Recently I have read several articles, blogs and other various postings all surrounding an article that was published in the February edition of Marie Claire magazine. The initial article chronicles the life of one particular female pastor, Rev. Wren Miller, who serves a 3000+ member United Methodist congregation in Huntsville, Alabama. Miller is very open and honest about her dating and sex life in this article which has caused quite a bit of commotion. She talks about having had sex prior to answering her call to ministry but since making a commitment to abstinence until marriage, whether or not oral sex counts as sex (her answer is yes), orgasms and even masturbation. All these key words (which may have given you goose bumps out of embarrassment or made you flushed in the face at just thinking of them) seem to be what most people are talking about in all their articles and blog posts. A minister using those words and talking openly about sex is obviously very taboo.
One man defends her “over-sharing” by asking us to remember that sexuality is not forgotten in the Bible, referencing Song of Songs, and to focus not on the explicit nature of some of her sharing, but to look at the feeling of “alienation” that permeates the article. Rather than judging we should be praying for her and all those who feel alienated.
Several clergy are bothered by her use of the word career – but without knowing the context of the article, (is it verbatim, did she know this much of the interview would be shared, how much freedom was the author given in order to write the article vs. printing an interview, etc.) I think that’s just semantics. When I’m talking about my profession (calling) with other non-clergy friends very few of them care about my career being a “calling” and we still find common ground in talking about our vocations. There are certain aspects of being a late twenty/early thirty-something who is fairly new to any career path that are universal to any career path. If we want to remain humble in our calls to ordained ministry we need to treat others and their calls to their vocations respectfully. Aren’t we ALL called to do SOMETHING, and some of us are just lucky that we get to participate in our calling as opposed to working only for the paycheck? Some people are CALLED to be teachers, but you never hear anyone in an uproar if they refer to their 7-4, M-F schedule as a “job” or as a “career.”
Another blog talks about this woman’s violation of the privacy of a parishioner by talking about the church member’s son and how she must have never had any sort of media training (seriously – what is media training? Maybe it’s because Disciples are so small, but I don’t remember any “media training” in seminary). Her conclusion however is that all of these comments, good or horrifically bad were meant as way to “humanize” the female clergy. She says, “Do you hear me young’uns? Learn this fast and learn it well: over-sharing to this extent is not the way to achieve our shared goal of humanizing the clergy. What you are doing by providing salacious details on your sex life to the media is not empowering yourself or making clergy or Christian life more hip and relevant.”
While I agree with this last blogger about the apparent lack of confidentiality concerning a church member’s son I think even she is missing the point a little. No I don’t want to come across high and mighty that I have all the answers, but I don’t see any of them discussing the REAL problem here.
To be honest? Being a dating, single, female minister – it just plain sucks. Sure there are high points now and then, but over-all? It blows.
I’ve been asked all kinds of VERY personal questions about my own dating and sex life by both men and women, at points in "relationships" that its just not yet appropriate (like 5 minutes after you met me). I’ve met the ultra-conservative men that see a “woman of God” but not a “woman of the cloth” and think that I’ll miraculously want to quit my job, become submissive and just make babies. I’ve met men that simply start ignoring me or walk away when I tell them what I do for a living, those that tell me all the reasons they don't approve of organized religion (as if they'll change my mind?), those that feel the need to start confessing (notice I'm not Catholic) and I’ve even met some really creepy men that see me as some new conquest that might provide them with an extra holy “notch,” that’s hard to find, like the kind of creepy excited men get when they “find” a virgin. (Are we being hunted?) I’m now able to joke and laugh about some of these crazy experiences, but they are all symptoms of a larger problem - the "de-humanization" of clergy.
Viewing clergy as not human, as some sort of superhuman that is above humanity is the central thread I see being discussed in all of these blogs/articles/comments, but the issue that isn't actually being addressed. How are clergy supposed to be human and vulnerable so that we know what kind of experiences our parishioners are going through, yet we are supposed to do this without doing anything wrong (living up to EVERYONE'S idea of "wrong")? How are we supposed to be a moral compass, (According to Rev. Wil Willimon in his book Calling and Character, “morality comes as a gracious by-product of being attached to something greater than ourselves, of being owned, claimed, commandeered for larger purposes.”) if we aren’t accepting that clergy are owned, claimed and commandeered by something greater than ourselves, by a being that is so much more than we can imagine that we are also accepted and loved as imperfect as we all are. We are called to preach love of the sinner and love of the outsider, the tax-collector, the prostitute, but we are supposed to have lived a perfect life never having known regret, hurt, heart-break, loss or embarrassment and the love that comes from God even in spite of these emotions we throw on ourselves? How are clergy supposed to be human, to lead humanity in our desire to live as the human beings God has called us to be, if we are not allowed to fully BE human, rather superhuman?
Being human means living through an innumerable measure of experiences, emotions, thoughts and feelings, which for most human beings also includes sex.
God wants us as human beings to share all these experiences in our life with God. Being a Christian means giving your WHOLE self to God, not just the parts you’re confident of or certain of. When we're uncertain about the superhuman that we want our clergy to be because we don't want them to talk about sex (or have sex for that matter), we're also denying all human beings the freedom of sharing that part of their life with God.
I have no scientific evidence or any sort of study to back this up, but I would be willing to guess that "the average" human being does not share their own sexual life with God. I'd be willing to bet that the average person does not ask God questions or pray to God about their sexual exploits, interests, turn-ons, orgasms, etc., and therefore we certainly can't allow our clergy to be comfortable with going to God about these topics. (No, shouting "Oh God," does not actually count unless you are actually addressing God in the middle of your exploits.) Clergy are asked to be above average expectations in action, attitude and decorum as "role models for the church, without separation between public and private, social and personal behavior…" Yet, when clergy are willing to share their private life both with God and with their congregation (or with a magazine) they are criticized for discussing things that "we just don't discuss." This pastor has not separated her public and private life, her social and personal behavior. She's being true to who she is as a human being, a child of God. She's willing to share all of herself with God, even the parts that seem embarrassing or seemingly taboo, and that's scary. She's willing to share her conversation about masturbation, oral sex and orgasm with God, and with all to see, and being that human, not superhuman, is just down right scary.
I hope I'm that comfortable to share all of myself with God, all the ugly parts and all the parts I'm sure of, all the one's I'm embarrassed about, and all the parts that do not need embarrassment, but have been covered under society's veil for so long. Clergy need to be sharing all of their own selves with God as we hope that our church members will share all of their own selves with God.
As another blogger states, "Pastors should be talking with people about how God is present in all facets of our lives. If we're not talking frankly and authentically about sex, we're failing those in our care." If we are not sharing all of our own humanity with God, we are failing at our calling.