Simon Shead was recently featured on SBS Insight and Hope 103.2, Afternoons with Ben McEachen, on his choice of being single and celibate christian. Sam Wan sat down with him and explored more with him about what this means and what this looks like.
Sam: It’s good to chat with you as always Si, I’ve often heard the phrase used: “Single for a season or single for a reason.” Where does your choice of singleness and celibacy fit?
I’m going to be one of those annoying people and say both: I am single for a season and for a reason. When it comes to being single for a season, theologically speaking, I am really only single until I meet the Lord Jesus in heaven. Because in heaven our true desires for intimacy will be met in the most beautiful marriage between Christ and his church (Revelation 21:1-4). In this way, I am only single whilst I live my short life on this Earth. I also believe that everyone who is single is single for a reason, even if their singleness is not a preferred option. I believe that being single helps us to understand the sufficiency of Christ and to be undivided in our posture towards him (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).
Theologically speaking, I am really only single until I meet the Lord Jesus in heaven.
Please believe that, with all my heart, these are the primary reasons I am single. I do acknowledge that it might annoy people (haha!) because, what you’re really asking is:
- If there are any other reasons I am single, and
- Whether I plan on getting married before I meet the Lord Jesus.
There are certainly some secondary reasons for my singleness. In current western society, it is counter-cultural to be celibate. Non-Christians might wonder where my hope is placed if it is not in the deeply fulfilling sexual relationships we see on TV. This provides me with a great gospel opportunity.
On top of this, I have many friends for whom singleness has been an undesirable choice. I see my singleness as a way to stand in solidarity with those for whom this is true. Now, will I ever get married in this life? I like to keep one hand open to the possibility of marriage. Scripture is more concerned with our service towards Jesus than our marital state (1 Corinthians 7:17-24). Whilst I think it is unlikely I’d get married, it would be foolish for me not to consider marriage if it would aid my ministry work in the kingdom (for example, getting a visa to an unreached country).
Sam: Now, you’re 24, and I don’t want to sound crude, but surely as a young man you are at your sexual peak and may be “burning with desire,” for all intents and purposes you can follow through with your desire for intimacy, sex, romance and relationality in marriage. Why take this road?
Yes, I am straight. So, I can understand the curiosity behind a choice in celibacy, especially when I could just get married young and fulfil all those desires for intimacy.
I’m actually ‘burning with desire’ for more intimacy than can be achieved in a marriage.
Firstly, I just want to clarify that I do think there are options for intimacy and relationality within a friendship. Whilst sex is a deep form of intimacy, it is not the only form of it. But let’s be clear, we must also understand that no marriage will achieve the level of intimacy we will have with Christ in heaven. Marriage is but a picture, a metaphor that some Christians live to get a taste of what heaven will be like. As Ed Shaw wrote in his book Purposeful Sexuality:
No-one who gets to enjoy a really good film in its entirety kicks themselves for having missed seeing the enticing short trailer. (p.37)
Therefore, at a surface level, I am “burning with desire” for the intimacy achieved in a marriage. But at a much deeper level, I’m actually “burning with desire” for more intimacy than can be achieved in a marriage. I’m “burning with desire” for the full expression of intimacy achieved with Christ in heaven.
Now, before continuing on, it is important to recognise sexual sin in this conversation. The quote: “burning with desire,” comes from 1 Corinthians 7:9, and it appears to have a connotation of sexual immorality. I’m not a biblical scholar and this is an incredibly tricky part of scripture to interpret. I want to point to a talk given by Dani Treweek and Chris Thompson on this very topic: “Can we live without sex?”
But, for the moment, let me give you a brief answer, and tell you a little bit of my personal story. I am someone who struggles with sexual sin. I had a porn addiction throughout high school and am still battling with the effects of that today. Praise God that I am seeing growth in this area, but it has not been an easy journey. It has required constant prayer, accountability and formal counselling.
Now, this complicates my story, doesn’t it? Why wouldn’t I get married to fix that problem? Because, I believe that marriage, as a response to this sin, can be a trap that many married men have fallen into.
Firstly, pornography addiction often involves triggers that are much deeper than a desire for sex. What this means, is that the sin can, quite often, persist in marriage.
Secondly, as Christians, we must always put our hope in the work of the Spirit to transform us (Galatians 5:13-26). Yes, marriage can help a pornography addiction. But it is just a tool that the Spirit uses. It is the same with any other sinful addiction. For an alcoholic, the removal of all alcohol from the house can help in recovery. But equally, if an alcoholic is triggered, they could just go and buy a bottle of vodka and drink it at the park. So, I believe it is the work of the Spirit that transforms us to be more like Christ, and we need to primarily put our hope in him, not in marriage.
Sam: You say singleness and celibacy is a godly and possible choice for straight Christians—and for the communities they are a part of. Why is that?
It is godly and possible because it is scriptural. Both marriage and singleness are great ways for a person to serve Christ!
I think a good way we can support our [same-sex attracted] brothers and sisters, is to stand in solidarity with them; to reclaim the gift of singleness for the Church.
But the cry I hear from celibate gay evangelical Christians is that straight Christians are not quite upholding the standard we apply to them. Sometimes the message from the evangelical Church can feel like: “Marriage is great! Get married, everyone’s doing it. Oh, but if you’re gay, singleness is good too …”
I think a good way we can support our brothers and sisters in Christ in this area, is to stand in solidarity with them; to reclaim the gift of singleness for the Church. I do not say this to guilt trip those who are married. Please don’t interpret it that way. In fact, marriages can really help to support single people in this area as well. But it is worth gently pondering in the current cultural climate, is this a way we can further support our gay brothers and sisters in Christ?
Sam: Standing in solidarity with your brothers and sisters who experience attraction to the same sex is such an important thing, and the choice you’re making is really putting your money where your mouth is. Is there anything you fear in making this decision?
I must admit, I am not well thought-out about this. I think my greatest fear would be a persistent feeling of loneliness. I don’t particularly like that feeling, and I am worried that it might increase as I get older. But I know that I have many friends who support me, and sometimes my feelings of loneliness are not an accurate representation of what I’ve actually been blessed with. Even more so, I have a saviour who loves and cares for me very much. I know my feelings of loneliness are rooted in my current, physical separation from Jesus Christ. And so, I look forward to the day when I will be united with Christ and will never be lonely again.
Sam: I know that the last thing you want to be the ‘poster boy’ for singleness, what are some encouragements you’d like to give for Christians in their relationships with others who are single and/celibate?
Single people are not a deficit. Remember, if you are married, that your single brothers and sisters are a gift to you and the Church. See them as a gift, not as people who are lacking. And the converse is true also. As single people, we can often be tempted to envy those who are married. But we also need to remember that they are a gift to us and the Church. We are all brothers and sisters, helping each other through the mess of life, until we finally reach eternity with Jesus Christ, our Lord.