(In this second part of the review, I summarize the paradigm contained in the book Singled Out.)
It would be difficult to argue that “love” (romance) and sex aren’t the primary values in our culture today (only challenged by money and power). We know virtually everyone deeply desires to be loved, and we believe the highest love is that of romance, with the highest expression of love generally being sexual intimacy. Therefore, the key to fulfilling one’s longings is the hope of romantic and sexual relationship. Romance and sex are fine and good in their proper place, however as Christians, we must believe that what we really need is not romance and sex, but love and community. This is the key thesis.
In addition to the above, a logical deduction following the theory of evolution is that people are merely highly developed animals. Animals are guided solely by their basic instincts. Sexual desire is a basic instinct, and therefore we can’t expect people not to engage in sexual activity.
The church and Christians are supposed to have a different view of love and sexuality. But all too often—the vast majority of the time in fact—we hold the same basic views. Generally the one difference between Christians and the rest of our culture is merely that we believe that sex is only allowable inside of marriage. (In truth, a large percentage of Christians—perhaps even a majority—don’t differ from the culture even in this belief, at least in practice.)
The result of this belief combined with the rest of our culture’s values leads to two reactions by Christians. The first is an emphasis for Christians to marry young—as soon as possible (because they can’t wait for sex). This is a popular view point (see this Christianity Today article for one example), with some going as far as saying that Christians are sinning if they are not married by a certain age. The second response is to build an new legalism based around sexual fear. Now there is certainly wisdom in avoiding temptation—but that’s not what I’m talking about here. What I am referring to are people who hold to a list of rules which separate men and women absent of actual temptation. While there is the appearance of wisdom here, unfortunately these rules can paint all women as evil seductresses and all men as wild pigs who can’t control themselves. This separates people from the relationships they need which would help them keep their desires in proper perspective.1
In order to address this issue properly, we have to recognize that a person’s sexuality is broader than merely their desire for sex. Sexuality is that desire which drive us into relationships and causes us to seek community with others. So being a single person who is not engaged in sexual activity does not mean that we cease to be sexual nor that we are repressing our sexuality. A basic, fundamental need for every person is that of relationship and intimacy. Our culture’s focus on consumerism, which is basically a striving for self-fulfillment, has had destructive consequences on relationships and happiness. Many people turn to sex for the intimacy they seek, since it is one of the only means of intimacy our culture remembers. “I am convinced that, if the church could provide more thorough affection and care for persons, many would be less likely to turn falsely to genital sexual expression for the social support they need”.2
The most used metaphor for the church in the new testament is that of family. This is meant to be a reality, not merely some pleasant, detached concept. Jesus states that his mother and brothers are his disciples (which included women—this was broader than just the 12)3. Jesus is the new Adam because he is the first member of a new race. And this race is defined spiritually, not biologically. Subsequently, when we are in Christ our spiritual family takes precedence over our biological families. Let us not forget that Jesus clearly states just this very thing in both Luke 14:26 and Matthew 10:37.
In one sense this might not sound very revolutionary since it is what the bible clearly states. Yet unfortunately this has been almost completely lost in reality, especially in conservative evangelical Christianity. The idea of actually practicing this community in reality is revolutionary and subversive—just like Jesus and the bible. The community of the church is not just an optional idea, something which is nice if we happen to encounter it. On the contrary, it is a fundamental reality. “We cannot even honestly preach the Gospel when we cannot offer community to those to whom we are preaching”.4
In attempt to counter our culture’s ambivalence toward the family, churches, especially conservative evangelical churches, have made a priority of focusing on the family. (As if to emphasize the point, Focus on the Family is one of the largest and best known evangelical organizations in the U.S.) Support for marriages and families is great and much needed. However this emphasis on the biological, nuclear family has apparently caused Christians to forget the reality of the body of Christ as our primary family. If we focus on the biological family, every adult who does not have their own family is left out. But this is not the way the church is to be. No one is left out. We aren’t supposed to focus on our own marriage and give the rest of the church the scraps we have left over. Married couples and families need to be committed to routine participation in the church community (including many aspects of life: services, small groups, service, social activities, etc.), not only when it’s occasionally convenient. I know everyone is busy; the key here is to integrate the church community with one’s life, not merely burden ourselves with a bunch of extra activities. Again, this can’t be optional, it’s absolutely crucial.5
Putting marriage, family, sex, and romance in proper perspective is quite freeing. When these things are held too high, it implies that those who aren’t currently experiencing them are cursed to live unhappy and unfulfilled lives. Put in their proper perspective, singles begin to recognize that they can live full lives, even though their desires don’t go away. Likewise, it takes the burden of ultimate fulfillment off of marriage for those who are in that type of relationship. In either case, we need to be free to pursue God and his desires, rather than chasing the “perfect” relationship.
1I would like to suggest that there are different levels of maturity and different actions appropriate for each. For an immature person who is controlled by their lust, holding to a list of certain rules may well be a healthy step forward and a next stage in maturity. However it is quite possible to move beyond this stage to one in which a person is not ruled by their lusts and can control their own actions. This person can relate to members of both sexes without always thinking about sex. This is not to say they are never tempted, but are likely to be tempted less often, and are mature enough to know when they are experiencing actual temptation and what proper course of action to take at that time.
2Marva Dawn as quoted in Singled Out, p. 216.
3See Matthew 12:46-50.
4Ronald Rolheiser, Forgotten among the Lilies as quoted in Singled Out, p. 223.
5I do not believe that we should ignore or neglect our biological families (in most cases), but right now this is typically reversed: we ignore and neglect our church family for our biological family and/or ourselves.