happy mother's day
Reading Time: 8 minutes (Priscilla Du Preez.)
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Hi and Happy Mother’s Day! I’ve been holding today’s story for this one special day. In the April issue of Christianity Today (CT), their cover story involved the most hilarious bait-and-switch attempt I think I’ve ever seen from any Christian site, like seriously ever. In this story, CT tried to pretend that there’s some big groundswell of single evangelical women (and some men) who are adopting children rather than waiting for marriage and procreation. Today, let’s look at this story they ran — and the real one they absolutely, positively did not want to discuss — about evangelical single moms.

happy mother's day
(Priscilla Du Preez.)

(Note: CT isn’t a Trumpist site. Still, they accept all the usual tribal culture-war and doctrinal points of standard-issue evangelicals. Also, some people define single moms as women who had children outside of marriage. The term often also includes women who had children within marriage but then got divorced. In this post, I define single moms as any unmarried women raising children without a partner.)

The Clickbait Headline About Christian Single Moms.

I spotted this Christianity Today (CT) story a while ago. The headline caught my attention in a major way:

Christian Singles Aren’t Waiting for Marriage to Become Parents

Whoa, I thought. That’s quite a daring headline to publish for a site that’s pretty dang conservative, all things told. 

Then I dug into the article itself, only to find the subtitle under the headline:

As more unmarried women and men foster and adopt, how can the church provide what some nontraditional families cannot?

Aaaaand I faceplanted on my keyboard.

CT ran this instead of talking about a very real and increasingly common situation in evangelical churches, which is single evangelical mothers, who raise children often conceived entirely outside of marriage. Ooh la la!

But no, here CT discusses a much, much smaller group: single women who are adopting children to become mothers. They just tried to pretend with that headline that they’d be talking about that other, far more common situation.

When I realized what they’d done, you could have heard me laughing from here to Thalesia. I immediately understood exactly why they concentrated on this story, instead of on a group evangelicals would find very real and troubling — not to mention is growing larger by the year.

A New Direction for (a Few) Christian Singletons.

As for the story, it’s just about the many middle-aged evangelicals warming the pews who are jumping the gun on parenthood through adoption. We’ve talked about the women of this group a few times, and about their increasing frustration with their hunt for husbands.

(See: Leaving the Ring; The Great Evangelical Husband Hunt; Looking for Boaz in All the Wrong Places; Review: ‘Where Have All the Good Men Gone‘?; The Alternate Reality of ‘Christian Mingle: The Movie.’)

Suffice to say that evangelical women who aren’t close to the tribe’s beauty ideal — which includes age — have a tough time finding husbands. If a middle-aged evangelical woman really, really, rillyrilly wants to be a mother in the traditional way, she finds herself in a serious pickle if she can’t even find a marriage partner. She is locked in by a biological time window. Once that window closes, achieving her goal becomes infinitely more difficult.

So this CT article is about those women: the women who did everything right but never found husbands (because “everything right” isn’t actually what most evangelical men want). Now, a few of those women are achieving motherhood in nontraditional ways.

But not through unapproved sexytimes, you pervs. No, their purity remains unquestioned. The tribe can still consider them virtuousSee, these single moms are adopting and fostering. No unapproved sex or divorce required!

CT’s takeaway: The tribe needs to take action here to help those single moms, instead of mistreating them like usual!

How Common Are Adoptive Evangelical Single Moms?

Strangely, CT doesn’t say how many single evangelical women pursue adoption and fostering to achieve motherhood. Nor do they give any percentages of how many evangelical single moms got their kids through adoption and fostering. They just say it’s “a small but significant number.”

They also give lip service to single evangelical men going this route, but very tellingly do not break down percentages of how many adopters and foster singles are male. So I’m assuming evangelical men make up a vanishingly small piece of the adoption/fostering pie. Indeed, I found this adoption site talking about single-parent adoptions that indicates that the overwhelming majority of single adoptive parents are women. This government site confirms that information, breaking down the adoptive family structures of children adopted during the fiscal year of 2019-2020:

Married couples: 68%
Unmarried couples: 3%
Single female: 26%
Single male: 3%

The table doesn’t ask about religion, but CT thinks that there isn’t much difference between evangelical and non-evangelical women’s interest in adoption. I’d agree. Also: in that table above, single women only make up about 17k families total. Sprinkled across the United States, that’s not that many. There are probably about 90 million evangelicals in America. Even if all 17k women in that table were evangelical, I wouldn’t call them a significant number. But whatevs. It’s the gender mix I wanted to highlight here.

It’s also just funny as hell to me that CT is trying hard to make this story into a gender-equal one, when it’s painfully obvious that evangelical men are largely not interested in shouldering what they would perceive as women’s work.

CT is burying the real story so far that when future generations find it in a few millennia, they’ll assume it’s nuclear radioactive waste imprisoned demons from the Long-Long-Ago Time.

Aww, Lookit CT Trying to Hide Evangelicals’ Hatred of Single Moms.

All through the CT article, I can see examples of their writer trying her best, bless her cotton socks, to hide how truly hatefully evangelicals treat single moms. To most evangelicals, a single mother has done one of two things very, very not-okay. She either had unapproved sex, or she got divorced. Evangelicals commit both sins constantly, of course. But single moms blare their illicit pasts with child-shaped trombones.

And thus, the tribe feels perfectly free to mistreat single moms — as CT hints:

While adoption and orphan care have long been core causes for evangelicals, they have largely had the nuclear family at their center. [In 2010] Russell Moore wrote in CT that “the fatherhood of God is better understood in a culture where children know what it means to say ‘Daddy’ and ‘Mommy.’” [. . .]

Like other single parents, these single parents by choice often face immense financial and lifestyle challenges. But in evangelical churches, such parents also have to swim against the current of long-held norms around family. [. . .]

Alison Feyereisen [. . .] hasn’t seen any recent surge in singles taking in children, but she has noticed that “the church seems to be more welcoming and supporting it better than [in] years before.” [. . .]

Many men and women interviewed by CT mentioned that around the same time that they started considering taking children into their homes, they had changed churches to find a more supportive community.

In the article, I detect more signs besides of how evangelicals treat single moms. It’s all written in subtle, roundabout weasel words, but CT can’t hide the plain truth:

Evangelicals have no idea how to handle single moms who got their children without unapproved sex or ickie no-fault divorce. All too often, they lump virtuous single moms in with unvirtuous ones.

The Story CT Barely Acknowledges.

It does sound like a few more evangelical singles — mostly women, but some men — are thinking about adoption and fostering. That’s nice, as long as they treat the kids involved with kindness. (If those kids get raised with traditional evangelical scare-quotes “virtues,” that’s not a given.)

Eventually, though, we finally see a tiny hint of another story, one that CT absolutely does not want to discuss:

Advocates like Reid think evangelical attitudes toward single parenting by choice are shifting. One reason could be reduced stigma toward single parenting generally, given the prevalence of divorce within the church and the desire among Christians to support mothers who otherwise might choose an abortion [. . .]

Marriage rates, too, are declining inside and outside the church, leaving more single women childless.

You don’t say. But if that stigma is dying down, it’s not by much if so many of these nontraditional single parents quoted in this very story note poor treatment from their churches.

In addition, the story stresses repeatedly that church congregations can and should step in to help these nontraditional single moms handle parenting tasks. But it doesn’t sound like very many actually do. CT puts a high polish on those few to make them seem like the norm. Alas, their writer constantly subtly mars that polish with details revealing the opposite.

I’m glad CT is bringing attention to adoption, of course. I’m just curious about why they keep downplaying the mistreatment that almost all single moms face in churches. To me, that’s a very important story — especially considering the constant implicit encouragement CT offers to singles considering adoption.

A Subtle But False Permission Slip to Evangelical Single Women.

Indeed, CT might be downplaying that story because they want to offer a permission slip to the increasing numbers of middle-aged single evangelicals, especially women, in their churches:

Hey, if y’all are gonna do something wacky to become a parent, then go this route instead of having unapproved sex or jumping into mixed-faith marriages that will totally always end in divorce. Don’t worry! Your churches will totally rally around you to help out! See all these success stories we’ve got for you to consider? You’ll totally be just like them!

I hope that any evangelical women who grab hold of this permission slip stop to seriously consider how their churches already treat single moms. From every single story and blog post I’ve ever seen about that topic, it is not a pretty picture at all. Evangelicals don’t join their churches to serve others and do unpleasant, grueling work. Rather, they join specific churches to get something out of that affiliation.

It’s heartbreaking, therefore, to see these sorts of promises.

Some time ago, I criticized Preston Sprinkle for advising gay people to stay celibate for life. He assured them that they would be able to draw upon their churchmates for all of their social and nonsexual intimacy needs. It was a cruel and wicked false promise to make, because it’s absolutely impossible to conceive of many evangelical congregations that’d be okay for long with this arrangement for anyone, much less a member of a hated outgroup.

The promise CT made in this story works the same way. CT asks evangelical women to consider a drastic life step. They promise women the moon for help. But they speak without reckoning with the churches that will need to fulfill that promise.

The Cruelty is the Point: Adoptive Single Moms Edition.

No, most evangelicals are way more likely to think that single moms dug their own graves and deserve to have it rough.

Still, CT clearly hopes to soften evangelicals’ dislike of single moms. Their writer’s attempt to lump evangelicals’ very few single adoptive fathers into the mix was an interesting one. Perhaps she hoped to jog evangelicals’ thinking with a very unfamiliar juxtaposition of ideas (men + single adoptive parenting).

Or perhaps she was trying to help evangelical men envision their own male tribemates, however briefly, in the role of single adoptive father. That might make the issue of single-parent mistreatment became more personal. Evangelicals tend to soften their culture-war views once an issue hits them in the face in a personal way. Moreover, evangelical men tend to sympathize with other men way more than women. If this was the motivation for trying to make adoption sound more gender-balanced than it really is, it was a clever ploy.

Even so, CT clearly aimed this story at women for the most part. Their constant downplaying of evangelicals’ traditional mistreatment of single moms definitely sealed that opinion for me.

So on this lovely Mother’s Day, I wanted to show you two stories in one about motherhood:

The story a major evangelical site offered, and the real one they passed by. 

NEXT UP: LSP! Then, I’ll show you how evangelicals destroy their witness and reveal their true colors with their treatment of single evangelical moms. See you tomorrow!

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Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!

ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...

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