It’s rather peculiar that in the church adults are segregated by marital status. There are entire wards (and in some more densely populated LDS areas, entire stakes) just for the unmarried. And I don’t like it.
When I was a teenager at church, I noticed that there were a few elderly widows and the full-time missionaries but that I never saw any other single adults at church. I was taught in my YW lessons that a husband would be the inevitable reward for living a righteous life. It was whispered that occasionally some people might not marry, but it was always an afterthought. It was never really expected that it would happen to any of us. It only happened to “other people”.
Then I grew up and became other people.
I’ve visited singles’ wards on occasion for things like missionary farewells and homecomings or friends giving talks or performing special musical numbers, but I’ve never been a member of a singles’ ward. I was subjected to pressure to attend when I was younger, but I resisted, preferring to worship in a non-segregated setting. As I got older, the pressure lessened and then abated, presumably because after a certain age, I’m seen as a lost cause.
I live in a wonderful ward now where single adults are treated like adults. I’m a person who happens also to be unmarried, rather than being The Single Person. A few years ago, a neighboring stake started up a single adult ward for unmarried adults ages 30-45. Someone asked me if I was planning on joining that ward and I said no. They asked me why, and I somewhat flippantly responded “Singles wards are against my religion.” Sacrament meeting started so I didn’t get a chance to elaborate on my answer, and honestly I don’t know that I would have wanted to in the moment anyway.
Now that I have a blog platform to do so, I’m going to expand on my answer. Here are six reasons why singles’ wards are against my religion:
1. Singles’ wards show the youth of the church that there’s no place for them if they don’t marry.
Teenagers at church observe the adults around them to see what their future in the church will be like. With the popularity of singles’ wards, what they see is that upon adulthood, single people are sent away from the congregation and are permitted to return when they either have done the respectable thing and gotten married, or when they have failed at that task and are kicked out of the singles’ ward to return in disgrace.
Half the adults in the church are unmarried. If teenagers could see single members participate in the life of the ward and stake, then when they grow up to be single adults, they would see that there is a place for them in the church, and fewer of them would feel unwelcome and leave.
2. Singles’ wards perpetuate the notion of single people as “other”.
This is related to the first point. The church has a default assumption that adults are married. Any deviation from that state is seen as an aberration. I can’t even begin to count the number of Relief Society lessons that just assume that everyone in the room has a husband and 4.5 small children underfoot. I’ve been in wards who have referred to the Relief Society as “the mother’s group”, and I was in one ward that didn’t allow single people to hold callings. I was invisible because I was different. If singles’ wards didn’t exist, there would have been dozens of people like me in the congregation, and there is strength in numbers.
3. Singles’ wards deprive single members of opportunities to experience a diverse congregation.
In a singles’ ward, everyone is roughly the same age and in roughly the same stage in life, especially given that singles’ wards are, in addition to segregated by marital status, also segregated by age. The Apostle Paul (who, incidentally, was single himself) when using a metaphor of the body to describe the church, reminded us that
For in fact the body is not a single member, but many. If the foot says, “Since I am not a hand, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. And if the ear says, “Since I am not an eye, I am not part of the body,” it does not lose its membership in the body because of that. If the whole body were an eye, what part would do the hearing? If the whole were an ear, what part would exercise the sense of smell? But as a matter of fact, God has placed each of the members in the body just as he decided. If they were all the same member, where would the body be? So now there are many members, but one body.1 Corinthians 12:14-20
Diversity is essential to the proper operation of God’s kingdom. God made people of all ages and all marital statuses. By segregating our congregations, we diminish God’s creation.
4. Singles’ wards deprive the rest of the church of the talents of single people.
Six days of the week, single adults are treated in our workplaces, schools, community organizations, and social circles as adults. But on the seventh day, we are treated as overgrown adolescents who need to be supervised by married people. We have jobs. We have bills. We manage a household without the help of a partner. We are leaders in our communities. We would be assets to our wards if given the opportunity.
My current ward and stake are fantastic about this. In the 7 years I’ve been in the ward, single people and married people have been equally likely to be the president of an auxiliary. Single people teach the youth and are on the high council. We have many things to add to the ward and stake. And wards and stakes that exile their single members are depriving themselves of a large talent pool.
5. There isn’t a separate Jesus for single people so there shouldn’t be a separate church for single people.
Ephesians 4:5 reminds us that there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” We’re all in this together. There’s only one Jesus who saves, and He saves all who repent and follow Him.
6. Singles’ wards distract from the purpose of church.
The purpose of church is to bring people to Christ. The purpose of singles wards is to get people paired off. If people are sent to a ward whose purpose is to find a spouse, it’s easy to get distracted from finding Jesus. I’m not opposed to having ward or stake activities geared toward allowing single members to socialize (just like there are activities allowing other groups of members to socialize), but that needs to be a balanced part of a well-rounded diverse ward, not the purpose of the ward.