On May 7, 2011, at age 35, Shane Claiborne married Katie Jo Brotherton. The missionary, author of New York Times bestseller The Irresistible Revolution, and founder of North Philadelphia faith community the Simple Way met Katie Jo eight years ago, just after he'd taken a vow of singleness and was considering being celibate for life. Now the two Southerners are making a life together in North Philadelphia, which includes involvement in community gardens, worm farms, tutoring sessions, daily prayer, and community activities. During a visit to their neighborhood this summer, they had a few things to say about community, overcoming conflict in marriage, and living intentionally as a couple.
How did you two meet?
Katie: When we first met eight years ago, [Shane] had just taken a vow of singleness and was thinking about being celibate for his whole life. Then we didn't see each other for five years, and we were at this huge gathering when he saw me and said, "Hey, nice to see you again, I'll give you my phone number later so we can connect and hang out." So I went up to him after, but he was with someone and didn't even give me his number—he just said, "Oh yeah, my number's in the phone book." It was a bad pickup line, but I went for it, and went to the phone book [laughs]. Then we started dating. We wrote letters for six months. Even though we only lived about a mile away from each other, we wrote letters. I still have them all. Then we started dating, then we got married.
Shane, you've spoken extensively on the gift of singleness. How have your opinions changed since you've been married?
Shane: Being married now, I can say I still feel as passionately about the gift of singleness as I did when I was single. Likewise, when I was single, I talked a lot about marriage. It's really important for us to celebrate both singleness and marriage. Marriage is a beautiful form of community—the smallest molecule that God chose from the beginning: that it's not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). It's good to be together in community, helping each other. And so we're made in the image of God in community as a reflection of the plurality of oneness that God is. But underneath the pressure we put on ourselves to be married is the myth of incompleteness. There's this assumption that everyone should eventually get married, and I think that's an unbiblical and theologically ungrounded assumption. For one, Jesus was complete and not married—but he did live in community, and sent his disciples out in pairs. He said, "Wherever two or three are gathered, I'm with you." So the call to community is there—not necessarily a call to marriage. In fact, Matthew 19 would even cause you to think, wow, it's actually a really good thing to be single and follow Jesus. There are also a lot of places we can see that reflected in Paul's writings. And we see it in the lives of the saints—some of whom were married, and some of whom were single. You don't look at someone like Mother Teresa and say, wow, if only she'd found a husband, think of what she could've done in the world.
At the heart of this for me is the realization that our deepest longing is not for sex—it's for love. It's our sex-obsessed culture that frames a lot of the conversation around sexual identity and rights. I know plenty of people who have had lots of sex and don't feel loved, and other folks who have never had sex their entire lives and feel deeply loved. That should re-frame our conversation around sexuality so we can create communities where the starting point is this: that everyone should feel love in this community.
You're two years into your marriage. What advice do you have for other newlywed couples?
Katie: We have fun. We laugh a lot, and we play lots of games and charades. We got rid of our TV. We do a lot of games and puzzles, we read together, things like that. We also occasionally go to mass. We love mass. It's beautiful.
Shane: Not that I'm a perfect husband, but one of the things I learned living in community all those years is to quickly confess when we've done wrong, and to quickly forgive when we're able to talk it through. When we bury stuff under the rug, it becomes poisonous. That's true in church community, but also in family too. So my advice would be to affirm the best in the other person, and to confess the worst in us to honor each other in marriage and community. I'm a big believer in Ephesians 4:26: Don't let the sun go down on your anger.
Shane and Katie live together in North Philadelphia's faith community, the Simple Way. Read more about their ministry in the TCW article "Shane Claiborne on Sustainable Living."
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Shane & Katie Claiborne: A Love Story
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