Incel culture, churches and marriage
Churches understandably place a high value on marriage - but what does that communicate to those who are single? How would most churches cope with Jake Davison?
Following the shootings in his city, this is a reflection by Michael Shaw, minister of Devonport Community Baptist Church, Plymouth
Image | Nguyen Linh | Unsplash
Sometimes I look through other churches websites. My background is in web marketing, and it is good to see what other churches are doing. What do I like about them or find odd about them? While some of the older, outdated ones are annoying, for me the worst ones are often those that tell me that certain people will not be welcome there.
These are the ones where all the leadership couples are shown. Each picture is professionally shot, they have perfect teeth, and a minimum of four children, all of whom are probably excelling at school.
This church may seem like it is doing great, but those pictures exclude people. It excludes people with different family situations - divorce, remarriage or even same sex marriage. It excludes those for whom the process of having children has been hard, or impossible. It excludes those people from working class backgrounds, or the unemployed, who may find those pictures too distant from their reality. But it also excludes people who are involuntary singles, those who dream of that relationship, but may find those pictures tell them they are not good enough.
Like many people, until recently, I had no idea that “incels” were a thing, the online subculture of people who define themselves as unable to get a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one. I live in Plymouth, less than a mile from where Jake Davison shot five people, including his own mother. While many questions remain about why he was allowed a gun, the other factor was this underground ideology that most of us are now aware.
As a young man, like Jake, I found myself unable to find a long term girlfriend, and I attended the weddings of most of my close friends, before my 30th birthday. As a university chaplain, I am seeing the usual social media of posts from recently graduated students who are now getting married (the vast majority are Christian) and I wonder how someone like Jake would feel if they had ever stumbled across a church?
I should make it clear that Jake's actions last week can never be justified, nor can his misogyny and homophobia. He was clearly mentally unwell, had an unhealthy obsession with guns and mass shootings, and should never have been had his gun licence and shotguns returned.
I also feel marriage is a vital cog in our society, so I am not aiming to diminish or knock it. But I do wonder what the church is saying to the world when it places marriage so central to church life. Are we saying "you are not welcome here" to anyone who doesn’t fit into that bracket, whether through choice or circumstances?
Michael Shaw is minister of Devonport Community Baptist Church in Plymouth
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