Molly Worthen has written an utterly fascinating article about the conservative views of many American single mothers. It starts out, like many religious pieces in mainstream publications, with a political conceit. A quarter of single mothers in the last presidential election, notes Worthen, voted John McCain. This is the least interesting idea in the whole piece. Is this statistic really so shocking? Are single mothers incapable of voting for anything besides more government benefits? Or are we to assume they have never voted for a strong military or that they might like lower taxes or less government interference in their lives.
At any rate, what Worthen uncovers in her interviews is something much more interesting. Single mothers who are embracing (and being embraced) by the Church.
Evangelicals are assuring single moms that God has a plan for them, and it still includes marriage — just not in the way they expected. Rita Viselli found herself pregnant at age 35 with the child of a man she was casually dating. She was a recovering drug addict, the troubled daughter of a single mother herself, and a recent convert to evangelical Christianity. In 2000 she began a Bible study for single mothers in her living room in Southern California. She taught them what she had realized: “I have a husband. His name is Jesus Christ. I have decided that he will be my daughter’s father, and she has grown up being told that God is her father. He is real in our house,” she told me. “He has provided for me and my child better than 10 husbands could have.”
For anyone who was aware of the ways in which the government began to play the role of the husband in the lives of poor single mothers—welfare checks replaced breadwinners—this language about the church will seem familiar, a little worrisome and somewhat promising at the same time.
On the one hand, this marriage to Jesus Christ probably means a mother who is less interested in casual boyfriends. Much better for the kids. It also means that she has surrounded herself with a church community that can actually provide tangible help—with childcare, for instance. But this last line about how Jesus has provided better than 10 husbands could have may leave observers wondering about the attitude the woman is passing on to her children about the importance of marriage, and particularly of men.
But many of these women do seem to have seen through the feminist myth that men are simply unnecessary. According to Worthen, they see feminism
as a cult of self-love that denies women’s basic yearning, not to be free, but to be secure. “It is not God’s design for a woman to raise children on her own,” said Jennifer Turpin-Miller, a single mother involved in Rita Viselli’s ministry. “Feminism says, ‘we’re so independent, we don’t need anybody’ — and I don’t want to be associated with that, because I can’t do it on my own.”
If single mothers come away believing that “it takes a village” and that village is their church, well, there are certainly worse conclusions.