Interviews: Celibacy & Singleness in the Church

For the next interview, Richard has been gracious enough to share a part of his journey as it relates to navigating his faith and sexuality as a gay man that is pursuing celibacy and how that intersects with his life in the Church.

For a description of these interviews and for Part 1, you can check out A Mother’s Story and Part 2: A Daughter’s Story.

You are pursuing celibacy but still identify as gay. Could you expand upon that?

I self-identify as “gay” for simplification purposes—I used to want to be fully understood which required a 15-minute explanation. Nowadays I don’t mind being misunderstood, and I believe that if folks need clarification, they should just request it. I self-i.d. as gay because my sexual orientation is homosexual. I do not experience sexual attraction toward women. I pursue celibacy because I believe in sexual monogamy and have not found a life-partner. I’ve never pursued a male partner because my roles in the Christian church would require some extra hoop-jumping to pursue that! And besides, I’m content as a single man. I also have some issues on accepting homosexual marriage-type relationships as the best possible path for a gay Christian.

Having a more traditional interpretation of scripture as it relates to homosexuality, are you open to pursuing a relationship with an individual of the opposite sex or do you have concerns about that path for yourself?

I did not get married because I did not consider it relationally or emotionally honest to do so. Later in life I decided that if a woman fully understood my issues (and I think there are some who do) and might still be interested in building a life with me, I would move ahead and takes faith steps toward marriage. So far, though, this hasn’t worked and I’m still single. As I get older, I’m less inclined to pursue a traditional marriage.

Have there been particular practices, ideas, or states of mind that you have found to be helpful in your journey as you have been striving to live our your sexuality in a way that you feel is pleasing to God?

Yes. First, I find it very key to day-by-day minimize the importance of sex. I realize our culture seems to think that without sex a person is barely alive, but the culture (the Bible calls this “the world”) is not accurate about most life issues, so I’ve experimented with living life fully despite having no so-called “sexual fulfillment” and I find life can be very full and satisfying without sex. Second, cultivating an attitude of praise and thanksgiving is highly medicinal to any hurdle life puts in my path. Failing to give thanks is perhaps one of the most prevalent sins in the 21st century western church, and I try to fight that tendency/temptation in myself by finding things for which to offer thanks and praise to God. Third, I seek to comprehend and then practice the two giant commands of Christianity:  love God and love people.  This takes significant focus and energy. Fourth, I have offered my sexuality as a gift and offering to God. Sometimes I’ve told God, “I don’t have much to give you, but I do have this—take it and use it as You will”. Fifth, I’ve found that thinking of sexual sin in terms of “idolatry” is particularly helpful. Sex is an idol to many of us, and I do not want idols (things I worship, things I value more highly than I value God) in my life. Sixth, Celebrating the joys of single life with friends reminds me that I’d usually rather have my problems and my burdens than those of married folks. Seventh, I’m cultivating a habit of thinking about “positives”. For example, I’m often asked if I believe homosexual activity is “wrong”, but I prefer to focus on what is right…and good….and holy….and beautiful….and low-key the focus on what’s “wrong” or bad. Light overcomes darkness.

What are some of the greatest ways that the Church has supported you in your journey?

The church’s support is indirect at best. If the church encourages me to build a personal relationship with God through Jesus, to rely on the Holy Spirit, to read Scripture, to commune with God in prayer….then the church is being very supportive. If the church encourages deep interpersonal relationships among believers, sharing one’s faith, serving others—those are all supportive. But the church does not tend to directly or in any sort of focused manner support my position as a gay celibate man. The church does not understand “gay” and the church does not value “celibate” in my opinion. The evangelical church seems decidedly bent on traditional marriage as normative and positive for everyone.

What can the Church do to better support single individuals (regardless of their sexual orientation) and those pursuing celibacy?

The church tends to offer the biggest challenges to those she values the most highly. This last weekend my pastor pronounced an enormous challenge—maybe one of the strongest I’ve ever heard—to the dads in the congregation. I think his challenge bespeaks the value the church places on dads. It wouldn’t take that much to bring single people (somehow) into such challenges, but my church doesn’t do that. My church tries to provide “ministry” to single people. I don’t think single people need to be ministered to; I think we need to be challenged to live out our full, abundant, unique calling in God’s Kingdom. My church doesn’t do that very well. The Bible speaks of the benefits of singleness, and God asked some of his key servants (Jeremiah, for example) to refrain from marriage. My church never talks about any of this.

Although it is not always the case, as marriage often gets placed on a pedestal in the Church, what are some of the blessings in being single that are often overlooked?

Typically, single individuals have more time to invest in worthwhile activities as their time is not consumed with raising children and marriage. The church could be employing these people to do some of church’s most challenging tasks (including pastor-teaching and eldering), but the church typically seeks married people with children for these roles. Single people have plenty to do (i.e. we’re not sitting around with long segments of free time on our hands), but we do have great flexibility and choice about how we’re going to use resources such as time, talents and treasure. I consider this a blessing, a responsibility, and a stewardship. Again, if our churches would encourage our single people to discover and employ their creative energies as much as we encourage them to find a spouse and get about the business of marriage and family, who knows what kind of art, literature and music we might have from a community of single people in touch with their creativity.

Single people are likely better equipped to handle ministry roles that require travel and periods away from home. It’s possible that single people make more effective missionaries and traveling teachers. The spiritual discipline of solitude and a sense of intimacy with God are more available logistically to single people. Single people, even if residing in households that include other people, have a sense of aloneness about them, and the best way to cope with that is to develop good spiritual disciplines.  That means the single people of the church, given the right conditions (especially the encouragement of the church) can become spiritual powerhouses and champions for the Kingdom of God.

The teachings of Paul about the advantages of remaining single might as well not even be in the Bible—those teachings are neglected in the preaching and teaching of my church and in the philosophy of anything to do with singles there. Very few people realize that God specifically told Jeremiah the prophet NOT to marry, or that Daniel was single and that most likely Paul was single. My church never makes any reference to Jesus being a single man, unmarried in a marrying world. The blessings (and they are MANY) of being single are almost entirely overlooked at my church as we go on focusing on the family. We are overly focused on “family”. Most evangelical churches seem to be. The notion of Jesus’ type of family (it’s fairly clear that Mary, Martha and Lazarus provided a family-type haven or refuge for Jesus) is considered unconventional, if considered/thought of at all….by my church.  It strikes me as somewhere between mildly irritating and specifically inattentive to the whole of Scripture.

Much love.

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  • Marla

    Thanks so much for sharing this. The church over celebrates family to the point where family often becomes idol. I have heard often that the reason for not coming to worship is that they needed family time. There are so many celibate people in church, the wonderful people who never married, the widows and widowers, the people in marriages where sexual intimacy is not possible, and yet we never acknowledge them. As you said, we fail to mention Paul’s call to singleness as giving one wholeheartedly to the Lord. Sex has become an appetite that has to be fulfilled for health, supposedly.
    I know some very Godly people who are now in their seventies or even nineties, who chose never to marry. Instead of letting them speak to our young people about that option, I hear frequent speculation on their sexual identities. I tell people to say to their children, “If you marry,” rather than the popular, “When you marry…”
    Thanks for singing the song of celibacy!

  • Thanks for sharing your journey as a celibate man, Richard.

    • Hey Richard! Was brought back to this thread earlier today due to Kara’s comments and realized that I’m pretty sure you’re the same Richard I met late last month in Chicago at the Moody church. It’s always fun to place faces with names, if indeed you’re the same Richard.

      Anyway, just thought I’d say “hi”! 🙂

  • Cheryl

    Richard, Thanks for sharing your story. I can relate in so many ways. I have also been given the gift of singleness and celibacy, and indeed it is something to be celebrated. There have been so many doors opened to ministry, to opportunity, to friendships, that would have passed me by if I were in a conventional “family” structure. I thank God for it daily. I, too, however, have experienced the pain of a church that idolizes the family, and struggle with how to (or whether to) try to “educate” the church or to simply give up and live with it.

    I consider myself asexual – no attraction to either men or women. And my ideal husband would be asexual as well, or a celibate gay man. So yes, there are women who would be very interested in you, if that happens to be the direction God leads. But thank you for affirming that singleness is itself a blessing as well. I know that I am where God wants me, but it’s hard, with the repeated message from both church and society that I am deficient or broken.

  • Eugene

    “Typically, single individuals have more time to invest in worthwhile activities as their time is not consumed with raising children and marriage.”

    Wow, that’s an awful thing to say. Richard probably didn’t mean it this way, but marriage and raising children are worthwhile activities, too. More importantly, marriage and sexuality don’t have to be selfish. Richard even admits that single people “have a sense of aloneness about them”. Indeed, according to the Bible “It is not good for the man to be alone.” So why would anyone believe that “the best way to cope with that is to develop good spiritual disciplines”? Personally, I think the best way to cope with that is to find a husband. 🙂 And, again, it’s not a selfish – or sexual – thing. For every seemingly happy celibate guy like Richard there’s a miserable single guy who can’t find a suitable partner (like Richard).

    And, yes, celibacy surely makes sense when you’re a prophet or the son of God. Chances are, Richard is neither. 🙂 Celibacy also made sense when Christians were a small, persecuted minority. They really needed to sacrifice some aspects of their lives “for the Kingdom of God”. But why is it necessary now?

    • Darren

      While I understand your disagreement with Richard’s phrasing around singles engaging with other “worthwhile” activities other than sex and raising children, I’m curious as to how you arrive at the conclusion that no one in our modern context should consider celibacy.

      In you saying that it makes sense for “a prophet or the Son of God” it sounds to me as if the ministry callings of the bible utterly halted at some unknown tipping point of x number of converts to Christianity.

      I say the kind of dedication to God and his calling still exists today for all of his people. Christians in parts of the world are STILL being persecuted and martyred. Now more than ever the institutional church has become a full-time job. Not everyone has been presented with the Gospel or have had the opportunity to become disciples of Christ. I cite these things as support for why a single person (like Paul expressed) is freer to fully engage and focus on these kinds of areas than a person with the Godly obligations of marriage and raising children.

      If your point in all this is that everyone should Marry, not even the Bible paints a picture of everyone living out life in the context of marriage. I think “get a husband” is an easy answer, but not one that fully embraces the realities that not everyone will get ‘hitched’.

      ok… that’s my $1.20 worth. 🙂

  • Debbie Thurman

    Richard, you make some profound points here that truly need to be heard by so many people. I’m sure it’s no easy thing to come to the realization that celibacy is your calling. I watched one of my daughters wrestle with that, in fact. She and I had many deep conversations while she was devoting herself (after dissolving a painful relationship) to seeking God’s will for her life. She read about the lives of past saints who had been called to singleness and celibacy, and she took great comfort and strength from their stories. God grew her spiritually during that time in her life in ways I don’t believe she could have grown had she not faced this deep question in a mature way. Though she did go on to marry a wonderful man of God, I was deeply touched by her devotion to whatever God may have willed for her life, even if it meant serving Him in singleness.

    Of course, we don’t square off singleness against marriage. Most people are going to marry, but many will do so unhappily because they will not be listening to the right voice. God blesses His single servants in a unique way, and the Church is so much the better for them. All of you have lots to teach us. I pray we will come to appreciate you as we should.

    Thank you for opening yourself up for our benefit.

  • jeanette

    Thank you, Richard, for your thoughtful answers. I, too, have Same Sex Attractrion and have chosen not to act on those attractions in deference to what I believe to be God’s teaching on sexual expression outside of marriage. That decision was taken on my conversion to Christianity some 26 years ago after having lived as an active lesbian for some years. The early years of celibacy were hard as I had got used to being in relationships and experiencing regular sex, but the hardest thing for me was the likelihood of never ever feeling as though I was special to “an other.” As you expressed so well in the interview, one’s point of focus is critical to one’s chosen Christian journey. Do I, like Eve, focus on the one tree that God has put off limits or do I stand back and gratefully gaze over the acres of fragrant, beautful and beneficial vegetation that God has given me? Focus and gratitude are two critical keys in living out the abundant life granted to all his children, married or otherwise.

  • Mrs T

    What a lovely writeup/interview!
    Our church in a large city has plenty of singles that don’t feel they are out of place, as well as married folks with kids who blend well with the singles.

    In a small town, it must be more lonely to be single, tho not that bad anymore, but in a large city, where it is more career-oriented for women & where there are so many things to do & groups to join, it is very exciting to be single.
    That is true that sex is not everything. Most of my friends are single, & probably a good percentage are virgins. They have accepted their singlehood, altho I’m sure they struggled with it as younger folks(as I did).

    I am married with grown children, & enjoy my single friends. Unfortunately, many married Christians give in to the suburban lifestyle which I dislike(of course, the heavy taxes & crime in the city drive them out.).
    For someone who desperately wanted to marry in my teens & 20s, I find I prefer the so-called single life of the area I live in.
    The verse, ‘in whatsoever state you find yourself, be content’ is good for this as well as other aspects of life.
    I am sure there are several celibate gays in my church. I wish they knew that I would love to be friends with them, but I bet most of them are afraid to come out. In a church as large as mine, there are many opinions, so they probably stay incognito.
    Let’s publicize the fact that royal blue is the ally color & that those(few) of us who wear such jewelry & wristbands would be good friends & that they should approach us!

  • Who is Richard and how can I reach him to speak to him? His story, like no other I’ver read, is so close to mine and lifts my heart and spirit. I didn’t know there was anyone else who felt the way I do.

    Andrew, if you would be so inclined, please give Richard my email address (I’m sure you have access to it) and ask him if he’d be willing to correspond with me privately. If not, I understand, but I’d very much like to speak to him.


    • Kevin Harris

      Sans – I (the guy conducting the interviews as Andrew is currently traveling for work related engagements) would be happy to pass your email address onto Richard along with checking with him about the possibility of being in correspondence with you. Richard is a great guy and I’m glad to hear that you got something out of what he shared.

      • Thank you, Kevin. I would appreciate that very much.

        • Michael

          Richard and Sans – I can definitely relate to both of you. As I read the interview with Richard, it was like I was reading an interview with me. I would have answered most of the questions Kevin asked the exact same way Richard did.

  • Kris Smith

    It seems to me that many churches do not really have a singles ministry. Some do -but many don’t. People in the 35+ community are not sure where they belong if the options are only for young adults (20s and early 30s) or for married couples in the church. I love how Richard high-lighted that single people have more flexibility and this should be valued in the church. It frustrates me as a single Christian woman approaching 40 years of age…that there are not many single christian men in the church.

    • Mrs T

      My church, a large church in a large city, has many singles of all ages. I am 63 & my best friends from church at this time are ages 61, 63, & 81.
      They have been single all their lives & I don’t consider them strange or anything out of the ordinary for our community. I have had older friends that have passed on who were single all their lives & had various careers. I didn’t notice any feelings of being left out by them. Maybe they settled that issue years before I met them.

      As for LGBTQ people, we don’t ‘card’ people at the door about their orientation. I think the basic belief of the church is that being gay is OK, but to be celibate. Don’t quote me on that, but that is my impression so far. When trying out my “gaydar,” my guess is that there are several gay guys, but hardly any lesbians. Of course, I can guess wrong! I thought one woman was a trannie, but in getting to know her, I don’t think so.

      The point is that Jesus welcomes us all & that in big cities, you can find a place to belong!

  • Nathalie As

    bravo Richard! thank you. i agree with you a lot about the church misrepresenting singleness and ignoring KEY verses in the Bible where peter/paul support singlehood. wow. you so clearly articulated my same sentiments. thanks for speaking.

    may God continue to bless and guide you.

    if you could please expound upon why you chose celibacy.


  • kris smith

    As a single person in a niche place in life I often think of these as the in between years of my life. There is a neat book called “Anonymous” – about the in between years of the life of Jesus before he began his ministry. (Author: Alicia Britt Chole)

  • Raymond-David

    I’ve pulled away from varied groups, including the Marin Foundation, as I’ve often sensed a stronger lean toward the progressive and liberal (some would say heretical) viewpoints, than supporting those who have chosen the path that Richard has.

    I was pleased and encouraged reading this open and honest sharing of one man’s journey. Also, Jeanette’s words were gracious and I want to honor them by way of mentioning that they were appreciated.



  • jJoniJJ

    I know lots of lesbians who are single and quite happy, and quite a few straight women as well. None of the lesbians I know go to non very explicit gay/lesbian affirming churches, however. In a big city, there are many Episcopal churches who actually have lesbian priests on staff, and a neighbor down the street is a lesbian priest. A big university church has a gay man as pastor–it makes a huge difference. I would not go to a church that was not very explicitely pro-lesbian or gay, and definitely there would have to be real live actual gay people on staff. For spiritual direction, I just would not trust straight people to truly know or care about me, or my life. So I rely a lot on women for spiritual direction. I just don’t trust men in spiritual roles either…sorry guys… I just don’t trust you to be completely non-male supremacists or free of sexism.
    I find I have a lot in common with single women, or straight women who have either never married or never had children or who have been divorced for many years with no intention of ever dealing with men again. And so those over 50 straight women are more like lesbians I think than straight married women. To me, I wouldn’t listen to non-gay people talking about my life– they really don’t have the background or knowledge, and a conservative christian agenda really wouldn’t work with lesbians very much anyway… although I have met many lesbians who have left the conservative backgrounds they were born into.
    I like secular liberal straight women a lot of late. They’ve come really far, and good and honest friendships are really possible. Surprisingly, these older and wiser straight women do reach out to lesbians like me, and have very good ways of doing this. This NEVER happened 10 years ago, but now it might happen at least once or twice a month. I think they know I really listen to women, deeply care about sisterhood and never ever treat them in a sexist or condescending way. Single older straight women are amazing, powerful… So straight women have been amazing… thank you straight women. There are no groups of straight men that I know of that have enough experience with lesbians to completely feel connected… still sexist, still condescending or male centric. Lesbians are not the same as gay men, who are more willing to side with the male supremacy of conservative groups…churches included. Lesbian spiritual needs have been very badly neglected, but its no surprise because we are a small group. That’s why good alliances with straight progessive women everywhere and lesbians is a natural thing. Want a great ministry to women— bring women pastors, staff, counselors together –lesbian and straight, create women only groups, and magic happens!
    I just trust women more, and am much more willing to talk openly in all women’s groups — straight and lesbian mixed. Also, I do get the feeling sometimes that older women had wished they could have been lesbians… a woman age 77 told me this last week. Interesting…

  • Matt

    I think the profound teaching of the Catholic Church has a lot to offer in this area:
    Virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is an unfolding of baptismal grace, a powerful sign of the supremacy of the bond with Christ and of the ardent expectation of his return, a sign which also recalls that marriage is a reality of this present age which is passing away. (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
    We Catholics believe that marriage is a very intimate sign of the Kingdom of God. Marriage accentuates the “already” of the Kingdom, while celibacy emphasizes / points to the “not yet”. These signs (marriage and celibacy) underpin one another, they do not undermine one another. The life of the celibate reminds us that “this world is passing away”.

  • jJoniJJ

    Virginity in the Catholic church is about men controlling women. Out of all the saints of the Catholic church, only women were canonized as virgin martyrs, and no male saints were made saints exclusively because they were virgins. The term itself within a patriarchal context is highly suspect at best, and down right womanhating at worst.
    Maybe straight men need to concentrate on virginity, and the world would be a whole lot better in my opinion.

  • Jack Harris

    When I think about the whole notion of being gay and celibate, I can be honest and say that I realize that some folks are not able to consider the idea of being in a gay partnered relationship. Over the last few years, I have been trying to listen to the stories of those who insist that gays should be celibate or are celibate themselves. Oftentimes, I have found what they say to be very offensive since I am in partnered gay relationship and not celibate.

    I think I have posted on this site as well as others enough so that others already know that I find the notion extremely destructive both mentally and emotionally. I find it destructive not so much that the person chooses to be celibate but rather that they feel that there is a biblical mandate to do so. It is oppression in it’s purest form. So, I am not here to debate that with anyone–everyone has their own belief about this.

    In fact, I believe that for many people, the desire to remain single and celibate is the best decision for them. I believe that we have to respect every person’s decision to do what is best for them. I believe the struggle arrives when those of us who do not follow the same theology are often viewed as “less than” those who do.

    In short, I think we have to listen and understand where each person is coming from–without judgement. I realize that this is easier said than done but I think we can always strive for it. I know that I can EASILY be angered by someone who has not respect for me or my partner. I can imagine others who are on their own personal journeys might feel the same way.

    I often find it interesting that there seems to be an fair amount of “hand wringing” over the fact that traditional churches do not make a space for gay singles of any stripe–celibate or otherwise. I am not sure why anyone would find this surprising.As someone is a member of liberal progressive mainline church, I have had little or no issue with regard to being “out”. I realize that I am very lucky in that sense. I am not suggesting that people leave their churches to attend mine but would like to underscore the fact that it’s probably not going to change unless there is a significant effort to address the issue of GLBT folks in the church.

    In many ways, I think this is what Andrew is working towards but quite honestly he is only one person. The shift in thinking and theology will not likely come easy or soon. So buckle up for many years of struggle. Sadly the church has always been the last to progress.

  • jJoniJJ

    I don’t think it should be an issue at all whether someone chooses to be in a relationship or not. What I object to is the church’s historic stance on making women virgins objects of veneration, but having no category for male virgins… it is about an ideological control of women sexually, which the church has been doing for 2000 years or more.
    That said, being celibate has been a profound liberation for many straight and lesbian women I know. I’ve met many straight women in their late 50s, who have just had it with men. They don’t want to be sexually involved with men at all, are sick of the abuse and sexism, and PIV sex which is just wrong for them. This decision to be free of men has made the straight women who reported this to me more vibrant, freer, and more at peace.
    I was surprised that in the past eight years or so, more and more straight women have confided this in me, maybe because as a lesbian I already believe that sexual relationships with men is about being owned, raped, colonized and brutalized. I don’t have a high opinion of the ideological structure of male supremacy, and the idea that men actually believe they can make laws about women’s bodies… It’s why right wing churches are up to their eyeballs in this sort of woman controlling doctrine, and why I find those churches so distasteful from purely a feminist point of view– leave out their toxic hatred and abuse of lesbians and gay men…
    A colleague of mine once said to me: “Have you ever noticed how liberated so many of our elderly women clients are when their husbands die?” I was shocked at this statement, but had to admit that I’d met many elderly women clients who were finally free. And they never married again. My grandmother was like that when her husband died when she was in her 40s– her life just blossomed as a free woman. ” I don’t want to have to take care of another man ever again, I don’t want them in my life anymore,” was what she said to me as a young girl. Her testimony to me was groundbreaking, because she recognized my lesbian self, and always supported me. I believe she was the first adult to ever notice my lesbian nature when I was 9 years old, and her personal example of freedom changed my life.
    Celibacy is a calling of freedom for elderly straight women, and the idea of the never married woman is also powerful when Catholic tradition is viewed through a feminist/womanist lens. In our hyper sexualized culture, women need more space than ever before, more chance to study free of male sexual demands. In that’ celibacy is a noble calling when it is freely chosen, when it is honored as a feminist/womanist choice, and when both lesbians or straight women can have solidarity over this. It’s a source of power for women when women define it, and women chose it, and when women write about the experience of sexual freedom in that way! I’m sure the guys might have a different take on celibacy…

  • Kris

    just my feelings on celibacy… it can certainly guard your heart as we are told to do in Proverbs 4:23 because it is the wellspring of life.
    I just wanted to respond here really because sex is an act that creates a bond, a heartstring or a memory for humans in a physical way that we can not cut ties with without spiritual help. It is intended to strengthen the bond of marriage.

  • kara

    Im a person of Faith, believing in God and His son Jesus Christ who died for all our sins. Ive had different thoughts over the past few years on the subject of gays. I have a friend who is gay and she has expressed she would of never chosen this life for herself, its how she was born. Then I think, if you choose to follow Gods command and not act on your feelings/thoughts, God will fill that void. Then i think, why do gays have to go through life without experiencing love. Then someone said “God doesnt condem the Sinner, He condems the Sin”. And sin is not strictly for active gays. That sin is no different from my sin, which may include lusting over a man, swearing, over eating, stealing, etc. Sin to God is sin. There are no sins worse than another. God loves the sinner, and who are the sinners? every human being on this Earth.

  • kara

    I wanted to add, Im not saying that its okay to sin. Im torn on the issue of gays and at this point, dont agree with the lifestyle. I just want to say that I find it hard to judge gays when I myself is a sinner. We will all be accounted for our actions. Jesus died for our sins, so that we may have eternal life with Him.