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Single in the Pulpit? Good luck to you!
March 21, 2011 8:10 PM   Subscribe

With Few Jobs, an Unmarried Pastor Points to Bias “Prejudice against single pastors abounds,” Mr. Almlie wrote in articles (Part 1, Part 2) he posted on a popular Christian blog site in January and February, setting off a wide-ranging debate online on a topic that many said has been largely ignored.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero (76 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I would have never thought of the fear of molestation factor -- there have certainly been enough creepy people who were married while carrying out that creepiness. My first thought was mentioned on page 2 of the main article, that being the idea that a spouse means free labor. In the church I attended growing up, the pastor's wife generally took care of the nursery, or the accounting, or the visitation, or something. To some extent the couple also became like the public face of the church to the community.

I think it's likely useful that he's putting it out there, especially given that this would just be unheard of in many hiring situations.
posted by bizzyb at 8:23 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, married priests have it pretty hard in Catholicism. They do exist, thanks to a weird convert loophole- if you are an Anglican or Orthodox married priest and you convert, you get to keep your wife.

It's kind of weird what's going on with this article because the major fathers of the early Christian church were all single... marriage was considered a distraction or worse.
posted by melissam at 8:24 PM on March 21, 2011


As an aside, some of the most er... friendly men I've met were Orthodox seminarians because if they don't get married before they are ordained, they can never get married. However, if they remain single they can become a bishop...but I think most men would rather be married.
posted by melissam at 8:26 PM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I know it was mentioned briefly in the article but the 800 pound gorilla in this living room really is homosexuality.

If you're an attractive, sociable, well-educated 37 year old man who has no girlfriend and never married, people are going to start drawing pretty obvious conclusions in any context, but especially in conservative churches.

In the Evangelical circles that I grew up in, it was pretty much a given that you would be married either out of high school, during college or shortly after college. Anything else was a source of gossip.

In social settings like that, never marrying and never dating (dating is a no-no, actually) is basically the same as wearing a huge "I'M GAY" sign on your back. And sad as it is to say, that intuition is usually right.
posted by Avenger at 8:31 PM on March 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't think it's fair to say that the supposed intuition about an unmarried man in his mid-30s is gay is somehow correct. That's insulting to parties on all sides of the discussion.

And I'm always amused at how conservative congregations are always the groups who leap to the most scandalous possible explanation for any situation. If the leap lets them also feel superior in the process, they'll leap twice as fast.
posted by hippybear at 8:34 PM on March 21, 2011 [13 favorites]


I found this article interesting, both as a church lay leader and a future pastor's spouse. Our church's last pastor was married with a child, and our current pastor is single with a grown child, and there are definitely differences that you notice. On one hand, we don't get that 2nd helping hand we got from our last pastor's wife (particularly in reaching the neighborhood mom groups she was heavily involved in after the birth of their child), but we also see that our current pastor has more time and energy that another pastor might devote to his family. I definitely groaned when I got to the spouse as free labor- it's not that I don't want to help out in my husband's future congregations, I just despise the idea of the role being thrust upon me, possibly in ways I wouldn't enjoy.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:36 PM on March 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't think it's fair to say that the supposed intuition about an unmarried man in his mid-30s is gay is somehow correct. That's insulting to parties on all sides of the discussion.

You're right that it's not correct in most circumstances. I know some unmarried men in their 30's and none of them, to my knowledge, is gay.

It's just that in the conservative Evangelical world, being single and older is basically a sign of gayness in that world. It might be true, or it might not, but that's what it says to them, in their circumstances.
posted by Avenger at 8:37 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


The "Part 1" link in the FPP is borked. Here is the correct link.
posted by hippybear at 8:37 PM on March 21, 2011


Article: "Some evangelical churches, in particular, openly exclude single candidates; a recent posting for a pastor by a church on Long Island said it was seeking “a family man whose family will be involved in the ministry life of the church.” Other churches convey the message through code words, like “seeking a Biblical man” (translation: a husband and a provider)."

It takes the NYTimes until the second page to get to it, but this is totally also code for "wife must provide free labor." Even in mainline Protestant denominations that are pretty liberal, there's still an expectation that the pastor's wife will provide free labor. Even if the pastor's wife is also a pastor at the next church over. Pastor's husbands don't face the same pressure, but the wife is really expected to run a lot of stuff at her husband's church, EVEN IF she's working full time in the same job as her husband.

Also, melissam, that's the only way to become a married priest of Catholics under the Western or Latin Church rules, but Ukrainian Rite Catholics, for example, have the same marriage rules as Orthodox Churches. They're all still Catholics in communion with Rome and with the Pope, but there are actually multiple codes of canon law for the different groups, which are usually designated by what "rite" (or ritual Mass) they practice -- "Roman Catholic" literally means "Catholics who use the Roman Rite." The vast, vast, vast majority of Catholics are Roman Rite (although there are a handful of other "Western" rites, like the Ambrosian, but the don't often have a separate church governing structure as the Eastern rites do), but there are plenty of Eastern Catholics governed by the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches (Maronite, Syriac, Chaldean, Ukrainian, Italo-Albanian, Greek, and Coptic Catholics, to name a few). Here's wikipedia on the Eastern Catholic Churches.

Anyway, a Ukrainian Catholic priest is perfectly able to walk into any Roman-Rite church and start doing Mass, while married and everything. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:39 PM on March 21, 2011 [11 favorites]


Well, I suppose Roman Catholic also literally means "remember those Catholics listen to the Pope in Rome and not their national leaders" but that's when it's being used as an 18th-century put-down. Multivalent!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:41 PM on March 21, 2011


Pastor's husbands don't face the same pressure

Actually, in the Presbyterian church where I was raised, we had two female youth ministers in succession, and both of them had men in their lives who were expected to provide free labor.

As well as a female choir director whose husband was a music professor at the local university and who didn't attend the church regularly. The amount of pressure that was placed on her to get her husband not only to attend regularly but also to provide worship music without pay was enormous.
posted by hippybear at 8:44 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I dunno, I grew up Orthodox and it was accepted that the priest's wife was almost on a par with him as a part of the church leadership, but responsible for different aspects of church life. Sure, this could be code for free labor, but the position also came with tons of authority and status. (It's how the church deals with gender roles, basically.) Of course, you wouldn't generally marry someone in that context unless you were willing to accept the responsibilities that came with it.
posted by nasreddin at 8:45 PM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's getting late, so I'm just going to go ahead and be impolitic.
Teachers are losing their jobs, factory workers are losing their jobs, office workers are losing their jobs, police are losing their jobs, single mothers are losing their jobs, construction workers are losing their jobs.
I'm not especially concerned right now for those who make a living telling stories about the happy place in the sky, especially if they're having trouble landing a new job because they might have teh gay.
Wake me when you find a set of beliefs that deserves something besides extinction.
There, I said it.
posted by uosuaq at 9:00 PM on March 21, 2011 [13 favorites]


A lot of those people you mentioned that are losing their jobs are looking towards "the people telling stories about the happy place in the sky," but thanks for your "deal with it" attitude, that's certainly helpful.
posted by QuarterlyProphet at 9:05 PM on March 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


I dunno, I grew up Orthodox and it was accepted that the priest's wife was almost on a par with him as a part of the church leadership, but responsible for different aspects of church life. Sure, this could be code for free labor, but the position also came with tons of authority and status.
Well, sure, and that used to be what it meant to be the wife of men in a lot of high-status occupations. It has some problems, though, starting with the fact that it assumes that, by virtue of being female and married to a particular guy, the wife is cut out for some fairly intense and difficult jobs. The fact that you're female and compatible with a particular man does not mean that you'd be a good event planner/ teacher/ therapist/ social chairperson/ whatever other functions a pastor's wife is called upon to do. Nobody would ever in a million years hire me to do some of those things, because they actually take skill and aptitudes that I don't have, so I'm not sure why they would assign me those jobs just because I happened to fall for a guy who had a calling to the ministry.
posted by craichead at 9:05 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


@QuarterlyProphet: I'm sure a lot of them are. May it provide them some comfort while their resources run out.
As for my attitude, you missed it entirely.
posted by uosuaq at 9:11 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


"the Bible calls for married leaders"

In the Old Testament many Hebrew leaders and kings had multiple wives. Having just one would have been pretty shocking.

In the New Testament Jesus had exactly zero wives. (He also didn't have nice things to say about marriage, or his family, since as mentioned these were distractions from his "holy" marriage to God.)

I'll never stop being amazed at how biblically ignorant so many Christians are.
posted by bardic at 9:17 PM on March 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


As an former minister who didn't marry until 29, I can confirm that this is absolutely true. There are lots of churches who will say up front that only married ministers are allowed, and plenty more that quietly disregard applications from single men. More than fear of molestation, though, the most common reason that I heard given was fear that the minister would sleep with one of the members. This, of course, was a completely stupid reason to refrain from hiring someone because married ministers are more, not less, likely to conduct an affair.

The other irony is that none of the churches that hire me to preach for them would hesitate one second to make me their youth minister. As I heard a fellow minister once say, "I see...so you don't trust me to counsel your wives, but you do trust me to mentor your daughters?"
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:23 PM on March 21, 2011 [15 favorites]


er, that wouldn't hire me to preach for them, that is.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:24 PM on March 21, 2011


I read this as "singing pastor" and now I'm really disappointed.
posted by prefpara at 9:28 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some time, back when I was cruising the Unitarian Universalist blogosphere, I found a great post about the craziness that the dating scene is for ministers. What happens when a congregant finds your internet dating profile? When is it appropriate to introduce a partner to the congregation? How do potential dates respond to your employment status? It was a fascinating post and I wish I could find it.

I think it was by peacebang. Her general blog (www.peacebang.com) seems to be gone, but she still runs Beauty Tips for Ministers.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 9:33 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I used to be involved in some evangelical churches, and all I have to say is that the number of closeted gays really shocked me.

My younger brother is gay, and our whole family has been super supportive- so it was really weird to have these guys confide stuff in me about their "secret shame".

I think one reason the whole evangelical movement gets so wrapped up in it has some connection with the fact there's no way for gay people in that environment to acknowledge their status or identity, and it tends to warp inwards and become destructive for themselves and others around them. (See GOP, page 12.)

Now I'm long out of that whole scene and all the better for it. Most congregations don't need another pastor, they need some therapy, pronto.
posted by EricGjerde at 9:42 PM on March 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


"I found this article interesting, both as a church lay leader and a future pastor's spouse."

Wait, Stinky's goin' pastor?

When my former roomie was still in the throes of divinity (weird how a buttsauce bishop can kibosh a godly career simply by being lazy with paperwork), the problems of the single pastors were pretty widely discussed, even with the ultra-liberal congregation he was a part of.

What his pastor said was that when it comes to questions of morality, especially things that people believe have high stakes, it's really important to them to see themselves reflected in the authority figures of their community. If they believe that YOU MUST MARRY or risk HELL AND DAMNATION, that means that a pastor who isn't married makes them question if they made the right decisions and whether the things that they've invested themselves in are really true. If the pastor doesn't have to get married, well, did they have to get married? Might they have made other decisions, lived other lives?

The pastor was pretty candid about this, about how a lot of congregations have a really hollow sense of morality and faith, and just want to know that they're doing the right thing and react really negatively to any suggestions that they aren't. Of course, he believes that it's the role of a good pastor to show people that these trappings aren't the important part of God, etc. But it certainly was a cultural issue everyone talked about a lot.

Oh, also that Episcopalian pastors drink like fish. That was important too, but, they averred, wholly unrelated.
posted by klangklangston at 9:52 PM on March 21, 2011 [11 favorites]


Part of the difficulty and bias that the pastor in the FPP faces in being single reflects a wider problem in many congregations and that is a a lack of respect/attention to the spiritual needs of single adults.

If you look at most churches, there is no place at the table, so to speak, for singles. After aging out of Youth/Teen Ministry, there is seemingly no place for you in most communities. At most, you'll get some variation on church sponsored Singles Mixers/Outings, where the widespread assumption is that "if you're single, then you must be interested in getting married!" (and by inference, starting a family), "so here's a place to meet people JUST LIKE YOU!" To be sure, there have been attempts to create "Young Adult" ministries, but as the name suggests, once you move into your 30's, you run into the same problem as before of being marginalized (also, it's been mine and my friend's experiences that YA ministry activities tend to become Singles Mixers anyway),

There is a serious lack of attention paid to the needs, roles and responsibilities of single adults church communities beyond "future breeder." Being single is seen as a problem to be solved through marriage, rather than a seperate and legitimate way of living one's faith. Until churches start addressing that issue, the bias the pastor is finding in his job search will never go away.
posted by KingEdRa at 9:54 PM on March 21, 2011 [19 favorites]


It is an interesting (albeit alien, to me) dynamic.

Straight guys typically stay single because they want more sex with women and with multiple partners, not less and/or none.
posted by bardic at 9:57 PM on March 21, 2011


I wonder why these guys don't just move over to the Catholic church where obviously the unmarried bit isn't a dealbreaker.

This was my fave quote from R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.:

“Both the logic of Scripture and the centrality of marriage in society,” he said, justify “the strong inclination of congregations to hire a man who is not only married but faithfully married.”

Uh, what? Is there some set of Baptist ministers that is married but not faithfully married? Like Baptist marriage is on a 5-point sliding scale or something, like in a survey?

Dear Prospective Minister,

For you marital status would you say you are:

a) Faithfully Married
b) Married
c) Somewhat Married
d) Rarely Married
e) Single?
posted by GuyZero at 10:18 PM on March 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Faithfully Married" = Pastor's wife doesn't have an outside job & is expected to be the "model" wife for the cogregation. See the comments about the duties of the Pastor's wife that congregations expect.
posted by KingEdRa at 10:37 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


So if the pastor's wife gets her 'accounting on' on the side over at mid-state office supply, the pastor is unfaithfully married?

I get that congregations like to get a twofer on their pastor salary, but the weird implication that the marriage is somehow less if they don't seems... unchristian.
posted by GuyZero at 10:45 PM on March 21, 2011


Remember, we're talking about the president of the Southern Baptist Theologocal Seminary here. It's not like he's the type to spend a lot of time doing anything about that giant plank sticking out of his eye while criticizing others about the specks in theirs.
posted by KingEdRa at 11:01 PM on March 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


And then you get into the divorce thing, which is a whole 'nother kettle of ichthos. (Jesus was far harsher on divorce than he was on teh ghey, but you wouldn't know that from the obsessions of contemporary Christianity.)
posted by Devonian at 2:03 AM on March 22, 2011


Federal anti-discrimination law specifically exempts religious groups when they hire a person for religion-related activities, and courts have been loath to interfere in ministerial employment, said David Middlebrook, a lawyer and a specialist in religion law in Dallas and Fort Worth.

I assume this applies to race, national origin, physical disability etc. as well as gender and marital status, though I'm sure those two are the hot spots. Do positions for pastoral positions routinely contain other kinds of discriminatory language?
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 2:54 AM on March 22, 2011


I guess it just doesn't seem surprising. Single pastors finding it hard to find jobs in which marriage counseling is one of the big responsibilities of the job? Might as well be vegan chefs finding it hard to be hired as steakhouse cooks. Non-smokers finding jobs in tobacco shops. Teetotalers recommending wines.

No, it's not a strict requirement, but most jobs have an experience requirement, and "marriage experience" is part and parcel of being a pastor.
posted by explosion at 4:29 AM on March 22, 2011


It seems to me that the majority of high paying, traditionally masculine jobs assume that the person (man) they are going to hire is going to have someone (a wife) in the background, taking care of all the small life details (including childcare) so that the person (man) will be able to devote himself 100% to the job. Because of this, the US needn't address lady-topics like work-life balance issues, on the job childcare, flexible scheduling, or parental leave. Then they only hire people (men with wives) who can take the rigid, life-swallowing jobs they offer.

The system works.
posted by jenlovesponies at 4:33 AM on March 22, 2011 [8 favorites]


Do positions for pastoral positions routinely contain other kinds of discriminatory language?

It depends on the denomination but when my home congregation was hiring a new pastor, we followed Federal law when it came to hiring practices. Even though the article claims that the law exempts religious groups, the ELCA requires its congregations to follow the Federal law. We weren't allowed to ask about race, sexuality, age, marital status, etc.
posted by Stynxno at 4:36 AM on March 22, 2011


>Teachers are losing their jobs, factory workers are losing their jobs, office workers are losing their jobs, police are losing their jobs, single mothers are losing their jobs, construction workers are losing their jobs.
I'm not especially concerned right now for those who make a living telling stories about the happy place in the sky, especially if they're having trouble landing a new job because they might have teh gay.


So it's OK for evangelicals to discriminate against unmarried (and/or gay) clergy because factory workers are having a hard time right now? You might find it helpful to study Wikipedia's explanation of why two wrongs don't make a right.
posted by verstegan at 4:52 AM on March 22, 2011


In the New Testament Jesus had exactly zero wives. (He also didn't have nice things to say about marriage, or his family, since as mentioned these were distractions from his "holy" marriage to God.)

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:20 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


In the New Testament Jesus had exactly zero wives

Jesus was gay?! OH MY GOD!

Seriously, the bias against single pastors isn't surprising. Most people in a church are married, have or want kids and do desire a leader they believe reflects their values and their situation, i.e. stressed, tired and ready to snap.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:24 AM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I guess it just doesn't seem surprising. Single pastors finding it hard to find jobs in which marriage counseling is one of the big responsibilities of the job? Might as well be vegan chefs finding it hard to be hired as steakhouse cooks. Non-smokers finding jobs in tobacco shops. Teetotalers recommending wines.
Hmm. One of my close friends is a preacher's kid, so we've talked about these issues a fair amount. And one of her father's big pastoral struggles was that part of his job was bereavement counseling, and for most of his career he had never experienced a significant bereavement himself. Until he was in his 60s, he had never lost anyone closer to him than a grandparent. This made it challenging to counsel grieving people. Since he didn't really viscerally understand what they were going through, he had to call upon all his reserves of empathy. But that wasn't considered a deal-breaker on the job market, the way being single would be.

I'm curious: is being widowed and single a significant impediment to getting a job as an Evangelical pastor?
posted by craichead at 5:31 AM on March 22, 2011


In the New Testament Jesus [...] didn't have nice things to say about marriage, or his family, since as mentioned these were distractions from his "holy" marriage to God.)

Wait, what? Where? Can I get a reference to back that one up, please?
posted by Leon at 5:50 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am (and my wife and children are) part of a congregation that has a large proportion of married couples with children from teenagers to newborns - and the pastor and his wife and family fall into this category as well. A strong community spirit has evolved from the ability to share experience and empathise from both a common phase-of-life spiritual view as well as a parent/spouse view. And it's a wonderful thing. And we're probably not dissimilar to many other congregations.

It could be argued that the congregational family-focused community spirit is only strong because it has attracted like-minded people to the potential exclusion of others, and KingEdRa's comments really hits this point. From my personal observation, it's almost that there is a listlessness toward the (non-YA) single person's needs - not a hollow morality or faith issue - but simply because the community is structured and focused in a certain way.

I'm not trying to make excuses here, I'm just trying to think this through. This post, and some of the comments I've read, have really given me food for thought - with single people now making up such a large proportion of our population, just how relevant are the attitudes of so many churches?
posted by KirkpatrickMac at 5:52 AM on March 22, 2011


"I wonder why these guys don't just move over to the Catholic church where obviously the unmarried bit isn't a dealbreaker."

You know that they have extremely deep theological differences with Catholicism, right? And many of them don't even consider Catholics to be Christians (but rather, first among the hellbound!)

"And then you get into the divorce thing, which is a whole 'nother kettle of ichthos."

Yes, and divorce rates for Protestant ministers are typically slightly higher than divorce rates for their congregants. Pastoring is an enormously stressful job and VERY hard on the pastor's family.

"Do positions for pastoral positions routinely contain other kinds of discriminatory language?"

No; most mainline denominations are very diligent about attempting to live up to the ideas of "neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for all are one in Christ." Even in Catholic Churches in the U.S., where priesthood is limited to men, it's not unusual to see parish managers who are women, or diocesan chancellors, etc. That said, in the far-right wing of U.S. Christianity, no, it's not unusual to see, or to see "dogwhistles," or for "sorting" to occur at the interview phase.

"Single pastors finding it hard to find jobs in which marriage counseling is one of the big responsibilities of the job?"

If an unmarried pastor can't provide marriage counseling, that's a sign of BAD EDUCATION. Do you check to make sure your secular marriage therapist is married first? What an odd criterion. Reputable, well-run seminaries educate their students in counseling. You don't come out of it with a counseling degree (just the M.Div.), but my seminary, like many other high-quality seminaries, had professional psychiatrists, social workers, etc., teach the counseling classes, including when to recognize, "Dude, I need to call a doctor here." (Which I didn't take, since I wasn't there for ministry, just theology.) I mean, heck, we had a laryngologist come in to talk to us about voice production and work with us individually so we would know how to protect our voices for weekly sermons! A huge part of the problem is the resistance of many evangelical denominations to graduate pastoral education, leading to a poorly-educated pastorate with few skills beyond knowing the Bible really well. There are many people who are naturally-inclined to many of the duties of pastoral life, who do well despite their lack of training. But your average Methodist or Lutheran pastor had to do three years in a demanding divnity degree -- and my time at divinity school was FAR more demanding than my time at a top-15 law school, I about broke my damn brain I worked so hard -- and then a sort of apprenticeship on approval. Jesuits take 10 years to get to ordination. Lack of ministerial preparation and education is NOT a sign that single people can't counsel married people; it's a sign that you do a crap job educating your ministers.

"This post, and some of the comments I've read, have really given me food for thought - with single people now making up such a large proportion of our population, just how relevant are the attitudes of so many churches?"

My masters' thesis was on a similar topic -- the lack of resources in contemporary Christianity for PREGNANT women. There's plenty out there for weddings, tons and tons for mothers, but there's just not much at all for pregnant women, and an awful lot of what there is seems like something someone tacked on at the end. I mean, here you have a large number of women going through one of the most profound, life-changing, emotional, and often scary experiences of their lives, and our contemporary religious culture is virtually silent on the topic. Small wonder women turn to secular rituals (bizarre baby shower games) or new-age things to try to express some of what they're feeling. There are definitely holes in contemporary Christianity's ability to cope with the realities of many people's lives.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:19 AM on March 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm not especially concerned right now for those who make a living telling stories about the happy place in the sky, especially if they're having trouble landing a new job because they might have teh gay.
Wake me when you find a set of beliefs that deserves something besides extinction.
There, I said it.


You certainly did say it. But you really, really didn't have to.

I'm really not sure what your point was other than "I didn't want to read about this," which begs the question -- why did you read about it in the first place?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:29 AM on March 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


just how relevant are the attitudes of so many churches?

Going along the post, what, even, about married people that don't want children. I don't want children, heck, I don't even want babies around me. I think it is irresponsible to add additional humans being to this planet, the way it is now, overpopulated and with dwindling food supplies. It is irresponsible stewardship of the planet to have any babies now, and I have personal flying-in-a-violent-shouty-rage problem with things that are frustrating that I can't communicate, like printers or babies. The easy solution for me is not to have children, and there's two good reasons, but I/a couple I am part of wouldn't be accepted into a church because the emphasis on having children would be overwhelming.

Childlessness by choice is a valid lifestyle which doesn't have a welcome place in the church. I can't think of any church I have been in that I would be comfortable, married or not, publicly expressing the sentiment that I do not want children.

It would be nice if there was a denomination that accepted single people and childless people as valid ways of living.
posted by fuq at 6:33 AM on March 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


It would be nice if there was a denomination that accepted single people and childless people as valid ways of living.

I'm pretty sure that most Open And Affirming designated congregations would be better at this, because of the high numbers of GLBT members in those congregations. Likewise, UU or MCC probably would also be less judgemental in these matters.

But then, there are those who would say many of these aren't legitimately Christian churches for any number of reasons.
posted by hippybear at 6:38 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


It would be nice if there was a denomination that accepted single people and childless people as valid ways of living.

It's funny, our church has, I would think, a pretty high percentage of single people, in a number of demographic groups, but the two bigs one are older widowed women and twenty-somethings. We also have a single pastor (who is gay and celibate). If our church had more married couples and families with children, I wonder if we would have been more interested in a candidate similar to our demographic makeup.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:49 AM on March 22, 2011


Leon: not sure what the user you were replying to meant specifically but these may be relevant:

Luke 14: 26
1 Corinthians
Mark 10: 29-31
Mark 3: 31-35

Sorry for the lack of links, posting by phone
posted by jtron at 6:49 AM on March 22, 2011


I don't think it's fair to say that the supposed intuition about an unmarried man in his mid-30s is gay is somehow correct. That's insulting to parties on all sides of the discussion.

And yet here in Ohio, our former governor -- who also is a Methodist pastor -- got called out by the opposition on all kinds of crazy, such as my personal favorite, because he and his wife got married later in life and are childless, clearly they are both gay. So with the batshitinsanity of the other side, you kind of can't win, can you?
posted by bitter-girl.com at 6:53 AM on March 22, 2011


jtron: many thanks. Gotta say, two of those look like rhetoric to me, one is Paul, and one is pretty obscure. Not really convinced.
posted by Leon at 7:17 AM on March 22, 2011


(Jesus was far harsher on divorce than he was on teh ghey, but you wouldn't know that from the obsessions of contemporary Christianity.)

Did Jesus ever say anything that explicitly condemned homosexuality?
posted by elsietheeel at 7:20 AM on March 22, 2011


"In the New Testament Jesus had exactly zero wives."

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.


Regardless of whether the historical Jesus (if there was such an individual) was married or not, it is a pretty fundamental belief of most Christian denominations that he was not married.

Furthermore, Paul, author of big chunks of the New Testament, was definitely unmarried and wrote pretty clearly that marriage should be avoided if one has the self-control for it. "For I wish that all men were even as I myself [i.e. unmarried]. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion."

Consider this from Jesus as well: "So He said to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or parents or brothers or wife or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who shall not receive many times more in this present time, and in the age to come eternal life.'"

Since Jesus was pretty adamantly anti-divorce, presumably 'leaving house or wife' refers to physical distance or foregoing marriage in the first place rather than to divorce. In any case, Jesus was pretty clear that the kingdom of God comes first and all earthly things, including marriage, come second.
posted by jedicus at 7:27 AM on March 22, 2011


Did Jesus ever say anything that explicitly condemned homosexuality?

No, not explicitly, though anti-homosexual Christians will refer to the "created male and female" part of Matthew 19:4 as well as verses generally approving of the law of Moses, but I think that's a bit of a stretch. Nor, by the way, did he ever condemn abortion despite the fact that it was practiced by the contemporary Greeks and Romans. Funny thing, that.
posted by jedicus at 7:30 AM on March 22, 2011


Like I said, not sure what the original poster of the comment had in mind specifically. The passages where Jesus enjoins listeners to leave/disavow their birth families in favor of the constructed family (ie Jesus' followers) seemed the closest fit. "Obscure," though? Did the Gospels get transferred to the Apocrypha while I wasn't looking? :p And not sure what your point is about "rhetoric" as one of the examples I gave had J. illustrating his point by first literally and publicly disavowing his relatives. If you mean that figurative hyperbole was used, ostensibly to get the message through to listeners, and that makes the passages lesser in some way, then I'm not sure what to say to you. The message seems clear, and similar messages have been heard so long as man divides himself against man using religion (or politics etc): the family you were born in, or raised by, needs to be discarded in favor of a new group, for very important reasons.

I know I put 1 Corinthians in for a reason, but can't think of what it is exactly now :) duhhhh...
posted by jtron at 7:32 AM on March 22, 2011


hippybear: I don't think it's fair to say that the supposed intuition about an unmarried man in his mid-30s is gay is somehow correct. That's insulting to parties on all sides of the discussion.

It may not be fair, and it may be insulting, but it's there. I live in the South and it's pretty much a given that anyone who's a stranger will assume that since I'm of "a certain age," that I'm married and have a wife, if not kids. Baristas assume it, checkout clerks assume it, my regular bus driver assumes it. I hate it, and I want to shout "I have a husband, not a wife!" but I can't and don't feel safe doing that in the South, where there's still a steeple on every other street corner, even in large cities. I'm not singling out the South, either, I think it's a common assumption everywhere, unless you work in certain fields or unless you work in Manhattan, the Loop, West Hollywood, or the Castro. I'm fortunate that I am in a work environment where saying that I have a husband doesn't raise many eyebrows, if any.

uosuaq: I'm not especially concerned right now for those who make a living telling stories about the happy place in the sky, especially if they're having trouble landing a new job because they might have teh gay.

Those folks have to make a living and put bread on the table and put a roof over their heads too, and I work with grad students who are in divinity school who are having a hell of a time finding any work in the field that they consider their calling and their mission in life. A couple of them are "teh gay," too, believe it or not. Get over your "impolitic" self-righteousness and sanctimony.
posted by blucevalo at 7:36 AM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Elsietheeel: as far as I know Jesus never mentions homosexuality in the Bible. Then again I only had Catholic and Swedenborgian editions around growing up; perhaps the anti-gay crusaders have a "director's cut" with additional material?

Paul'Slater to the Romans says negative things about homosexual acts, in the context of talking about the Romans committing adultery and God making them gay as a punishment. Some punishment! :D
Note that these same-gender acts are a result of idolatry, not the cause of God's anger. Once again, as in the Old Testament, when Paul uses the word "nature" he "apparently refers only to homosexual acts indulged in by those he considered to be otherwise heterosexually inclined; acts which represent a voluntary choice to act contrary to their ordinary sexual appetite." Paul is referring to people who have "exchanged" or "giv[en] up" their true -and therefore heterosexual -nature. The words "exchanged" and "gave up" clearly indicate that these were people presumed to be heterosexual by "nature" who were turning their backs on their true nature.
link
posted by jtron at 7:44 AM on March 22, 2011


I was trying to write about Paul's Letter, not Paul Slater! Oh, Swype, I do so love your funny ways.
posted by jtron at 7:46 AM on March 22, 2011


If you mean that figurative hyperbole was used, ostensibly to get the message through to listeners, and that makes the passages lesser in some way, then I'm not sure what to say to you.

Figurative hyperbole yes, lesser no:

Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, "Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you."

"Who are my mother and my brothers?" he asked.

Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother."


What I see here is a teacher surrounded by followers. He gets interrupted, and he uses the interruption to hammer home a point - he's not dismissing his family, he's saying all men are brothers. He's talking in front of an audience. Everyone uses rhetoric, it's ridiculous to argue that Jesus didn't, and so every line of text should be taken literally.
posted by Leon at 7:49 AM on March 22, 2011


bluecevalo: Oh, I agree with you that the assumption is rampant. I just don't think it's fair, and don't have a problem pointing it out when it comes along. Especially in a forum such as this.
posted by hippybear at 7:49 AM on March 22, 2011


As a girl who grew up Southern Baptist and had a pastor who was single for several years before getting married, I experienced another issue with having a single pastor - mainly parts of the ladies auxiliary ripping themselves to pieces to compete for the guy, thus affecting the church for years afterwards. I've never seen anything like it. Decorum went out the window. There are still older women in the congregation who won't talk to each other over that.

And then, the day he returned from a sabbatical with a wife none of us knew from Adam, giving the church no indication beforehand that he was courting *anyone* or expected to - oh, that Sunday will remain in my memories for a long LONG time. I was afraid the church would burn down over it.
posted by palabradot at 7:51 AM on March 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


Seriously? The most important concern of a lot of religious people is encouraging people to marry, and to marry early. Single men in their 30s are frightening to their very worldview. To hire a single pastor is to endorse or condone being single as an adult as a responsible (or even possible) choice for their children.

Funny how people have such a hard time seeing the obvious just because no religious rule spells out "Thou must get married before 25." Their every action screams it.
posted by callmejay at 8:04 AM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Meanwhile, Crystal Cathedral asks its "worship team members" to sign a document promising not to engage in any sex that's not married heterosexual sex:

I understand that in an era where images of family relationship and personal sexuality are often confused, Crystal Cathedral Ministries believes that it is important to teach and model the biblical view. I understand the Crystal Cathedral Ministries teaches that sexual intimacy is intended by God to only be within the bonds of marriage, between one man and one woman.

If anyone's confused, it's not me and my unbiblical marriage. It's people like them.
posted by blucevalo at 8:08 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Religious people hold not-entirely rational beliefs on family and morality, penalize others for them. Film at eleven.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 8:14 AM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Discriminatory church practices are discriminatory; film at 11!"
posted by newdaddy at 8:19 AM on March 22, 2011


Anyway, a Ukrainian Catholic priest is perfectly able to walk into any Roman-Rite church and start doing Mass, while married and everything. :)

The situation is somewhat more complicated. Priests (both Roman rite and belonging to the various Eastern rites) are generally only allowed to celebrate their own rite. Besides being ordained, a priest must have faculties from his ordinary (Bishop or religious superior) in order to say Mass licitly. In order for a Roman rite priest to say Mass in a non-Roman rite, an indult is requited (because of Canon 846 section 2.) There are paralell provisions in the Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches.

A Ukranian Catholic priest of the Byzantine rite, could celebrate the liturgy in a Roman Catholic Church, but only in his own Byzantine Rite, or as a concelebrant under a principal celebrant of the Latin rite, or as the principal celebrant in the Latin Rite if he had an indult to do so.

setting off a wide-ranging debate online on a topic that many said has been largely ignored.

I love these NY Times stories that explain to folks in New York City the strange mores of those Evangelicals in flyover country already knew. For example, you can read about the difficulties of the single pastor in, for example the 1963 book The Pastor and His Work. The full-text of Chapter 2, "The Pastor's Wife" is here.

The unmarried pastor is also a rather famous character in 19th century literature.
posted by Jahaza at 8:42 AM on March 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


"Clever film at eleven comments come in threes. Film at 11!"
posted by blucevalo at 8:42 AM on March 22, 2011


"A Ukranian Catholic priest of the Byzantine rite, could celebrate the liturgy in a Roman Catholic Church, but only in his own Byzantine Rite, or as a concelebrant under a principal celebrant of the Latin rite, or as the principal celebrant in the Latin Rite if he had an indult to do so."

And as the priest shortage becomes more acute, all options are becoming more common. I know a couple Roman Rite parishes with only a single priest where the nearest parish is Eastern rite, so they get an Eastern-rite sub who frequently just does his "native" rite ... and the vice versa when the Roman-rite priest subs for the Eastern rite parish. (It's not difficult to get an indult when necessary, though, since we have a sufficient quantity of Maronite Catholic Churches here that's the local Roman-rite bishop and the distant Maronite bishop have a friendly relationship and have to interact reasonably frequently; the two communities share a great deal of the church social events and so on, as well as the same schools, etc.) Anyway, at first people were like, "Um, dur?" when presented with the Maronite Mass, but now they mostly like it, and I think being exposed to that diversity it good! (Personally I love attending non-Roman-Rite Masses, as well as Roman-Rite Masses in not-English. I love being reminded of the diversity, ancient and modern, of the Church.)

I read maybe a decade ago about a dwindling Ukrainian-rite parish perhaps in upstate New York? (Possibly just across the border in Canada, I can't recall, but that geographical area.) anyway, they couldn't support a priest any longer, but the priest had really deep ties to the community, and they worked out some deal where he was placed at the large, Roman-Rite parish in the town that lacked a priest, celebrated a Ukrainian-rite Mass now and then, and sort of "served two masters" that way.

And back on the main point, I also thought about 19th-century literature ... in the Anne of Green Gables novels, for example, there's always concern about unmarried ministers and whether they'll take a wife in the congregation and if that will cause a problem!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:18 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pastor's wife as free labor...

In our ultra-liberal United Methodist congregation, the partner of our openly gay (non-ordained) organist is a professor of voice at a local university. He sings in the choir and frequently does solos because, well, he's a Christian and going to be there anyway on Sunday mornings.
posted by tippiedog at 10:21 AM on March 22, 2011


You know that they have extremely deep theological differences with Catholicism, right? And many of them don't even consider Catholics to be Christians (but rather, first among the hellbound!)

Look, I didn't want to program in Python, but I don't let my religious convictions stand in the way of getting a job.
posted by GuyZero at 11:00 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I sent the article to my father, a former youth pastor and current associate pastor in an American Baptist church, and this was his response:

I have never heard any one mention this or point to this as an issue. I do know however that when it comes to anyone applying for a position it does help if someone knows of you to vouch for your track record and character and integrity. A lot of scams are out there even in Christian circles. Jesus warned against it several times so it is not surprising. If this is legitimate I feel for this gentleman and woman but I trust too that God will open just the right door for them if they remain faithful and teachable. We must remember the church is not perfect and some are much healthier than others. The healthy ones hopefully don’t have biases and can move ahead with clarity, certainty and openness. Many times churches are going to look from within where they know someone over a period of time and have someone groomed for the next position.

Regarding my situation I know that some churches do not want to deal with the divorce issue because they don’t want the potential baggage that may accompany it, they may have an improper view of scripture. In my case a healthier church with a proper Biblical understanding of divorce was open to my arrival along with some good words put in for me by [my longtime friend and well-respected pastor at the church] to help lay the proper groundwork for my careful consideration.

posted by HotPatatta at 11:12 AM on March 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I do know however that when it comes to anyone applying for a position it does help if someone knows of you to vouch for your track record and character and integrity. A lot of scams are out there even in Christian circles.

This is an interesting point. I think this is where denominations that manage their call processes in a somewhat top-down fashion (like the ELCA, who provides candidates to churches, who have final hiring power) have a leg-up. It helps to have a central organization that has vetted all your candidates in advance, and that can provide a network of people who have worked with them. And it's good for the candidates, too- being a Pastor is hard enough, I can't imagine having to handle finding somewhere to work without any sort of guidance from a matchmaker.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:35 AM on March 22, 2011


Do you check to make sure your secular marriage therapist is married first?

Um, yes? In my opinion you'd be crazy not to. But that said, lots of Catholics get pre-marriage counseling from unmarried priests at Pre Cana.
posted by melissam at 12:06 PM on March 22, 2011


As an unmarried, single, Episcopal priest, I suspect that being married would change the dynamics within the congregation. Perhaps I wouldn't be constantly, easily available; or the congregation might be less anxious about what I might do in my free time. It might be that being married, people would speculate differently about my personal life. Still, when I was looking for work, my references would be asked, in subtle terms, whether I was a "family man." It's a reasonable question: the truth is that single Episcopal priests are most always openly gay.

On the other hand, one parishioner remarked that it's too much work to have both a family and a church family. And it is true, being always emotionally present for parishioners impacts how I engage my outside personal relationships. Another church leader joked they'd be fine with me staying single - the church couldn't afford health insurance for a family.

This behavior within congregations isn't particularly irrational - nonreligious people also speculate about all sorts of relationships and also begin from where they are familiar. There are also plenty of trade-offs that parishioners understand; they recognize is that our post-modern, hyperindividualistic world is highly unusual and can take a toll on the psyche, and that churches - being complicated family systems - require that their leaders have some kind of non-negotiable support.

But yes, the evangelical world doesn't have a tradition of celibate ministers, and they have an idealized fantasy about what married life should be like.

When people ask why I'm still single, I just say I like Atheist chicks with tattoos.
posted by john wilkins at 12:47 PM on March 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


Another church leader joked they'd be fine with me staying single - the church couldn't afford health insurance for a family.

I cannot lie- we on the church council were very pleased with the savings on insuring just a pastor vs. insuring a pastor, wife and child.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:57 PM on March 22, 2011


In fact, I looked up the costs in the 2011 MNYS ELCA compensation guidelines (PDF), page 10: for member only, it's $6,900-$9,324 a year, for member + spouse + child, it's $17,244- $23,328 a year.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:05 PM on March 22, 2011


"Actually, in the Presbyterian church where I was raised, we had two female youth ministers in succession, and both of them had men in their lives who were expected to provide free labor."

I think hippybear is correct. My friend has a sister who was a pastor, and sister (not the world's biggest brain trust) insisted on marrying a nonreligious guy who not only wouldn't do the service work, he wouldn't even go to church. The woman can't get hired as a pastor.

While we're on this subject, just for fun, I'm going to recommend that folks read the book The Rock Orchard, which among other things, features a widowed pastor having a flaming affair with one of the most infamous (and church-hating!) women in town.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:05 PM on March 22, 2011


I guess "I'm married to the gospel" just don't cut it no more.
posted by Twang at 4:07 PM on March 22, 2011


I've interviewed for a couple positions as pastor's spouse. LOL! One Baptist, one Episcopal. It isn't likely that would ever work for me. Free labor? LOL! Frankly, from what I've seen, a pastor needs a spouse that will tell a congregation to fuck off, in no uncertain terms, and give the pastor a break. (some pastors need breaks forced upon them, too).

There is something about church life that really strikes me as wrong. It's an environment filled with those that are holier-than-thou in attitude. But it's like people see church as a place to groom and display such attitudes. And the worst ones seem to be those most involved. I have zero tolerance for such crap as it is. Mess with my man over that kind of crap? Oh, it would not end well.
posted by Goofyy at 11:31 PM on March 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


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