I have been single my entire life, and celibate for a large portion of my life. You may be asking yourself: what’s the difference between single and celibate?

It’s true that we often use those words interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. Singleness is just the objective understanding of your reality. There is no purpose to singleness; it just is.

Celibacy is living your singleness with a specific purpose.

Some Christian denominations and communities do not accept the idea of celibacy. They do not think that concept is found in the Bible. I disagree with that view, but I do think it is legitimate and respect that position.

For the majority of Christianity, however, celibacy is built within Christian teaching. In fact, for all of Christian history, there have been large celibate communities.

Sadly, many of those communities fell to the wayside during the Protestant Reformation. I study this theological tradition a lot, and I am a huge lover of John Calvin. I often make the joke that if Calvin were alive and he were gay, I would switch to an affirming theology.

Most people do not get my humour.

But it pains me to say that Calvin is one of the main reasons why celibate communities largely do not exist within Protestantism.

Why was Calvin so critical of monastic communities? Well, he had good reason with much corruption within monastic communities.

Calvin also didn’t like lifelong vows of celibacy, because we don’t know God’s future plans for us. There was also this view that monastic communities were more spiritual than local church communities, and Calvin strongly disagreed.

The interesting thing is that I agree with all of Calvin’s criticisms. And if we followed those criticisms, then we would create healthy celibate communities.

But instead of making corrections for healthier celibate communities, we got rid of celibate communities altogether.

Now, we get to my main question: why don’t celibate communities commonly exist in evangelical circles?

Or, put another way: where are my celibate straight friends?

In all my years of celibacy, I have not met a celibate straight person. I am sure they exist; I just haven’t met anyone.

It seems the only celibate communities forming are only by fellow “Side B” gay Christians, done so out of necessity. That really bothers me.

Don’t misunderstand me: it is good for celibate gay Christians to form communities. What bothers me, though, is that those communities should have already been started by celibate straight people.

I truly believe if our churches were following Scripture well, a large portion of our churches would be celibate.

And the majority of those celibate people would be straight.

Sadly, it seems the large majority of celibate people in Christian communities are gay. This can create an unhealthy version of celibacy.

The reason we should be celibate is not because of our orientation and our sexual ethic; the reason for celibacy is to love God and the kingdom of God more fully.

When the only celibate people in our churches are gay, there is a tendency to focus our reasons for celibacy on our sexual orientation and not on God’s kingdom. That will produce unhealthy — and probably unchaste — celibate lives.

The Reformation overcorrected when it responded to unhealthy celibate communities, getting rid of those communities altogether. We need to work hard to bring celibate communities back.

These celibate communities must be majority-straight people, and celibate people need to make up a large portion of our churches.

I think our churches have suffered greatly by ditching celibate communities. We must bring them back for the health of our churches.

So, I ask again: where are my celibate straight friends?

Do you see healthy celibate communities in your local or broader church? What successes and frustrations have you experienced as a celibate believer in the local church and/or in celibate “Side B” communities?

  • I’m a celibate straight woman and I wish there was more of a community for others like me where I live. I appreciate this post so much.

  • I have a number of issues with your arguments:
    1. There can be many purposes for singleness.
    2. You can be celibate without being single.
    3. “why don’t celibate communities commonly exist in evangelical circles?” and “where are my celibate straight friends” do not equate.
    4. You have provided no examples from Scripture to back up that it supports celibacy.
    5. Why should straight people set the precedent and be the majority practicing celibacy?

    • Hi Christopher just wanted to ask some questions.
      1. yes there are many purposes for singleness and I don’t think Will said anything against it. Can you expand?
      2. so would this be someone who is in a relationship and does not have sex?
      3. although they may not be the same I believe there is a connection between the two questions, and I personally didn’t think Will was trying to say they are the same, however we each interpret differently so may be just my opinion.
      4. I think due to Your Other Brothers posting about living celibate a lot, and mentioning verses that Paul and Jesus mention this in other posts, he didn’t say the specific verses. That is only my guess however being on here for a while I feel like I have heard them a lot so I personally didn’t find an issue with this.
      5. I think for this final one gay people are usually the minority. If this is true and we believe that Jesus and Paul encouraged celibacy then there should be more people who follow this. Instead what happens is its most queer people living celibate lives, not always because they feel called to it, but because some people feel its their only option. If every Christian were to read the passages on celibacy and actually consider, then I do believe there would be a lot more straight people living celibate lives. I think this would also help the church take celibacy more seriously, because sexual minorities are often ignored.

      Would love to hear your thoughts, and I am not always the best at wording things so if there was anything unclear feel free to ask!

  • I’ve had this same question burning in my mind for a while now. I actually explained to my four year old son that some people get married and others choose to spend their life with Jesus and in deep friendships. I don’t want to paint marriage as the ultimate goal and outlet for the love God will place in him. One option among faithful options to serve Christ with his life.

    I got married because I wanted to (most important), but also because there was subtle pressure to prove my sexuality to everyone (and especially myself). I am grateful that through honesty, tears, and real conflict in our marriage, my wife and I choose each other as we choose Jesus. But this isn’t prescriptive. And it bugs the s*** outta me that cis people seem to think it is.

    • Hey Spencer. I too am married and have shed a lot of tears. Any way we can trade stories? Not super sure how you can do that through here. I’ve had to teach my three sons about Godly sexuality – what a joke that felt like given my own failings. But miraculously they appear to be embracing a healthy view and an openness of communication which amazes and blesses me no end. Thx Will for sharing your thoughts.

  • Great post Will! And it’s definitely something to strive for.. I hear you, with… intentionality. And for the love of Jesus.

    It might be interesting to “interview” some Catholic celibate communities also, since they’ve continued that tradition, more or less. And pick up some ideas what might or might not work, practically in the greater Christian community. This is a very exciting prospect!
    Perhaps the percentage of RC straight guys in community is about 2/3 but it could be much higher or lower in different communities. And the cool thing is you could pick and choose from the different traits you discover, to create your own community, intentionally. Some of the Orthodox communities also have intentional celibacy, but I noticed some of them are also married. But I think you have a wonderful dream, and I pray it happens. Of course,
    “Intentionality” requires some investigation and structure, because it’s not only dreaming, though it definitely starts with a dream. An inspired dream.

  • I love your theological deep dives, Will, as I’m not super versed in folks like Calvin (or in literary ways either like the poets you quoted on one of our ConvoCasts). It’s awesome to have your perspective here. Had no idea about Calvin’s impact on celibate communities. So fascinating! I’d love to see healthy celibate communities form in the Protestant church…but man, I feel like that’s gonna take a while. Marriage is just so much sexier (literally).

    • Yes I love these as well! I know more on Martin Luther and have heard a bit about his thoughts on celibacy. Historical theology is so fun to me, and I would love to read more on Calvin. It seems so crazy that the reformation still has a huge impact on us in the protestant church today, and I hope things like celibacy can start being looked at again so we can have a better understanding of the bible.

  • I live with 14 other Evangelical Christians where we are all celibate and committed to help each other in our walk with God. As far as I know, all are straight except me. None of us have taken a lifelong vow of celibacy and many of us expect to marry eventually. Still, here I have found a real spiritual family and deeply meaningful friendships. I thank God for these friends!

  • This is fascinating… I know about Jesus’ teachings that some will become like eunuchs for the glory of heaven, and Paul’s wishes that more would choose celibacy, like him… But what other passages explain/ encourage celibacy as part of their walk with God? I want to study them, I want to know what you mean by “there should be more celibate communities.”

    See, I am not necessarily SSA (definitely lean straight), but am not typical, either. That wouldn’t be why I choose celibacy, of course, not out of fear and anxiety — it would need to be out of love. But I find the idea of such an option really interesting. Perhaps God is pulling me in this direction?

    […And then I get anxious about friendships. I want them, but I fear I’ll do something wrong, there, too. I have a phobia of emotional and physical intimacy (meaning closeness). But God wants us to have friendships, brotherhood, right? What if I misunderstand something?]

  • Will Cooper

    Greetings from the friendly country of Canada. While writing this bio I am drinking a French press coffee and listening to Arcade Fire on vinyl with my prayer journal, a pile of books, a piano, and a typewriter beside me. Some may say I am a hipster, but I do not really like culturally constructed identities in an attempt to place my personality in a box. I read a lot of theology and philosophy, and I do much research in that area (it's kind of my job). When I'm feeling particularly adventurous and motivated, I will watch a hockey game and drink a beer with my friends – like every good Canadian.

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