One of the more interesting points for me in Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, and Robert George’s book What is Marriage? was their reflection on how the legalization of same-sex marriage may contribute to demoting friendship as a lesser form of love. If marriage is so important that it has to be defined as the place where intimacy is available, then friendship, by contrast, looks paler and less attractive than ever. “We come to see friendships as mere rest stops on the way back to family life,” the authors write.
In her most recent editorial for Christianity Today, “Same-Sex Marriage and the Single Christian,” Katelyn Beaty, a single, heterosexual woman (and a friend of mine) explores this point powerfully and poignantly. Writing about the elevation of marriage in the evangelical Christian world—an elevation that mirrors, in ironic ways, the wider society’s elevation of marriage—Beaty says:
[L]ocal 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.
Here’s how she concludes:
[M]arriage—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. We get to learn how to love one another as brothers and sisters now, since we’ll be spending a lot of time together in the future.
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.”