A Preacher’s Kid’s Defense of Clerical Continence   3 comments

Above:  A Pulpit

I begin with definitions, for the meanings of words matter to me very much.  The question of factual accuracy is vital, especially when building a subjective case.  One might disagree with my opinion, but may my facts be iron-clad.  As the late U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, everybody is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts.  So, courtesy of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, here are some definitions.

  1. Clerical.  adj.  2.  Of, relating to, or characteristic of the clergy or a clergyman.

  2. Celibacy.  n.  The condition of being unmarried, especially by reason of religious vows.

  3. Continent.  adj.  2.  Partially or completely abstaining from sexual activity.

A person can be celibate while not being sexually continent.  And two people can be married while being sexually continent, as in the case of “white marriages.”   So sexual continence (often paired with celibacy) pertains more to the case I will make than does celibacy.

I support widespread and affirmed sexual continence among members of the clergy of various denominations.   This might be an ironic case for me to make, one might argue.  I am, after all, a Preacher’s Kid, albeit one who predates his father’s clergy status.  My experiences explain why I affirm clerical continence, for I know what it is like to live under unrealistic expectations of lay people.  And I do not argue for mandatory continence, for allegedly one-size-fits-all solutions do not work for all affected people.  Yet I do state that nobody should look askance at a member of the clergy who has chosen to live as a single and continent person.

Some people do look askance at them.  Many Evangelical and Fundamentalist congregations expect their pastors to be married.  So many single Evangelical ministers have difficulty getting hired.  Homophobia plays a role in some of these attitudes, for the suspicion among some is a single man of a certain age must be a homosexual.  But another factor is acclimation to a certain religious subculture, complete with a certain common pattern of human relationships.

Marriage is a sacrament, one to which many members of the clergy have a vocation.  But many also have the opposite vocation.  Both come from God.  I will not chase a rabbit too long here and now, but the biblical teachings regarding sexual activities are not a clear-cut as many people think.  Read Genesis 38, for example.  And, for orders to stone people who have committed various sexual infractions, read Deuteronomy 22:13-30.

I grew up in a series of United Methodist parsonages in rural southern Georgia.  Each house was more like a fishbowl than a home.  The expectations of many church members was that I ought to be super holy.  (It is difficult to grow up with those unrealistic expectations.)  And people volunteered me for more Christmas plays and other church activities than I counted.  Would it have been too much to ask that people ask me, not assume?

Even worse, the frequent moving (about every two or three years) was devastating.  The causes were issues pertaining entirely neither to my father or to certain lay people, but I did know of some individuals who had been primarily responsible for moving successive ministers.  Having to start at a new school and to meet new people was painful for me, an introvert.  So I withdrew into my own head after a little while; life was easier that way.  I have spent the last few years  unlearning those emotional self-defense tactics I adopted as a child and adolescent.  They had their time and places; what else was I supposed to do?

Yet circumstances have changed.  As I type these words I have lived in the same town for almost seven years.  I have lived in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, longer than I have lived anywhere else.  And I want to remain as long as that is prudent, which will hopefully be for a long time to come.

These have been my reflections; I have spoken only for myself.  My mother had a different yet overlapping set of issues, to which I do not presume to speak.  When I reached adulthood I flirted briefly with clergy status.  For a time I pondered the Episcopal priesthood.  Indeed, I would be more likely to succeed as an Episcopal priest than as a United Methodist minister, especially in Georgia–and especially in the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, as opposed to the more conservative and less cosmopolitan Diocese of Georgia.  But I chose not to pursue the clergy path, even as an Episcopal deacon.  The liberation of being among the laity has long appealed to me.

My most basic argument for widespread and affirmed clerical continence is that is generally better that parsonage families not exist than that they do.  The price members of parsonage families pay is too high.  That has been my experience.

The statistical likelihood is that you, O reader, are a lay person if you are a Christian.  (Indeed, this blog is unapologetically Christian.)  I hope that, if your priest or pastor is married, you will consider these perspectives from a Preacher’s Kid and act toward your parsonage or rectory family as an angel, not one who lays unrealistic expectations on them.  They face challenges with which you might not be able to identify.  Yet you can support your parsonage or rectory family with words, deeds, and prayers.  And you can prevent some needless relocations.  Please do that in any situation.  An unnecessary move is rough on a family and a single person alike.

I conclude with a reading recommendation.  For a glimpse into being a collar-wearing member of the clergy read Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church.  It describes another set of challenges to which I do not presume to speak.  Yet, based on my experiences, I relate to the memoir.






3 responses to “A Preacher’s Kid’s Defense of Clerical Continence

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  1. Pingback: Feast of St. Paphnutius the Great (September 11) « SUNDRY THOUGHTS

  2. Pingback: Guide to Posts Regarding The United Methodist Church (1968-) | BLOGA THEOLOGICA

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