UMC General Conference – Understanding the Issues: An Interview with Dr. Laceye Warner on Rule 44, Plan UMC, Local Pastors and more

warner interviewThe General Conference of the United Methodist Church officially begins on Tuesday, May 10. The conference takes place once every four years and is crucially important for setting the direction for our denomination.

I recently had the privilege to interview Dr. Laceye Warner. I asked her to preview some of the major issues we’re likely to see discussed at GC. Dr. Warner literally wrote the book on United Methodist polity. She goes beyond dull political explanations, though, to explain how our structure relates to our mission. I specifically asked her to help the average person in the pew, or the average pastor, see how some of these issues coming at GC truly matter and affect the local church.

Some of the items we discuss:

  • Talk of schism in the UMC
  • Guaranteed appointments for elders
  • Plan UMC Revised
  • Are we actually able to accomplish anything at General Conference?
  • Rule 44 and Holy Conferencing
  • The role of local pastors in the UMC and our history
  • Clergy compensation and how educational, social, and economic standards have affected our approach to ministry

Listen to the audio below or download by clicking here. Or see our transcript below. (Sorry that I don’t have video for this interview. I had a problem with the recording.)

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This is Teddy Ray, and I’m with Laceye Warner today. Dr. Laceye Warner is the Associate Professor of the Practice of Evangelism and Methodist Studies at Duke’s Divinity School. She’s also the senior strategist for United Methodist collaborations there. She wrote a book back in 2014 called The Method of Our Mission: United Methodist Polity and Organization.

One of the things that I’m especially excited to have you on for, Dr. Warner, is that you connect our mission and our beliefs to the way that we’re structured as a church. I have a lot I want to discuss with you, especially leading up to General Conference. So welcome and thank you for being here.

Laceye Warner: Thank you. Thank you for the invitation. This is quite an honor.

TR: Good – thank you! I’ll jump right in with what you lead your whole book with, and what I think is your premise throughout everything else. You say, “Our roots as a missional renewal movement are at the heart of our ecclesiology.” You present Methodism as something very different from almost any other denomination. We come out not of doctrinal disputes, or anything like that, but we’re coming out of a missional renewal movement. Could you share a little about how that’s impacted the way that we organize ourselves and do what we do?

LW: Of course, this has evolved over generations so that the ways in which we’re organized now may seem a bit foreign to the ways in which John Wesley organized the early Methodist movement with his brother and other folks in the United Kingdom. However, there is a thread that links the different seasons together, and I think if we take just a little time to look––we don’t have to now!––but if as a church or as local communities we look, we can see how those pieces, those threads, weave together. We can see that the structure that we have put in place since 1968 and the amalgamation from the Methodist Church and the United Evangelical Brethren is an outgrowth of what we want to do in the world based on what we believe. That’s a start. I’m glad to talk about it more, but I’ll try to keep my answers relatively brief.

TR: You know, in relation to that, you mentioned that merger back in 1968, and now we’re at this weird and different point. The past few major structural changes for us have been mergers. And we’re now approaching a General Conference where the discussion isn’t merger but even possibilities of schism and how to handle that. You mention that we come from this renewal movement that eventually includes a break from the Church of England. In that, several things appear that are pragmatic decisions for the sake of evangelism in North America. And one of the big questions that I think we have to address is, “How do we prioritize items like maintaining ecclesial unity, on the one hand, and anything that we think may advance the mission of evangelism, on the other?” Is there a way that we think of these as being in competition or in cooperation with each other?

LW: Right. That’s a great question. Okay, so this is gonna be hard to be brief.

So we are as a church really more of a movement in terms of our DNA, and so like we’ve talked about, Wesley saw in the early Methodist movement both in the United Kingdom and then also in the United States that this movement of the spirit and establishing of classes and bands really needed ecclesial structure in terms of communion and then sacraments, baptism, etc. And so it evolved.

So my point here is that historically (I’m not sure Francis Asbury agreed) but there were folks, including John Wesley, that wanted the Methodist movement to stay within the Church of England. So the Methodist Church was really pushed out, I don’t think in an antagonistic way, but more in a passive, not encouraging sort of way.

And there was also the geography. So in terms of prioritizing, it wasn’t, in my view, necessarily a decision that was made all at one time, where people prayed and deliberated and then took a vote and said, “All right. We’re going to be Methodist. We’re not going to be Church of England.” It was a series of political, social, geographic developments that led to Wesley’s rationalizing, particularly based on several classic works of his time and earlier of his choosing to ordain folks.

So I’m not sure it’s helpful to blame it on the Church of England for letting us slip away, but I also want to say that there was a movement of the Holy Spirit that then leads. It wasn’t a leaving, so much as… Oh what’s a good metaphor? We moved the geography, and the politics all came to a relatively friendly division, if you will. So it is a division, but it’s not an estrangement.

TR: That’s a great way to put that. Division but not estrangement. And that’s because of bigger political and geographical things going on here, and we’re all okay with each other moving in these directions.

LW: And so in order to pursue the evangelistic missional purpose, these polity pieces take a back seat, but unity was still important. It was a unity of doctrine and there was still a warmth across. Though I’m sure we could find examples of folks not being nice to each other. That’s always easy.

I can remember Russ Richey teaching in class. He’s a very prominent especially American Methodist historian, and he talks about how the various splits of Methodist families throughout particularly the 1800’s result. If you look at all of those church bodies’ populations, they grow. And I can remember folks saying, “Oh, well then we should split, because that’ll make us grow.” No no no. That’s a different kind of growth. So it’s holding together the growth in numbers with the growth in spirit that makes it really complicated.

TR: So maybe to put it in some terms that I’ve been thinking in: structurally they divided, but they were still united in heart and spirit and mission. And they created separate structures that allowed them to do what they were doing. Is that a fair statement?

LW: I think it is fair. And there were also open doors (I didn’t want to overuse that metaphor!) but there were entry points so that the ecclesial bodies could rejoin. And I’m not completely clear on how obvious that was initially, but it did evolve over time and as distance changed. So there was always a constructive perspective to look and say, “Hey, we’re still all Methodist, or of a Wesleyan family. Are there ways for us to partner?” And then that partnership, as the collaboration built, allowed them to come back together in particular polity-structural ways.

TR: So you go all the way from that history and the ways that we’ve split and rejoined and we get to where we are now with our General Conference. For the average person in the pew, for the most part people say, “I’m not sure if this affects us. I’m not sure how it affects us.” I’d love for them to be able to hear how this truly matters for us as a United Methodist Church. For the person sitting in the pew, how are you a part of this and why does it matter?

So why don’t we do this by looking at a few of the specific issues, and I’d love your take on how it matters, why it matters, and what we can expect as we go into General Conference this year.

The first two that I wanted to talk about are things that we thought we resolved at the last General Conference, and then our Judicial Council said, “No, you can’t do that.” The first one being guaranteed appointment for elders. Why does guaranteed appointment matter as part of our mission? And how do we think of now making the claim that we shouldn’t have guaranteed appointment?

LW: Guaranteed appointments are significant in light of our Methodist itineracy, for me mainly because of the covenant between Bishop, Board of Ordained Ministry, and a candidate for ministry. Methodists have been, if we haven’t been the first, we’ve been in the pack, if you will, in terms of encouraging and bringing into ministry women and people of color.

So in congregational-based networks of denominations, a church decides what pastor they’re going to invite, and then they work it out on their own. And Methodism, it’s a connectional system that covenants on these different levels, different components, of our polity. And so we trust the Holy Spirit, and we’re able to participate in the unfolding reign in ways that are really profound.

So guaranteed appointment allows for an accountability in a covenant that pulls us even further into God’s reign by encouraging pastors and congregations that might not have found each other on their own to work together and to see and participate in a Holy Spirit embodiment.

So guaranteed appointment has this historical, prophetic polity piece, but on the other hand we need assessment and accountability in terms of the competencies and the effectiveness of ministry. And so holding those two together is really important, and I think the legislation and the conversations around deconstructing guaranteed appointments is not to lose this prophetic, reign of God momentum, but to add to it.

I’m comfortable with measures of assessment, but to find ways to acknowledge growth in the spirit and effectiveness and faithfulness of ministry that are creative, that maybe aren’t so flat, that are all about numbers or about material and other sorts of worldly categories (not that the world is bad!) But not just worldly categories, but that have some complexity to it.

So I would like to see us hold on to guaranteed appointment, but only if there’s a way to help pastors and congregations continue to grow in our discipleship and our leadership and in fulfilling our mission.

TR: So this really began as something that’s a prophetic concern. It’s a concern for advancing justice in our denomination. And it has ended up being criticized for maybe doing that, but also allowing ineffectiveness to continue. And so now we’re looking at a structure that was intended for one thing, and we’re trying to figure out how it doesn’t enable something else that we obviously don’t want. Is that what we’re doing here?

LW: Yes, because regardless of demographic, if a pastor is ineffective, that’s not helpful to anyone. And if the congregation isn’t receptive to a pastor who is effective, that’s not helpful. And so it’s about reinforcing structures that are already present and then also improving. There’s always room for improvement. After all, we’re Wesleyan, and we go on to receive sanctification going on to perfection of a sort. There’s always room to continue to grow, and it’s a matter of figuring out how to do that. Because we want effectiveness, but we also want to maintain that God’s children are all made in God’s image. And so, how do we continue to witness and support folks who are called to ministry?

TR: Let me ask you about the other issue that we thought we resolved in 2012, which was Plan UMC. We thought we had restructured how we’re operating at a board and agency level, and then our Judicial Council came back and said, “No, you’re not allowed to do that.” So now we have a Plan UMC Revised that’s coming to this General Conference. Again, the same questions: how does this matter? Why should especially the average pastor or average person sitting in the pews care about this? And what do we need to know about it?

LW: I’m often surprised, I think is the word, because I work in the middle of the connectional structure, and almost to the side. So within theological education there’s the tie to Nashville through the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. And then I have been fortunate— I’ve learned quite a bit serving on a number of other general church bodies that are mostly through the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, but also Council of Bishops.

And so trying to get a sense of this structure, I feel like I have a window in that’s not necessarily only from the local church, which of course, is the most important window according to our mission. The general boards and agencies desire to be resourceful, responsive, helpful, and supportive in helping us all fulfill and pursue God’s vocation in mission for us as United Methodists and Christians. So helping delegates or those who are voting for the delegates think about what are the priorities and what is needed and how that can be structured is a significant conversation for local churches now. The difficulty is, it may not be the priority. Right?

There’s all sorts of other things that go on, from the furnace to baptism records, you know, there are just all sorts of things. But if there’s a way to carve out some time and to pull into some of those local church council and Charge Conference conversations to see where there are opportunities to take advantage of the resources that are being developed, I think that would help the conversation across to see how those general boards and agencies and the overall structure can be best aligned.

So it is significant for the local church, but it’s a matter of creating a complementarity of conversation, so that it doesn’t just feel like apportionments that get paid out and then are never witnessed or embodied in a way that can be real to them.

TR: So this particular Plan UMC or Plan UMC Revised — how do you see it helping any of that?Or hindering it?

LW: My sense of listening to the conversations and teaching the material—and what I mean by that is you’re trying to explain the legislative process and then this narrative of this particular piece of legislation–I’m wondering if it would be helpful for there to be more conversation or more exchanges, correspondence, written responses back and forth to detail how the general boards and agencies have responded to the possibility of the legislation over the last quadrennium or more.

Because there have been substantial changes. Most of the boards have streamlined. They have pursued cost-effectiveness. They have done reflection on their mission in particular as it aligns with the mission of the Church. So it may be that there’s more similarity, there’s more resonance between what the Plan UMC was trying to do.

And so I’m worried that the conversations are going past each other. We’re all in this together, so these general boards and agencies that are really very well represented at General Conference, they have a lot of information, they have a lot of data on assessing their work, but if people asked me––and I appreciate you asking me!––we need to line up what the goals and values are from the different parties. I think we may be further along, and then it might be helpful then to keep that going rather than to get stymied in a conversation that’s really just trying to explain each other’s hopes for the present when we’re already trying to move into the future. Does that make sense?

TR: It does. You actually use a helpful term there: “getting stymied.” Let me share some of my perception and even struggle with it, and I know others share it, so if I sound jaded, help me on behalf of all of us.

It feels like we have, number one, legislated ourselves into a corner. From my perspective, we did two significant things in 2012, and then we were told that neither of them were constitutional, and they were undone. And then on top of that, the argument or discussion about sexuality has taken so much attention and energy that it seems there are a number of things we’re not even getting to because all the air gets sucked out of the room on just this.

So for me and others I’m talking to, we’re saying, “Are we actually able to do anything? Or are we spending all this money and all this energy on a General Conference that won’t actually lead to anything new or significant or helpful?”

So am I jaded? Is that an accurate perception? What do we do?

LW: I’m going to project, but I mean this in the best possible way. I hear authenticity. I hear compassion and care and commitment. And so those questions are really important and I’m relieved that they’re being asked in such a wide arena. So in that way, jaded or cynical or critical or worried… I’m worried. I’m really worried. And maybe right there with you depending on what day it is and what time of day and how many emails or articles come through about it.

So here’s my hope… like a marathon, if we can push through with endurance, keeping the mission of the church in its best possible way, not in its political, “well I remember how it came to be, and then there was this, and I don’t like that part,” but just really our spirit-led desire to participate in God’s reign, make disciples, spread scriptural holiness… That if we keep those priorities then we can begin to legislate together.

I very much appreciate the Judicial Council’s care and the attentiveness and innovation and creativity and courage of the Call to Action––that took a lot of spiritual-emotional work, as well as other kinds of detail pieces to put together. But we need to look to cooperate with each other, not that anyone’s being uncooperative, but to collaborate in a way that allows for the conversation to happen while everyone’s still in the room, while the General Conference is in session.

I think there’s something about our morale that’s significant. And so what I’m trying to get at is, How do we maintain consistency of our doctrines and our polity that is aligned with our mission and seeking to fulfill it, but that also has a kind of constructive, interpretive charity that says, “The Judicial Council wants this to work out—wants something to work out”? For the various folks who have legislation, let’s get to the point where this is a win-win or a third way.

I think that is part of our DNA, as well. Wesley did get his preachers together and there was the one hundred and there was only the people he invited. But we have also times in our history where we fought fiercely, but as Christians, and brought people into the room that were previously not invited in some kind of mean ways. I’m thinking of women’s ordination, of the Central Jurisdiction. We have experienced a lot and we’ve sinned against each other pretty tremendously, but we’re still together.

Like a marathon, if we can endure and push through and try to hold these pieces together in 2020 and beyond with this global Discipline and the delegates from an international context, and then the meetings in international context, I think there will be an organic shift. Some of it may be pretty scary for us as folks in the United States, but I’m hoping that in principle there will be a flourishing and fruitfulness that also comes with it.

TR: What do you mean by, “Some of it may be scary for us in the United States.” Is there anything on your mind?

LW: Mainly, the letting go of control that we have. As a person in the United States and a person from a larger delegation, there’s a sense of knowing the ropes and the rules, but they’re unspoken. Or if they’re spoken, they’re unwritten. And so stepping back and saying, “I’m only one delegate, a part of one delegation.”

And allowing voices to be heard that may seem contrary to the mission but if we listen and work together might actually help us deepen and texture the mission. We don’t necessarily shift to say, “Okay, we’re wrong and they’re right,” but we come together in a different way, a third way.

So much of Wesley is that he could have been accused of either or. Was it grace or good works? Is it justification or sanctification? And he had a way of not compartmentalizing and holding together but actually integrating.

And my prayer and hope is that through conversation and immersion and holy conferencing, perhaps, that in our polity, we’ll be able to see the mission embodied and participate in a deeper and distinctive way that we’re not doing right now because we’re so compartmentalized.

TR: Now as you talk about a third way and holy conferencing, some people are talking about Rule 44. That’s the unofficial name for it. They’re seeing it as this possible third way, something different from Robert’s Rules of Order. Do you have any thoughts on Rule 44?

LW: Yes, I think in principle it’s an interesting and important and very thoughtful idea. I’m so detail- and task-oriented, I wonder how it’s going to work out having the practice of holy conferencing.

I don’t think I am good at holy conferencing. I don’t think that I’m practiced at it or that I have a deep trust or ability to really let go and be vulnerable and transparent and in that covenant and accountability. So I’ll just say that I want to, and I do in some circles, but it’s not a landscape across the denomination. And I don’t blame that on anyone. That’s on me.

So my worry about that is at the pre-General Conference gathering, there was a little bit of practice of the Rule 44 and talking to each other. Some people in groups never got to talk, other groups were dominated by one person or by one side. So we need some practice. We need practice. And so even if they’re at tables of people that we’ve known our whole ministries or longer, I still think we need practice, whether it’s people we don’t know or people that we do know (and we already know what they’re going to say, and we love them with the love of God!)

I just think there’s some practical challenges. I think for an emotionally intelligent, deeply doctrinal, and missionally-driven church, it’s a really interesting and important idea. But it’s hard to go completely flip over into a new polity process. Robert’s Rules is very efficient, so efficient, as a person who has chaired lots of meetings.

In voting there’s always going to be a winner and a loser. So I really like a consensus model. But how we do that will need some practice.

TR: That’s a good answer. And it’s a tough time to be trying to get practice right now. So many things feel inflamed and urgent and to practice long enough to get things right makes me wonder if we can make it.

We’re almost out of time, and I really wanted to ask you about two other things that you mentioned. I’m not sure if these are going to come up at General Conference, but they’re issues that are especially important to me and you made some interesting statements about them.

The first one is the local pastor and the itinerant preacher. I’m a licensed local pastor, and that has been something that came out of quite a bit of conviction and study for me, and I’ve tried to share a bit about this option to have the local pastor in the United Methodist Church, an option that seems very odd to a number of people. You talk about how local preachers lived in particular communities and provided consistent pastoral care and nurture, while the itinerant preachers traveled the circuits and presided at the Lord’s Table.

You say, “the local church, as a space for worship, sacraments, discipleship, and outreach, cared for by an ordained elder, is a somewhat recent development in the Methodist tradition.” I so appreciated that, because I’ve been trying to hold that up as a part of our history, and I feel like it’s been roundly rejected. Instead, we tend to think this is just how we operate. We have ordained elders who provide pastoral care and nurture. What do we do with that as a piece of our history, and something that is relatively distanced now from our normative life as a church? Is there anything to go forward with that?

LW: My interest and hope and a lot of my energy is across forming folks for ministry. So I’ve learned to find the local pastor schools and people who are teaching in them, and I’ve just become the regional director for the course of study at Duke, where local pastors can receive further credential, and then in seminaries with the M.Div.

So I think this has been happening and there’s always this shift, and I’m trying to learn more about it. There’s not a lot of data because our data tends to focus on elders and the cost and the economic model is, like it is for higher education, like it is for so many things, it’s broken for ministry. Bivocational is biblical! And also this model in between of the early Methodist movement that stretched way into the 19th century and even into the 20th. And so if we can map our ebbs and flows and our shifts, there are many folks going into ministry that have the educational background to go to seminary but are choosing not to.

I think we may have gotten caught up in the itineracy institutionalizing some social prescriptions around education and class that really shouldn’t define us in comparison with other denominations. And I’ll mention names: Episcopal, Anglican, or Presbyterian. We want to be an educated clergy. You see that on taglines across various groups in United Methodism and then in these other denominations.

So I’m really interested to see how I can participate but how as a church we can explore different entry points into ministry. There are as many entry points as there are candidates, or people who are practicing ministry. But to organize that in a way that’s more than just the three—the local pastor school, which usually goes into course of study, and then the seminary. But that we might have more like five.

The ministry study started to talk about this, and there was a little bit of energy around it but we’ve got to work through some polity pieces because, like you said, elder is the default, but that model is a product of our social and economic pressures.

It’s nice, but it’s not working. And so we need to learn from our past and then enhance our structures and our formation opportunities and learn from those folks that are really thriving—that they can innovate and we can follow those experiments. I get really excited about that and I know I answered more than your question.

TR: No, that’s helpful. It’s something I get pretty excited about, as well. And so even for me, I have an M.Div. I have the qualifications at least to be an elder. But I’m choosing to be a licensed local pastor because to me these local pastors in Methodist history served a different function than the itinerating preacher / elder. They were intentionally local, located.

Some people have said to me, “Well you found a loophole in the system.” And I’ve said, “I haven’t found a loophole in the system so much as I’ve found my place in the system.” Although I’ll tell you that some of my difficulty with it is in the way we segregate out ordination and our understanding of what a local pastor is. Really, we understand a local pastor as, “Well, you’re not educated enough and you’re not in the system enough, and so we’re gonna put you with some little congregation that we need help with.

We’ve segregated these out entirely the wrong way it seems to me. So I love some of the proposals about having located elders, or ordained local pastors, rather than segregating out based entirely on elder is itinerant and ordained, and the others are not.

LW: Yeah, we need to separate out ordination from the categories of appointment. And you’re going to be a local pastor, and then they talk about the reasons, and there’s no guile, right? There’s no criticism necessarily until they get into the system and realize that they have chosen a path that’s not entirely in favor. But we can be helping or supporting those folks through the process and allowing the process to help realize there’s an opportunity here.

So there are pockets and they’re growing, of realizing that ordination is this piece, and then there’s all of these different entry points into the different kinds of appointment and people have vocations. So if we can just describe with clarity and create streamlined processes, I think we would be even more vital because we would allow people to follow their vocations and have that be affirmed and we would have categories to affirm them and then support them in better ways. And of course, that’s not to say that it’s terrible now. It’s just that we can always be better.

TR: The last thing that I wanted to mention is specifically related to itineracy and clergy compensation, which you already brought up.

You said, “One issue intimately related to itineracy seems still blurred: clergy compensation […] Could it be that itineracy is no longer merely a faithful practice emerging from the pursuit of God’s mission for the church in the world? Instead, is it possible that itineracy has become captive to questions of clergy compensation such that its effectiveness in fulfilling God’s mission is obscured?”

That is certainly what I’ve seen. I’ve seen and heard about the pressures to churches. “If you want a good pastor, you better increase your compensation package.” And, “If you want to keep that pastor, you better increase your compensation package.” Where itineracy seems kind of like the bishop’s or the cabinet’s, “Hey, you better pay more or you’re not gonna have a good pastor.” What do we do about itineracy and clergy compensation?

LW: My first inclination is to ask the questions and to have the conversations and start naming the pieces and the difficulties and the opportunities. That’s my first inclination.

I think we’re so very embedded–in addition to these educational, social prescriptions—in today’s economic expectations, that it’s going to take a while to unpack. But because it’s broken or weakened in light of the situation of the church in some areas—that’s a sad circumstance—but it will press for innovation and for reflection on it.

I do want to remind us, and I know you know this and probably most of the folks that are listening, but the itinerant system was instituted in the early Methodist movement and initially there was no compensation, and then there was a flat rate compensation. It was a standardized salary. So circumstances would be different, but they would seek to maintain a particular standard, a minimum standard, but basically everyone received the same stipend (still do in the British Methodist Church).

I know that would be a revolutionary change and that would really shift things, and I know that there are consistently petitions to General Conference around these questions and proposing that in particular. When I was a student in Methodism, I might have participated in something like that.

But what are the steps to move in that direction or to move in a direction that is faithful and effective for our current landscape that’s shifting so quickly? While that sounds in one way so overwhelming and challenging, I think, How exciting that we could embrace the Holy Spirit’s calling and say, “Okay, things are changing let’s jump on board. Let’s figure out how we can do that and continue to be a vital, flourishing denomination, not just in the United States but across the globe.”

So yeah, it’s an issue and how we talk about it and how we start to approach it will be important. But I think it’s more important to approach it than not to.

TR: And these are some of the things that it seems like we’re not even discussing right now at General Conference level or giving very little time to, because everything else pushes it out. I would love to see us learn how to holy conference well enough to handle some of these issues really well.

LW: Yes, indeed!

TR: Well thank you! Is there anything else that you would want to add or say before we close here?

LW: Briefly to say how much I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you and how much I think in United Methodism and its related Wesleyan and Methodist denominations, and in the church in general, that there is always hope and there’s much hope and there’s much flourishing. There’s a lot of hard challenges, but that may mean that we’re up to something. So I have prayers of hope and thanksgiving and aspirations for the future.

So write those petitions and follow those blogs and let’s keep moving!

TR: For everyone listening I would highly recommend to you especially as we lead up to General Conference, or just period to understand who we are as Methodists and how we’re structured, Laceye’s book The Method of Our Mission: United Methodist Polity and Organization. It’s a concise book that I think can give you so much help in understanding how we’re structured and why we’re structured that way.

Dr Warner thank you again.

LW: Thank you!

This is not a fire

keep_calm_and_carry_onAll the rules of social convention tell you not to stand up and yell in a movie theater. Unless there’s a fire. Then, by all means, stand up and yell. This is a crisis situation. No time for whispering.

During a crisis, we may forgo things that are normally important for the sake of ultimately important things. Being polite and civil is normally important. But when, for example, you’re at the site of a car crash, civility loses its importance for a moment. It’s appropriate to yell, “Get out of the way!” Even at the expense of seeming rude or hurting feelings.

The problem comes when people mistake urgent for crisis. These are not the same. Life brings many urgent decisions—cases when we need to make a choice. These times are often unplanned and unwelcome. Few of these are crises—cases of imminent danger.

When we talk about “putting out fires,” we’re talking about crises. A fire must be put out or we risk serious damage. Unless you’re Jack Bauer, you should not be putting out multiple fires per day, or even week or month. If you are, there’s either a problem with your system or, more likely, you’re confused about what a “fire” is.

If “putting out fires” isn’t the term that’s used, it may come in a different form: drama. Drama takes a presenting need and turns it into a crisis.

When we mistake urgent for crisis, it creates a big problem. In crisis, we live by a different set of values and create a different culture. We re-write or re-order what we consider important for those times.

Here’s how that can look in the church…

Sunday Morning and the Perfect Game

In the church, Sunday morning presents many urgent situations. We have lots of moving parts. We would like each of those parts to move in exactly the right way at exactly the right time. How that looks on a perfect morning: hospitality team greets every person who walks in, microphones are on and off at all the right times, the correct slides are always on screen, everyone hits every cue. I’ve referred to this as “the perfect game.”

I often say to our leaders after worship, “The perfect game still eludes us.” We haven’t pulled it off yet. Every week, something goes wrong––someone misses a cue, a volunteer calls in sick, something isn’t where we expect it. But not yet have we had a true crisis. And the worst thing we could do to undermine our values is to treat the pursuit of a perfect game as crisis.

Here’s how urgency can become crisis on Sunday morning…

No gifts

We can’t find the gifts we normally give to guests. This is a problem. An urgent problem. Guests will be standing before us at any moment, waiting for that promised gift, and we don’t have it. You have to make a decision. (A note: this is a situation I think my church has happily avoided. So this is all hypothetical.)

One decision––keep calm. Have some people look around. With a smile, ask anyone who may know where those gifts may be. If all this fails, greet the guests warmly and apologize that the gifts we promised seem to be misplaced.

Another decision––treat it as a fire. Scramble. Panic. Run into rooms breathless, asking where the gifts are, thus sending the whole room into a frenzy.

When crisis comes, we forgo normally important things. We stop smiling, noticing people as people, and speaking to them with warmth. We kick into fight or flight mode, instead. In that example above, the gift is intended to facilitate a more important value––that we value people and want to welcome them well. When we treat the gift as a crisis, we create an environment where the more important thing (valuing people) takes less importance.

When I’m in an environment where “the perfect game” is top priority, I can tell. The people there are tense, even when they try not to show it. They’re unable to give me too much attention because they’re constantly watching for anything that may go wrong. Every problem is a threatening fire.

No gifts for guests is a simple example. Others that may sound more pressing: a key children’s ministry leader calls in sick, the sound board isn’t operating correctly, the preacher just called in sick. All of these are disappointing. All will require some major adjustment. None is a crisis. The first thing to do in each situation: everyone smile and take a breath. We’ll still find a way to worship together this morning.

Why this is important

As a pastor, I’ve learned that this distinction is not a small thing, a minor preference about how we approach worship together. It’s a big thing. It sets the tone for the whole community––how we live and worship together.

I’ve learned this because I used to be more preoccupied with every potential problem. To the point that I couldn’t worship well if something was wrong or threatened to go wrong. That spirit prevented me from giving enough attention to the people in front of me. It occasionally spilled over to stress out those around me. It showed our community that getting things right was the most important thing. When we live on edge like that, we might get the things right, but we get the spirit wrong. We create a culture of fear rather than a culture of joy and celebration. And the culture of joy and celebration needs to remain more important––all the way until there’s a fire threatening real danger.

We can find a way to adjust without that crucial volunteer, without the sound board, without the preacher. It’s not ideal. We’ll hope for better next week. We’ll learn to plan better if we could have. But we will worship with a glad spirit right now, regardless.

This doesn’t intend to shrug off problems. We would like things to go as planned. We should prepare well, with thought and care. That sets us up for success. (Some things that become “urgent” aren’t because of unexpected surprises but because of poor planning. That’s a bad excuse. We should own that failure in planning when it happens and then correct it.) If the same problem keeps happening, it’s irresponsible if we don’t ask why and work on a solution.

But once the planning is over and the time has come, problems are sure to come with it. A good question to ask: is this a problem or a fire? If it’s a problem, stay calm, work toward a solution, stick with the big values you know are most important. If it’s a fire, then you have permission to get stressed out. Run, scramble and yell all you need to. If things go wrong, the consequences could be dire.

We rarely mistake a fire for a smaller problem. Fires stand out. But we often mistake problems for fires.

On the Myth of the Soul Mate

I don’t run guest posts on this blog. I occasionally point you to an article or interview I’ve found helpful, but that’s all. I’m breaking that rule for this post.

I’ve written occasionally––here and here, for example––about our theology of sex and sexuality, or a lack thereof in most of the protestant church. Those were, as I said then, only a running start.

Taylor Zimmerman is doing some of the best work and thinking that I’ve heard on these topics. He has helped me think with more depth and clarity about friendship, celibacy (or people who may instead call themselves unmarried or single), marriage and sexuality.  I think he’s accomplishing exactly what he names below as his goal: providing “a more cohesive, comprehensive and gospel-centered message about human relationships that the world desperately needs.”

I hope you’ll take the time to read and consider, and then share, what Taylor says below. For more from him, see his blog site. Taylor promises me more to come there on these topics.

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On the Myth of the Soul Mate

In The Symposium by Plato, Aristophanes begins a large discourse answering the question of Erotic love. Aristophanes tells a story of the origin of humans, that humans were created male and female together before Zeus split them in half. That is why, explains Aristophanes, a man or a woman must spend time seeking out their other half so that they might be whole again. He rather poetically writes:

Suppose Hephaestus, with his instruments, to come to the pair who are lying side by side and to say to them, ‘what do you people want of one another?’ They would be unable to explain. And suppose further, that when he saw their perplexity he said: ‘Do you desire to be wholly one; always day and night to be in one another’s company? For if this is what you desire, I am ready to melt you into one and let you grow together, so that being two you shall become one, and while you live a common life as if you were a single human, and after your death in the world below still be one departed soul instead of two — I ask whether this is what you lovingly desire, and whether you are satisfied to attain this?’ — there is not a man of them who when he heard the proposal would deny or would not acknowledge that this meeting and melting into one another, this becoming one instead of two, was the very expression of his ancient need.

Although Socrates later criticizes Aristophanes’ portrayal of love as finding one’s other half, it seems as though Plato might have had a word our modern culture is all too happy to receive––that we were created to be ormeant to be with our soul mate and now we must be constantly searching for this elusive man or woman who will satisfy all of our needs.

From How I Met Your Mother‘s Ted Mosby who is constantly seeking out “the one” and praying to the Universe to provide her to him to Disney Pixar’s Lava Short where Uku, the volcano, has no one to love and almost dies without a romantic partner,1 we see this philosophy present in almost every form of popular media. Think even in our popular culture how we perpetuate this idea with our language and conversations. When a friend expresses his loneliness to us, we are quick to respond, “It’s okay! You’ll find someone soon!” or “Don’t worry! There’s someone special out there for you!”

When we say things like, “Wow, Susan [or Bobby or Steve or Mary] is so great! She is smart, kind, physically attractive and a great business woman! I wonder why she’s not married?,” we imply that Susan is incomplete and lacking love. Or worse, we imply that despite Susan’s great accomplishments and relationships, there’s ultimately something fundamentally wrong with her as to why she isn’t married.2

The cultural philosophy of having a “soul mate” is one that has slowly worked its way into the Church, creating perhaps even more devastating results. We have exchanged a more traditional, historically Christian understanding of sex, marriage, and love for our culture’s view (albeit while jamming it into our traditional forms). Now, the triune God wants me to be in a relationship (e.g. “God wouldn’t have put this in your heart to never satisfy it” or “God just gave me a word that you have someone special in your future”3).

www.christianmingle.com

This philosophy of romantic relationships is eroding our sexual ethic and crippling our witness to the surrounding world. In the words of Robert Webber, Evangelicalism has suffered an “evangelical amnesia” by forgetting its past.4 We have all the forms of our faith, yet very little of the deeper meanings.

When it comes to marriage, we understand that adultery is bad, porn is bad, marriage is good, and sex, well, we don’t really know how we feel about sex. Yet, we don’t really know why we believe this. We might be able to appeal to certain proof texts or a few principles we heard growing up, but we largely lack a robust, cohesive theological system to root our beliefs in. Thus, we end up creating our own meanings to these ancient beliefs about sex and marriage, and what we end up with is a sexual ethic that looks no different than the surrounding world’s, with just as many casualties.

Often our only draw to not engage in sinful behavior is to promote how great sex will be when you get into marriage. www.xxxchurch.com

In this essay, I will show how the protestant church’s shifting beliefs about erotic love have affected not only sexual ethics (including the common occurrence of premarital sex, pornography use, adultery, and divorce within our congregations), but also our interactions and ministry to/with LGBT persons in and outside of our church, our treatment of unmarried men and women (the “spares” if you will), and our support of the opposite-sex marriages within our churches. Yet what I ultimately hope to prove is that by putting marriage and sex in its proper and historically-Christian place, Evangelicals can begin to reorder other aspects of their theology and provide a more cohesive, comprehensive and gospel-centered message about human relationships that the world desperately needs.

The Shift

In a recent article for the Gospel Coalition, Trevin Wax lays out several arguments for why Evangelicals have been “‘holding the line’ on same-sex marriage while adopting virtually every other wrongheaded aspect of our culture’s view of marriage.” Wax argues that Evangelical marriage has been far more revisionist from the traditional Christian understanding of marriage than Evangelicals will readily accept. While Evangelicals are quick to affirm that same-sex marriage would change the fundamental definition of marriage, many are blind to the ways that they have appropriated the surrounding culture’s view of marriage with their large acceptance of no-fault divorce, birth control, and hyper-emotivism as the sole reason to marry.

Ron Belgau, a gay celibate Catholic and editor of Spiritual Friendship, remarked on his blog about this state of Evangelical theology. “From time to time, my friend Justin Lee––founder of the Gay Christian Network––and I give joint presentations about how Christians can disagree charitably and civilly about homosexuality,” Belgau writes, “Sometimes, someone who has seen our presentation will ask me why I think Justin ‘changed his theology’ to support gay marriage, while I stuck with conservative theology.”

In a somewhat surprising twist, Belgau admits that it was his own theology that changed. “I did not hold onto the theology of marriage I learned in Southern Baptist Churches growing up. If I had, I would support same-sex marriage. When I listen to Justin’s presentations, what I hear in his arguments for same-sex marriage is simply the logical outworking of the theology of marriage we both grew up with.” He concludes, “The connection between marriage and procreation––which is the most important basis for distinguishing between same-sex and opposite-sex marriages––was rejected if not mocked by Evangelicals who regarded the Catholic teaching on contraception entirely backward.”

Abigail Rine, who wrote the First Things article that prompted Belgau’s reflective blog post, described this Evangelical marital understanding. “While the ideal of raising a family is ever-present in evangelical culture, discussions about sex itself focused almost exclusively on purity, as well as the intense spiritual bond that sexual intimacy brings to a married couple. Pregnancy was mentioned only in passing and often in negative terms, paraded alongside sexually transmitted diseases as a possible punishment for those who succumb to temptation. But for those who wait, ah! Pleasures abound!”

So what is this Evangelical view of marriage that Belgau fled from and Rine and Wax lament? This syncretic view of marriage asserts that the deepest, truest love is erotic love — the love that exists between romantic partners. I like to call this pervasive philosophy Existential Romantic Dyadism. ERD is the wide-spread belief that there is one romantic partner “out there” for a person that will fully satisfy him or her on a deep existential level and is his or her raison d’Ítre. Once brought into the Christian realm, ERD synthesized with shoddy sexual ethics, lingering prosperity theology, and perhaps a little antinomianism to produce a litany of sexual issues within the church that, to be very frank, the least of which is same-sex marriage despite what many loud Evangelicals would have us believe.

Let’s look at some examples.

Perhaps one of the clearest ones is how our churches treat unmarried people within the church.5 Many people in our pews suffer from Noah’s Ark Syndrome – this strong desire to see all of your unmarried friends coupled off. We like to talk among ourselves about who is going to date John or who is going to be a good fit for Sue. We just want them to find love, we tell ourselves. It’s just harmless fun, right? Yet, inherent in this sort of system is the underlying philosophy that someone is incomplete unless he or she has a romantic partner. Thus, by attempting to couple up all of our unmarried friends, we’re disincarnating them and treating them as incomplete halves who need our guidance so that they can be just like us — married. It tells the unmarried in our churches that they will never truly be respected for who they are until they’re married.

But perhaps worse is the more corrupt version of this where instead of viewing an unmarried man or woman as someone to pity for their incompleteness, unmarried women are viewed as temptresses within the church who are dangerous to happily-married couples and unmarried men are seen as sexual deviants who cannot control themselves sexually and are sex scandals waiting to happen. It’s often difficult for unmarried pastors to find work because of this. Some evangelicals even argue that unmarried men are spiritually immature and shirking their call from the Lord to be Biblical men.

In that vein, ERD has exponentially killed our ability to love deeply in multiple relationships. Since the underlying philosophy behind ERD is that the person that I’m married to (or romantically involved with) is my soul mate/other half/existential satisfaction, then should I find myself sexually or romantically attracted to another person I must either cut off any contact with this person or actually pursue a relationship with this person because clearly I chose wrong. Adding onto the issue, if the created intent of human beings is to be in a romantic/sexual relationship, then the deepest intimacy must be sexual intercourse. Therefore, any relationship that begins with sexual feelings must end with a sexual act. Thus, for example, if a heterosexual man finds himself attracted to a woman, he cannot simply be friends with her. He must either cut off the friendship or choose to act on his sexual feelings because those feelings aren’t going away.

Ask any Christian about sexual boundaries, and you’ll begin to hear very rigid sexual ethics (i.e. “a man is never allowed to be alone in the car with a woman,” “married men cannot be friends with single women,” or “while married men can be friends with married women, they better not get too deep.”) and someone’s bound to bring up the unproven fact that Billy Graham never rode in a car with a woman (quick answer: you’re not Billy Graham).

This is partly out of a fear of how other people will perceive the relationship but also out a fear that a man or a woman might become sexually attracted to someone they are not married to. If sexual attraction doesn’t go away and we must either cut the relationship off or consummate it, should the man or woman decide to cut off relationships, this tragically leaves couples with shallow friendships or no friendships at all. Should the man or woman decide to consummate the relationship, marriages might end in divorce because they “fell in love with someone else” or “someone else was ‘the one’.”

There’s obviously a ton more we could say about this including prize language to describe women (e.g. “Winning” the race to find love), purity culture, and much more. I will end, however, with perhaps the most devastating (at least in this writer’s opinion) result of ERD within our churches and that is the denigration of friendship.

Classical friendship used to be a big deal in the history of humankind. Aristotle spoke of the friend as one who is “intertwined with one’s own soul.”6 Cicero described friendship as an “agreement in things human and divine, with good will and charity.”7 St. Aelred of Rievaulx wrote, “Though challenged, though injured, though tossed into the flames, though nailed to a cross, a friend loves always.”8 C.S Lewis described friendship as the relationship that “is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too?”9 Of course, Scripture also affirms this high view of friendship where Proverbs 17:17 describes the nature of a friend as one who “loves at all times” and Christ, when speaking to his disciples exclaimed, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

http://www.artofmanliness.com

To the ancients (and mostly throughout Church history for that matter), friendship was often seen as the highest of all the loves. To love someone who was not your family member or your marital partner in a disinterested fashion (without some ulterior motive or obligation) was seen in many ways to be far more pure and far more altruistic than any other love.

It’s unfortunate then that in our contemporary world we have largely disregarded the role of friendship. We view friendship as something that might be nice to have but is in no means necessary to us. Friendships rarely if ever make it on the priority list for us. We want a great job, a nice house, a spouse and 2.5 children, but friendship, well, if I never have a close friend, it’s no real loss. With the prevalence of ERD, if you recall, erotic love is the superior love that no other love can match. Well, if we believe that our romantic relationships will always succeed our friendships in intimacy, then we subject our friendships to superficiality or perhaps worse, don’t bother to get to know anyone on a deeper level at all.

Perhaps the clearest, most tragic indicator of this is in a series of studies done by sociologists from the University of Arizona and Duke University. Researchers found that while in 1985, the modal number of confidantes for American adults was three, the modal number of confidantes in 2004 was zero, “with almost half of the population (43.6) now reporting that they discuss important matters with either no one or with only one other person.”10

All of this leaves us isolated. We feel incomplete if we have no spouse. We feel like we shouldn’t feel incomplete if we do have a spouse. We wonder if we married the right person or if the right person got away. And if we’re gay and trying to remain faithful to the Church, we are ostracized, isolated, and without meaningful intimacy of any kind.

So where did we go wrong? And, more importantly, how can we fix it?

When Did We Lose Our Way?

Although our culture says that marriage is primarily about two people who love each other, in Marriage, A History, historian Stephanie Koontz describes the only recent belief that marriage is for love. “In this Western model, people expect marriage to satisfy more of their psychological and social needs than ever before… Individuals want marriage to meet most of their needs for intimacy and affection and all their needs for sex,” Coontz writes. “Never before in history had societies thought that such a set of high expectations about marriage was either realistic or desirable…The adoption of these unprecedented goals for marriage had unanticipated and revolutionary consequences that have since come to threaten the stability of the entire institution.”

According to Coontz, historically, marriage was predominantly an economic and political institution and many cultures actually criticized marrying for something as “irrational as love.” George Bernard Shaw described the state of modern marriage quipping that marriage brings two people together “under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive and most transient of passions. They are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal and, exhausting condition continuously until death do them part.”11 Political philosopher Ryan T. Anderson speaks about contemporary marriage as “the adult relationship of my choice” centered around the emotions and self-actualization of the adults in the marriage. However, according to Anderson, the reason the government has historically been involved with marriage is not on behalf of the adults but rather for the sake of the children. The reason why marriage must be exclusive, involve one man and one woman, and be permanent is for the benefit and well-being of the child.

And this is very consistent with traditional Christian theology. St. Augustine wrote “For they are joined one to another side by side, who walk together, and look together whither they walk. Then follows the connection of fellowship in children, which is the one alone worthy fruit, not of the union of male and female, but of the sexual intercourse.”12 The Catechism of the Catholic Church states “the matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring.13

According to Christian tradition, the greater purpose of marriage and the sex act is not solely pleasure, is not solely companionship, and is not solely about the emotions of the people involved but rather is primarily oriented around procreation and the care of children. Holding this definition of marriage at the center of any theology of marriage and sexuality then makes everything else fall into place. Therefore, sex before marriage is sinful not because one should save herself for her spouse and be pure on her wedding day but, rather, because it is the covenant of marriage that protects the child. Divorce is sinful not just because it is antithesis to Christian love but also because it harms the child. Same-sex marriage and same-sex genital sexual behavior are not sinful because God thinks that gay people are icky or that gay couples are trying to destroy the family (on the contrary, they frequently want families) but because their union can never naturally be open to the vocation of child-rearing.14

Under this traditional Christian view of marriage, marriage is not the highest expression of love but is rather a loving relationship that has a vocational purpose. Where ERD says that a person must seek out his or her other half to be complete and loved, the conjugal view of marriage argues that marriage is far from that important. It serves a purpose, it is an expression of love, and it does reflect the self-sacrificial love of the trinity, but it is also one good among many — one vocation among many.

What does this mean then? It means that the problems I mentioned earlier with ERD can be put in perspective. For the unmarried men and women in our churches, they are not halves or spares seeking out their significant others to be made whole, but rather are whole persons in themselves. Instead of wishing that so-and-so would get married because he or she needs to find love, we can rather celebrate the friendships this person already has and already receives intimacy from. If also the deepest of intimacy can be experienced in a non-sexual way (contrary to ERD but very pro-Christian), we need not fear experiencing sexual attraction. We are not given two options regarding our sexual attractions––flee or consummate––but rather we can intimately love despite our sexual attractions, pursuing a chaste relationship without consummating it sexually.

But perhaps most importantly, this proper view of marriage allows us to have deeper, more fulfilling relationships with our friends. As stated previously, friends through the history of humankind have served the need of intimacy (until very recently). There’s a reason for this. God did not create us to be in dyads. He did not create us to couple off and be satisfied in human intimacy with just one person. We were created as multifaceted human beings; therefore, it stands to reason that one would need deep friendships and multiple ones at that. Again, in his book on love, C. S. Lewis writes it so eloquently when he says:

In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s [Tolkien’s] reaction to a specifically Charles joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him ‘to myself’ now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald… In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious ‘nearness by resemblance’ to heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each of us has of God. For every soul, seeing Him in her own way, doubtless communicates that unique vision to all the rest. That, says an old author, is why the Seraphim in Isaiah’s vision are crying ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ to one another (Isaiah 6:3). The more we thus share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall have.

Lewis argues that two people cannot truly satisfy one another (a fact that most couples tragically learn into their 3rd or 4th year of marriage after they’ve walked away from deep friendships). There are simply going to be things that one person cannot provide for another person. It is in this friendship relationship that Christians most demonstrate the beauty of the Gospel in that their love for one another is disinterested (in that it doesn’t rely on the special interests of one party) and is deeply cruciform. In a friendship, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and to be known by another.

Friendships provide us with intimacy and love. If they are spiritual friendships, they reflect the love of our creator via our neighbor. Friendships not only challenge us to grow, but they support us with guidance, safety, and love. The woman who goes it alone is not the more free because she is unhindered by the people in her life but rather, she is severely handicapped, unable to love her neighbor and thus love her God. But for the person who is surrounded by deep, loving friendships, this is a servant who is doing the will of the Father.

Our Way Forward

It’s not enough to simply critique the current state of life — suffering under the current cultural regime and lamenting that the Church just isn’t good enough. Identifying problems is easy, and often becomes a means to avoid doing the real work of changing the culture. Eve Tushnet in an article on lay celibacy has this to say, “The fact that our churches so often fail in their communal eschatological witness doesn’t excuse you from your individual eschatological witness.”

The real work comes in opening one’s eyes to unBiblical systems within the church today and challenging a lot of the deep presuppositions about our relationships. For Christians, it means investing more deeply in our friendships. It means inviting people over for dinner regularly to socialize. It means making yourself emotionally vulnerable with a few people on a regular basis (small groups anyone?). It means inviting your friends on a family vacation, opening up your home for people that aren’t in your family to live with you, and it means loving people even (or especially!) when it’s uncomfortable.

I aspire to have a Church where unchurched people don’t ask, “What makes you different than me?” but rather, when acting in holy love, the Church is perceived like the Early Church where unchurched men and women look at us with unrighteous disdain. “Why are those people living together?” “It’s really weird how deeply you love that man or woman.” “Why are they all so close?” I aspire to have a Church where we can give rest to the heavy laden and all come together to the table where there are no tables for one, there are no tables for two, but rather, we all have a seat where we feast with one another at the Lord’s wedding banquet.

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  1.  For a fuller treatment on this, check out my longer blog post about it.
  2.  We do this with men, too. However, where women get accused of having something fundamentally wrong with them, men get accused of immaturity and laziness.
  3.  While I have no doubt that God could give a person a prophetic statement on anything including one’s romantic prospects, I personally find this version especially troubling as I hear this quite a bit, and I’m a vowed celibate man.
  4.  Webber, Robert. Common Roots: The Original Call to an Ancient-Future Faith
  5.  There’s a great conversation to be had here about what language is appropriate to describe this group of people that is not married. In many ways, I loathe the word “single” simply because there are no single people in the Kingdom of God. Too often the word single is associated with solitude and loneliness, and this word is often used to draw lines between those who have won and those who haven’t. Colloquially, we use the word single to mean someone who is alone and someone who has no connections with another human being. I’m in favor of using the word “celibate” more often because it describes a positive vocation, does not imply a lack of relationship, and is historically Christian. This word can also be used to describe someone who is divorced or is separated from his or her spouse for one reason or another as it describes their current sexual behavior and spiritual practice. Unfortunately, celibacy carries an odd social baggage which might prevent it from catching on. While I also have issues with the word “unmarried” because it describes a person by what he or she is not, I will use it for the rest of this essay.
  6.  Pangle, Lorraine Smith. Aristotle and the Philosophy of Friendship
  7.  Cicero, Marcus Tullius. De Amicitia
  8.  St. Aelred of Rievaulx. Spiritual Friendship
  9.  Lewis, C.S. The Four Loves
  10.  Miller McPherson, Lynn Smith-Lovin, and Mathew E. Brashears, “Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades,” American Sociological Review 71 (2006)
  11.  As quoted in John Jacobs, All You Need Is Love and Other Lies About Marriage
  12. Augustine. Of the Good of Marriage
  13.  CCC 1601
  14.  For the sake of time and writing space, I’m leaving out quite a bit more that I could say on this. No doubt some readers might ask questions about barren couples, adoption, etc. For a really good treatment of this, I recommend the book What is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense by Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert George. These authors really parse out the conjugal view of marriage and answer the frequent objections.