Intersection of Life and Faith

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

  • by Camerin Courtney Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2004 30 Jun
O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Something's broken. I don't exactly know what it is or how to fix it, which maddens me to no end. I just know that something's unmistakably Not Right. I'm hoping you can help.

You see, recently I was at a conference for people who run Christian magazines for women in Eastern Europe. We had nearly all the countries that end in "ia" represented: Russia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Slovakia, Romania, Croatia, Serbia, and the like. I, ever the lover of people from other cultures, was in heaven. At every meal or coffee break or evening playtime I was able to ask one of my favorite questions: "What's life like in your corner of the world?"

It was a recurring answer to a cousin of this favorite question—"What are the main things your magazine's readers wrestle with?"—that disturbed me. One by one these fellow editors told me about economic hardship in their former communist countries, longtime unemployment and the resulting depression and alcoholism. I spent a lot of time pinching myself under the table so I wouldn't cry over the tough realities of life for my Christian sisters on the other side of the world. Even so, it was the other difficulty they mentioned repeatedly that really got to me.

One by one they also told me about the many put-together single women in their churches and the lack of single Christian men. (This just made me want to cry for a whole other reason!)

Now, I swear I didn't tell any of these women I'm a singles columnist. Some of them didn't even know I'm single, that I' m a never-married thirtysomething with countless female friends in the same boat (or even slightly older boats).

The first such conversation at the conference, with a lovely fortysomething woman from Russia, went something like this:

Me: "So what are the main things Christian women in Russia wrestle with?"

Galina: "We have many smart, wonderful girls in our churches who are single. But no men for them."

Me (my voice a mixture of empathy and depression): "Really?"

Galina: "Yes. Is quite sad. Many are going to United States to find husband."

Me (all sweetness and cultural sensitivity): "Well tell them to get in line!"

Next it was a conversation with the two Bulgarians, who'd put a single 34-year-old woman on the cover of their magazine because the growing group of single women in their country faces big pressures to wed and to put life on hold until marriage. This particular single woman was setting a good example by leading a big, full life. As we talked about the challenges such women face, they painted a similar picture of a plethora of mature, godly women without male counterparts.

The next day at lunch when someone asked me if I have any children and I answered, "No, I'm not married," the never-married 38-year-old Greek woman next to me blurted, "Oh that makes me feel so much better!" She, too, shared about the seemingly missing generation of single men in her home country. As did a Malaysian woman who hadn't married until 29, an "old" age in her culture, when we were casually chatting the day after.

While there was a little part of me that enjoyed this kinship and understanding of my reality, I also was depressed that this apparent inequity in the singleness gender ratio is global. As I said, something's broken here.

Now, I can already sense you men who are reading this poised and ready to write me a rebuttal e-mail. Before you press "send," let me say I do know there are godly single men in our world. I'm well aware. I'm great friends with some of them and have dated a few others. And yes, there are certainly pockets where the gender split is 50-50 or even skewed to the male side (if you could let us know where those churches are, that'd be great!). I even attended one such church (the 50-50 kind) this past weekend when on a work trip. I don't mean this column to be male bashing in the least. Would that there were single Christian males to bash!

My contention is simply that on the whole there appears to be so many less single men in Christian circles than there are single women. My own experience has born this truth out. Nearly all the church groups, Bible studies, singles groups, and Christian workplaces I've been a part of over the years have been populated by lots of great single women and noticeably (and frustratingly) less single men. My current crop of single friends is mostly female, wonderful godly women who are doctors, business owners, missionaries, teachers.

I kid you not, when I was in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at the secular university I attended years ago, one of our recurring prayer requests was for more men to join our community (for their benefit as well as for ours!).

A male coworker recently told me about a college visit he made with his teenage daughter. Apparently she ruled out the Christian campus they were checking out when she discovered the female-to-male ratio is two-to-one. Sadly, this isn' t an uncommon phenomenon for Christian colleges.

Every time the company newsletter comes out at the Christian office where I work, there's a laundry list of new single female employees. In stark contrast, I could count the single men in our company practically on one hand—out of a company of 150 workers!

I often joke with a single male friend of mine that because of his gender, he's got a buffet of dating/mate choices stretched out before him. I, on the other hand, I lament with great drama, am starving in the desert.

I could postulate about possible reasons why we have such a seemingly uneven gender split in Christian singledom. Christianity is often presented in more feminine language (hence the popularity of the more testosterony Promise Keepers and Wild at Heart). The family-centeredness of our churches today is even more difficult for men to fit into than for women. Our current entertainment culture by and large presents straight men as bafoons. I could go on. In fact, there's an entire secular book, called Why There Are No Good Men Left, that somewhat mirrors this trend in the mainstream world.

What I'm more concerned with is where to go from here. How do we reverse this trend? How do we get more single men to become believers? How do we get the single Christian men who aren't attending church to start? As when I was in InterVarsity, I want this for the men's personal edification as well as for my own selfish reasons. I have great single female friends who want godly husbands—as do I. We want to build strong Christian marriages and raise good godly children. And we simply have no idea where to find these great men, if they even exist.

When I was at this international conference making the discovery that this trend is global, I remember praying silently after one such conversation: "God, you obviously are revealing a trend to me. But please don't leave me there. I don't want to just sit with this knowledge and become frustrated. I need action steps. I want something to do with this information." So, I'm doing what I know to do: write about it. Sound the alarm, so to speak, that something's wrong. Plead with our churches to target this missing demographic. Ask for your insight as to what a solution might be. And pray, as I've been doing since that conference a few weeks ago, for revival among the single men of this world.

Along with this new knowledge of seeming brokeness in our world, there's one other thing I know for sure that gives me hope. Our God specializes in broken things, in crafting something from nothing, in creating beauty from ashes. You and I are living proof. And hopefully, with his grace, you and I will see him work such wondrous miracles again in this arena.

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