It’s funny how things pop back up in your life, just when you think you’re done with them forever. I was scrolling through my Facebook feed the other night when I saw the perfect example: a three-year-old article that I had raked over the coals in my new book, One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church. You’ve probably seen that article in your own feed, or if not, you’ve seen one very like it. There are quite a few of them, and they tend to get around.
It was an article with a clickbait sort of title, and it was all about how women, along with the court system, are so hard on men these days that men justifiably don’t want to marry them. All we want to do, according to this article, is take men for everything they’ve got, then throw them out on the street in a show of independence and heartlessness.
On a superficial level, it was the kind of article that makes many a Christian nod vigorously and click “share,” secure in the knowledge that he or she has just struck a virtuous blow against the evils of feminism. On a deeper level, it was divisive, poisonous, and cruel.
Clickbait is harmful not just annoying.
Seeing it again, I felt as hurt and disgusted as I had the very first time I saw it, and in truth a little exasperated.
Why does it matter? Because clickbait articles like that are deceptive, damaging . . . and immensely popular, even among people who should know better. Instead of seeking to reconcile the sexes, it tears them apart. In its ill-considered attacks, it’s unfair and unkind to the many women who would like to get married and have no intention of being hard on men. It makes them feel helpless about a situation that they didn’t do anything to cause, and can’t do anything to undo. It underestimates and demeans men too, cynically advising them only to get into marriage for what they can get out of it.
In my book, I explain that arguments like these—which have become more and more pervasive in recent years—are making marriage, and civil relations between the sexes in general, ever harder to accomplish, even as the authors pass themselves off as pro-marriage. You can’t encourage marriage by shaming either women or men into it. Shaming people only leads to bitterness and anger, not to reconciliation.
We will be known by our love?
I have to wonder why so many Christians need this explained to them. We’re the people who are all about grace, right? The ones who grew up singing, “They will know we are Christians by our love”? But when we see a cultural trend that alarms us—as increasing rates of singleness and delayed childbirth are alarming many Christians now—we default to judging, scolding, and shaming.
You’ve heard all the stereotypes: the basement-dwelling man who plays video games all day, or the wacky woman who will never have kids because she’s busy pouring all her love into her cats. Or the wimpy men and the angry feminists. The Neanderthals who are too boorish to get a woman and the career women who are too strident and self-sufficient to get a man.
This is how Christians are talking about their fellow image-bearers—and then they wonder why single people don’t want to come to church.
The next time you’re tempted to hit “share” on one of those clickbait articles, consider holding back. Read it again, and really think about how it’s portraying single people—a group that may include people you know. Does it tempt us to despair over cultural trends instead of reminding us to trust God with them? Is it laced with contempt and scorn? If so, what place does it have on a Christian’s Facebook page, or in a Christian’s mind, for that matter?
Going beyond articles, try training yourself to view single members of your church the way Christ would. Is your first thought on meeting a single person, “What’s wrong with you, why didn’t you get married?” If so, refocus. Learn to greet that person as kindly and sincerely as you would anyone else. That single person in front of you is not some wicked hedonist singlehandedly promoting the fall of Western civilization by failing to marry. He or she is just another person like you, with fears and joys and faults and hopes like yours. Another person made in the image of God, for whom Christ died.
Let that be your model for dealing with single people around you . . . and let the clickbait go.
Cover image by Frederic Köberl.