I was at Calvin College to do a talk on “Christian Love and Kinship Outside of Marriage: Perspectives from a Gay Catholic.” (Here are my notes from Calvin’s Festival of Faith & Writing, tickets to which were an awesome perk for speaking.) I got a lot of great questions, including one which I super could not answer, about how architecture and city planning can move away from the post-19th c. model of single-family homes and warehouses for singles, nuclear families only, no others need apply. I have no idea! But if you’re into the work I do and you have a background in architecture, urban planning, or the history of ditto, drop me a line.
I am extremely not a scholar, so I don’t always even know when I’m talking in Catholic jargon. I know very little about my own church and way less about our Protestant brethren. So I was caught at a loss when a student asked, basically, “You’ve talked about a lot of Catholic models for vocations outside of marriage. Are there Protestant ones?”
This is one of the many tragedies of the divided Church: Your calling in life might be a vocation only guarded by some of the Christian churches.
There are a few different ways to answer this student’s poignant question. First, yes, there totally are Protestant models. Dietrich Bonhoeffer comes up a lot in these discussions; Alan Bray’s book, on which I rely heavily, is bizarrely sunshiney about the English Reformation and in general I think a more Anglican and more Protestant book than Bray himself realized, so there’s that. Many intentional communities are Protestant–here’s Tim Otto, my favorite intentional guy. Matthew Loftus has done some great writing on love and kinship for unmarried Christians. Many of the contributors at Spiritual Friendship are Our Separated Brothers, including lol Wes Hill of course. The traditions of women’s friendships and “Boston marriages” that shaped e.g. the rise of women’s colleges in America are largely Protestant traditions. This stuff is out there for you.
Moreover, later on at the Festival James K.A. Smith said–paraphrased–that Christian history is not the property of Rome, or Constantinople, or Canterbury. Historical Christian practice of devoted, intimate friendship is your history too, if you are Christian.
I will caveat pretty heavily by saying that I will never encourage someone to stay in a church that can’t guide them in their vocation. Rome is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. But I get that there are lots of reasons people don’t take that road, and there’s more to say to them than just, “Have you tried not being a Protestant?”
Many people who explored Christian history found that it led them to Catholicism or Orthodoxy. (This in spite of the fact that the continuity of our Church means we can’t distance ourselves from the Catholic history of corruption, betrayal, cruelty, and denials that start with Peter’s.) But even if that doesn’t happen, you will likely find models for your own life–especially if you’re in a culturally-contested position, poorly served by the vocational models of your own day–and the comfort of knowing that weird saints are the only kind. In these ways you will draw closer to Christ, Who is the head of all our churches.