Singleness and Celibacy: A Response to David Myers

In the August/September Perspectives, David Myers points to social trends that are occurring in attitudes about homosexuality. He goes on to argue in favor of accepting homosexual marriage. I recognize that the trends he points out are real and likely to grow. In particular, the perception that the church is “intolerant” is likely to grow.

Though I accept his social observations, I must challenge two points in his argument. First, and briefly, is his observation that since only 7 of the of 31,103 verses in the Bible refer to homosexuality, “we infer that the Bible has nothing to say about an enduring sexual orientation (a modern concept) or about loving, long-term same-sex partnerships.” It may be true that the context for these biblical references was not a long-term sexual partnership, but his inference is not justified on the grounds that Scripture only explicitly mentions homosexuality seven times. The importance of an object or belief in the Bible is not gauged by the number of times it is mentioned. There are, for example, only two or three stories of Creation in the Bible, yet Creation is crucial to the entire biblical narrative. There are only about forty references to “mercy” in the Bible, but its importance is central. At the same time there are forty references to “houses” in the Bible, but houses are certainly less important than is mercy. The technique used by Myers may be valid when measuring hits on a website to judge its popularity, but as regards this case, it is irrelevant.

The major challenge I wish to present is to Myers’s implicit denigration of the state of singleness and celibacy. The fact that single celibacy is not considered a plausible option for gays is given as a principal motivation for supporting gay marriages. Myers recalls a conversation in which he asked a pastor whether a lesbian who desired marriage with another woman, but whose church would not permit this, must then remain single. The pastor’s answer was, “I know it sounds harsh. But yes, she must live alone.” Myers then quotes Jesus’s response to the Pharisees, “They tie onto people’s backs loads that are heavy and hard to carry” (Matthew 23:4), as his own response to this position.

A major stated premise of Myers’s argument is that “all humans have a deep need to belong.” The unstated premise is that the best way to belong is via a monogamous/sexual marriage relationship. Though Myers does acknowledge that marriage is but “one potent example of such a relationship,” he goes on to argue that it is immoral to prevent a marriage relationship from occurring between committed homosexuals. It is this claim, I believe, that needs to be challenged.

I, for one, experienced singleness and celibacy well into my late twenties, before marriage. Trust me when I tell you that I desired sex; but in spite of that strong desire I did not indulge, since I had long assumed that sex was only to be part of marriage. Yet some friends and family questioned me. Didn’t I want love? One friend from Africa who was completely unencumbered by political correctness told me, “You’re not really a man until you have taken a wife.” But I was fully a man, and I did experience love.

Dr. Myers seems to have the belief that all people have a right to full expression of their sexuality. But is it true? Does everyone have the right to participate in a loving, committed, and sexual relationship? I find no support for such a right in scripture.

Instead, scripture and the history of the church show there are many ways in which people experienced belonging and love. King David, for example, had eight wives and a dozen or so concubines. Yet David said that the love he had for Jonathan was “sweeter to me than the love of women.” Some have argued that David and Jonathan must have had a homosexual relationship in order for David to make this claim. But to presume that David and Jonathan were sexually involved does not make sense unless you believe that the pinnacle of love and belonging can only be reached when people are sexually active with one another.

The love I have for my children is another way of loving and belonging that is not sexual. In fact, if it were sexual, it would be a horror. Yet, according to Myers, denying someone the right to a sexual expression of their love is at best “harsh,” and perhaps impossible.

Why is it harsh? Myers does not explicitly say, but it seems that all other relationships must be inferior to one that includes sex plus commitment between two adults. Is it because genuine love, or the best or fullest example of love, can only be found between two people in a sexually active marriage? I argue, and scripture and history seem to show, that it is not. Myers himself noted that in some ages of the church, single celibacy was considered the highest form of love. Aristotle found friendship to be the highest form of love, and Jesus, when all was nearly accomplished, finally called his disciples friends. Friendship and family are two ways in which genuine love and commitment can be expressed and true community may be formed.

Myers might further argue that marriage is one kind of love in which all people should be permitted to participate. But are all options really open to all people? For biological reasons, some people can never become parents and yet are called to love and belong to Christ and others. For a variety of reasons, some singles never marry, and many married people divorce. Nonetheless, the calling to love one another and to belong to the body of Christ remains intact. For moral or physical reasons, many heterosexuals also remain celibate. Yet all of these relationships involve love, commitment, and belonging.

Myers seems to find the prospect of single celibacy to be unpalatable for those who would like to marry. That being the case, he argues that homosexual marriage must be permitted. He thinks that telling homosexuals that part of their Christian calling may be to remain single and celibate is more than we can rightfully ask of them. I don’t believe that it is.

Love, commitment, and belonging can be found in many kinds of relationships. Throughout its history, the church has called on its members to participate in some, but not others. Asking the homosexuals of our churches today to participate in loving and committed relationships other than marriage is not asking the impossible. And since it is not wrong to ask this of our fellow believers, the option of homosexual marriage need not be seen as the only plausible one for believing gays.

Kent Van Til teaches religion at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.