Question Tuesday: Marital Discrimination?

Every Tuesday morning we come together on Speak What We Feel to discuss various questions regarding faith and life to get to know each other and to sharpen one another, to grow in perspective and understanding. Today’s question is:

Why do you think churches generally require their pastors be married? What are the advantages of this?

What, if anything, is the church missing out on by absolutizing the principles that govern this decision?



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15 Responses to Question Tuesday: Marital Discrimination?

  1. Adam Jones says:

    Remarkable questions, since the church banned ministers from being married from 1500+ years. Being married takes ones attention away from prayer and meditation, thus, older churches thought that a married minister was unfit to lead a congregation.

    Today, it is believed that raising children makes a person holy, and few churches want anything to do with an unmarried minister. This is absolutely foolish, and those churches who turn down the unmarried man may be missing out on excellent leadership in order to follow a superstition that has no basis in Scripture.

    • reneamac says:

      “Today, it is believed that raising children makes a person holy.” This is so true. Just yesterday a married mom said in a group of married people (except for me) that “marriage is the second-best way to grow [spiritually] out of selfishness, and having kids is the best.” I realize this was said as a bit of an inside joke in recognition of how difficult, and consequently rewarding, marriage and children can be. And I realize that these two happenings and institutions do have great potential to be used by God to reveal to us and purify us from selfishness, but saying they’re God’s best tools implies single folk and married couples without kids are missing out on God’s best. That’s uncool.

      But I digress. I appreciate your pointing out that this present-day bias has no basis in Scripture. The former practice of forbidding ministers from marriage has more since Paul talks about the distractions a family man has. Of course, I don’t believe we should go back to that either! It seems evident the Church took Paul’s suggestions (which he says are not the Lord’s commands) too far by making them universal mandates. It seems they did not take enough heed to the “burn with lust” warning and now we’re up to our teeth in sex scandals, causing the sentiments people have expressed below. All this to say, I believe both extremes are harmful and less than; that the Body misses out when either would-be ministers are excluded.

  2. Rhett & Valerie says:

    Hm. Two things come to mind.

    Paul’s requirements for overseers in 1 Tim 3:2 implies marriage: “He must be the husband of one wife”. BUT responsible interpreters recognize that really, Paul is saying that the overseer must be faithful to his spouse, and that he’s not necessarily requiring that pastors be married.

    I also want to point out that I think many Protestant churches recognize that married folks may not be subjected to the same type of sexual temptations that unmarried folks are. After reading horror story after horror story of sexual abuse, predatory pastors, and people in powerful ministry positions preying on minors (or even just those under their supervision), I gotta admit, I’m a little biased toward having a married youth pastor in my church (though I’m not saying that it’s necessarily a good thing that I feel that way!). Also, it’s important to me as a married person to have at least one leader in my church who also has experience being married. If you’re going to shepherd families, being a married person with children gives you a level of personal experience that makes you competent to minister to most of the people in your church (as does having at least one “regular job” on your resume, but many churches don’t look for that qualification!). I’m sure part of the reason churches require this is out of a place of fear. Also, insurance policies are cheaper for married folks.

    Now, stats are changing regarding who is and isn’t married in the church. Single people also definitely need pastors they can relate to in their own situation. These things are hugely important!

    I do think that these ecclesial decisions have more to do with history than most of us realize. Luther had a lot to say about marriage! I’ve never heard of a church requiring it as a qualification for the pastorate, though I’m not surprised to hear that some do.

    • Rhett & Valerie says:

      How randomly scattered my thoughts are! I should’ve made bullet points and reorganized. Ah well.

      • reneamac says:

        Thanks, Val. And thanks for bringing up Luther; you’re so right about his influence, and most people don’t have a clue that much of our modern religious sensibilities about marriage derive from him (as opposed to sola scriptura ;)). I’m convinced church history should be taught in Sunday school.

        I’d like to push back a bit against the idea that one needs to be married to minister to marrieds. Part of the reason includes all the bad advice and limited perspective married folk give to other married folk: ie. “You’re going to have big fights all the time during your first year…” Certainly a minister, married or otherwise cannot be naive or completely ignorant of marriage… or of what it’s like to try to navigate single life as a 21st-century Christian for that matter. This knowledge can come in part from education—books like Love & Respect for example—but it come more from listening (which in and of itself is ministry). So I think it’s possible for non-married folk to have something to offer by way of ministry to married folk. I just don’t think we give them the opportunity.

        Don’t get me wrong. I understand how important it is for married couples to have married spiritual mentors. But spiritual guidance comes from the Body as a whole, not from pastors alone as if they were our professional spiritual service providers. (I realize you said at least one church “leader” should be married, which obviously implies not all need be and also could refer to decons, elders, and so forth.)

        All that being said, I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned fear as a motivating factor. While we must be wise/shrewd (and not naive), fear-based faith is no faith at all.

        Finally, as far as sexual temptation is concerned. Married pastors (and youth pastors) have affiars all the time. Thier scandals are merely hushed up more because of their social standing as married persons and victims often feel more guilt for being a part of something that could ruin not just one person but his wife and children. Similarly, the most dangerous men who sexually abuse boys are married (their marriage gives them higher social standing and a pass from suspicion: they’re more dangerous because they’re perceived as less threatening).

        • I guess I was speaking mostly from personal experience and from having recently helped revise the policies on child protection our church follows (which are based on several books and state and federal requirements, which are based on data).

          My personal experience is that I struggle less with sexual temptation now that I’m married than I did before, and from conversations I’ve had, many many other people feel the same way who have healthy marriages. Also, it’s my personal experience that, in issues related to marriage, I benefit from the teaching and counsel of other married people, who have been married longer than me. I definitely wasn’t trying to say that I don’t benefit from the counsel of unmarrieds regarding my marriage. John Stott is a great example of a celebate pastor who I believe was competent to address issues in marriages.

          Is there particular data you’re referencing when you imply that sexual abuse happens from married people as frequently as it does from “celebates”? I just would be really surprised to hear that. Scandals from the Roman Catholic church also seem to indicate otherwise, but of course I could stand corrected. Responsible churches require that volunteers who help with children should be Members in Good Standing. Our volunteers need to pass an annual backround check as well, married or unmarried. If a church is “hushing up” a bad marriage or a sex scandal, they should be ashamed, *obviously*. If there was ANY indication in my statement about that being married should give folks a free pass to do whatever they want whenever they want, that’s ridiculous, and not what I meant at all! Having a healthy marriage *may* be an indicator (among other indicators) that a person may have some equipment to deal with sexual temptation that some single folks lack. In my experience, this is true.

          Renea, I wasn’t trying to justify the idea that church should require marriage for their pastors; I was merely trying to express why they might possibly come to these conclusions. Though quite honestly, I’ve never BEEN in a church that had these requirements, and every church I’ve been a part of has had unmarried people in positions of leadership, so I found the whole premise of the question a little extreme. I also felt that the idea that “children make people holy” was kind of an overstatement that comes from a particular cultural situation, since, again, I don’t really have experience with people expressing this to me. Though sure, I’ve heard that marriage and children are some of the means God may use to sanctify individuals.

          I DO think that LOTS of people completely forget the fact that church tradition teaches that children are part and parcel of marriage. It’s one of the three purposes of marriage according to Anglican/Catholic tradition, along with mirroring Christ and the church and companionship. In my experience, children are often forgotten completely, both as a concept and also in ministry.

          Also, if being responsible for others is indicative of adulthood, of course the church should be seeking out singles to serve in positions of leadersip in their congregations. I sometimes think singles are asked to do too much from the church, because everyone in the body assumes they have all this free time without a spouse and children at home!
          I think the world doesn’t do much to support either marrieds OR singles in pursuing a holy life. It laughs and marriage and calls single people to indulge themselves sexually however they want. Children are accessories at best, and burdens at worst. I appreciate that most churches have a lot of resources for families.

          I absolutely agree that they could be doing better at curating resources for singles. Some are trying; others are catching up, and some are way behind on the game. And I’m sorry for that.

          • One more point and then I’m done. I feel like it’s common sense, but maybe it’s not. Churches *always* need to have a ready response to sexual abuse, regardless of whether the allegations are coming from within or without the walls of the church or the people on staff. I suppose it’s partially lack of these responses that lead to “cover ups”. But the problem runs deeper than that. Damage control is one thing and prevention is another. If you’re criticizing the idea that marriage is a preventative measure against sexual abuse, I agree with you that it’s a totally insufficient factor in deciding if someone is fit to serve in the church. Is there a correlation between healthy marriages and healthy leaders? Probably! But correlation is not the same as causality. I think that’s what I was trying to say in my long-winded comment above.

            Healthy marriages naturally have built in boundaries and hedges that prevent certain kinds of temptations from taking a foothold in a church leader’s life. And if the church is operating correctly, other members of the body will step in when one’s personal life is out of whack (a la Real Sex). This happened in our church. A woman was committing “victimless” adultury. Our leadership followed the Matt 18 principles of confrontation, and happily, she is restored to fellowship now (I actually don’t even know who she is, she was so seemlessly recovered to the church– and we’re a pretty small community).

            It seems like your criticism is with churches that are lazy in how they recognize someone as fit for leadership. I’m with you on that completely.

            • reneamac says:

              Ah. You see, we agree (as usual). 🙂 I appreciate your sharing your personal experience regarding the downgrading of sexual temptation after marriage. It makes perfect sense to me that healthy marriages do this. Many ministers’ marriages are healthy. Many are not.

              I’m sure you and Rhett have never heard all the deplorable things some of my other married friends have. You want kids someday. My friends who don’t or who are unsure (but who also know fully well that children are—a la Real Sex—always a possibility in marriage and that should their contraceptives be foiled, understand children in their marriage would be a good gift from God) take quite a lot of flack.

              Your experience in the Anglican/Episcopalian tradition doesn’t surprise me; no doubt they, being closer in some regards to the RCC, are probably more open-minded about unmarried ministers. My tradition is not. Children are never forgotten in my tradition either; children’s ministry is a major deal, as it should be. (I say “my tradition.” You know I’m rather reluctant to claim just one. What I mean is… the tradition in which I grew up and the dominant traditions where I live.)

              You’re right. I’m upset with lazy thinking—which I could hardly accuse you of, dear friend; I know where you’re coming from; I didn’t mean to appear to suggest you were justifying these churches’ off-the-record policies or prejudices, only that that is how people do justify them. I know—and love—you better than that. I was honestly asking about the advantages of hiring married pastors over single pastors (it wasn’t a trick question), and you honestly answered me. I appreciate that.

            • Rhett & Valerie says:

              Thanks for your sweet reply. I do think that our “cultural” situations/traditions are different in some ways, and I’m bound to forget that. Those Baptists are an interesting breed! 😉 (j/k).

              You’re right about a lot of ministers’ marriages being unhealthy. In light of this conversation I read an article yesterday where one pastor was suggesting that after he entered ministry (he was already married) sexual temptation became *more* intense for him. Some say the same thing after having young children. It’s hard; people assume pastors are immune to this kind of stuff. Anyway, it made me think twice about marriage inoculating anyone from temptation. Screwtape suggests that sometimes the heat is turned up once people really seek to serve one another.

              Thanks again, dear one.

              Also, nice post today. Sometimes the e-mails I get with your blog post titles in them can really jerk me out of my morning stupor!

  3. Adam Jones says:

    It’s never required on paper…but one sees the pattern of their rejection letters.

  4. I wouldn’t put my kids in a youth group with an unmarried minister, that was always one of the first things my parents asked when they deposited us in a new Sunday School and it’s always stuck with me. I think Satan has proven all too often he prefers to use sex as the weapon of choice to bring shame to the men of-and therefore name of-God, and I have no interest in leaving the door open for my child to be victimized…having said this, I’m also aware that that may have no Biblical standing whatsoever (I’ve never looked into it), and may just be a matter of personal conviction.

  5. (I also don’t leave my son in nurseries where they have male workers. Also non-Biblical personal preference.)

    • reneamac says:

      Hi Emily; thanks for commenting with the very cute picture of your baby boy! I think you’re absolutely right that Satan weilds a powerful weapon in sexual temptation. The truth is, though, that married pastors and youth pastors have affairs just as frequently (if not more merely because we don’t have hardly any unmarried pastors in our Protestant ranks), that sexual temptation is often just as powerful a weapon against the married person. This can be especially true when ministers neglect their families and have rocky marriages, which they often do because churches rarely allow pastors to have, or help them make, boundaries regarding their ministerial duties.

      Still, I appreciate your desire not to open the door for your (or any) child’s victimization. I believe it is vital we do due diligence. I’m just not sure an across-the-board, all-or-nothing, black-and-white rule against single pastors is due diligence. Actually, I think it’s lazy. Nonetheless, I can’t say I blame you as a parent for your preferences. It’s a saddening commentary on the world in which we presently live.

  6. Emily says:

    Well, Renea, you know my tendency to run far from “one rule for all” administration. In this case, what keeps coming into my mind is “know the individual.” Part of this probably arises from my membership/involvement in a church of 32,000 members; when we’re that big of a body, how do we know who is watching the babies/molding the high schoolers? Yet, only a fraction of the church body actually volunteers/serves on a regular basis, so really even in a church body that large, we can still know (savoir, not connaitre) of who is watching the babies. But honestly, within an organic body of Christians, shouldn’t “we the body” be able to select the “best fit” for whatever leadership position needs filling? And if we are experiencing cross-demographic fellowship, we’ll get all the sharing of life perspective we need.

    As I think about it, I will admit my church does a better-than-average job of appointing married AND single men into “important” ministry positions (not falling into the “once you’re married, we’ll promote you into a bigger/more prominent role”), however the single guys are still VERY much the minority. Trust me, I’ve counted. 😉

    • reneamac says:

      “Shouldn’t ‘we the body'” decide? You’re such a baptist. 😉

      I’d still wager my new snakeskin heels P-wood wouldn’t hire a senior pastor who was single. But I am glad to hear you say they’re ahead of the curve.

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