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A Motion to Affirm Singleness
This is a bit of a different kind of post from me. It’s also one that requires a little bit of context.
This week (May 8-12, 2022) the General Synod (GS) of the Anglican Church of Australia (ACA) has been meeting. The GS is essentially the parliament of the ACA. It brings together appointed or elected representatives (of which I am one) from all 23 Anglican dioceses of Australia. In the usual pattern of things, the GS meets once every 4 years to discuss, move and pass a range of legislation and motions of importance to the denomination as a whole.
At this 18th General Synod I had the privilege of moving a motion that asked those gathered to “affirm singleness”. On 11th and 12th May, 2022 the motion was moved, discussed/debated and voted on by the members of General Synod. The end result was that it was formally and enthusiastically passed (i.e. singleness was affirmed!)
I wanted to share with you the full text of the motion and my speech moving it. The first two paragraphs of the motion and the related substance of my speech is quite specific to our Australian Anglican context. But I hope the broader intent and content might be interesting and encouraging to you.
Motion 20.6 - Affirming Singleness
1. Notes that Faithfulness in Service was adopted by the General Synod in 2004 “as the national code for personal behaviour and the practice of pastoral ministry by clergy and lay church workers” (Resolution 33/04).
2. Notes that in Faithfulness in Service clergy and church workers are called to take “responsibility for their sexual conduct by maintaining chastity in singleness and faithfulness in marriage” (Faithfulness in Service IS 7.2).
3. Affirms that singleness is, like marriage, an honourable state for God’s people, in which the fullness of God’s blessings may be enjoyed. Singleness is highly commended in Scripture (1 Cor 7:8, 32-38; Matt 19:10-12).
My Speech Moving the Motion
“This is not my first time attending General Synod. However, this is my first speech at General Synod. And in all honesty, I can’t imagine a more fitting first speech for me to make. I don’t say that simply because I am single myself, but because the last 7 years of my life have been focused — some here who know me well would say laser focused — on the topic of singleness in the Christian life and community.
I have completed a PhD on a theological retrieval of singleness for the contemporary church; I have founded a para-church ministry which seeks to resource Christians to have pastorally positive and biblically faithful conversations about singleness; I’ve spoken at many churches and events on topics related to Christian singleness; and I have a book being published next year on, what else but a theology of singleness.
And yet despite all this, I believe my moving of this motion is one of the most personally significant things I’ll ever do as part of my ministry to, amongst and for single Christians. Why do I say that?
Well, because I stand before you today, the General Synod of the denomination of which I’ve been a member my entire life, into which I have been ordained, whose members I serve and which I love, asking us to not merely affirm and honour singleness, but to affirm, honour, encourage and love our single brothers and sisters in Christ.
All of them.
In preparation for this speech I asked a range of never-married, divorced and widowed Anglican men and women why they think it is so important that their national church affirms singleness as a genuinely honourable state for God’s people.
I wish I could share all of the responses with you in full today. However, I have a healthy fear of that timekeeping bell. So instead, here are just a couple of short comments from a few of our unmarried brothers and sisters:
“I just want to be seen as whole… as complete as I am”.
“ I just want to be considered a person of value in the church”
“I just want to feel normal”
Our single brothers and sisters are right to want this from us, because this is what God’s word call us to give them.
Singleness is highly commended in Scripture. God’s word:
Honours godly singleness as a truly good … dare I say it… even better state for the Christian person.
It calls us to understand singleness to be a gift from our gracious heavenly father.
It celebrates the unmarried Christian’s capacity to be undivided in their devotion to him.
It points us towards a new creation in which we will not be married to each other
And finally, ultimately, God’s word reveals to us that we have a saviour who was himself fully human, truly fulfilled and wonderfully single
Singleness is highly commended and honoured in Scripture.
But is it as highly commended and honoured in our life together?
The evidence suggests it is not.
I fear that our reluctance to genuinely honour singleness is deeply informed by an underlying and often unspoken suspicion that singleness is an undesirable and even unliveable state. A large part of our reasoning for this is bound up in contemporary attitudes towards sex.
To live a potential lifetime without sex?
To never experience the joy of sexual union with another person.
To expect an unmarried Christian to resist sexual temptation till their life’s end?
The world around us sees such prospects as unthinkable… even cruel. And so it also sees the Christian aspiration of a chaste single life as unthinkable… even cruel.
But what do we, the Anglican Church of Australia think?
In his address to the 13th General Synod in 2004, the Most Reverend Dr Peter Carnley said:
“As Christians we should not allow ourselves to be browbeaten by the permissive society into the view that chastity and abstinence from sexual activity is an entirely unrealistic impossibility amongst adults.”
The members of that General Synod would go on to demonstrate their agreement with their President on that matter.
Resolution 33/04 of that General Synod adopted Faithfulness in Service as the national code for personal behaviour and the practice of pastoral ministry by clergy and lay church workers. In doing so it affirmed Part 7.2 of Faithfulness in Service which called on those who were unmarried to take “responsibility for their sexual conduct by maintaining chastity in singleness”.
And so, as parts one and two of this motion note, the 13th General Synod affirmed that chastity in singleness is a realistic possibility for adults.
And yet by adopting Faithfulness in Service as the national code, that Synod didn’t simply hold out chaste singleness as “doable”. It also asserted that it is truly good. How did it do that? Well, directly before the excerpt in paragraph 2 cited in this motion, Faithfulness in Service as adopted stated that:
“Sexuality is a gift from God and is integral to human nature. It is appropriate for clergy and church workers to value this gift, taking responsibility for their sexual conduct by maintaining chastity in singleness...”
Chastity, sexual abstinence, celibacy… whatever word we might otherwise insert here… is not an oppressive and unrealistic burden placed upon single Christians. Rather, chastity is the single Christians way of valuing their God-given sexuality.
To put it more personally, chastity is not a cruel suppression of my sexuality as a single Christian. Instead it is my active and godly expression of the sexuality God has gifted to me.
Chastity is the way in which those of us who are unmarried are able to both value our sexuality as a gift given to us by God… and the way for us to demonstrate to others the great esteem with which we hold that gift.
In 2004 we as a church called the single Christian to value their chastity. In 2022, the essential question before us is whether we, as a church, will resolve to value those chaste single Christians themselves.
We can do this by reaffirming our national church’s commitment to chastity as the vitally important expression of their sexuality.
And we can do this by affirming:
that singleness, like marriage, is an honourable state for God’s people
that in singleness the fullness of God’s blessings may be enjoyed
that singleness is highly commended in Scripture
I commend this motion to you.”
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