Christian Double Standards on Celibacy – Hetero Singles Must Abstain from Sex but Not Homosexual Singles
I have no doubt that the majority of Christians, maybe aside from some liberals and emergents, would tell you that they believe homosexuality is a sin – at least the behavior, maybe not the orientation – and that they believe homosexuals should refrain from sexual activity. So I would not be surprised if most of them look at the heading of this post and feel very confused.
Concerning heterosexual singles, the majority of Christians are opposed to them having sex outside of marriage – or, they at least claim to feel this way.
However, such Christians stress God’s forgiveness of pre-marital sex and fornication to the point they somewhat cancel out the Bible’s commands of sexual purity, making them appear rather moot.
As I discussed (Link): in a previous post, there is still a current of thought on some Christian blogs, forums, and comment sections under articles on issues such as homosexual marriage, that because one cannot reasonably expect any adult to indefinitely refrain from any and all sexual behavior, that is it unrealistic or cruel to expect homosexuals to never have sex (which in their case, obviously, would be with someone of the same gender).
And, of course, there is the same thought at play for hetero singles: many Christian preachers and even lay persons assume it is impossible for any Christian to refrain from sex for months, years or decades.
Many Christians assume that only a small minority of Christians have the “gift of celibacy” (never mind (Link): there is no such thing). Further, these same Christians usually assume celibacy bestowed upon those “gifted” with it is some kind of super power, wherein God removes all sexual desire (also untrue).
With un-married heteros who stumble into sexual sin, preachers frequently get around this by emphasizing “God’s forgiveness.”
That is, almost any time I read a Christian blog, article, or book about sexual sin among heteros, or hear a Christian on television discuss the single and hetero-sexual sin, it is always mentioned that God forgives sexual sin, so the single is advised to not fret about it.
(Contrary to liberal and emergent Christians, (Link): I rarely see an over-emphasis on virginity or a shaming of fornication or fornicators.)
There was a story in Huffington Post where a mother explained she and her husband were very devout Christians, and at some point when her son was a teen or early 20 something, he texted her one day and told her he was homosexual.
This was a son who she and her husband raised in the church. The son confided in his youth group that he had homosexual tendencies and urges, and they supported him as best they could.
As the son got older, the article said, the mother said she basically told the son he had to choose between his sexuality or Jesus, and he tried to suppress his homosexuality even more than before.
This was stressful for her son. He turned to drug abuse to cope.
Eventually, the son called home and asked if he could come back, if she could love him even if he were homosexual, etc. By this stage, the mother said yes, she just wanted her son back. She got him back, but he later died from a drug problem (one last drug binge).
Here is the part of the article I wanted to call out (from the Huffington Post article “Just Because He Breathes”); the mother said,
“Choosing God [over a homosexual orientation], practically, meant living a lifetime condemned to being alone. He [her homosexual son] would never have the chance to fall in love, have his first kiss, hold hands, share intimacy and companionship or experience romance.”
I am quite sorry about the death of her son. Having said that, I would like to point out that the situation is no less different for hetero Christian singles.
While hetero, un-married Christians might be able to share a “first kiss” and “hold hands,” they are instructed by the Bible not to get intimate.
~ No Guarantee of Marriage for Heterosexuals Either ~
I may never marry. I am hetero. I have made it to age 40+ and have not married, though I wanted to. I may die single.
Ergo, one common argument I see, which is “Oh yeah, well as a hetero, you at least have a CHANCE at getting married, homosexuals don’t even have that” is a bogus one. In order for me to have a “chance” at marriage, I must first have a boyfriend. I do not have one. I may never get another one.
I saw a book review once by a 50 year old, never- married Christian woman where she said that she has a circle of 40- and- 50- something, never- married Christian women friends who all desired marriage. She said one of those friends died at the age of 52 or 54 (from cancer, if I recall correctly).
This woman’s 50-something friend, who wanted marriage, never got to experience it. So please, stop with the “oh yeah, but at least you straights have the possibility of marriage!” argument – because we really do not.
Here is an editorial from Christianity Today that is about a week old that addresses some of these subjects:
How marriage-happy churches are unwittingly fueling same-sex coupling—and leaving singles like me in the dust. by Katelyn Beaty (posted 7/1/2013)
From the editorial:
… But Bell [former Mars Hill pastor] was actually coming out in support of same-sex marriage, echoing over half of all Americans in the most recent surveys. And he did so in a rhetorically brilliant way, drawing on the Genesis account (2:18) to show how crucial loving relationship is for human flourishing. When asked whether he was for same-sex marriage, he simply replied, “I am for marriage.”
And how can we Christians not be as well? Much of churches’ and individual Christians’ tacit acceptance and explicit support of same-sex marriage stems from this: We would hate to prevent anyone from receiving the gift of mutual, monogamous sexual companionship. And we know that it is an incredible gift. For why else would we devote so many sermons, books, and ministries trying to preserve and perpetuate it?
As Steve Chalke, a U.K. pastor and remaining member of the Evangelical Alliance, declared this winter, “It’s one thing to be critical of a promiscuous lifestyle. But shouldn’t the church consider nurturing positive models for permanent and monogamous homosexual relationships?”
Except perhaps we have made too much of marriage. In subtle and not-so-subtle ways, perhaps local churches have acted as if monogamous sexual unions are the closest icon of heaven in this life. That no matter how much self-giving ministry or cultural creativity we undertake in our lifetimes, they are second-best without a spouse and children in tow.
In more detail than this space allows, other writers and theologians (I think especially of Rodney Clapp and Joseph Hellerman) have deftly tackled American Christians’ overemphasis on marriage.
What I might offer to the conversation is the perspective of a single Christian. As I watch many fellow young Christians come out in support of gay marriage, lest they bar friends or family from finding the gift of sexual companionship, they are making it harder for me to make sense of chastity.
If my gay and lesbian peers have the right to sexual union and companionship, why don’t I?
If the scriptural passages forbidding homosexual behavior apply only to a particular context, then surely the passages about fornication (sexual behavior outside marriage) and Paul’s praise for singleness are also culturally bound.
And so long as marriage ascends into the echelons of existential imperative—you must have this in order to be a complete human being—then my singleness becomes a problem. It is no longer a unique witness to the kingdom, where people “will neither marry nor are given in marriage.” It no longer reveals that the water of baptism is thicker than blood—that an entire generation of Christians could be single, and still God would renew his church. Instead, it becomes a second-class existence.
Some readers will counter that I am comparing sexual apples to oranges. That at least I, a heterosexual woman, retain the hope of marriage, one celebrated by the church and approved by the state. Not so with the many gay and lesbian couples who understandably seek the same legal benefits as heterosexual couples.
I do not want to downplay the extraordinary burden of living chastely as a gay person.
Wesley Hill, a theologian and a friend, helps me avoid doing so. He pinpoints just how different are the respective challenges he and I face. In his profound book Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, he writes,
“Heterosexuals are at least given the option of marriage and thus the possibility of having their sexual urges satisfied. For homosexual Christians, there is no such possibility. . . . To say no over and over again to some of my deepest, strongest, most recurring longings often seems, by turns, impossible and completely undesirable.”
By contrast, at the end of the day, I may still get to choose marriage. And while I say no to longings now, I don’t have to imagine saying no to them forever.
The One Guarantee
Except that sometimes I do, just for practice. Because marriage—and with it, sexual fulfillment and companionship and the possibility of children—is not a guarantee in this life, far less a fundamental right.
Rather, it is a gift and a vocation, given to many but not all, it seems. And with all the dust in the air about prolonged adolescence and man-boys and women outpacing men in school and the workforce, marriage is no longer the shoo-in it was for most Christian women of my parents’ and grandparents’ generation. That includes me.
When it comes to our deepest sexual longings, none of us—married or single, gay or straight—gets what we want. But we who follow the risen Lord, an unmarried man while on this earth, get one guarantee: the promise of a new family, constituted by everyone who calls God Abba. …
I hope and pray that church communities will take up the duty and delight of stitching single brothers and sisters, gay and straight, into its shared life. This is especially true for churches that are tempted to make marriage the pinnacle of human existence.
“The church is right to tell me the good news and call me to a life of discipleship as a single man if and only if it is willing to live as my family,” noted Matt Jenson, a systematic theologian (and a 35-year-old single, straight man) in a recent Biola University talk.
Likewise, if the church is going to call gay and lesbian men and women to deny their sexual desires for life, then it must be willing to embrace them as brothers and sisters and walk alongside them on the long road of chastity.
Humans, it turns out, can live without sex. But they will die without love. May churches be places where single Christians hear not the death knell of loneliness but the ecstatic greeting of family members: “Welcome home, sister.”
Author Julia Duin (or someone using that same name), left a comment under that article:
Good editorial, Katelyn: I hope you do find Mr. Right, but unfortunately I’m a witness to an evangelical church culture that is filled with tons of single women and very few men.
Over the years (and I’ve written 2 books on singleness), I’ve discovered churches have zero interest in their singles, much less allocating part of the budget for a decent singles ministry or even praying that their singles could find mates.
I used to sarcastically joke that a women who has 5 abortions gets better treatment in your typical church than a celibate single woman because the reigning attitude is that even if you’ve misused sex, you’re at least experienced in it.
As for the obedient-but-still-single-and-abstinent single woman, no one knows what to do with her. Well, they do know one thing: She is never allowed into leadership and rarely allowed to teach. Which is why many single women are heading out the church door. You can only exist so many years in that sort of limbo.
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