Dear Thoughtful Pastor: If you believe it right and necessary for a woman to turn in her orders because she has violated part of her vows of ordination, how do you feel about an active clergy-person engaging in a mutually consensual relationship, including sex? Does this not only violate the need for “Celibacy in Singleness” but also living one’s life according to the teachings of Christ?
This question came after I wrote a blog post calling for a clergy woman, who had just announced to her congregation that she loves and shares her life with another woman, to voluntarily turn in her ordination credentials.
I personally support the clergywoman who came out as a lesbian. I have long advocated for honoring same-sex couples. I have written forcefully about the importance of removing distinctively discriminatory language found in the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church that singles out homosexual practice as the one issue named as “inconsistent with Christian practice.”
However, I contend that living a lie about her personal life and violating her ordination vows compromised her integrity and she needs to step aside.
Recently, an anonymous blog about a single clergy woman availing herself of modern birth control methods caused a major stir in the religious blogosphere.
I’d not thought too much about the other clergy who wanted to practice safe-sex, but did find the outrage about this particular person’s life to be intriguing. Here’s a sample. Clearly, yet one more times we are all going to hell in a hand-basket.
So what about the nature of sexuality for the non-married and especially for non-married clergy?
Sex permeates the Bible. It’s everywhere. Restrictions on sexuality arise because sex brings babies. Families need to know the father of the babies–the mother being obvious, obviously. The father determines which family claims the child to support and defend and which family the child will ultimately claim, support and defend.
The issue is not, “don’t have sex.” The issue is: who will support the child? That is one reason that historical teaching says that sexual activity should be confined to those who live in covenant with one another.
It is also a reason why women then as well as now are often kept hidden behind closed doors and or closed clothes. God forbid that men should gain the maturity to handle properly their sexual urges–let’s punish the women instead. Or, all men everywhere can do what high-ranking Muslim, religious Afghan men do: keep little boys at their sides when the urge to copulate hits. Women are kept totally hidden in extremist Muslim societies. There appears to be little if any way for men and women to begin to develop healthy sexuality with each other, so the men just express their urges with children.
That doesn’t seem to solve the problem, does it?
Now. we do have similar problems to the biblical world: the fathers need to be identified so they can properly support the children. However, with modern birth control, sexual activity became significantly separated from actual procreation.
Nonetheless, while I do not have documentation for all religious groups, I believe it is safe to assume that most still expect non-married clergy to practice celibacy and such expectations are clearly written out.
I also think that it would be safe to assume sexual activity does indeed take place anyway among some non-married clergy. I’m not talking here about the small number of evil and predatory clergy, the ones who violate children and adolescents or who prey upon vulnerable congregants. They bring deserved condemnation upon themselves and their actions.
I’m talking about normal human beings who have taken their sexual selves into places of spiritual service and moral leadership. However, if ordination vows restrict sexual expression, then such vows need to be honored or changed through acceptable methods. If a person is not willing to honor those restrictions, then perhaps a different occupation would be the better choice.
However, I also don’t the sky is falling when sexual activity between two consenting adults takes place. I do think it is time for the church to stop the long-time voyeuristic need to spy on the bedrooms of competent adults and start dealing with matters of justice, speak honestly about the nature of greed, fight with all energy for the oppressed–which generally are minorities, children and women, address with wisdom and coherence the twin tragedies of lack of employment and lack of affordable housing, and provide real hope for the hopeless.
Dear Thoughtful Pastor: In Greek mythology you often hear of the most beautiful girl being sacrificed. In Egyptian religions only the best are sacrificed. In the Catholic religion the only sinless person was sacrificed.
What is the value gained in giving up (actually destroying so nobody can have it) the things you cherish the most?
Apparently getting rid of something very important must bind you to a religion or group. What is that or why is that?
I suggest that the word, “destroying” actually doesn’t fit. It is more “setting aside so others can’t use it.” Nonetheless, sacrificing the cherished acknowledges that God deserves the best.
Exodus 13:2 reads, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is the first to open the womb among the Israelites, of human beings and animals, is mine” (NRSV). We see Jesus’s parents do this on his eighth day of life when Jesus is brought to the temple. There he is redeemed, bought back, by the offer of two turtle-doves or a pair of pigeons.
People who have chosen to enter monastic religious communities are seen as sacrificing the prime of their lives for the service of God and have long been held in high regard.
Up until recently, regular church goers in the US took care to put on “Sunday best” when attending worship. Attire is much more casual now, but some traditions still support this practice.
Again, it is a sense of acknowledging that God is owed the very best. As we share together in the offering of our best, we end up connecting with others in our community on multiple levels, not just spiritually, but also socially and economically. The shared sacrifice becomes the glue that holds people together.
Perhaps it is a loss to our society and our souls when we decided that “God doesn’t really care that much” or “God doesn’t really demand anything from me anyway.”
Maybe God does care. Maybe there is something powerful to the idea that when we offer up to God the best, the first, the most valuable that all of life becomes more sacred, more special, more alive, more to be treasured and cherished. Clearly the idea can get out of hand, but the basic idea helps to reset priorities away from holding on too tightly toward living with open and generous hearts.
Note: a version of this column ran in the Friday, April 1, 2016 edition of the Denton Record Chronicle.
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