I’m concerned that we’re having a rushed and reactionary conversation about singleness. I’m concerned we’re inadvertently building a new either/or trap of Christian singleness. And I’m concerned that once that trap springs shut on us it is going to be very, very difficult and painful for us to free ourselves from it.
I really liked your description of the new trap of singleness. It’s easy for me to fall into that, primarily because, as a gay Christian, I do expect I’ll be single (and “celibate”, however we want to use that term) for the rest of my life - the sort of sexual/romantic relationships i would be interested in, I would otherwise be embarking upon, are never going to be available to me under my sexual ethic. So in a sense I’ve had to think about it in those terms, as a permanent long-term choice for me, because that is how it’s gonna have to be for me. But it’d be unfair for me to think in those terms about other people’s singleness as well - you don’t have to be single your entire life (or have specifically chosen to be so) for that to be valuable and God-given, if a person after a fairly long period of singleness ends up marrying, neither was their former state of singleness or their newfound marriage illegitimate. It’s hard for me to tell how much the gay celibate experience and conversation about singleness and celibacy (thinking about it more in terms of a lifelong decision because it tends to be more that way for us) has influenced the broader singleness conversation cus most (or at least a disproportionate amount) of my experience with the singleness conversation has been through the side-b prism (or at least influenced through my side-b circumstances). But I expect it has probs at least somewhat had a disproportionate influence on the broader conversation, just as a result of a numbers game (with gay Christians disproportionately more likely to be celibate/single due to our circumstances)
I also expect the new trap that has come about is partly in response to the idolatry of marriage that does exist in the church (and wider society). Cus if the dominant cultural script around marriage (and romantic/sexual relationships more broadly) is “we must get this at all costs and we must escape the state of singleness” then deciding to embrace your singleness as a lifelong calling may seem a good way to push back against any implication that one should get married as soon as possible (ironically I wonder if the idolisation of marriage has been part of this, for if marriage is valuable as a life-long commitment, then so must singleness be under this paradigm). But this is an over-correction, and the approach of seeing singleness as valuable and God-given whether or not it’s lifelong (or chosen to be lifelong) or a more temporary (tho not necessarily short) circumstance before a marriage begins is the better approach.
I value how clearly you’ve described the “trap” here—both the old and the new. The “gifting” paradigm holds dangers even for those who, like me, happen to fit pretty neatly into the Protestant conception of someone “equipped for lifelong singleness.” My personal experiences with sexual/relational desire and temptation have been minimal, and I feel great contentment so long as I have friends. Nonetheless, I still was anxious in my early 20s because I inferred that if I began to have any “temptation issues,” I would be basically *required* to pursue marriage, even if there were no suitable suitors or if I still had other senses of vocation that contradicted a call to marriage.
Something always seemed off about basing my understanding of my calling mainly on how I was or wasn’t tempted, or basing it generally on my *feelings*, but I couldn’t articulate it at that point. Your work has been tremendously helpful in untangling this problem.
Thanks for addressing these issues. I end up with a slightly different spin on the use of the word “celibate“ because I understand it as not necessarily describing a lifetime state of being. That might be because I’m in the US where we have a growing subculture of angry young male “incels”— men who consider themselves “involuntarily celibate” and are hostile towards women for having frustrated their sexual impulses. I consider myself voluntarily celibate today as an unmarried Christian (out of responsibility to Christ in a culture where sexual acting out is considered basic to adult identity). And I was involuntarily celibate during my 20 year marriage to a Christian church elder who now considers himself transgender. So I’m with you in wanting to end the chosen single/circumstantial single thought divide. But the word “celibate” seems to have different connotations here.
Thank you Dani. This article gave me insight into the ‘State of the Union’ and the trap that is being set for singles.
I’m a divorced woman who for decades lamented and endured being without a caring husband. Thankfully I no longer yearn for a husband, but that may partly or largely be because my libido (which was never strong) has diminished to pretty much zero now I’m in my sixties.
But for decades I endured singleness, did my best to acclimatise to it , and poured myself into advocating for survivors of abuse. If I didn’t have the ability and drive to advocate for the oppressed, my life would have been even more sorrowful and lonely than it has been.
I think the onus is on the church at large and the married in particular to extend warm and welcoming hospitality to singles. Not just inviting them to an occasional meal out of duty, but really befriending them and sharing life with them.
wow, very helpful observations! I feel like the church is almost too afraid to admit that singleness has value (even though the Scripture gives it great value).
I agree that the church, in recent years, has completely missed the mark in how to deal with singleness. I really wish more pastors would speak frankly from the pulpit about the realities of singleness and the future that awaits those who are single (either "voluntarily" or otherwise). They could start by pushing more for a Biblical approach to marriage (in lieu of the idealized and romanticized version that is supposedly the result of dating culture) while strongly encouraging their single congregants to pursue it more aggressively. I believe the *vast* majority of singles in the church are not that way as a result of embracing the "gift" of singleness (despite their claims to the contrary) and have been coddled about their indifference towards the real reasons behind their singleness. Were pastors as bold in declaring truth in love on the issue of singleness as they are to other hot topic issues they preach on (homosexuality / gender identity and abortion), the singleness rate would start to decline significantly. But, a large number of pastors within the evangelical world are either too soft to address what would make many in their congregation uncomfortable or unqualified to even be preaching in the first place, hence an escalating rate of singleness in the church.