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An orientation for single sexuality: The “do’s”of purity

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I’m not waiting for marriage.

Like many other evangelical teenagers, I signed a yellow “True Love Waits” index card in youth group and wore a chastity ring. These symbols may create a temporary bulwark against raging teenage hormones, but a message that boils down to “just don’t give out your v-card till after the wedding” isn’t theologically robust enough to withstand the cultural bombardment of “everybody’s doing it.” The message of “wait so it’ll be great” isn’t enough to sustain a standard of purity when years turn into decades.

This isn’t to say I’ve stopped believing marriage marks an important boundary for healthy sexual activity. However, I find my parameters not through a checklist of don’ts, but by discovering who and what God calls us – as embodied souls – to be and do.

As singles become a larger proportion of the total population, our society need a church that models what holiness looks like in relationships – for teens in love, single thirtysomethings, and people who are married.

Follow Jesus, not the bridal path

Consider the fellowship groups and programs at our churches. They’re usually organized around age and marital status: children’s ministry, youth, young adults, young marrieds, family programs, empty nesters, seniors. And sermon topics: what’s the ratio of marriage and parenthood messages to those on singleness? How many illustrations derive from the context of a nuclear family, rather than the daily interactions of an individual? This language and structure betrays a distorted focus on marriage that fails the married people it idolizes almost as much as the single people it marginalizes.

If we are co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:15) and co-workers for God (Ephesians 2:10), why does the church have so little room for anyone who doesn’t match the picture of “traditional family” (husband, wife, children, minivan, pets)? As evangelicals, who take our very name from the good news, why do our churches seem to worship families instead of Jesus?

The gospel has no special provisions for married people; we’re all grafted through salvation, adopted precious children of the Father. The commission Jesus gave to his followers before he left earth was not to settle into families in safe neighbourhoods, but to make disciples (Matthew 28:19).

I’m convinced that the best thing the church can do to encourage holy living is to help us follow Jesus, not a spouse. By teaching us to respect ourselves and others as beloved of God with a purpose to fulfill, the church can equip its people (married or single) to choose purity –  to withstand the temptation to take without giving, exert power instead of grace, and put our desires above God’s calling.

Tell me no lies

While culture implicitly and repeatedly urges me to “do what feels good,” the church constructs a fortress of denial; both deceive by giving desire more influence than it deserves. I don’t need rules about (not) having sex: I need the church to help me reject the lie that desire is the most important thing.

The apostle Paul teaches there are more than two possible responses (give in or get out) to desires, whether good or evil. His advice isn’t easy, but it lights the path to holiness: renewing our minds (Romans 12:2). We steward our urges and conform to a different pattern by shifting the focus off ourselves and what we want, and onto God and his purposes. Each Christ follower is called to witness to God’s reign in the world by our different lives – irrespective of marital status.

The challenge of intimacy

The popular notion that a romantic partner will complete me is as harmful to those who are married as those who are single. Paul’s follows his instructions for holiness in Romans 12 with a picture of the body of Christ – an interdependent aggregation of parts. As members of one body, we have different gifts; married or single, none are complete on our own, yet it is the body, not a partner, that makes a whole. As a single adult, I need the church to be the covenant community promised in the MB Confession of Faith: “[members who] love, care, and pray for each other, share each others’ joys and burdens, admonish and correct each other.”

Independence and its partner loneliness are a gift and a burden for all people, but they can be heightened for single people who have fewer built-in, cross-gender intergenerational relationships to foster accountability and provide opportunity for intimacy. The church should not only be a haven for marriage but a refuge for singles.

A celibate life may offer more opportunities to minister (my schedule isn’t constrained by a husband’s meetings nor children’s activities), but on the flipside, it may not provide enough occasions of being ministered to (who’s around to help me hang a shelf, or listen as I process at the end of the day?). If my God-given need for intimacy was tied up in waiting for a spouse to complete me, I’d have fallen into despair and bitterness long ago.

So I’m not waiting – for a spouse, for sex, for my own little nuclear family. I’m learning what it means to be a Christ follower, distinct from the patterns of the world, active in service, in relationships with others. Whether I’m single or married, the pursuit of purity isn’t about how I don’t, but how I do: stewarding body, emotions, and mind in ways that honour myself, those around me, and God.

—Karla Braun

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2 comments

Oscar Cardozo September 27, 2013 - 15:44

Karla,

Thanks for sharing about this subject, that is SO important! I enjoyed reading it and also enjoyed meditating on your words, specially about the last paragraph,

oC

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Carey Miller March 9, 2015 - 14:19

Great article. One could make a very acceptable argument that in the New Testament a heavier weight of scripture validates the single life over getting married. Both are considered blessings, of course, and not to say one is “good” and the other “bad”.

However, as mentioned in the article I’d would say:
1) The majority of singles and marrieds both would say the opposite, that being married is the preferable and prime directive by God for all.
2) The preponderance of ministries, home care group studies, and the like are completely organized around marrieds and “traditional” families.
3) Most sermons and Sunday school study sessions in and around this topic deal with issues of marriage on about a 25 to 1 ratio versus issues that deal with singleness. Currently, a quick scan of my latest church bulletin shows that Sunday school and home groups had 3-4 parenting courses, an engaged to be married prep course, an empty nest thingee, something on coping with the “seven year-itch”, and a love languages series. Even the “crafts” class mentioned that it was pretty much for stay-at-home moms. Nothing that focuses on issues exclusive to singles.

Recently, there was an 8-week long sermon session about marriage at my church and it did have it’s last lesson on “singleness” which was encouraging at first. In execution it was a bit lacking. The speaker starter with saying he probably wasn’t qualified to speak on the subject because he didn’t remember much about the adult year of his life he spent single. After that the main points were:
a) Singleness is good (but of course, so was marriage, in case anyone forgot). There maybe even was a bible verse or two that said so. Jesus was single, and Paul was to his knowledge also single and they were pretty good guys despite this.
b) Don’t shun your single friends. They like to do stuff, too.
c) Just because you are unattractive (the main reason for being single) doesn’t mean you can’t find someone who’ll settle and marry you.
d) Get more aggressive in asking out girls you guys.
e) The usual list of don’ts and “wait until marriage” for this and that.
f) You guys have it easy. No in-laws, morning feedings, and you get to watch the shows you want to watch instead of pretending to like what your spouse likes.

My Best-Carey

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