the big problem here
Reading Time: 8 minutes (Marina Shatskih.)
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Hi and welcome back! I ran across this strange little story in a recent edition of Christianity Today. It’s quite possibly one of the most out-of-touch ways possible to rationalize (and capitalize upon) evangelicals’ current singleness problem. And that makes it funny, and thus worthy of our Off Topic Monday! Today, Lord Snow Presides over an evangelical who thinks The Big Problem Here is that evangelical singles haven’t asked Jesus hard enough yet about his opinions about their life plans.

the big problem here
(Marina Shatskih.)

The Big Problem Here.

First, a disambiguation:

The Big Problem Here: A mocking way to refer to some idea that its galaxy-brained creator thinks is the complete explanation for a given situation. It’s usually not the actual explanation, and it’s usually not a new insight in the least — nor a well-informed one. Undeterred, its creator then smoothly moves on to offer up a grand non-solution to address the Big Problem they’ve perceived.

However, The Big Problem Here usually isn’t really causing that situation. In fact, its accompanying non-solution just makes matters worse — either directly or through opportunity costs. For example, when the War on Drugs began, evangelicals rejoiced. A 1989 editorial in Christianity Today gloated about evangelicals’ big non-solution to a rising number of illegal-drug users in America. They decided that The Big Problem Here was not enough proper Jesus-ing. So obviously, proper Jesus-ing would fix everything — along with lots of tough posturing at drug dealers:

Without succumbing to the temptation to reduce all aspects of this complex problem to the simple need for evangelism [and then immediately doing exactly that — CC], let us remember how good gospel proclamation can be for a culture that seems bent on self-destruction. People who are spiritually nourished and have reason to hope generally do not use drugs. Starting with our own families, we must more actively and winsomely make disciples.

The second strike calls for a rolled-up-sleeves approach—individuals and churches taking to the streets in action that sends a clear signal to drug dealers: not in this neighborhood.

Oooh, watch out, y’all! We got ourselves a badass here! Oh yeah, I bet all those drug dealers totally shook in their little cotton socks over all those grim-eyed evangelical culture warriors coming their way! Hooray Team Jesus!

(Of course, thirty years later evangelicals are now offering up op-eds in the same publication conceding that America has utterly lost its War on Drugs. Oops.)

Hilariously, the people who make The Big Problem Here declarations also tend to react very poorly to criticisms.

So I keep my eyes peeled for these folks.

The Big Problem Here: Singleness Edition.

For years now, evangelicals at all levels in the tribe have grappled with a rising tide of unwanted singleness. By this term, I mean adults who’d really like to be married, but haven’t yet found a suitable partner. Evangelical men and women both face this problem, though largely for different reasons. I’ve been writing about it off and on for some years now, especially in my Halloween series “The Great Husband Hunt.”

Seriously. How could I possibly resist the spectacle of an evangelical offering up The Big Problem Here for unwanted singleness? Now add in the fact that these two stories intersect with our current topic of evangelism. How how how how could I resist?

I couldn’t, that’s how!

So now you can imagine my reaction when I ran across Pieter Valk informing his tribe that The Big Problem Here is that not enough evangelical adults ask Jesus if he really wants them to get married in the first place.

“Vocational Singleness.”

Pieter Valk’s November 25 post is titled, “The Case for Vocational Singleness.” The term vocational singleness simply means regular singleness, only done with a whole lot of extra Jesus-ing. (The word vocation in Christianese indicates a regular job doing Jesus-y stuff, like a pastor or traveling-evangelist gig.)

In his post, Valk laments this “year of sickness and death.” Of course, he laments it for the worst possible reason:

In a year of sickness and death, civic unrest due to systemic racism, and refugees looking for a place of welcome, the harvest of societal brokenness is plentiful, but the workers are few.

Yes. People are dying, millions are very sick, racism still destroys lives daily, and evangelicals’ reality-denying antics have all but destroyed our country. However, what evangelicals all need to think about now is making sales. Yes! All these customers are totally lining up to buy our product [WHERE? — CC], but there just aren’t enough salespeople around to sign them up!

Won’t someone think of the customers?!? They’ll leave empty-handed if nobody signs them up!

The Big Problem Here.

Pieter Valk wrings his hands about how evangelicals have totally changed over the centuries: that once, in Bizarro World, Christians used to worriedly quiz the ceiling about whether or not Jesus wanted them to get married or become monks or nuns. He thinks “many Christians” performed this worried quizzing for “the first 1500 years of the church.”

[My inner history wonk is screaming here about this guy’s careless revising of actual history. Evangelicals tend to completely forget about Catholicism and its iron grip on much of Europe. They certainly rarely understand anything about the reality of Christianity’s practice in history. I’ll just leave it at this: medieval Christians had a very different understanding of Christianity than modern American right-wing evangelicals do. This practice of running every decision past Jesus is relatively new, probably starting around the time of the Jesus People in the 1960s.]

Ah! But alas! Modern evangelicals just don’t do that anymore!

So The Big Problem Here is that lots and lots of evangelicals just aren’t receiving Jesus’ commands regarding their futures! So all these customers aren’t being served by salespeople. Instead, the salespeople are flitting off to get married and not working as hard making sales as they can!

(A Few Humble and Gentle Criticisms of This Assessment.)

Yes, absolutely that’s what’s wrong here.

Totally. Who on earth could find fault with the declaration of this TRUE CHRISTIAN™?

Well, I could.

Evangelicals grow up steeped in a culture where people regularly pray about which fast-food restaurant Jesus wants them to visit for lunch. They inject every decision they make with as much Jesus Power as humanly possible. Men in this culture have usually amassed, by mid-adulthood, half-a-dozen brush-offs from women in the form of sad assurances of divine disapproval.

And yet somehow, against all odds, legions of evangelicals have completely forgotten to ask their imaginary friend what he thinks of their life decisions.

Or they utterly misinterpreted his instructions.

It’s weird how so many evangelicals don’t think through their ideas. I guarantee this Valk guy has not even noticed how completely this implication destroys his tribe’s claims of a personal god.

The Singleton’s Saddle.

As well, Christian leaders in general have always had this weird idea that single people should and must shoulder the bulk of their evangelism and ministry tasks. In their view, parents are off doing the most important job in the worrrrrrrrrld. Married people care way too much about their spouses.

So those folks can’t possibly be expected to go all-out for Team Jesus!

Instead, their leaders saddle singles with most of their big demands.

This tendency only worsens in evangelicalism.

Clearly, though, singles are not stepping up like they used to. Pieter Valk writes:

Discernment between singleness and marriage won’t heal all of the wounds of 2020, but it could lead to more Christians accepting a call to vocational singleness and addressing the plentiful harvest [WHERE? — CC] of brokenness in our communities with single-minded devotion.

Uh oh!

Aren’t those singles totally lucky that this guy’s here to set them on the correct path?

One Unexpected Ramification of This Position.

Now, it’d be funny as hell for this notion to take off in evangelicalism, if only for this unexpected cultural shift:

Any single evangelical remaining on the shelf, as it were, past a certain age will suddenly come into focus as fighting Jesus’ clear will that they go into evangelistic ministry. They may even shoulder some unfair blame as part of the reason why Christianity is in solid, inexorable decline.

See? SEE? They’re not out there signing up new customers!

As well, those singles may find themselves pushed into joining weird groups like the one this guy offers as his grand non-solution. 

And Now, the Expected Non-Solution.

Pieter Valk’s non-solution springs forth from his Big Problem Here declaration. I know you will all be shocked to learn that it sounds completely motivated by self-interest.

At some point in the past, Valk created some kind of religious commune for unmarried evangelical men. They’re totally kickin’ it first-century style in a fundie monastery! Woo! (His history revisionism definitely extends to a general misunderstanding of monastic communities’ function and purpose. But forget it. He’s on a roll.)

In his post, that commune becomes the last and most important piece of his list of non-solution action steps.

There, he and his culture warrior commune residents pursue three beyond-hilarious goals: living in celibacy, splaining at churches about the glorious virtues of celibacy, and scare-quotes “helping” single Christians figure out if Jesus wants them to be celibate or married to an opposite-sex partner.


The WORST Non-Solution Ever.

Pieter Valk sure talks up his non-solution:

What if Christians embraced this renewed practice of discernment? What if every Christian young adult open-handedly offered this question to God and received his wise gift with gratitude? Imagine the impact of tenfold Christians embracing vocational singleness and healing our communities in ways parents often do not have the time or financial freedom to do.

However, I’ve already shown you his group’s three stated goals. Not one of those goals centers on making actual sales to actual new customers. Nor are they “healing [their] communities.” In fact, nothing about those goals even involves his commune members interacting with the world outside their self-created, self-imposed bubble.

So this non-solution doesn’t even address his stated Big Problem Here! How is any of that celibacy-splainin’ and commune-livin’ supposed to heal communities? End racism? Squash his tribe’s single-minded determination to make the pandemic last forever?

Instead, he and his group seek to make sales to other evangelicals of their quirky lil take on one aspect of their shared fandom.

Annnd the Expected Self-Interest.

As this commune’s leader, of course, Pieter Valk directly benefits from evangelicals’ potential adoption of his ideas. However, the tribe’s leaders have trained the flocks well. Nobody will even ask why he wrote that post, much less consider the role motivated reasoning might be playing in his show of certainty regarding his non-solution. Nor will they ask what damage his ideas could wreak on actual single evangelicals’ lives — or on evangelicals’ general claims about their religion and their tribe. Nope, they won’t wonder about any of that.

As a result, this guy’s free to roam freely through the sheepfold as he tries his best to recruit new members for his commune.

Oh, and raise funds, I’m sure.

Today, Lord Snow Presides over yet another evangelical proclaiming what The Big Problem Here is, offering a non-solution that doesn’t even address his own stated problem, and doing it all in a haze of self-interest that his tribe won’t even notice.

Hooray Team Jesus!

NEXT UP: How evangelists see evangelism as a divine process, vs. its completely understandable, earthly nature. See you tomorrow! <3

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About Lord Snow Presides (LSP)

Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. Lord Snow was my very sweet white cat. He actually knew quite a bit. Though he’s passed on, he now presides over a suggested topic for the day. Of course, please feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. We especially welcome pet pictures!

(Last note: This guy’s commune is definitely going into my mental “check on these numnuts regularly” file. I fully expect to see a serious scandal erupt out of them sooner or later. Culture warriors can’t help themselves. The mind boggles at the sheer drama these guys probably deal with on a daily basis.)

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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,...