Celibacy should be seen as a spiritual discipline among Christian singles rather than a calling for an elite group, an expert on singleness and sexuality has said.
- Single Minded’s Let’s Talk About Sex webinar one: Church’s Silence on Sex has Led Christians to Look to the World for Answers
- Single Minded’s Let’s Talk About Sex webinar two: Support for People Struggling with Pornography is Lacking in Christian Communities, Says Scholar
Single Minded, founded by Ms Treweek, is an evangelical Christian initiative seeking to create positive, biblical conversations about singleness.
“The way we can most faithfully esteem faithful celibacy in the Christian life today is by understanding celibacy as a form of spiritual discipleship for all unmarried Christians, for as long as they are unmarried,” Ms Treweek said at the webinar.
“If you are single, for however long you are single, pursuing celibacy is part of what it means for you to live in response to the gospel, to bring your life under the lordship of Jesus.”
Dangers of Western thinking
This often comes in contrast with Western thinking, which values individualism and the discovery of self.
Sexual desires are believed be connected to this sense of self, and any restrictions on this can be seen as oppressive or even harmful. One example is “biblical sexual ethics”, which believes that unmarried people should not be engaging in sexual union and sexual activities for as long as they’re unmarried.
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“The world sees that kind of thinking as stopping someone from being able to discover who they really are and express who they really are. The world sees single Christian celibacy as a form of self-suppression,’ Ms Treweek said.
“If you are single, for however long you are single, pursuing celibacy is part of what it means for you to live in response to the gospel, to bring your life under the lordship of Jesus.” – Reverend Dr Danielle Treweek
However, this was not God’s intention.
“For Christians, sex isn’t about us as individuals, it’s about the other person, it’s about our marriage with that other person,” Ms Treweek said.
Every act of sexual union outside of that context is therefore considered sexual immorality and sinful.
“[This] means that when I, as a single Christian, say no to engaging in sexual union with another person because I’m not married to them, all I am doing is not sinning; I’m not making a great sacrifice… what I am doing is not committing sexual immorality,” she said.
Sexual sin seen as more serious than other sins
When celibacy is discussed in the church, two groups of people usually come to mind: those who have been called and gifted to be celibate, and those who are celibate due to unwanted circumstances.
However, there are two dangers to this type of thinking, according to Ms Treweek. It creates an elite group of Christians with sexual sin seen to be more distinct than other sins – a view that needs to be corrected.
“When was the last time you heard that a Christian who struggles with pride, which, let’s face it, is most of us at one time or other, needs an extra special spiritual gift in order to be able to exercise God’s control over their pride?” she said.
“Why then do we separate sexual temptation as a separate category?
“Why does it require extra special help from God?”
“The world sees single Christian celibacy as a form of self-suppression.” – Reverend Dr Danielle Treweek
How can the church change this view?
Ms Treweek believes the church can help correct the way celibacy is viewed.
“I think church pastors have a real opportunity in the sermons that they give, in illustrations they use,” she said.
“Church service leaders have a real opportunity in the language they use from up the front about marriage, about sex, about relationships, to constantly be including single Christians into that.”
Embracing a right view of celibacy can point to an eternity with God, Ms Treweek said.
“[It] gives all of us a little glimpse, a little foreshadow, a little foretaste of the wonderful and the godly celibacy that all of us will be enjoying for all of eternity,” she said.