marriages are still common, they tend to have lower divorce rates than those in which love matches are common. “This gives some credibility to the argument that parents are better able to make good decisions about prospective partners than are young people themselves” (Olson, DeFrain & Olson, p. 22).
So we can ask ourselves, “If United States culture does not practice arranged marriages, should parents today have a say in the dating and marital choices of their children?” The reality is that many parents still have a good deal of influence on their child’s choice of a mate. If a young person’s parent/s disapprove of their choice, the young person may not end the relationship but they will clearly have a difficult time dealing with the parents’ concerns. “Some parents may feel that a ‘wrong’ choice is a partner from a different religion, ethnic group, social class or education level. Even though we lean toward love matches in our country, many parents exercise subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle pressure in favor of some prospective partners and against others” (Olson, DeFrain & Olson, p. 23).
Two important research findings from the National Marriage Project lend to our understanding of the importance of family and parents in mate selection today:
“Despite the romantic notion that people meet and fall in love through chance or fate, evidence suggests that social networks are important in bringing together individuals of similar interests and backgrounds. According to a large-scale national survey, almost 60% of married people were introduced by family, friends, co-workers or other acquaintances.
Opposites may attract but they may not live together harmoniously as married couples. People who share common backgrounds and similar social networks are better suited as marriage partners than people who are very different in their backgrounds and networks.
Ellen White’s counsel is also worth considering today. In general, she suggests, “If you are blessed with God-fearing parents, seek counsel of them. Open to them your hopes and plans; learn the lessons which their life experiences have taught” (The Ministry of Healing, p. 359).
In this day of society’s focus on individual happiness and romance, and all the broken dreams we read of, this counsel is timely: “Let those who are contemplating marriage weight every sentiment and watch every development of character in the one with whom they think to unite their life destiny. Let every step toward a marriage alliance be characterized by modesty, simplicity, sincerity, and an earnest purpose to please and honor God. Marriage affects the afterlife both in this world and in the world to come. A sincere Christian will make no plans that God cannot approve” (ibid., p. 369).
Heller, in his article, “Ten Ways to Marry the Wrong Person”, suggests blind love is not the way to choose a mate. His #1 caution is, “You pick the wrong person because you expect him/her to change after you’re married.” He says, “This is the classic mistake. Never marry potential. The golden rule is, if you can’t be happy with the person the way he or she is now, don’t get married. As a colleague of mine so wisely put it, ‘You actually can expect people to change after they’re married... for the worse!’ So when it comes to the other person’s spirituality, character, personal hygiene, communication skills, and personal habits, make sure you can live with these as they are now.”
Heller identifies four character traits imperative to look for in a mate:
- Humility: Does this person believe that “doing the right thing” is more important than personal comfort? Ask yourself, “Do I want to be more like this person? Would I like my child to turn out like him or her?”
- Kindness: Does this person enjoy giving pleasure to other people? How does s/he treat people s/he doesn’t have to be nice to? Does s/he do volunteer work? Give to charity?
- Responsibility: Can I depend on this person to do what s/he says s/he’s going to do?
- Happiness: Does this person like herself/himself? Does s/he enjoy life? Is s/he emotionally stable?
These character traits are common in people who strive to be Christ-like. Ellen White speaks to the importance of character and gives counsel to parents raising children: “Fathers and mothers should feel that a duty devolves upon them to guide the affections of the youth, that they may be placed upon those who will be suitable companions. They should feel it a duty, by their own teaching and example, with the assisting grace of God, to so mold the character of the children from their earliest years that they will be pure and noble and will be attracted to the good and true. Like attracts like; like appreciates like. Let the love for truth and purity and goodness be early implanted in the soul, and the youth will seek the society of those who possess these characteristics” (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 176, cited in Adventist Home, p. 74).
So to singles today seeking dating and potential marriage partners, let them know the value of those closest to them. As the saying goes, “Sometimes we are so close to the forest we cannot see the trees.” It is those who love us best, who can see the forest better than we can, especially when we are in the romantic stages of love.
Heller, D., Ten Ways to Marry the Wrong Person. Available at: aish.com
Olson, D., DeFrain, J., & Olson, A. (1999). Building Relationships: Developing Skills for Life. Minneapolis, MN: Life Innovations, Inc.
Popenoe, D., Ten Important Research Findings on Marriage. Available at: