release the hounds!
Reading Time: 7 minutes (Josiah Ness.) I'm not sure how the dog fits in, but he is a good boy.
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Not long ago, we reviewed a Christian book called Where Have All the Good Men Gone? In this book, author A.J. Kiesling sought to find out just why it was so incredibly hard for single evangelicals to find spouses to their liking. Then, we laid a lot of groundwork about the dysfunction going on in evangelicals’ marriage hunts and relationships. Today, I’ll show you the massive marriage dilemma facing today’s single evangelicals — and what it tells us about evangelicals as a group.

release the hounds!
(Josiah Ness.) I’m not sure how the dog fits into a post about marriage, but I do know he is a good boy.

(Today’s post concerns white evangelicals rather than evangelicals as a whole.)

The Fretting of Rod Dreher.

Yesterday, we had a lot of fun mocking Rod Dreher’s hand-wringing over how few young American women apparently wanted to marry evangelical men like him. His conclusions and reasoning were very mistaken — as usual. There aren’t quite that few young women around who are willing to have sex with men.

However, he called attention to something his tribe sees as a serious issue in their marriage hunt:

The young women that evangelical men want for marriage, don’t want them.

Meanwhile, the older women these men don’t want, also don’t want them.

The same thing happens in reverse for evangelical women. They want to marry men about their own age rather than younger or older, but those men don’t want to marry women their own age. They want younger wives.

Both men and women in evangelicalism have both an embarrassment of riches and a total lack of options.

Some Basic Demographics About Marriage.

When I talk about an embarrassment of riches, I’m not fooling around. A lot of singles in Christendom languish in the pews.

With every passing year, white evangelicals grow older and older. In Pew Research’s big 2015 Religious Landscape Survey, we learned that that group went from a median age of 47 in 2007 to 49 in 2014. The next year, they broke some of those figures out a little further — but the news didn’t improve. (The median age of the evangelical denomination Presbyterian Church in America is 59!) In 2018, 538 offered some dismal news for Christians along similar lines.

Along with that aging trend, one analyst found that only 60% of Christians aged 30-49 were married. 17% of the unmarried Christians in that age group had never been married; 14% were divorced, 1% widowed, and 8% were unmarried but cohabiting with a partner.

So nearly half of under-50 Christians aren’t married. That trend doesn’t seem to change much with evangelicals, even though they’re even more buggy on the topic of marriage and family than mainline Christians are.

Despite all of those singles, Christians have a great deal of trouble finding marriage partners. More and more of them simply never do.

The Flooded Marriage Market.

Though the gender divide in evangelicalism isn’t nearly as bad as it used to be, it seems like fewer and fewer people in the tribe are getting married. That means that singles grow older and older without finding mates. They’d get married, sure, if they could find someone who fit their standards. However, they haven’t found anyone who fits their standards who also wants to marry them.

That situation seems common for both men and women in the tribe.

So when I spotted Rod Dreher’s silly post, it caught my attention in a major way. Why wasn’t he wringing his hands about all the women in evangelical churches who are single right now? Why does he even focus on young, single LGBT women, all to fret about them not wanting to touch his peepee?

Well, there was a good reason why he was whining about that.

Single evangelical men tend overwhelmingly to seek out wives younger than themselves.

And those older evangelical women know they’re invisible to the men they want most. One factor above all others renders them invisible, and they think they know exactly what it is.

The Invisible Women.

In her book, A.J. Kiesling complains very bitterly about being “invisible” to the men she really wants to attract for marriage [p. 103]:

My invisibility [to men] had nothing to do with the lack of a pretty face or a lively personality, but it had everything to do with a formidable acronym called BMI (body mass index). [. . .] No, it didn’t put me in the obese category, but it did render me invisible to the majority of men I encountered–at least in the state I call home, where golden tans and stick-thin bodies are the high-water mark of beauty.[. . .]

However, BMI isn’t the whole explanation here. Kiesling found that out, to her chagrin.

She says in the book that she ended up losing some of her excess weight. As happy as she was with the results, the move didn’t improve her marriage chances much at all. As far as I can tell, she is still single.

Here’s the problem she faced:

Even without being overweight, she was still a lot older and a lot more divorced than the men her age wanted from a marriage partner.

While Kiesling wants an evangelical version of Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightley as a husband, the men of her tribe who most closely fit that description absolutely don’t want women like her.

The Invisible Men.

For their own part, the single evangelical men Kiesling interviewed felt like they, too, were invisible to single evangelical women. They said they felt that single women’s marriage standards are simply impossible to meet. (I’ve heard those men call women’s standards “fried ice” in their forums and subreddits.)

In her book, A.J. Kiesling falls into that failing. She tells us all about how she tried online dating only to be bitterly disappointed with the quality of men she met. They might have been Christians, sure, and they might have been “genuinely nice guys,” but they were not, in her opinion, “good men.” They were nowhere near up to her standards for a future husband. Her criticisms made me cringe:

Then there was Greg, who was posing as a Christian but had a secret agenda of getting me–or any woman presumably–into bed. Jim kind of grossed me out in person; Bob was still in love with his ex-wife; and Steven (an overwhelmed single dad) was shopping for a mother for his two young children.

Really, Kiesling seems just as appearance-and-age-focused as the men, just in slightly different ways.

Over and over again, as I looked at the dating profiles and Reddit posts of women just like Kiesling, I noticed one complaint: these “genuinely nice guys” definitely weren’t the superlative mates the women wanted Jesus wanted them to marry.

And if they couldn’t have those ideal men as husbands, then they wanted no husbands at all.

The Truth Evangelical Women Hate.

Christine Colón and Bonnie Field, friends at Biola University in the ’80s, did not begin to think seriously about singleness until their 30s, when they realized this marriage thing wasn’t happening.

— Katelyn Beaty, Christianity Today

In short, evangelical culture operates in a way that A.J. Kiesling simply cannot accept:

Evangelical men’s marriage ideals are perfunctory, appearance-based, youth-focused, virginity-obsessed, culture-driven, transactional, and hugely misogynistic. An ideal evangelical man seeks the best possible wife he can possibly get within that dysfunctional matrix.

For their part, evangelical women operate along the same lines, though they tend to seek out different — if equally rare and difficult-to-land — prey. They, too, seek out the best husband they can possibly get, and will accept nothing less.

So both men and women in evangelicalism seem to be chasing the top 10% of the opposite sex’s singletons. The remaining 90% remain invisible to the opposite sex.

And the Truth Evangelical Men Hate.

Evangelical men have always been authoritarian to the core. In fact, they’ve been drilling down on authoritarianism more and more as the years have gone by.

Evangelical women have been slowly migrating into egalitarianism and compassion-above-all, an approach to evangelicalism exemplified by the leaders of #ChurchToo. These women clamor for better treatment and more say in their own governance.

Meanwhile, evangelical men have viewed every bit of women’s minimal progress with hatred and distaste.

Those men hate modern evangelical women with a passion that defies the very stars in its purity. They think the women of their tribe are over-entitled, bring nothing to marriage besides their capacity for sex, lack budgeting and housekeeping skills, and inevitably gain weight and become unpleasantly argumentative once they’ve landed a husband.

Evangelical men want, above all else, wives they can brag about to other evangelical men: that quintessential smokin’ hot wife. Those are the women that men rank the most highly in the tribe.

If they can’t have those women, they want no wives at all.

Evangelical Marriage: Like Chasing Gazelles on the Serengeti.

The unfortunate but entirely too predictable results of this rampant objectification: a certain very small number of evangelical singles count as the top 10% potential mates in terms of market value.

(JFC, I hate writing that phrase. People are not livestock.)

Evangelical singles of the opposite sex pursue these rare gazelles to the exclusion of all other prey. For the most part, only the top 10% will actually succeed in bagging one of the gazelles.

The lower 90% of singles pursue gazelles, sure, but they do not in turn get pursued at all. They’re very frustrated that the other sex doesn’t pursue them, but largely they blame the other sex for having standards that are simply too high for the average evangelical man/woman to meet. The reasons for these high standards vary, but are usually impossible for them to solve because they’d take a total, spontaneous change of heart and expectations in the opposite sex to reverse.

If those lower-value singles luck out and get a date, chances are good it’s because the other person consciously decided to throw them a bone — the men because they hope for unapproved sex; the women to see if they can stand a particular guy enough to settle for him when they get truly desperate for a spouse.

What usually happens:

That top 10% of evangelicals pair off relatively quickly, leaving the bottom 90% to attend endless singles’ groups at church until they disengage entirely out of shame and disappointment.

Evidence of a Real Live God, Right Here. Yep. Totally. Fer Sure.

Out of everything else that contradicts Christians’ claims, the trouble they face in finding spouses might speak the loudest to the real truth. Nowhere at all will we ever see a better illustration of just how earthly and non-divine evangelicalism truly is than right here.

Both sexes tend to publicly declare priorities in selecting spouses that they do not actually care about in the chase itself. Strong faith tends to be the stated #1 priority for both sexes. When A.J. Kiesling got that answer, she didn’t even question it. She herself claimed the same, but the quote above about her experiences with online dating puts the lie to her stated priorities. (The heroine of Christian Mingle similarly lied to herself about her own standards for a husband.)

Absolutely nothing about evangelicalism works the way its leaders and most fervent adherents promise. Nothing! However, nobody in the tribe can accept that reality. Instead, men and women both seem to have grimly set their shoulders to the grind of their already-failed game.

Worse still, they can’t connect their dysfunctional culture with their higher-than-usual divorce rates. 

NEXT UP: Evangelical men’s terror of divorce — and why it’s not such an unreasonable fear in their dysfunctional culture. See you tomorrow!

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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,...