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Thursday, September 14, 2017

"One by One" (Gino Dalfonzo)

TITLE: One by One: Welcoming the Singles in Your Church
AUTHOR: Gino Dalfonzo
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2017, (240 pages).

Church, we have a singles problem. Not the singles, but the Church perception of singles. This is the single biggest theme in this very needed book about how we have tended to ignore singles in our preoccupation toward families, marriages, and children. In doing so, we are ostracizing the single folks unconsciously when we fail to welcome them as they are, regardless of age or gender. Often, it is not the fault of the individual for being single. Some honestly couldn't find a right soulmate. Others for various reasons are unable to commit to any relationship. In general, we must learn to accept people regardless of their marital status. This book goes deeper into the sociological and theological aspects of this issue of singlehood and acceptance. There are many types of singles. Some are divorced or widowed. Others are separated. Author Gina Dalfonzo, a life-long single, focuses on those who are singles all their lives. She shares and critiques various writers and teachers about the issue of singleness. She points out the unfortunate situation of singles being a stigma in themselves. Married people are relatively more well regarded. That is not the issue. The issue is how some teachers have unfairly blamed the problem of singleness on singles themselves. For instance, if someone is not married, they are too career-minded. They are too individualistic. They are way too uninterested in starting families, and so on. Singles can also be treated as pariahs when they are placed on a lower level of importance. They can also be seen as projects to be worked on or problems that needed a solution. All of these stem from an unhealthy perception of singleness. We need to learn to treat them as real people who are equally important as everyone else. Dalfonzo shares painful stories of many singles, even as she identifies deeply with their predicament. The many testimonies and words bring home a powerful angle and perspective that many of us who are married are unable to appreciate. In some cases, there is a sad case of women reserving themselves for sex after marriage and in the process missed the boat with men who demanded sex before marriage. Is that fair for the women who remained single out of their desire to honour the marriage institution? The problem lies in the infatuation of a happily-ever-after picture of a married couple with kids. That is not all. She also critiques a subculture made popular by Josh Harris' "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" for having hurt many people in their thinking and relationship building. It is an overly conservative approach that seems out of touch with reality that really hurts many people. In a culture where people are "courtship crazy," such a teaching makes it difficult for well-meaning Christians to find their potential soulmate. It makes me wonder whether there is such a thing as "biblical courtship." Other poignant observations include:

  • Church tends to be quick to point a finger at secular culture instead of looking at themselves
  • People adopted an unrealistic holier-than-thou abstinence in the process of wanting to honour the institution of marriage
  • Unhelpful perceptions of the roles of men and women
  • Misapplying the phrase "Jesus is all you need" on marriage and singleness
  • Rethinking our values on children, family, and traditional paradigms 
  • Not to see marriage as that all-important goal in life
  • Thoughts about identity, worth, maturity, and legacy
  • ...

Dalfonzo is spot on with regard to the problem of perception of singles. We must recover the dignity of singles as people on an equal footing with the rest of the Church community. We have become so family-oriented that we have unwittingly marginalized singles. This must change and it begins with recognition of the problem. Church leaders must learn to see from the perspective of singles, and this book is an excellent way to help them do that. There is a role for both singles as well as marrieds. All are important. I have to agree with Dalfonzo that the Church must wake up to her responsibilities and stop treating (or mistreating) singles as they had been doing in the past. They must go beyond merely singles ministry but to organize programs that are more inclusive. They need to re-examine the teachings and sermons coming at the pulpit level, especially those that unwittingly glorified married life. There is a place for singles. In fact, even with the use of the Apostle Paul's example of singleness, some biblical scholars contend that Paul himself was in fact previously married! He was mentioned as being a member of the Sanhedrin, where the cultural norm was that people in the Sanhedrin were presumed married. If that is true, then the use of Paul as an example of singleness would be diminished. The point that Paul offered about singleness in 1 Corinthians 7 is more about the focus on Christ ministry, not a dogmatic statement of an unmarried life. One more thing. All of us have been single before. Those who are married are likely to face another period of singleness once their marriage ends, whether by death or other reasons. Thus, focusing on singles ministry and adopting healthy perceptions of singleness is a necessary investment that would bring spiritual dividends in the long run.

Gina Dalfonzo is the editor of BreakPoint.org (website of The Colson Center), as well as an occasional writer for BreakPoint Radio. She is also editor of Dickensblog and a columnist at Christ & Pop Culture.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Books and Graf-Martin Communications without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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