Saturday, April 16, 2005

Contrarian View From the Pew: Celibacy


Money is a powerful motivator. So is fame and so is comfort. But nothing motivates like respect.

Sometimes all we want is self-respect. Some people will spend six or seven hours to complete a marathon. They are out there giving it all they have to prove to themselves they can meet the challenge. Sometimes we want the respect of our peers. A soldier will jump on a live grenade, sacrificing his own life for the honor and respect of his military peers. Running 26 miles and sacrificing ones own life defies logic to us. Most humans will never and would never do either. But we respect those who do.

Christian leaders talk a good game when it comes to chastity. We teach our children to wait until they are married. But we put our single members in their own little Sunday school class and we wouldn’t think twice about having a single Pastor. Rarely is a single person even found in church leadership. Celibacy in the New Testament was honored and respected; celibacy in our churches is not.

Christians consider celibates odd. They mostly wonder why someone would choose to be single. They assume it is not by choice. Paul considered celibacy preferable to marriage. He knew that those who are single have more time to devote to ministry. Paul had it right; our churches have it wrong…with one exception; the Catholic Church.

Why would anyone choose to be celibate when they could choose marriage? Why would someone choose a life that most of us would not even consider. Maybe for the same reason a soldier would jump on a grenade and an overweight person would run a marathon. If we can respect the marathoner, can’t we also respect the celibate? Maybe if our actions started matching our words and maybe if we returned to the Biblical respect of Celibacy, the Catholic Church would have less difficulty finding the excellent Priests it needs and our Protestant churches could benefit from the gifts of those who are willing to make the sacrifice to remain single.


Derek Simmons said...

Fame by its very nature is visible. No one is famous anonymously. Likewise money; there are few Scrouge McDucks who hoard money just to spend quiet time alone with it.

We all know who ran a marathon or who jumped on a grenade to save a guy he didn't even know. Public knowledge may be the futhest thing from the minds and wills of those in these catagories. But, we know who they are and we want what they have even if we don't want to go through what they did to get. Ah, but sex.......
now there's another matter entirely.
In our sex-soaked society it is sickness to get less of it less often in fewer positions than the Kama Sutra. And if you don't want to be labeled "sick"[frigid repressed, libido-less, erectile-dysfunctional,weak,
etc. etc.]then you either join the "coitus-chorus", or give it your best Milli-Vanilli imitation.

It is in that context that Catholics try not only to maintain but "sell" celebacy as a gift of God. Tough sell. And absolutely no wide-spread respect.

There are ribbons and winning times to "prove" a marathoners sacrifice of self; there are Medals of Honor to remember the wholeness of the soul that used to inhabit the body parts left after an act of such heroism. There is the Forbes 400 or the Fortune 500 to chronicle accumulated wealth and People to show us the glitteratti as captured by the paparazzi. But what of celebacy?
Do we know the Father Joes and the Brother Mikes who without fame or fortune or heroics labor in His Vineyard in faithful self-deprivation of sexual intimacy? Are they known outside their parish except by God? No! And even if they are known for their good works are they also known to IN FACT be celebate? No!

What we have in our sex-soaked society is the growing assumption that celebacy is unnatural and therefore bad. That sex is natural and therefore good. That something "bad" can never be used in a good way, and something "good" can never be used in a "bad" way. What we have is abysmal ignorance; and our projections.

In our sex-soaked society we hear "priest" and we think "homosexual." We hear "celebacy" and we think "living a lie." You asked the question, David, "If we can respect the marathoner, can’t we also respect the celibate?" We in our society give repect to the CEO on the Forbes List because we would be there if we could; we give respect to the Marathoner because we would run that race or face some other feat of endurance if we could. We think it would be fun to be ???? or ???? [fill in your favorite celeb du jour.] But who thinks they would be celebate if they could? Rather, who doesn't think that it is simply a cover for a different kind of sex, deviant sexual expression?
So, it seems to me, the answer to your question is NO!, we can't respect the celebate because we no longer have respect for our sexuality as God intended it to be used, or in the case of the gift of singleness, not used.

Your Brother in Christ,

Teresa said...

I too respect those who choose to live a life wholey devoted to God in this way. Just as he calls some of us to be rich, some of us to be poor, he also calls some of us not to marry. In some instances, I have been envious of some of the singles and widows in our church who have more freedom to serve God's people. Some women, he choses to be barren so that those women can be mothers to the world... Celibacy is a calling, not something that one elects, but something that the Lord calls one to.

David M. Smith said...

“Celibacy is a calling, not something that one elects, but something that the Lord calls one to.”

Hi Teresa,

Celibacy may be a calling, but it is still a choice. I believe more people would choose to follow their calling if we Christians started giving Celebates more respect, more responsibility, more leadership positions, and more honor, in our churches.

Teresa said...

David, I believe that if you are called, you obey, maybe I am just simple like that. It is not up to everyone else, but I agree that we make it difficult for them.

Buz said...

David, one problem I have in this area, especially with the Catholic church, is that celibacy is NOT a choice for those in leadership. While St. Paul praised celibacy, he also said that those in leadership should be in control of their own house (wife and children) therefore, HE never considered it to be a requirement for the leadership role. St. Peter was married.

Celibacy is a gift. Just as the other spiritual gifts were special capabilities given by God to serve His body, the Church. We don't demand that all our church leaders have the gift of healing or the gift of tongues, or even prophecy, yet, this requirement of celibacy is foisted upon some who have been called to the leadership.

If a church demanded that all its leaders have the gift of speaking in tongues, I am sure that there would be many who felt that they were called into leadership who would "fake it", babbling so that it sounded like they were speaking in tongues. I thing that is what has happened in some cases in churches where celibacy is demanded of the leadership ... they try to "fake it". However, not having that gift, they are unable to maintain that facade. One cannot do the work of the spirit in the power of the flesh, so we seem to have an epidemic of leaders who have fallen off their pedastal ... one which they, in fact, were never on.


David M. Smith said...

Hi Buz,

Great points! Just one quible, or maybe clarification. I don’t believe celibacy is a gift the same as tongues. Probably, there are some celibates who have absolutely no desire for intimacy with other humans, but most celibates choose to forgoe intamacy with humans in exchange for a greater intimacy with God. However, it is the grace of God that allows them to keep their vow of chastity.

I agree with you that the Catholic Church probably should not demand celibacy as a requirement for leadership. However, I would still like to see celibacy more respected by all of Christianity.