Hi and welcome back! On Mother’s Day, I showed you a major evangelical news site that somehow missed an important story about the single moms in their churches who didn’t find motherhood through adoption. Instead, these women got their kids through unapproved sex or divorce, neither of which hardline evangelicals like much. Evangelical single moms really test evangelicals’ own marketing hype to the limits — and accidentally reveal exactly who evangelicals, as a group, truly are. Today, let me show you how evangelicals treat single moms — and why, and what their behavior says about them as a group.
(Christianese 101: An evangelical’s “witness” is their overall level of credibility. They’re supposed to care enormously about maintaining a “good witness.” Having a “bad witness” is considered to negatively impact recruitment. By publicly following their rules and not being a hypocrite, evangelicals “build up their witness.” They expect the people around them to listen more to their recruitment pitches if they have a good witness. If not, they’ll still make the pitch, but then you get an utterly cringey do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do kind of spiel. If you ever encounter one of these in the wild, enjoy it. It’s as absolutely hilarious as you’d expect.)
Single Moms: The Scandal of the Evangelical Raphe Nuclei.
Every so often, I lurk the spaces of evangelical men. I want to see what they act like in the wild. (It was this exact habit that led me to predict that Donald Trump would have a much better shot at winning 2016 than just about anybody else gave him.) Thanks to that lurking, I’ve seen exactly how regular, pew-warming evangelical men feel about evangelical single moms.
Shockingly, evangelical men do not like evangelical single moms at all.
In their discussions, I heard words like “epidemic” deployed to describe what many agreed was a swiftly-increasing number of single moms in evangelical churches. Another said he only attended his evangelical church to pick up single moms for sex — which he claimed wasn’t difficult at all. And another noted the hypocrisy of the single moms in his church — that they supported all the right culture war issues, but obviously had committed some major sin or another along the way. Others felt evangelical single moms were playing up their fervor and religious devotion to win evangelical husbands. (Oh, honey.)
Interestingly, one other man described his church slowly filling up with single moms who were “on the prowl” for husbands there. (I doubt that turns out well.)
Needless to say, I don’t approve of what they said. The forum I checked out was far from the worst bunch of MRAs out there (though it doesn’t take much to clear that bar), but this was all awful stuff to say about other human beings.
Rather, what I’ve described here are just the perceptions of regular evangelical men. They think that churches are filling up with single moms, who are subsequently totally wrecking these men’s Jesus grooves.
And it was interesting to see how absolutely cruel these TRUE CHRISTIANS™ were to these women.
How Many Single Moms Are There?
First off, I wondered if there really is this huge, increasing number of single moms in evangelical churches. Knowing what I do of evangelicals, it seems unlikely. Evangelicals tend to stomp hard on tribemates who obviously step out of line, and single moms have, again, done one of two things the tribe most likes to punish.
In 2019, single mothers headed almost 15M American families. The number has been shrinking steadily for a while now, so there might not be so many in the next count. But suffice to say, it’s a lot. As of that 2019 count, these women had 15.76M children.
(That year, about 3.2M kids lived in households headed by a single father. Of note, single-father-headed households look like they’re slightly increasing in number. Single dads are gradually taking bigger slices of the single-parent pie, though the pie is shrinking overall because the number of single mothers is dropping so much.)
The usual number evangelicals throw out is that only 1/3 of single moms attend any church at all. So, 5M. Evangelicals tend to make up about 30-35% of Americans generally, so perhaps 1.75M of that 5M are evangelical.
But again, it’s hard to say. There could be proportionally way fewer single moms in evangelical churches because of the treatment they get there. Speaking of:
How Evangelicals Treat Single Moms.
One blog, The Life of a Single Mom, declares that “2 out of 3 single moms” don’t attend church. The blogger doesn’t cite sources, however. Nor does she tell us how she knows that only 1% of churches, as she claims, “have any type of formalized single mother’s program and outreach plan.” That blog’s founder speaks eloquently all the same of how poorly her local church treated her when she was raising her kids alone.
CBN, a hard-right culture-warrior fundagelical site, repeats that 1/3 statistic. Their writer tells us that she herself was “a former, unwed, teen mom.” In her time of need, she found “nothing for single moms at the local church.” Treated as a pariah and burning with shame for seven whole years, she eventually stopped attending.
This heartbreaking blog post describes a single mom who hid her status as a divorcee when she saw how her churchmates treated single moms. For years, her “fear of judgment led to an isolating lifestyle.” But the idea of facing her tribe’s mistreatment scared her worse.
And a Crosswalk writer uses very similar terms. Mistreatment and judgmentalism figure prominently in her post.
Over and over again, I see these same points being made. As a group, evangelicals act downright nasty to single moms — even when those moms are, in fact, 100% true-blue evangelical.
Do these writers realize their mics are on and we can hear them?
Annnd… Evangelicals’ Witness Slides Down Another Notch.
A while ago, this Southern Baptist fella wrote a downright impassioned treatise about The Many Glorious and Bountiful Virtues of Marrying Single Moms. He saw it as a disgrace that evangelical men were not marrying these women. (Incidentally, evangelical men did not respond well to his attempt to change their minds.)
In a serious way, he sought to make evangelicals consider their witness, or their overall credibility to others. Evangelical men’s refusal to marry single moms made them seem hypocritical, he thought.
But we need not go so far as demands for marriage. I reckon that most evangelical single moms would be okay with just being treated decently well by their church families, to use the Christianese. If evangelical men turn their noses up at the idea of marriage, well, then at least those women would still have a good community around themselves and their children.
Alas, evangelical single moms don’t usually even get that tiny consolation.
As Thom Rainer accidentally revealed in a 2015 post, any woman who doesn’t fit the evangelical life-script mold is going to get a lot of side-eye from her church. Single moms just might epitomize the opposite of that mold, is all. (Don’t miss his comments, either — lots more disappointing anecdotes flow there.)
Little wonder one blog presented a post in 2017 titled:
Jesus cares more about widows and single moms than your church does.
Unfortunately for these Christians, it’s very easy for a fictional character to behave in idealized ways. The reality of an authoritarian, misogynistic, classist, self-focused group will trickle out past that idealization every time.
Evangelicals: Failing Hard At Their Own Marketing Hype.
Evangelicals have a lot of marketing hype to live up to. And they live up to so very, very little of it. Their hype speaks loudly about terms like “objective morality” and a “wonder-working God” who changes evangelicals’ hearts and makes them better people than non-believers could ever be. Evangelicals talk about there being “no male or female in Jesus Christ,” about Jesus’ demands being an “easy yoke and light burden,” about there being “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
But woe betide the marginalized people who actually reach out for these grand offers.
In far, far too many evangelical churches, what such folks find instead is an older version of the worst kind of high-school cliquishness. By then, they’re well-indoctrinated in how to respond. Church communities make recruits’ deep disappointment into a personal failure on the recruits’ part, not on their churches’ part.
So, all those angry evangelical men need not worry. The number of single moms is dropping anyway — and so is the number of Christians overall. From the sound of things, maybe evangelical single moms won’t be a huge burden on these TRUE CHRISTIANS™ for too awful long.
Thinking Things Through (Or Not) With Evangelical Single Moms.
I just hope those sexist guys remember that when those moms leave, they take their kids with them. Then, those moms either raise their kids without religion at all, or else indoctrinate them into some other flavor of Christianity.
Either response only contributes to the rising numbers of Nones and ex-Christians.
So mistreating single moms and driving them away might make evangelicals feel more ideologically pure, but it is already likely having disastrous effects on their tribe’s future.
Really, you’d hope that people could think this stuff through a little better.
But I suppose evangelicals just like having a group in their midst that they can look down on and mistreat, and they want that more than they want to save their religion from utter cultural irrelevance.
NEXT UP: As I hinted a few paragraphs above, the gaslighting evangelicals muster against those expressing disappointment in their treatment can be just unreal. We’ll look closer at that tomorrow — and maybe exorcise some old, old demons. See you then!
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