Sabrina Reyes-Peters

Loneliness, Love, and the Church

Since June 26th, there have been countless articles, social media statuses, and blog posts from one end of the spectrum to the other, both inside the universal church and outside of it. I don’t have any new arguments to offer. I have tried to do my best to listen to the arguments I’ve heard since I was young, that have been recycled numerous times over, and are frankly getting old. I am also trying my best to listen to the arguments with which I am not as familiar, and present a different viewpoint.

I don’t wish to address the debates outside the Church, because what concerns me is how those inside the Church, which is supposed to be a conduit of Christ’s love, are handling this issue, an issue that concerns real people, with flesh, blood, heart, and soul. Actually, I don’t want to insert myself into any debates, at all. And let me say, it’s been disappointing to see that so many conservative Christians cannot accept the fact that other Christians can be just as devout, while holding to differing interpretations of scripture.

I have seen so many Christians dismiss LGBTQ folks, not necessarily with just their words, but with their attitudes. Discussing LGBTQ issues as though they are merely topics for a debate, and not people, really emphasizes the whole “speak the truth...” thing, but the “ love” aspect is abandoned when, well, the focus is on “issues” . Do you really think you’re going to convince someone by winning a debate? Are you really “speaking the truth in love” by talking over and around someone? Is that kind?

A prominent argument for marriage equality that I’ve seen, from Christians, starts with the problem of loneliness, taken from beginning chapters of Genesis. Adam is lonely, so God gives him Eve, because it isn’t good for man to be alone. Right? But what happens for someone who is not heterosexual, and who desires a lifelong companion, when marriage is strictly defined as between a man and a woman? They’re left to cope with being lonely for a lifetime, and loneliness...well, loneliness is a terrible feeling most of the time.

(I think mostly everyone can agree that loneliness is a legitimate state of being, and that, in general, love and companionship are very good things. Lifetime companionship is very good. Humans need love and companionship. All humans do. Yes? Yes.)

In almost every conservative, Evangelical church I’ve attended, lifetime love and companionship (read: marriage) have been held to such a high degree of esteem, that any group of single folks weren’t actually Singles, but People Who Aren’t Married Yet, and thus a problem to be fixed. Celibacy? We don’t talk about it, except to communicate that sex is bad until marriage. Loneliness? There’s nothing like hanging out with a group of married people from church to amplify any faint feelings of loneliness, but don’t talk about it. Just get those single people married.

In those churches, marriage is so highly desirable that it is perhaps even a step toward a higher form of Christianity, because it is this wonderful, glorious, romantic, but hard road of sanctification (because who better reveals your faults other than someone who is close to you?) and companionship, and guess what, it even reflects Christ and his bride, the Church! Why would anyone NOT want that? Why would anyone NOT want to have their identity based upon, eventually, being tied to someone else for life? Forget loneliness; that doesn’t need to exist.

Do you see a problem? I do. I am concerned that many churches’ histories of treating single folks as issues leaves it vastly incompetent to address issues of celibacy and loneliness for anyone, let alone LGBTQ folks, and has not communicated love or kindness in this area. When a church can’t even deal with heterosexual singles as simply wonderfully created individuals, and not just deficient, Not Married Yets, how can a LGBTQ person, Christian or not, expect to find a loving community as a single person? Because a church has beaten them over the head saying they cannot marry someone of their own choosing, while proclaiming marriage as the highest good (um, have you forgotten about St. Paul?), how could they not feel inadequate? How could they NOT feel unwelcome? And how does this help the problem of loneliness? It sure as hell doesn’t.

Showing Christ’s love to another person means reaching beyond the issues, and embracing their humanity. This goes for every self-proclaimed follower of Christ, regardless of where you are on the theological spectrum. Even though our efforts are imperfect, we try. And when we have failed, we confess, ask for forgiveness, ask how we can do better, and then try again. We ask for grace to go forth in love and kindness. The problem is when we have not stopped to ask if we can do better, so let me say that if you are not asking how your church is loving people who have been historically dismissed, othered, and deeply hurt, then something is definitely wrong. I don’t care what your theology is, and I don’t think we need to sit around and debate hermeneutics. If people are just seen as their “issue”, they will not want to stick around.

Confess, ask how we can do better, and try again.

Go forth in love and kindness.