Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Sex is Not a Cuss Word, Christians


Sex can be a scary thing. …I’m not talking about the act of sex, because as a celibate, I wouldn’t know. But the pervasion of sex in our culture can feel a bit horrific. TV shows and ads, movies, music, politics, comedy, academics… You name it. Christians hurdle through a dodge ball game of sexuality on a daily basis. But there’s one time and place where we’re not likely to hear anything about it: Sundays at church. Cue sighs of relief. At church we can pretend like the world has rewound itself to the Victorian period. No sketchiness, no need to comprehensively examine the carpet fibers because we weren’t put in charge of the remote, just an asexual wonderland.

The church definitely needs to be oil rather than a sponge amidst the waves of our sex-saturated society. And there are certainly a lot of forces that would like to emulsify that barrier. It’s not wrong to yearn for wholeness. It’s not idiotic for parents to desire innocence for their children until the kids reach appropriate emotional maturation. But if Christians want to be salt and light to the world around them, we must have answers for every issue. We need to know how to deal with all kinds of brokenness and how to respond with grace.

Though the church may prefer to stay silent on the topic, we have been thrashed by the ubiquitous status of sexuality among our peers, at school and work, and every form of media. For some of us, we may feel a disconnect between our sexuality and faith. Many Christians have embraced alternative sexual perspectives that either compartmentalizes these seemingly opposing desires, or we come up with our own theology of sex that disregards the precedence of scripture. The new television show GCB portrays legalistic Christians who have very messed up views on practical theology, namely their sexuality. As ridiculous as the show certainly is, I wouldn’t be surprised if a multitude of Western Christians resonate with the experiences of this series. For many, like the characters of GCB, church and God establish a cultural identity, particularly where I live in the south. But a huge disintegration of belief and practice runs rampant when we don’t care to listen to God or be transformed by His Word.

I certainly have no desire to be judgmental and unloving towards anyone, but we who self-identify as Christian should be fully aware of biblical sexual ethics and do our best to live up to them with God’s help. There is abundant grace for transgressors, but also a call to abandon the sin we crave that rivals the richer pleasures of our loving Father.

I love to talk about sex. It’s my favorite subject in psychology and one of the areas I would love to specialize in as a psychologist. Considering how conservative I am, weird is likely an understatement. But the subject of sexuality doesn’t scare me. Sexuality means a lot of things to different people; it’s far more than the sacred act of intercourse in marriage or the broken behaviors outside of marriage. Sexuality affects culture and the church, and Christians must be willing to engage the subject gracefully. God called us to change the world, not to be Victorian prudes. Scripture makes it clear we are more than our sexuality, as I pointed out in my last blog posting. We shouldn’t be defined by sex. But we are sexual beings nonetheless, in need of intimacy and community. We must find the appropriate balance in our churches to answer the important questions. And I assure you, the questions are there. If we as the church refuse to proclaim and constructively dialogue God’s theology of sex, secular culture will provide its own answers. It does not share the church’s fear or feelings of discomfort on the topic. So let’s talk.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Goodbye, Sexual Identity


Sexual identity radically shapes Western culture. Men and women must meet certain expectations if they want to maintain their cherished image of heterosexuality. Men usually receive the shorter end of the stick as heterosexual woman can cross gender boundaries without raising eyebrows.

Just to be clear, sexuality identity is not the same as sex or gender. Sexual identity refers to how we define ourselves based upon our sexual desires and behaviors. Though I would add that gender roles are part of how we conceptualize identity. Again, men have it rough when it comes to sexual identity. Society creates cookie cutter guidelines about male activities, interests, hobbies, appearance, and so forth. Stray but a little, and one’s sexuality is called into question. Women probably experience this frustration a little, but for whatever reason not at the same intensity as men do. For all the so-called advantages of being a man, sexual identity is not one of them.

I mentioned before that I’m reading a book called The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex is Too Important to Define Who We Are by Jenell Williams Paris, a Christian anthropologist and professor. The thesis of Dr. Paris’ book is that we need to move beyond sexual identity labels: “I don’t want to be heterosexual. I don’t want to get life, secure my moral standing or gird my marriage with a social identity that privileges some and maligns others on the basis of inner desires and feelings” (Paris 43). Just to clarify, Dr. Paris is a woman married to man, a mother, and a Christian who teaches at a Christian university. Paris is making a case not only for those who experience same-sex attraction to cease using labels to define their lives, but also for the majority of those who have sexual feelings and desires for the opposite sex.

Dr. Paris’ reasoning for the eradication of sexual identity includes plenty of factors. As the above quote mentions, the terms themselves and the focus on sexuality has created “heterocentrist theology” which in turn leads to “a hierarchy of persons” (Paris 40). Even in secular culture, the LGBT community experiences an incredible amount of prejudice, ostracism, and hostility by Christians and homophobic jerks. Labels have a knack for creating discrimination and misunderstanding. An end to sexual labels for all creates equality. It’s an interesting point, but probably one that doesn’t resonate with the LGBT community who often live in a cultural bubble (like all of us) that promotes their self-identified status.

Dividing and separating people into categories creates other problems for societal labeling. Dr. Paris gives the example of “Michael” a student whose sister came out as lesbian. His sister’s new identity creates feelings of isolation for Michael, not so much because of his or her beliefs, but “because the sexual identity categories themselves [creates] a chasm between lesbian and straight (Paris 40). This wall of separation divides Michael from his sister, and as Paris notes, also influences the church. Paris continues, “The problem isn’t only that heterosexual Christians are self-righteous; it’s that they’re heterosexual” (Ibid). This hierarchy of sexual sins we create separates people as categories instead of humans made in the image of God. The hierarchy militarizes Christians to perceive an “us versus them” mentality towards gay people. Christians who see themselves as straight ministering to the LGBT community may have difficulty conceptualizing the other as a complete equal in the family of God. What is Paris’ solution? “Heterosexual” Christians need to stop using the label, which only promotes self-righteousness and hypocrisy, and not follow the social constructs the culture dictates. A person’s sexual choices and desires do not define his or her essence—we are all human, made in the Imago Dei.

A Christian reading Paris’ work may or may not find those points very compelling. Scripture esteems sexuality between men and women, so what’s biblically wrong with the self-identification of heterosexual or straight? Well, actually, quite a lot. “Heterosexuality implies that what you want, sexually speaking, is who you are. A pervasive biblical theme, however, is that human desire is fickle, a mystery even to ourselves” (Paris 43).  Jeremiah writes, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17: 9 ESV). And Paul adds, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. … For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing” (Romans 7: 15, 18-19 ESV). Paris notes that this hierarchy of sexuality even influences the Church’s view of sin. If we consider heterosexuality above homosexuality, then those who commit heterosexual sins such as premarital sex, pornography, etc, could be seen as more permissible than homosexual sin. The heterosexual offender may receive discipline and continue in church fellowship, after all, everyone relates to his or her struggle. However, the homosexual offender may get thrown out of church even if repentant and desirous of help. The Bible doesn’t present humanity in divisions of sexual orientation, but as children of God. Sin is sin, regardless of who commits it. We’re equally condemned under the law, but also equally loved and forgiven through Christ.

Dr. Paris sums it up well in this paragraph:

Christian communities can’t afford to play out cultural scripts, honoring heterosexuals and maligning homosexuals, seating the supposedly sexually pure at the table and leaving the sinners out in the cold. Bob Davies said it well: for all of us, redemption is incomplete. We need to set a place at the table for people with conflicted desires, inconsistent behavior and complicated sexual journeys. And if we really receive them, we’ll realize that they are us (Paris 109-110).

It’s time for Christians to be countercultural and reject the societal need of sexual identity. Our sexuality is an important part of who we are, but as Paris notes throughout many chapters of her book, it’s not that big of a deal. Sexuality has its place in marriage; singles, daters, celibates, and the widowed still have some sense of maintaining a sexuality of their own apart from intercourse. Our sexuality is only one compartment of our being; sexuality cannot begin to encapsulate our entire identity. Sexuality as an identifying label only severs the body of Christ. No one is better than anyone else based on their feelings. We are one body but have different roles. Equal, NOT separate.

References:

Paris, Jenell Williams. (2011). The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex is Too Important to Define Who We Are. Intervarsity Press. Downers Grove, IL.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Stop Being a Christian Jerk


Yesterday I wrote about the importance of humility and receptivity to diverse perspectives of God. Today I’m broadening the topic to all of life. I’m challenging us to be open-minded thinkers and learners.

            One of the books I’m currently reading is The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex is Too Important to Define Who We Are by Jenell Williams Paris. So far I’m thinking Paris' book should be required reading for every Christian. Dr. Paris has some amazing things to say about sexual identity that I hope to write about in the future.

            I mention Dr. Paris’ work because she includes a stellar vision of how opponents should dialogue. Paris introduces a concept from Harold Heie, a Christian scholar who has written several books about peace making and the interaction between Christianity and culture. Heie posits what he calls “respectful conversation” (Paris 21). Essentially saying we need another option besides “fixed positions and relativism” (Ibid). Paris asserts that all humans, including Christians, have set ways of looking at every facet of their lives. It takes a whole lot of effort and proof to shift a person’s opinions and beliefs. The other extreme is to copout on absolute truth and say all positions are equally true. The typical disagreement involves belligerently debating without reaching a consensus or carelessly affirming anything that is said.

Heie’s concept of respectful conversation presents a different way to dialogue. “Respectful conversation includes personal, face-to-face dialogue between people who disagree. It invites risk-taking, not just posturing, making yourself and your views vulnerable in encounters with others, anticipating growth and learning” (Paris 21)). This kind of conversation admits differences, but examines where our positions can grow through discussion and reorienting our perspective with new information to see if our view of truth may have shades of error.

Sadly, many Christians have an “it’s my way or the highway” attitude about their beliefs. Usually our positions come from scripture and historical church writings and teachings. Truth certainly never changes, but as I wrote yesterday, we should be humble enough to realize our perceptions may not be fully accurate. As broken human beings, we cannot know everything. God alone can sort through the ambiguity of life. We have been given principles, but scripture does not address everything. This gap reveals the importance of the Church Fathers and the literature that has been circulated in the church throughout Christian history. God gave us brains and community to connect the dots.

It’s easy to get stuck in a ditch trying to maintain a position. We become so determined to defend our beliefs that we may even go to extremes to hold on to them. But we should have open hearts to stay grounded. When we face criticism, defensiveness should not be our first reaction. We should be willing to listen and not just preach our viewpoint. As Paris noted before, when we respectfully communicate with others, we are transformed by these interactions. We all learn something new. There are reasons why people reach their own conclusions. Some are valid, some not so much. We can be perspective-takers and empathize with others. If we can understand why someone thinks as they do, perhaps we can elevate the conversation (as Andrew Marin from The Marin Foundation likes to say) rather than giving a black-and-white statement that offers nothing new and kills the dialogue.

Christians have a bad record of being “Bible-thumpers,” self-righteous, judgmental, and hypocritical. Culture no longer wants to hear our input because we often act like jerks. If we really want to engage culture, interacting with those in our sphere of influence, we need to be willing to listen and walk in someone else’s shoes—mentally picturing how someone reached an alternative perspective. We’re not perfect, so we shouldn’t pretend to be. Our understanding of scripture may be on the right track, but we always have room to improve our perspective. God daily shows me there are so many details or elements that I didn’t see before. We should live life as students. We must open our hearts to begin learning. Respectful communication will be an instrumental aid to the proclamation of the Gospel. The Church will begin to impact society and bring Shalom to the nations.



References:



Paris, Jenell Williams. (2011). The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex is Too Important to Define Who We Are. Intervarsity Press. Downers Grove, IL.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Do We Really Know God?


God is not a hippie. He’s also not a backwoods preacher. God is neither Gandhi, nor Hitler for that matter. I often like to think I’m an insider on God, that all those years of sitting on a church pew and reading my Bible qualifies me to truly know what makes God, well… God. But do we really know Him?

            C. S. Lewis wrote that “the conclusion I dread is not ‘So there’s no God after all,’ but ‘So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer’” (Lewis 19). I think we all tend to fear this possibility with Lewis. What if our perception of God fails to live up to reality? What does it mean if God’s personality and character doesn’t fit our preconceptions? This issue of God’s identity can cause intense emotional division among Christians. Our doctrine influences how we see God and the world around us. Diverse views of scripture can make us uncomfortable because a different presentation reveals an alternative angle of who God could be.

            JJ Heller wrote an amazing song a couple years ago called “Small.” It adds a lot of depth to the discussion:

Cardboard cutouts on the floor / People wish that you were more like what they wanted you to be / Eventually they won’t have much of you at all in their theology / The walls are closing in on you / You cannot be contained at all.


Broken moldings all around / Broken people hit the ground / When they discover that you’re not here for our benefit / You love in spite of us / You use the least of us to prove the strong aren’t really strong at all.


I don’t want to make you small / I don’t want to fit you in my pocket / A cross around my throat / ‘Cause You are brighter than the sun / You’re closer than the tiny thoughts I have of you / But I could never fathom you at all.

Heller reinforces the idea that God is a lot more complex than we think. We often become stagnate in our thinking, viewing God as a concept rather than a living Being. Yet God transcends our humanity.  Brokenness clouds our standpoint; we cannot imagine anyone who functions perfectly, not to mention God’s omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, and so forth. Scriptural references to God’s personality, attributes, behaviors, and thoughts are all finite ways to help us grasp God on our level. And on top of all that, the Bible at times even trails away from human reasoning and hints at principles that are not comprehendible, such as the Trinity.

            I have spent my entire life in one denomination. I have nothing against denominations as a way of organizing shared opinions on doctrine and scriptural principles. Denominations can be helpful in finding a church that generally asserts doctrines and practices that resonate with our interpretation and understanding of scripture. We may choose a denomination that shares our cultural identity, which is not necessarily bad, but we shouldn't fear diversity either. God is not a WASP or Republican. Personally, I don’t define myself by my denomination. No denomination, organization, church, or individual has a monopoly of the truth. Frankly, each individual has some variation in how he or she examines scripture, so no church will be quite the same on every topic of theology. I’m not a relativist—orthodoxy must be maintained, but churches need to steer clear of pride as well. We all share a love for God and His Word. We can learn a lot from each other.

            I freely admit I have strong reformed inclinations when I read scripture. I have been taught all through life (through different degrees of orientation or perspective) the doctrines of predestination, foreknowledge, and election. These doctrines radically affect how I look at suffering, redemptive history, engagement with culture and evangelism, and so many other facets of my life. As I have aged I’ve also learned to appreciate Arminian perspectives of God. I am a naturally curious and open-minded guy, so I enjoy dialogues with other thinkers. I’m always interested to discover where common ground can be found. There have been times that I have not received the same degree of respect though. I have been told “I could not serve a God who does that.” But what if you do? I can only submit Paul’s rebuke, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” (Romans 9:19-20 ESV). Readers of my previous posts know I’m not shy about expressing anger to God when I don’t understand something. But Paul makes it clear in Romans 9 that I must submit to God and His sovereign will. I have the freedom to imagine whatever I want about God’s character, but my design doesn’t change who God is. It’s one thing to have a perspective built upon scripture, another to force an interpretation based off of preconceptions. It’s theologically dangerous to tell God who He can be. Once we take that path there’s no telling where it will end.

            God is certainly not small. Hopefully no matter how we perceive our Heavenly Father, our conclusions come from years of dedicated study. Regardless of how well we know scripture we must have humble hearts. We must realize that as humans we don’t see the whole picture. Only God knows every crevice of His personality and the infiniteness of His goodness, love, and justice. We should be extremely careful of being too emotionally attached to our perceptions. God may shatter them. Truth and reality are funny and elusive concepts to hold onto. There’s a lot of tension and a lot of gray for humans to grapple with. I’m learning to simply let God be God. He does a much better job of being Himself without my input.



References:

Lewis, C. S.(1961). A Grief Observed. New York: HarperCollins.

Discography:


JJ Heller. (2007). The Pretty & the Plain. Stonetable Records

Friday, April 13, 2012

God is More Than Your BFF


Yesterday I wrote about the importance of wrestling with God and being transparent before Him. I especially focused on the issue of expressing anger to God. Christian psychology may have popularized this idea; I really don’t know. Expressing anger can be very therapeutic and lead to changes that make life better for everyone. However, anger that turns into physical, verbal, or emotional abuse is not acceptable. Just as God doesn’t expect us to be doormats, God doesn’t tolerate us making Him our scapegoat for every problem or hurt we experience in life.

Our Christian subculture has really strange views of God. Most view Yahweh as some kind of “buddy,” a regular Joe that can fill in as your personal therapist when needed. That’s not all bad, but it misses the depth of relationship that scripture portrays. I love Annie Dillard’s dry humor, raw honesty, and witty insights. Dillard has no qualms with expressing her frustrations to God, but in Holy the Firm we see balance. Dillard speaks about another relational issue in the Church that shares a similar misunderstanding:

The higher Christian churches—where, if anywhere, I belong—come at God with an unwarranted air of professionalism, with authority and pomp, as though they knew what they were doing, as though people in themselves were an appropriate set of creatures to have dealings with God. I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed. In the high churches they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a strand of scaffolding who have long since forgotten the danger. If God were to blast such services to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it any minute. This is the beginning of wisdom (Dillard 59).

Indeed, there is much wisdom in recognizing Who we worship and serve. Huge theological problems exist when we view God as merely a “BFF” or we come before God in confident self-righteousness. God encompasses so much more than a friend. Yahweh created a limitless universe (maybe even multi-verses depending on which scientist we ask) out of nothing. God is omnipotent and omniscient, capable of anything. I don’t think we should be superstitious or have some kind of religious tribal fear, but a little couldn’t hurt either… We should reverence God and give Him the respect He deserves for His individual and unique role over all humanity, natural and spiritual creation. God is love, but God also exhibits other emotions and personality traits.

I again stress that I don’t see a problem sharing concerns and feelings of anger with God. But we must remember who we are talking to. If I call God a lousy sadist, then I need to repent of that blasphemous thought. If I say, “God, I know that you care for me. But right now I’m so angry with You because _____ happened. I don’t understand. Please help me to be reconciled to Your will and use this situation to glorify You, to make me more conformed to the image of Christ, and to benefit your children.” I doubt we would be that nice, but this prayer reveals a difference in attitude. The latter shows respect and honesty, both equally important. So, as Paul says to the Ephesians, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV). We should use our anger for good, but not linger on the things that frustrate, hurt, or upset us. Anger eventually leads to bitterness, and the Bible definitely does not condone that emotion. Be genuine, but remember to show God reverence.



References:



Dillard, Annie. (1977). Holy the Firm. New York: HarperCollins.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Wrestling with God


And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob's hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” (Genesis 32:24-28 ESV)

Life hurts. A lot. Sure, being alive is awesome and I’m definitely not a nihilist. But we’re fallen humans living in a fallen world. Everything good was shattered by mankind’s decision to be independent of God. That choice left behind sharp, jagged shards and they lie everywhere; we inevitably cut ourselves everyday.

            We all have days that we ask, “what’s the point?” We experience illnesses, accidents, loss and grief, broken dreams and crushed hearts. “Why God?” We ask or would like to ask. C. S. Lewis had similar questions and emotions after losing his wife:

Where is God? … Go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence (Lewis 17-18).

It’s painful to want answers for our specific problems and feel like God isn’t listening. Scripture offers general advice and explanations for the reason of suffering and hardships, but some days it doesn’t seem like enough. One question just creates a cycle of more questions. As humans we start experiencing strong emotions.

            I have often heard growing up that it’s sinful and wrong to be angry with God. I’m not going to say this view is incorrect, because anger tends to lead to sinful words and deeds. But anger is an emotion that Jesus Himself exhibited in appropriate situations. Anger is a natural emotion. We all experience it and some need to work harder than others to control their rage. I become angry when I’m frustrated, upset, or lose control of a situation. Sometimes I realize the cause of my anger, I seek to problem solve, talk about the quandary with someone I trust, and/or turn it over to God. But sometimes rather than selecting positive solutions, I tend to bottle up what I’m feeling and implode. Somewhere along the way I internalized a need to be a good, Christian nice guy.

            Anger certainly can lead us to do and say bad things. But the anger’s there in our gut nonetheless. C. S. Lewis honestly and transparently admitted, “Sometimes it is hard not to say ‘God forgive God’” (Lewis 40). So what are we supposed to do with all this anger we feel towards God? The Bible is full of examples. David was a man who lived a chaotic and stressful life. People wanted him dead, there was murder and incest happening in his family, and there was plenty of suffering due to David’s own sinful choices. David’s life was full of tension and pain. So what did he do? He expressed his sorrows and frustrations to God, especially through poetry, the Psalms. David didn’t stuff the anger, He talked about it. David and Jesus both proclaimed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That’s a statement of frustration, loneliness, rejection, and maybe even anger.

            In my own experience, I have embraced the idea of tension and wrestling. There are things that I don’t understand and never will. There are days I’m furious with God. There are days I say things to God in my prayers that I have to go back later and apologize and repent for saying. But again, I emphasize that anger is a normal human emotion. God expects it. If you’re feeling angry, you might as well share it with God because He already knows! Like everything in life, we are in the process of sanctification. That includes our prayer time. I assure you, we all have room for improvement in our prayers besides our moodiness and frustration with God’s will. But I do believe that through this idea of wrestling with God, He blesses us. Our faith and relationship with God grows. Isn’t that how normal relationships work? If we love someone, eventually we’re going to disagree with them, probably even become infuriated, get into a verbal spat, feel guilty, ask for forgiveness, receive forgiveness and agape love, and the friendship strengthens throughout these experiences.

            We are called to trust God. Sooner or later, the anger will subside and we must admit that there may not be a human answer for our predicament. That doesn’t mean asking questions, expressing emotions, and reasoning through our difficulties are worthless endeavors. God gave us brains, scripture, and community. We should avail ourselves of these gifts. God doesn’t ask us to be doormats or intellectually lazy and stupid individuals. But when everything has failed to address our problems or anguish, we must submit to God’s providence and loving care. Writing about Job, a biblical figure who suffered tremendously, Philip Yancey writes:

A God wise enough to rule the universe is wise enough to watch over his child Job, regardless of how things seem in the bleakest moments. A God wise enough to create me and the world I live in is wise enough to watch out for me (Yancey 106).

Yancey notes that God’s response to Job never really answers Job’s questions. God does express His power over creation, His omnipotence and creativity. As Annie Dillard remarked, “Who are we to demand explanations of God? (And what monsters of perfection should we be if we did not?)” (Dillard 62).

            Don’t be afraid of tension and asking questions. God can take them. Having doubts doesn’t make us unchristian or indicate we’re not children of God. These valleys, dark nights of the soul, famines of the spirit all challenge us to grow closer to God. In the end we must have faith that God has promised to provide for and love us. When you’re angry, let Him know it and work through the anger to reach a new understanding of God and your life. Yes, life hurts. It often doesn’t make sense. But God commits to be there with you even when you challenge Him to a wrestling match.



References:



Dillard, Annie. (1977). Holy the Firm. New York: HarperCollins.

Lewis, C. S.(1961). A Grief Observed. New York: HarperCollins.

Yancey, Philip. (1990). Where is God When it Hurts? Grand Rapids, MI.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

An Abbreviated Celibate Manifesto


I am not single. I am celibate. The unmarried have a gazillion reasons why they chose not to pursue matrimony. This choice may be for a season. Celibacy or singleness may be a life-time commitment. I have chosen to intentionally live as celibate. This posting will hopefully be one of many more to come. I certainly will not exhaust all my thoughts on the subject.
The decision to choose celibacy is an uphill battle. Lisa Graham McMinn writes, “Singles live in a culture that assumes they cannot be complete alone, and many experience this as a self-fulfilling prophecy: to live alone is to be incomplete, unfulfilled” (McMinn 69). Society pities those who are not romantically attached. And, as McMinn notes, many who are not married or in a romantic relationship reinforce this negative belief because they are indeed emotionally alone without a support system. Sadly, even the Church has jumped on the bandwagon with culture on the issue of relationships.
No one will deny that intentional singleness is a scriptural principle, yet it seems that we are reluctant to accept celibacy as a vocation for those we love. We have this need for everyone in our lives to be happy—but happy by our standards and definitions. The Church has bought into the American Dream. Marcy Hintz quotes Rodney Clapp on this point in her article “Choosing Celibacy.”  Clapp states that the modern evangelical view of family “is not biblical, but rather bourgeois.” Clapp states that this makes the family a mere “haven and oasis, an emotional stabilizer and battery-charger for its members.” These are foundational needs for any family. But Hintz makes a statement that I think every Christian family needs to read: “when these insular values become ends in themselves, the dream of Christian family is too small. Much like the single, the family becomes a body unto itself—set up for life, but alone.” Families were not meant to function alone as a unit. Singles and celibates likewise are not meant to live life in isolation.
The Church is a community and a family. God never intended for Christians to live separately from His bride, our Mother. Most Christians work on developing a deeper relationship with their Heavenly Father, but not as many see the importance of getting to know their spiritual Mother (not to mention their brothers and sisters in Christ). I believe most of the problems our families face stems from our refusal to invest in the community of the saints. We wear a fa├žade to hide our problems. We believe it’s shameful to admit our families are falling apart. The answer’s plain and simple. P-r-i-d-e. The Church in Western Civilization is dying because of our hypocrisy. The Church is the place where we can be ourselves. It’s where we admit we’re not perfect—in fact, we’re depraved, filthy sinners worthy of eternal damnation. We all sin every day. We repent, we ask forgiveness. As a community, we see each other at our best and worst. We practice agape love—we love knowing that God is working in us to will and do of His good pleasure. We continually receive the opportunity to practice patience because some of our siblings take a little longer in the process of sanctification. But we’re a family through good and bad times. Well, at least we should be.
When I grasped the reality that celibacy means I still have a family, I was able to accept it. I am blessed with a church now that values my participation and input. My church has a family atmosphere that loves diversity. I don’t have to be married, dating, or looking. I can be myself. When I move away to graduate school I hope to find a similar environment both in the psychology program and my local church. Celibacy is a different way of looking at life and people. It’s not better than marriage, but I firmly believe I’m not less because of my calling. As Lisa Graham McMinn noted, perhaps singles show a special picture of God’s love for humanity. It’s not exclusive, but inclusive. I have the time to invest in multiple people rather than just one person.
I’m asking my readers to be open-minded. God’s calling for marriage or singleness/celibacy is not rocket science. We know. If one wants to marry, then I believe God will honor that desire on His timetable. We’re all called to different tasks and different responsibilities. But we’re all called to be Kingdom workers—working to change culture and bring about Shalom. I am called to work as a celibate. That’s good and God-glorifying. Most of you are called to marry and have children. That’s also good and God-glorifying. We’re in this together. And celibates and singles like me need families in the church to complete us, just as families need their church to complete them. We’re one body, so let’s function like a healthy one, please.

References:

McMinn, Lisa Graham. Sexuality and Holy Longing: Embracing Intimacy in a Broken World


Hintz, Marcy. “Choosing Celibacy” Christianity Today
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/september/20.47.html?start=1