The Myth of the Gift – Re Christian Teachings on Gift of Singleness and Gift of Celibacy
Excerpts from a book by Hsu below (same material is available for free on Google books). Some aspects of this material are good, as it clears up some of the nonsense about the insipid “GOS” (Gft of Singleness / Gift of Celibacy) teachings one often sees from Christians.
However, and this is a very big sticking point with me and other singles from Christian backgrounds, Hsu does not deeply or meaningfully deal with unwanted, unexpected, prolonged Christian singleness*, which is going on in spades these days *(at least not in the free excerpts I read).
Christians who desire marriage but who remain single are left wondering: if you prayed since childhood for a spouse, earnestly believed God to send a spouse, and you also put yourself in positions to meet spouses (such as attending church singles classes, joining dating sites and so on), and are still not married into your 40s, what then? Hsu glosses this all over in a mere statement or two by saying something about “of course if you desire marriage, then marry, if the opportunity presents itself, if one can find a partner able and willing to marry you.”
Hsu says as long as you remain single, then by default you have the “gift of singleness” (though he explains that this is not a “gift” in the sense most Christians teach it as being – he clears up several misconceptions. As I’ve noted in other posts, the phrases “gift of singleness” and “gift of celibacy” do not even appear in the original biblical text).
I don’t want to be single forever – that is the crux of the matter – why has God not directed a spouse cross my path, despite all the years of waiting, praying, and joining dating sites and going on the odd date here or there? Hsu does not wrestle with this. I have included below this excerpt, a rebuttal by a book reviewer who calls herself “NoGiftofSingleness” .
Singles at the Crossroads: A Fresh Perspective on Christian Singleness
By Albert Y. Hsu
Chapter “The Myth of the Gift”
“Do you have the gift of singleness?”
No question makes singles more uneasy. And no concept generates more confusion for singles. “Ah, the gift of singleness,” one single friend mused. “Sometimes I wonder if it’s like a Christmas gift you want to return. You know, you get something from someone, and you’re like, ‘Okay, this is nice, but I’d rather have another sweater than this one.’ Well, I’d rather have the gift of marriage than this gift of singleness!”
“If you were to ask me, ‘Do you think you have the gift of singleness?’ I’d probably say no,” Maria said. “If you asked me why, I guess because I have a desire to be a wife and a mother, but I’m not necessarily sure that someone who has the gift of singleness doesn’t have those desires – that they’re completely not there. Some people imply that someone who has the gift of singleness doesn’t even have a sex drive, and I’m not sure that’s true.”
Is there such a thing as “the gift of singleness” or “the gift of celibacy”? What is meant when people talk about a gift of singleness? And if it really is a gift, why doesn’t anybody want it?
In this chapter we will examine the traditional view of the gift of singleness We weill see where these ideas come from, what problems this view may create, and how we’ve come to believe misconceptions about it. Then we will correct these misconceptions by examining the biblical material. Let’s discover what Paul really meant when he talked about singleness as a gift.
The Traditional View of the Gift of Singleness
First, the Bible does not contain a formal definition of a “gift of singleness.” Nowhere does any biblical writer clearly say anything like “The gift of singleness means that God makes you happy without marriage.” The only reference to such a gift is found in Paul’s 1 Corinthians 7:7: “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind” (NRSV).
Despite the lack of an explicit statement in Scripture, many Christians define the gift of singleness as some kind of supernatural empowerment that enables one to live as a single person without endless frustration at being unmarried. C. Peter Wagner defines the gift of celibacy as “the special ability that God gives to some members of the body of Christ to remain single and enjoy it; to be unmarried and not suffer undue sexual temptations. He says,
If you are single and know down in your heart that you would get married in an instant if a reasonable opportunity presented itself, you probably don’t have the gift of celibacy. If you are single and find yourself terribly frustrated by unfulfilled sexual impulses, you probably don’t have the gift. But if neither of these things seems to bother you – rejoice – you may have found one of your spiritual gifts.
Wagner’s book provides a questionaire to help readers identify their spiritual gifts. In this inventory, these five statements indicate a gift of singlness:
“I am single and enjoy it.”
“Other people have noed that I feel more indifferent about not being married than most.”
“I am glad I have more time to serve the Lord because I am single.”
“I am single and have little difficulty controlling my sexual desires.”
“I identify with Paul’s desire for others to be single as he was.”
According to Wagner, if you have these five characteristics, then you have the gift of singleness.
Another author defines the gift of singleness in this way: “The ability joyfully to embrace singleness as a lifetime commitment is a gift o fGod given to some but not others.” This writer suggests that this ability to cope with singleness is an ability on a par with other talents, like music. “You either have a spiritual gift or you don’t. The same point applies to the gift of singleness. It’s a gift provided by God to some but not to others. If God hasn’t given it to me, there’s no way I can attain it, any more than one without a gift of music can expect that practice will enable them to inspire others through their singing.”
According to this definition, the gift of singleness is something that God gives to help a single person handle the single life. Some singles have it and others don’t. One commentator writes, “[Paul] is speaking about his own gift of continence. In respect to celibacy, he was given the grace to practice self-control. This does not mean that someone who is unable t do that and marries instead receives a special gift to engage in marriage. Paul prescribees no law or command. Each individual should decide this matter for himself.”
Some go further than this. One author writes, “He that has not received the gift of continence must marry, and must not try to remain unmarried. … He that does not possess it should marry.” In other words, singles who do not have the gift of singleness remain emotionally and sexually frustrated for good reason; God wants them to be married. The fact that they are not happily enjoying the single life is evidence of this. Or so the traditional view says.
A Problematic Myth
The traditional view of the gift of singleness raises more problems than it solves. The following are seven of those problems.
Problem #1: the traditional view judges the gift of singleness merely by a subjective feeling.
According to the above authors, if I feel I wouldn’t be happy as a lifelong single, then I probably don’t have the gift. If I desire to marry and have children, I probably don’t have the gift of singleness. It doesn’t matter what my actual circumstances might be; all that matters is what I subjectively feel deep down in my heart.
The problem is this. Whether or not a single feels as if he or she has the gift of singleness, the single is still single! Regardless of any heartfelt desire for marriage, unless marriage takes place, that single person must still live as a single.
Many singles wonder if they have the gift of singleness, and most hope they don’t. But think of how absurd this line of reasoning would be if we applied it to the state of marriage. Would a married person ever ask the question, “I wonder if I have the gift of marriage?” What if, after years of marriage, the partner has put on a few pounds, no longer seems attractive – the romance is gone? Maybe there are dirty diapers in the bathtub and arguments at every meal. What is this married person feels the pressures of marriage are just too much to handle? This person could then conclude, “Boy, this marriage business is getting tough. Well, I really don’t feel like being married anymore. I guess I must not have the gift of marriage.” Would it then be permissible for such a person to leave the marriage?
Ridiculous as it sounds, this is exactly how many singles think about the gift of singleness. If I don’t feel I have the gift, or if I really don’t want it, then I must not have it. But a married person who doesn’t feel very happy about the marriage should not question whether or not he or she has a particular gifting from God to be married. Rather, that person should do everything possible to improve the marriage, whether through communication skills, conflict resolution, changed priorities, counseling or marriage seminars. So too someone who is single, instead of wondering whether or not God has provided a particular gifting to be single – and instead of marrying the first person who comes along, just to be married – should take steps to live a healthy life as a single person.
And feelings change from year to year and even from day to day. A single may be comfortable being single one day but desire marriage the next. Does this indicate that the gift of singleness comes and goes? If such a gift were from God, one would expect it to be more consistent and less fickle.
Problem #2: This view of singleness minimizes the reality of temptation.
Wagner’s definition of the gift of celibacy says that those with the gift have the ability “to be unmarried and not suffer undue sexual temptations.” What does he mean? One could take his statement in two ways: either God prevents the individual from encountering external temptations or he removes from the individual the internal desire to enage in sexual activity.
But is this true? Does God somehow miraculously remove all manner of sexual temptations from the single who has been gifted with the gift of celibacy? Do people who have the gift of celibacy reallly “have little difficulty controlling sexual desires?” Did Paul, who presumably had the gift of singleness, never face sexual temptation?
Paul nowhere says that he has any “peculiar gift of continence” or that he was “given the grace to practice self-control.” To assume so is to read something into his words that isn’t explicitly there. It is entirely possible that Paul may have struggled with temptation and even given in at times. In Romans 7, where he speaks at length about not doing what he ought and doing evil things he hates, Paul could have in mind sins of a sexual nature – actions or at least impure thoughts. It’s speaking where the Bible is silent to presume that a supernatural gift of celibacy prevented Paul from ever falling into sexual sin.
Let us go one step further. If we take Scripture seriously, we understand that Jesus, an unmarried single man, is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because he was “tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin” (Heb 4:15). Jesus shared full humanity with us, including all sexual and hormonal drives. Since he was a normal human being, he must have understood the potent power of sexual temptation.
Jesus had ample opportunity for sexual temptation. Some of his closest companions were “women of ill repute” who had been (or still were) prostitutes, adulterers and other “sinful women.” Some commentators have suggested that the woman at the well in John 4 may have been there not just drawing water but cruising for sex. “This passage explodes with new meaning if this woman is ‘hitting on’ Jesus. To understand the difference, don’t read this passage monotone; read it with a breathy ‘I have no husband.’ Add to it her seductive smile and half-opened eyes. It’s not what she says to Jesus, it’s what she’s thinking. Her half-lie, ‘I have no husband,’ may be a way of saying, ‘I’m available to you.’
It would be incorrect to say that Jesus never felt tugs of sexual temptation. Rather, he was tempted in every way, just as we are, but he chose never to give in. This is not superhuman giftedness. This is simply living with holiness and integrity.
Problem #3: The traditional view creates two-tier class system of singles.
If some singles have received a supernatural gift that enables them to live happy celibate lives, then by definition other singles have not. In other words, God has equipped some singles to live the single life effectively, but not all singles.
Such a construction is artificial and unbiblical. Scripture never gives justification for placing people into three groups: married, single with the gift and single without the gift. While he does distinguish between different kinds of singles, such as virgins and widows, Paul never talks to groups of singles based on their ability to live the single life. He does address certain groups: “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say …” (1 Cor 7:10); “Now about virgins…” (1 Cor 7:25). But Paul never says things like “Now to singles who have the gift of singleness, I say this, and to singles who do not have the gift of singleness, I say this.” Such a distinction is simply not there.
We may ask again: Would this two-tiered analogy hold true for married life? Are there some married people who receive a supernatural gift fo have good marriages and others who are not so equipped? I think not. Nobody would say that God gives some marriages the ability to do well and dooms others to failure. To do so is to deny responsibility for one’s marriage and is tantamount to calling God the cause of divorce.
Some say that 1 Corinthians 7:9, “it is better to marry than to burn with passion,” indicates two kinds of singles – those who should marry and those who shouldn’t. However, Paul’s comparision in this verse is between single life that lacks self-control and married life. Given the choice between sexual immorality and marriage, it is of course better that one’s sexual activity be expressed within marriage. But Paul does not say that some singles have a supernatural gift that provides sexual self-control, nor does he say that singles without such a gift should marry.
Problem #4. While seem to exalt singleness, the traditional view actually demeans singles.
On the one hand, the traditional view seems to make singleness a superspiritual calling available only to the truly holy.
On the other hand, it subtly considers the single person abnormal for preferring the single life.
Because it requires a special gift, singleness must be horrible, a painful thing to be endured. The gift of singleness, then, is like anesthesia during surgery or Novocain for a tooth drilling. Between the lines is the idea that nobody would ever make a conscious choice to stay single if he or she had the opportunity to marry.
Therefore, they must have some special gifting that makes them refuse the married state. Marriage is seen as normative, and for somebody not to want to be married is unusual at best and bizarre at worst.
This perception is unbiblical. “Paul gives no hint that marriage is normal while celibacy is a ‘special’ condition only for those who are called to it. It is, like marriage, open to all.”
We must ask ourselves, Would either Jesus or Paul teach something that relegated some followers to a second-classs status? If we believe in a doctrine that elevats one form of living over another, then something is wrong. Neither Jesus nor Paul endoses any such distinctions. They did not say, for instance, that being a Jewish Christian was better than being a Gentile Christian or vice versa. Both are equally good ways to serve God. So too with the states of singleness and marriage. A view that demans one and elevates the other is inaccurate and unchristian.
Problem #5: The idea of a gift of supernatural empowerment for singleness is unbiblical
Scripture nowhere says that the gift of singleness bestows some supernatural empowerment to live singly with no desire for marriage. Some interpretations read Matthew 19:12, “Some have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven,” as evidence that those with the gift of singleness no longer have any sex drive whatsoever, presuming that Christian celibates will resemble secular eunuchs in the area of sexuality.
But is Jesus’ point here that Christian “eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven” share the same sexuality traits as other eunuchs? No, Jesus is not implying that Christian celibates must be physically castrated in order to truly be eunuchs for the kingdom. Jesus’ point is not that eunuchs lack sexual desire, but rather that eunuchs are uniquely positioned to serve their king singlemindedly, as we saw in chapter two. The primary point of the comparison is the service and devotion of the eunuchs to their lord, not their sex life (or lack thereof).
Paul’s teaching similarly lacks support for the supernatural view of the gift of singleness. In 1 Corinthians 7 we do not find any mystical language whatsoever that suggests that God will somehow magically transform the single person’s disposition and remove all marital longings.
On the contrary, the chapter is extremely matter-of-fact. Paul observes that those who marry will face many troubles (v. 28) and that singles are able to be concerned about serving God without worrying about serving their familes as marrieds must do (vv. 32- 34). A married person’s interests, by definition, are divided between family and everything else.
This is no divinely revealed insight; there is nothing superspiritual about it. This is merely common sense. Paul even says there is no command from the Lord on this; he gives his opinion “as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy” (v. 25).
Therefore, it goes against the grain of the whole chapter to read verse 7 as being an indication of any supernatural gifting to be single.
Furthermore, it seems odd to define this gift of singleness as the ability to “joyfully embrace” lifelong singleness (as Wagner says) when there is no such comparable statement for the gift of marriage.
Married people are repeatedly exhorted to love one another and honor their marriage commitment, but nowhere are they assured that they will receive a divine gift that enables them continually to “joyfully embrace” marriage as a lifetime commitment.
Unfortunately, the fact that Christians are as prone to divorce as the general population seems to indicate that such a gift does not exist – at least not in some automatic, supernatural way that keeps marriage glued together. If such a gift is not available for married people, should we expect a similar gift for singles?
Problem #6: The traditional view confuses the gift of singleness with a healthy self-identity.
One single said, “When I’ve taken spiritual gift inventories, I’ve ranked high on having the gift of singleness. But I don’t know if their understanding of singleness is the right understanding, because I’m comfortable with who I am before God, and I’d be comfortable being married too.”
The traditional view presupposes that desire for marriage is normative and that to be satisfied as a single is abnormal. But this penalizes the virtue of contentment. Christians are called to find contentment whatever their status in life. A Christian who learns to be content with areas such as socioeconomic status and physical appearance will also be content with his or her marital status, whether married or single. This is not evidence of singleness. This is Christian maturity.
Problem #7: The traditional view is spiritually abusive.
It is pastorally insensitive to counsel that singles who do not feel they have a supernatural gift of continence “must marry.” The fact of the matter is that someone who earnestly believes that he or she does not have the gift of singleness may still never marry. We may sincerely desire with our entire soul to be married. But circumstances may dictate that we never find someone suitable for a marriage partner. And the result can be doubt and resentment.
Singles who have this flawed theology of singleness end up blaming God. Such a single may feel cheated.
He or she may cry out to God, “I truly believe and feel deep down in my heart that I am meant to be married! If I don’t have the gift of celibacy, I’m supposed to get married, right? Then why haven’t you given me a partner?” Feeling like victims who were given a gift they did not want, many singles become angry, resentful and bitter because they believe this teaching.
So something is wrong with the traditional view of the gift of singleness. It does not make adequate sense of the biblical material. Is there another way to think about this gift? We need to reexamine what Paul actually said and develop a new understanding of what is meant by the gift of singleness.
“Gift” Versus “Spiritual Gift”
Where do we get the idea that the gift of singleness is a God-given, divine ability to be happy with being single? It comes primarily from a confusion in our concept of spiritual gifts. The only pace in Scripture where the word “gift” (Greek charisma) is used in conjunction with marital status is found in 1 Corinthians 7:7, where Paul says, “Each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and anotehr a different kind” (NRSV).
Paul never uses the phrase “gift of singleness” or “gift of celibacy.” This is not part of his terminology or vocabularly. The phrase itself is unbiblical. Paul does refer to the “unmarried” (Greek agamos) in 1 Corinthians 7:8, 32 34 (Verse 27, “Are you unmarried?” [NIV] is literally, “Are you free from a wife?”) But Paul never connects this word for “unmarried” in the same phrase with the word for “gift.” By Pauls’s language, there is no such thing as a charisma agamou, a gift of unmarriedness or singleness.
1 Corinthians 12
The confusion in the traditional view comes from misintepreting and combining two passages. In order to understand where contemporary views of the gift of singleness come from, we must turn several chapters forward in the book of 1 Corinthians to chapter 12. There Paul says, “Now concerning spiritual gifts [literally, “about spirtual things”], brother and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed” (1 Cor. 12:1 NRSV). He goes on to say that “there are varities of gifts, but the same Spirit… and there are varities of activites, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone” (vv. 4 – 6 NRSV).
From this chapter we see that God, through the Holy Spirit, empowers his people with certain gifts of ministry. That is why they’re called spiritual gifts; the Holy Spirit is actively at work in each gift to accomplish a particular task or function, in the context of the ministry of the church. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (v. 7).
So there is an agent of action – the Spirit. And there is a purpose – the common good of Chrisitans in the fellowship of the body. Whether wisdom or knowledge or faith or healing or prophecy, “all these are the work of one and the same Spirit” (v. 11). This is the purpose of a spiritual gift.
Here is a crucial distinction. Throughout chapter 12, Paul declares thta these gifts are spiritual gifts, that is Spirit-empowered for a particular function. In verses 8 and 9, “one person is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom; to another the message of knowledge comes by means of the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit,” and so on. Paul clearly emphasizes that the Spirit personally empowers each of these gifts. The Holy Spirit is at work in an individual to accomplish some particular work for the common good of the church.
1 Corinthians 7
However, this kind of language is entirely absent in 1 Corinthians 7. There, Paul says only that some have one gift and others have another. Nowhere is the Holy Spirit mentioned for the empowerment of that gift. Nowhere is the gift called a “spiritual gift,” only a gift.
That makes all the difference. It is a mistake to consider singleness (or marriage) as being the same kind of gift as the spiritual gifts listed in chapter 12. The words and the context are different. The traditional view assumes that because all of the functional gifts in chapter 12 are Spirit-empowered, then the gift of singleness must be a special, divine, spiritual empowerment. This is simply not true. That word is just not there. The idea of “gift as supernatural empowerment” comes from our own romanticized ideal for singleness, as we have seen in church history, and not from the actual biblical text.
The New Testament uses “gift” in several instances where it does not indicate any supernatural empowerment. For example, eternal life is a gift, as it says in Romans 6:23: “The gift of God is eternal life.” In this case, the gift is not some function for ministry; it is an objective gift. You simply receive and accept the gift of eternal life. Singleness and marriage, if they are to be considered gifts, are more like the gift of eternal life than the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12. One either has eternal life or doesn’t. One either is married or is single.
The gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 are functional gifts, descriptive of specific tasks within a ministry situation. That is why they are “spiritual”; the Holy Spirit empowers each one in the context of ministry. Someone with the gift of teaching has the function of teaching others and is Holy Spirit-empowered to use that gift to teach. One who has the gift of serving has the function others and does so through the work of the Spirit.
This is not the case with singleness. Singleness is not a functional gift; there is no such action as “singling.” Being single or married does not itself enable you to preach a sermon or teach a Sunday school class – or prevent you from doing so. Paul talks about two different kinds of gifts. While one mght legitimately call singleness a gift, it is incorrect to call it a spiritual gift.
Singleness and Marriage as Equal Gifts
This is the implication: The “gift of singleness” is not something that must be spiritually discerned or subjectively felt. Singles do not need to search their hearts to see if they are truly able to live as contented singles. It is not some supernatural empowerment for some function of ministry. Rather, the gift is a description of an objective status. If you are single, then you have the gift of singleness. If you are married, you don’t. If you marry, you exchange the gift of singleness for the gift of marriedness. Both are good. Simple as that.
….Historically, many commentators have construed Paul’s advice here [1 Cor 7:7] as a statement of the inherent superiority of celibacy. They presume that “the truly ‘spiritual’ are celibate; for the rest there is the ‘concession’ to marriage, which exists basically to curb illicit desire. But Paul would have none of this. For him both marriage and celibacy are gifts, and despite his own preferene for his gift, he certainly does not raise it to a higher spirituality. That is to fly full in the face of the text itself.
Furthermore, the gift of singleness, understood in this sense, does not determine an unalterable lifelong future for anyone. In fact, everybody starts out with the gift of singleness. Mennonite thelogian John Howard Yoder writes, “It needs to be taught as normative Christian truth that singleness is the first normal state for every Christian.” “There is nothing special about being single,” one single woman wrote. “Everyone is single once and often single again. Only the duration and quality of singleness differ.” The “gift” of singleness is descriptive, not restrictive. It does not prevent you from getting married if yo so desire and circumstances permit.
… So what are we to say about singles who don’t like being single? Many try to deny the gift of singleness. They say they don’t want it, because they assume gifts are permanent and they don’t want to be single all their lives.
In that case, they can get married. Of course, this depends on finding a suitable and willing partner. But nothing inherent to singleness will prevent someone from leavint the single state to be married. People do it everyday. God does not supernaturally intervene to stop the wedding ceremony of two people who, up until that point, are single and have the gift of singleness. When they say “I do,” then they receive the gift of marriage.
It is rude to refuse a gift and throw it back in the giver’s face. However, it can be entirely appropriate to exchange a gift for a different one of equal value. Think about taking a Christmas gift back to the store. You can’t exchange it for something that’s more expensive. But you can exchange it for something of the same value.
So it is with marriage and singleness. When a single gets married, it is not a rejection of the gift of singleness. Nor is marriage a promotion, a step up to a more valued position, a more expensive Christmas gift. Rather, it is exchanging one gift for another one of equal value. One if not necessarily better than the other; both have their own advantages and disadvantages.
No Two-Tier System
This “egalalitarian” view of singleness and marriage is tremendously liberating. A single who understands singleness in this way no longer has to be tortured with convoluted questioning as to whether or not he or she has the gift of singleness. Now all singles can know where they stand. All singles are on even ground. No two-tier system of singleness exists. All singles are free either to be single or to marry if they so desire and have opportunity. They needn’t wonder why God hasn’t supernaturally deadened all desire for marital companionship.
It also legitimizes the desire for a spouse. A single is free to date actively, to develop a relationship that can result in marriage. A single is equally free to abstain from the whole dating scene if he or she so chooses.
Consequently, we can affirm this principle: The challenge is to make a success of the single life if you are single and make a success of the married life if you are married. Whichever one you happen to be, do your best to be a good steward of that gift. If you are single, then you can develop a healthy Christian single life. And if the opportunity should come for you to exchange the gift of singleness for the gift of marriage, then feel free to do so. But your ultimate priority is not whether you will marry; in either state, your concern is serving God.
If you would like to read more, check out the free preview of this book on (Link): Google books.
Rebuttal by “NoGiftofSingleness” –
Maybe it’s me, but I am absolutely stumped about how many glowing reviews this book has received.
At the time it came out, it billed itself as some kind of groundbreaking new voice for singles, “debunking the gift of singleness myth”, but over time, all it did was promote a new “GoS” myth, one that declares all singleness to be a gift, whether it’s wanted or not. How did this happen?
First, this book dismissed sound theology held for centuries about Paul’s use of the word “gift” in 1 Cor 7:7, which that he was referring to some sort of special gifting, such as sexual continency for the sake of a mission.
Instead, Hsu favored a newer translation of that passage from The Message, which reads “God gives the gift of the single life to some, the gift of the married life to others” — a passage that is now being taken out and replaced with something to closer to the former, original meaning (the NLT has also recently replaced the “gift of singleness” with the more non-specific “special gift of God”).
Second, by taking the erroneous position that Paul was declaring that both marriage and singleness are equal gifts from God, Hsu figured that he was doing singles overlooked by the church a huge favor, declaring that “singles are valued just as much by God as marrieds”.
A fine sentiment, but this “equal gifts of equal value” message had the unintended consequence of providing ammunition to those who dismiss the concerns of the vast majority who want to marry but are finding it difficult to do so in a church culture that has been increasingly devaluing of marriage. Women in particular become anxious as time slips away and their chances of healthy childbirth dwindle. But how dare you express anything less than complete contentment when God, in His generosity, has given you His “gift” of singleness?
Numerous books have since come out parrotting this one, with logical extensions that basically suggest that since singleness and marriage are gifts of equal value, it really shouldn’t matter to you which one you get, because marriage isn’t really better, just “different”.
In her lastest book “Get Married: What Women Can Do to Help it Happen”, Candice Watters takes on these disingenuous comparisons, noting honestly that “people who marry well and are committed to their marriages don’t wish that they were single again”.
If singleness is really a gift equal to marriage, why would anyone bother to seek God for a “gift exchange”, as Hsu simplistically suggests?
The kind of studied indifference towards marriage that many Christian singles dutifully affect tells us a lot about how these teachings have sown seeds of ambivilence and confusion that work against what has historically been considered a good and godly pursuit.
And of course, there have been other social/cultural/economic forces at work, but how can singles talk about issues such as the shortage of men in our churches when it means that they’ll likely be shut down with a lecture on how their singleness is a gift and they should just be content?
Let’s put an end to phony contentment with singleness and bad books on singleness. We can start by not confusing circumstantial singleness with “gifted” singleness, and insisting that biblical texts about singleness and celibacy not be dressed up to mean more than what they actually say. Perhaps then singles will be valued and supported in whatever unique way fits for them — without being pitied or patronized.
Contrary to the above reviewer, though, the American church does not “devalue” marriage – most churches have done the opposite; they have turned marriage into an idol, which marginalizes singles even more. (I have blogged about the American Christian culture’s idolization of marriage in previous posts.)
Related posts, this blog:
(Link):Singleness Is Not a Gift