As many have noted, the modern church has sometimes treated “single” adults as we treat those with an unfortunate disease.
There is sympathy to be sure. And encouragement—perhaps in the form of a “small group” that also functions as the non web-based equivalent of e-Harmony.
But ultimately, the hope is to be cured of this unfortunate condition.
Here, the “gift” of singleness sounds somewhat like the gift of mononucleosis (though contracted differently).
Recently, however, some have proposed a recovery of Christian singleness as a sacred vocation.
After all, while many evangelical churches would never hire an unmarried Senior Pastor, folks like Jesus, Paul, Augustine, and John Stott seemed to do okay in ministry.
In short, it’s not just Catholics who have “strange” views on marriage and the ministry. We Protestant evangelicals have also bowed to a tradition that is rooted nowhere in the Bible.
Still, others suggest that the calling of “singleness” also carries problematic connotations if we do not pair it with a recovery another calling.
A PERSONAL LETTER
In the recently released Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church, Wesley Hill shares part of a personal letter (with permission), sent from a friend:
It was a great relief to me to realize that if God is, in fact, calling me to a vocation of celibacy it does not mean I am called to “singleness.” God does not call anyone to singleness [as we conceive it in contemporary Western societies]. We are all created by God to live within kinship networks wherein we share daily life in permanent relationships.
The point here is that imagery of “singleness” carries connotations of a life lived as a Lone Ranger.
And this would have been news to many celibate ministers and missionaries (including Jesus) throughout Christian history.
Part of the problem, as C.S. Lewis long ago argued, is that our modern view of friendship has left us with an emaciated husk of the ideal.
While the ancients viewed friendship as among the highest of the loves, Freud argued that it could only be a disguised form of homosexual or heterosexual Eros.
Thus when folks from prior generations expressed deep (and even physical) affection for same sex friends, we moderns decided that everyone from Jesus (Jn. 13.23) to Abraham Lincoln was really a closeted homosexual.
Not so, says Lewis.
While homosexual relationships certainly existed throughout history, the claim is that we moderns often read them into the lives of people who simply had deeper friendships than us.
(After all, Facebook is a relatively new invention.)
Lewis then goes on to distinguish Freud’s romantic love from amicitia:
“Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities.”
While some might disagree slightly with such a firm distinction (see again Hill in Two Views), the point is not merely to differentiate two types of love.
RECLAIMING SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP
The goal is also to reclaim deep and abiding spiritual friendship as an alternative to the false choice between either marriage or abiding lonesomeness.
God may call some to celibacy, Hill says, but he calls no one to “singleness” in the sense of a lonely and isolated pattern of living.
In short, we must reclaim spiritual friendship in the pattern of Jesus.