Marriage Celibacy and Singleness

Christian attitudes toward divorce and remarriage have been largely redefined in the past century. Historically, Christians were never permitted to remarry with the church, even in the case of a lawful divorce, even if you were the innocent party. Divorced people were expected to remain celibate. More recently, however, many Protestant denominations have abandoned this position. Guest writer Darla Meeks is one person who swims against this current, having chosen celibacy following her divorce rather than getting remarried.  I encourage you to read her reflections below with an open mind, regardless of where you stand on the topic of divorce and remarriage. There is much to learn from individuals like Darla who choose the path less traveled today. Jesus' commands regarding divorce, marriage, remarriage, and celibacy are clear.   I am a divorced Christian woman. I’ve been divorced for 10 years now, after a 17-year marriage to an unbelieving, chronically unfaithful spouse. Now in my fifties, I have a life that doesn’t include a mate, and I have no children. My parents have passed on. My brothers live in other states. The same is true of my extended family. I don’t see any of them much, except during brief out-of-town visits. I keep in touch by phone, text and social media, but that’s about it. I’ve had two relationships since my divorce. One of those men rejected me; the other, I rejected. I didn’t have sex with either of them while I was seeing them. In fact, I haven’t had sex in a very long time. So, my life has little or nothing to do with the traditional, nuclear family. What say you, Christian family? Am I a sad woman? Am I alone and lonely? Is my life over? Am I depressed and on the verge of suicide? Even worse, am I a degenerate, profligate, back-sliding individual who has lost God’s greatest blessing (marriage & family) forever? I say to you, no to all. In fact, by the very grace of God, I am happier than I have ever been as a celibate, single person.

Marriage idolatry may be one of the most concerning spiritual conditions of the church today. But this can be incredibly difficult for people to wrap their minds around because people see the elevation of marriage as a defense against the "attack on family values." It's important to realize that I'm not attacking marriage in this post. Instead, I'm attacking the throne upon which we've placed it. It's time we return marriage to its rightful place as a good thing, yes, but not ultimate. As a side note, I've scattered a variety of different images throughout this post because I felt the need to better display the type of mindset that I'm talking about which currently proliferates in the church (all of these images are put out by Christians). This type of stuff isn't just a fringe ideology. It's the norm, and it's everywhere.  Also, marriage idolatry is closely connected to idolatry of the nuclear family in the church. If you're interested, check out this related article I wrote a few months ago:   Marriage idolatry is ubiquitous in evangelical culture. It represents a version of sexual liberation theology preached from the pulpit. Marriage idolatry is ubiquitous in evangelical culture. It represents a version of sexual liberation theology preached from the pulpit. Marriage idolatry is ubiquitous in evangelical culture. It represents a version of sexual liberation theology preached from the pulpit.

The Scandal of Celibacy

Not surprisingly, the concept of lifelong celibacy scandalizes a world gripped by the aftermath of the sexual revolution. Celibate? For life? You’re kidding, right? So improbable does it seem to the modern ear, that celibacy gets blamed for everything from psychological disorders to the sex abuse scandal in Catholicism, as if sexual abuse were uncommon in contexts where men are sexually active. Such reactions are expected in a world of non-negotiable sexual activity. Sex is a non-option. We enjoy the perception of self-determination the way a child enjoys the choice to do his homework in crayon or in marker. The freedom to determine how he does it distracts the child from realizing that he actually has no choice but to do it. Such is the world that we live in. We have no choice but to do it. Our freedom exists in the how but nothing else. Choosing a sexless life breaks the most important and all-encompassing but unspoken rule of sexual liberation. Sex is a must. And lest you think I’m talking about the secular world, let me be clear. I’m talking about the church.

The following article was originally published over at Equip Your Community. Equip is a Christian non-profit which seeks to help church leaders better serve those who are sexual minorities. If you'd like to learn more about Equip, check out their website and subscribe to their newsletter! Taking...

In this post and others, I'm attempting to build a case for changing the culture of the church, because much of our current atmosphere makes celibacy feel like a death sentence. If we ever hope to achieve a biblical vision of community, this absolutely needs to change.    Celibate gay and lesbian Christians need actual, authentic, love in Christian community.

Churches that seek to be faithful to the traditional sexual ethic face a tough reality. For better or worse, most people find love through marriage. It's not the way things ought to be, but it's the way things are. And if that's the way things are, we've got a problem. Just how exactly are gay Christians supposed to experience love if they can't get married to the people they love?

Christian community must provide a viable path for expressing love outside of marriage. Without it, we’re just as “anti-love" as all the caricatures portray. Unfortunately, despite everything the Bible has to say about love, evangelical theology remains woefully inadequate on the topic. This means that love outside of marriage is difficult if not close to impossible for people to find, carrying huge ramifications for celibate gay Christians. So it's time to change.

What I'm saying in this post regarding sexual desire is pretty simple, but it's difficult for people to swallow. I'm saying that sexual fulfillment does not come through a sexual relationship but instead through sublimation to Christ. It's astonishing to me that this needs to be said, but it does. Christians will accept the fulfillment of virtually every single other desire through satisfaction in Christ and Christ alone, but when it comes to sexual desire, they stop short. Suddenly, we've got to find satisfaction through something else. Sure, they say, fulfillment comes through Christ. But sexual fulfillment? That comes through a committed, monogamous, heterosexual marriage. If we ever hope to create an effective response to our culture's rampant sexual indulgement, this absolutely needs to change. Sexual immorality runs rampant in the church because it forces its gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer members to follow the traditional sexual ethic but no one else. A celibate lesbian's take. LGBT+ people aren’t the only ones who need convincing about celibacy. And yet the conversational burden largely falls upon gay people in the church. Let’s face it. It’s easier to talk about what “they” need to do instead of what “I” need to do. So let’s shift the conversation and talk about the collective Christian us. The church. About 80 percent of evangelicals have premarital sex, and 1 out of every 3 born-again adults get divorced (which is the same statistical rate as unbelievers). Christian men of all stripes view pornography to the same degree as the outside world (in some cases even more), and roughly 60 percent of pastors use or have used pornography. We’ve become so calloused to the repercussions of sexual immorality, that even when a major evangelical leader admits to sexually assaulting a minor, his entire congregation gives him a thunderous round of applause. The latent hypocrisy behind these statistics destroys the believability of Christianity. It burns a hole through the heart of whatever relationship the church pretends to pursue with the queer community. And it reinforces the idea that celibacy does nothing more than cover up a deep-seated homophobia in the church. Like a foul-mouthed parent who expects their child to quit cussing, the church overlooks its own promiscuity while condemning its homosexual members for theirs. But it’s time for this to change.

In my last post, I discussed the loss of physical touch in American culture and the role it's played in stripping gay people (and everyone else) of access to non-sexual affection. Today, I want to talk about an even deeper trend. The decline of social capital. Celibacy is next to impossible for gays, lesbians, and other LGBT+ folks thanks to the decline in social capital. There’s an elephant in the room when it comes to LGBT+ issues, and many Christians will never admit it. It's like there's this collective fear that if we let the secret slip, then all the hordes of gay people who were going to live a celibate lifestyle won't buy it anymore. News flash — most of them don't buy it already. So I’m just gonna say it: The social landscape of modern America is making celibacy practically impossible. There. I said it. Celibacy is next-to-impossible. It's not like gay people don't know it already. It’s not like everyone doesn’t know it already. And it's time we came to terms with it. We’ve got to admit the truth before we can change it. So I’ll say it again. Celibacy is becoming impossible thanks to our declining social reality. And it’s time we did something about it.

The rise of gay people as a recognizable group is one of the most defining features of contemporary times. Historically-speaking, gays and lesbians emerged onto the social battlefield overnight. Go back 150 years, and they didn’t even exist as a recognizable category. Now? The LGBTQQIP2SAA umbrella includes not only gays and lesbians but also those who are bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, pansexual, of two spirits, asexual, and allies. In the blink of an eye, these hitherto unknown people groups appeared on the pages of history like splotches of invisible ink. They were always there. So why didn’t we see them before? Why are they visible now?

I'm digging a little deeper into the discussion of celibacy here, focusing on the question of love and intimacy in a celibate person's life. I've found that intimacy is one of the biggest impasses that many people have when it comes to being celibate, but it doesn't need to be. Hopefully this post begins to address that concern. Please comment or send me a private e-mail through the contact page — I'd love to hear your thoughts on this! And as always, please subscribe to follow future posts! Celibate gay people can have intimate relationships. Celibacy is not the same as singleness. When you’re a single, Christian woman committed to a traditional sexual ethic, sooner or later you reach an impasse: either get hitched to a guy or be single and lonely for the rest of your life. The predicament is hard enough when you’re straight. But as a lesbian, I found my situation to be far worse. I saw myself stuck between a rock and a hard place, and I couldn’t see any way out. I couldn’t imagine marrying a guy. Just thinking about it made me sick to my stomach. But neither could I imagine being single. I couldn’t imagine lacking the relational intimacy that comes from sharing a life with somebody else. And while I'd read plenty of Christian articles on the blessings and benefits of singleness, I saw them as little more than lackluster appeasement. A half-hearted attempt to make single people satisfied with a way of life that isn’t satisfying at all. I had bought into the modern hierarchy of relationships, with marriage sitting at the top. Unless I got married, I could never experience the greatest expression of love between people. I could be miserably married or miserably alone. A catch-22. And there was nothing I could do about it. Or so I thought.  Fortunately, God’s vision for human flourishing looks very different.

I'd like to spend the next few posts talking specifically about marriage, celibacy, and singleness. I don't plan on doing a series, but I do want to zero-in on issues related to celibacy. Please feel free to comment! Or if you prefer something private, send me an e-mail through my contact page. And if you're interested in keeping up, please subscribe! Also, I want to just clarify that I'm not trying to tear down marriage in this blog post. What I'm trying to tear down is the unhealthy degree to which marriage is prioritized at the expense of celibacy. Hopefully this comes through, but if not, I want to make sure it's clear! I think marriage is a beautiful relationship. I also think it needs to be put in its proper place.

Celibacy is valuable. More Christians need to pursue the celibate life. Gay Christians shouldn't be the only ones.

Putting All Your Eggs in the Marital Basket

Right now we face a crisis in the church. The result of blind exaltation of concupiscent love in the form of marriage. The product of children raised to think, “When I get married…” instead of, “If I get married….” Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the relational condition of the church: Single women turn 30 and wonder when their life will start. Young men prematurely rush down the aisle to take their vows, as if doing so will protect them from “sexual sin,” but the rate of porn addiction in the church is higher than ever. Pressured by an atmosphere intoxicated by romance, people who shouldn’t get married nevertheless do get married, and we bemoan the rate of divorce in the church. Even those who really should get married nevertheless prioritize their marriage over relationships with anyone else but God, and we wonder why loneliness continues to grow. LGBT+ Christians see marital love elevated to the top of a man-made relational hierarchy, and we act surprised when they want to get married like everybody else. The church’s alternative to “hookup culture” has created a flood of people rushing to get married and barely anyone trying to be celibate. All this, ironically, as marriage rates steadily decline among evangelicals.