- The Washington Times - Friday, August 18, 2000

Society unwittingly consigns many of its members unwillingly to the single life, says Olathe, Kan., author Ellen Varughese. Married just before she turned 38, Mrs. Varughese, now 54, puts much of the blame on America's churches, where 76 percent of all U.S. weddings take place.

Many of these churches, she says, have pastors who seem to wish to keep their congregants single. Mrs. Varughese has set up a Web site, joypress.com, and written a book, "Freedom to Marry," that details this problem. The book had its second printing this month. Here are some excerpts from an interview with culture-page editor Julia Duin:

Q: Why don't people feel free to marry?

A: People often assume God doesn't want them to be married, when in fact He does. From the Bible, at least, it appears that God wants marriage for almost everybody. Marriage really is the answer to the loneliness and lack of fulfillment that singles face.

Most of my single friends and I had problems in our lives that prevented us from getting married: Fear, lack of confidence, poor self-esteem, notions of unmarriageability and, especially in churches, the notion that marriage, particularly the desire for it, is a fleshly desire. No single I know is going to talk about that deep desire when he or she fears being rebuffed or told to seek "spiritual" things.

Q: You talk about thousands and thousands of singles who see no one on the horizon to marry. How depressed are they?

A: When I was single, all of us wanted to get married and all of us were bummed out about it. Some are still pretty clinically depressed about it.

One woman I know has been in and out of mental institutions. Since God's pattern is for people to marry, if you haven't got that relationship, you're depressed. God said, "It is good for man not to be alone."

And when singles go for help, people tell them to "embrace their singleness." What kind of help is that? Instead of helping people become "satisfied, successful singles," churches should develop programs for "future-married" people.

Instead, people have subscribed to the idea that God's will regarding marriage is unknowable — as if fate determines who will and who won't marry. And in Sunday school classes for older singles, it is assumed that people will never marry.

Well, just because you're single doesn't mean you're called to that. God does not call people by default. And He calls very few people to be single. So, if you aren't called to be single, then you are called to be married.

Q: How much are people being told to "just be content"?

A: Oh, that is like a mantra. People have lots of different ways of saying it. One is to "Make Jesus your first love." Or, "Bloom where you're planted." Or, "You're complete in Christ." I used to read, "The Total Woman" and I wondered, "How can I be 'total' if I'm not married?"

One of my struggles in my 30s is I was getting these recycled men washed out from their first marriages. That's what the pickings were.

Q: Why are churches so afraid of providing matchmaking services?

A: I wish I knew. They don't want this "meet-market" mentality going on, and they genuinely want people to focus on Jesus instead of marriage.

They think that if they start matchmaking, people will come there for the purpose of getting married. They'll have to change their philosophy to minister to people who want to get married.

Q: But if they are feeding the homeless, don't people come there for the purpose of getting fed? Then why is it considered a bad motivation to show up at church if you want to get married?

A: One of my principles is, if you want to get married, go where the people are. And what better place than a church where there are Christian people who are compatible with what you believe? It's better than a bar.

If a church has a ministry to handicapped children and you have a handicapped child, then is your motivation wrong to go there? So, if a church has a genuine ministry to helping people to marry, is it wrong for you to attend?

Q: Are many singles then giving up on going to church?

A: Yes. Take a man I met this week who got rejected so thoroughly by his church. So he goes to another church and he gets rejected by them.

You reach your tolerance level of churches you can take that from — whether it's three or 10 — and then you don't go to church anymore.

Q: Are there any churches that are doing it right?

A: I haven't found any. I knew of one pastor in San Diego who was encouraging people to marry. He was swamped with people and he was marrying people every three weeks. He's not doing that anymore.

If I were a senior pastor at a church in a position to hire a singles pastor, I'd say, "We have a wonderful group of future-married people here. All except one or two are called to be married. All of them are going to be married in the next one to three years. We're going to hire one person to help them do that. You're a candidate for the job, so tell us how you'd help bring this about. Write down your strategy."

Q: So churches have an anti-marriage philosophy?

A: What happens is that a certain amount of people, ages 20 to 25, marry without anyone's help. They marry on cue: go to school, go to college, find a job, find a wife, live happily ever after.

The church doesn't take responsibility one way or another. But when that doesn't happen, they are suddenly anti-marriage.

I was talking to someone who asked her pastor's wife for prayer to be married and this woman said, "I can't pray that in good conscience because I don't know if you're supposed to be married." And the woman said, "Well, you've a 22-year-old daughter. Are you going to say that about her?" And the woman said, "Oh, no, because I know she's supposed to be married."

Satan has two fronts in bringing down society. Everybody knows he's trying to break up marriages. That's a no-brainer. But if he can prevent those marriages from being formed in the first place, he doesn't have to fuss with causing divorces.

Q: What are families doing wrong?

A: I see a lot of families with stairstep children who get married in stairstep fashion. In those functional families where the kids marry off on cue, by my observation, those are fabulous marriages. And the kids know they're loved and their parents want the best for them.

But I see divorce as a huge problem. It's a generational curse. It runs in families. If the parents divorce, the kids are terrified. They want to marry, but they don't want a bad marriage.

Or you find families where the marriage is not all that wonderful and loving, and mothers will actively discourage people because they're so unhappy in their marriages. So you'll find mothers who seem like they're happy and there's no divorce, but deep down, they are sending a signal to their children: "Don't do this."

I used to get told by people, "Make sure you marry the right person." It's a fear-mongering thing.

Some cultures are very permis-sion-giving. In Arkansas, I have friends in that subculture who marry extremely early. Early marriages run in families, too. What is expected of you is a form of permission.

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