March 22, 2011

On the Married Clergy

There is a front-page article in the New York Times this morning about an evangelical minister who is having trouble finding a job because of discrimination against the unmarried. The article rehearses all the folklore about the merits of the married clergy: how they have to set an example of family life, know how to counsel the married, be a sign of 'family values,' etc.

For a correction to this, we turn to one of my great Protestant teachers, Charles Merrill Smith:

"The real reasons why you should marry are, of course, not at all related to the folklore.

"First, a clergyman who remains unmarried for more than a year after graduation from seminary is suspected of being abnormal, immoral or chicken.

"Second, there will be those who will speculate that he has taken St. Paul on marriage too seriously, and has made a secret vow of celibacy. So far as your parishioners are concerned, you may be as celibate as a Cistercian monk, but they will insist that you practice it within the married state.

"Third, somewhat more than half of your congregation will be women, and all women — single, married or widowed (including grass widows) — resent a male eligible for marriage, who chooses to remain unwed.

"Fourth — and here is the overriding argument in the mind of the congregation — since the church owns a parsonage and already has arrived at a salary figure below which it cannot go and maintain its conviction, however illusory, that it is a humane institution; it is only sensible to get two employees for the price of one. Therefore, it boils down to a business proposition. It would be damaging and vulgar to admit to this, however, so the tradition and the folklore was manufactured to mask it.

"Actually it is very good business from the church's point of view. Most girls are piano players of sorts, and anyone can learn to operate a typewriter or mimeograph. Add to these accomplishments the intellectually-untaxing duties of Sunday School teaching, choir singing, ladies' aid work and a miscellany of other small parish chores all of which your wife will be expected in your first small churches to perform (it's part of the tradition), and you have a job analysis which, were it filled by a salaried employee, would require no small addition to the annual budget. Hence the tradition of a married clergy.

"If you want to be a preacher and a bachelor, be prepared for a dismal future and renounce now — the hope for status, prestige, emolument, luxury and all of the spiritual joys which accompany a plush suburban pastorate. The author does not question the preacher's right to take a vow of chastity, but he'd better darn well understand that a vow of poverty goes along with it."

(From How to Become a Bishop Without Being Religious, chapter 2, "Selecting the Clerical Wife.")


Lee G. said...

Very droll. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

"we turn to one of my great Protestant teachers, Charles Merrill Smith"

You are starting to worry me brother - May God forgive ya!