What is the big deal with ministers not being married? This is the subject of a New York Times article this week, which reports that there is an alleged bias against single pastors in most Evangelical Christian churches. The Times story focuses on one single male Evangelical minister whose job search has yielded no results, in part — he believes — due to discrimination against single pastors at churches seeking to hire a pastor.

Mr. [Mark] Almlie, 37, has been shocked, he says, at what he calls unfair discrimination, based mainly on irrational fears: that a single pastor cannot counsel a mostly married flock, that he might sow turmoil by flirting with a church member, or that he might be gay. If the job search is hard for single men, it is doubly so for single women who train for the ministry, in part because many evangelical denominations explicitly require a man to lead the congregation.

This sort of bias seems odd to Roman Catholics who, for centuries, have become used to a professedly celibate clergy. As the Times article correctly states: “Mr. Almlie notes that during the first 1,500 years of Christianity, “singleness, not marriage, was lauded as next to godliness.” Martin Luther, in his break with Rome, preached against mandatory celibacy and got married himself.”

It wasn’t until relatively recently that a portion of the Christian community found married clergy possible, let alone normative. It is curious that Jesus — the model, of course, for Christian living — was himself ‘single,’ never settling down with a partner and family. Yet, some church communities claim that other single men – and women – are unfit for ministry without the requisite spouse (of an opposite sex) and children (another significant requirement).

What is at the core of this issue is one’s understanding of vocation, or the way in which God has created this or that person to live in the world. Not everybody is meant to be married and have children. There are a variety of ways one can authentically live an integrated Christian life — some are married, some are single, some are in another form of relationship. The details of who or what seem extrinsic to the question of faithful Christian living, whereas how one lives in this or that way is what is central.

Catholics tend to be more receptive to the idea that singled living is in fact a form of vocation, a way of living one’s Christian faith in the world, yet there is still a social, cultural and even ecclesial resistance to embracing that form of life as a generally acceptable category — again, an oddity given the Roman Catholic insistence on singled living for ordained ministers.

I know dozens of wonderfully effective lay ministers in the Church who are single (here I’m intentionally excluding ordained and religious ministers because their singleness goes without saying). In graduate school, many of my classmates were young single men and women who are enlivened by the Gospel and wish to minister to God’s people in the Church. Are they any less able to do so? They often take the same pastoral counseling, theology, scripture and ministry classes as those to be ordained or as their married or partnered classmates do.

The issue isn’t one of aptitude, for I am convinced that God calls all sorts of people (just as we see in Jesus’s engagement with disciples and people of his day): married, single and celibate alike. What is really operative in discriminating against single ministers is a latent bias that stems from unaddressed homophobia, fear of difference or a misunderstanding of what it means to be a minister in the Church.

Such people forget that it is God who calls women and men to ministry, not those on church hiring committees. Perhaps if more people remembered that during the hiring process they might have a greater appreciation for the singled life as a vocation and not a deficiency.

Photos: Stock 1; NYT 1

6 Comments

  1. I question whether single persons in ministry was indeed normative for the entire 1500 years prior to the Reformation. Of course, Peter was married; it is likely other disciples were as well. My understanding is that the absolute requirement for celibacy among clergy was not made firm until the 12th century.

    No?

    I’m a Presbyterian pastor, by the way– gay, partnered, out. Thank you for your wonderful blog.

  2. I’ve heard that the reason why the Catholic church wanted it’s priests to be single (in the middle ages) was that it was more economical as they didn’t have to pay them enough to look after a family. After that it became tradition.

  3. After 20 years of being single and in ministry I just wanted to add another perspective. I agree that at times being single is a hindrance to getting a job in ministry, but what perspective should we have as single pastors. As we examine ourselves and walk humbly with our God will He not open the doors that He wants open and close the doors that He wants closed? If God controls the hearts of kings (Prov. 21:1) does He not also control the hearts of search committees and missions agencies. I agree with the writer of the article, but I am just not ready to trust my future and my calling to the cultural and theological whims of man. Yes, we need to prepare our resumes and go to interviews, but if God has called us, and if we are walking with Him, then He will make a way where there seems to be no way. Whether I am full-time, part-time, or volunteer, my calling remains the same. As we love God and love neighbor I believe God will make things right according to His will and not ours. He works all things for the good. May we rest in Him, even when we are searching for where God wants us next.

    I recommend another good resource for single pastors. http://singleandcalled.blogspot.com/

    Godspeed to your unhindered devotion.

  4. Throughout all Europe, and by means of relations with Europe, in other continents also, we must create ferments, discords and hostility. Therein we gain a double advantage. In the first place we keep in check all countries, for they will know that we have the power whenever we like to create disorders or to restore order. All these countries are accustomed to see in us an indispensable force of coercion. In the second place, by our intrigues we shall tangle up all the threads which we have stretched into the cabinets of all States by means of the political, by economic treaties, or loan obligations. In order to succeed in this we must use great cunning and penetration during negotiations and agreements, but, as regards what is called the “official language,” we shall keep to the opposite tactics and assume the mask of honesty and complacency. In this way the peoples and governments of the GOYIM, whom we have taught to look only at the outside whatever we present to their notice, will still continue to accept us as the benefactors and saviours of the human race.

    The Federal Reserve Central Bank is their powerbase. If we can take this power away from them, then a loss of political power would be the result. That they have used this powerbase to destroy our National Interests, and loot our collective wealth, has now been documented in the Congressional Record:

    “The first top-to-bottom audit of the Federal Reserve uncovered eye-popping new details about how the U.S. provided a whopping $16 trillion in secret loans to bail out American and foreign banks and businesses during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. An amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders to the Wall Street reform law passed one year ago this week directed the Government Accountability Office to conduct the study. “As a result of this audit, we now know that the Federal Reserve provided more than $16 trillion in total financial assistance to some of the largest financial institutions and corporations in the United States and throughout the world,” said Sanders. “This is a clear case of socialism for the rich and rugged, you’re-on-your-own individualism for everyone else.” (Source)

    The National Debt is reported at 15 trillion dollars. This is a blatant lie. Thanks to the Audit we now can say with authority that the Federal Reserve has doubled our National Debt, in a few short years, without any Constitutional power to do so. The Constitution prevents “taxation without representation” by giving the US Congress the authority to spend our money.

    Now that the National Debt is at a minimum of 31 trillion dollars, double the National Gross Domestic Product, we need to prosecute the traitors and repudiate their unconstitutional use of our money. Acting against the national interests, in favor of self-interest is the very definition of treason. These men and women are traitors.

    This would also explain why their co-conspirators in the US Senate want to lock up innocent American citizens without the benefit of a trial by jury, or rights of habeaus corpus.

    “While nearly all Americans head to family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving, the Senate is gearing up for a vote on Monday or Tuesday that goes to the very heart of who we are as Americans. The Senate will be voting on a bill that will direct American military resources not at an enemy shooting at our military in a war zone, but at American citizens and other civilians far from any battlefield — even people in the United States itself.” (Source)

    Martial law will be used to destroy people that expose the Satanic Psychopaths and their Luciferian Agenda. It is a tool to bury the crimes of the 1% against the other 99%. Churches, which have the most to lose from a military dictatorship, need to mobilize their congregations against the Satanists and let Congress know that we want justice, not martial law!

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