Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Call, Family, and Livelihood

In a pronouncement last week responding to calls for Catholicism to reconsider the whole No-Pastoral-Nuptials thing, Pope Benedict once again affirmed the concept of priestly celibacy. With some other critics of mandated celibacy, I tend to think that there are few human beings who are able to healthily still the sexual side of their identity. There are some, of course, folks for whom a sense of God is so strong that it dims the need for physical intimacy with another human being. But the significant majority of humankind just can't do that. We ain't wired for it.

With that as a standard, it becomes very difficult to fill organizational slots with souls who are really and truly disengaged from the flesh, rather than those who: 1) suppress it and then succumb, as did the aptly named Father Cutie or; 2) are sexually dysfunctional, as evidenced by the agonizing mess of clergy pedophilia that has wracked the Catholic church for the last decade.

Yet oddly enough, I find it difficult to reject the ideal of celibacy completely, mostly because I can see the challenges that have come on the Protestant flip side. When pastors have spouses and families and mortgages and car payments and orthodontia to consider, ministry becomes livelihood. It's the thing you do that pays the bills, which means it has a transactional element. That means economics become a factor in call. With higher ed debt and the demands of providing for family, suddenly it's not just about the dynamics of Christ and community. You're looking to insure that you're sufficiently pee-ay-eye-dee, and fretting about salary equity, and always looking over your shoulder for that next "call" that just so happens to come with a bigger congregation and a fatter paycheck and a car allowance sufficient to get a very slightly nicer car.

That leavens call with material considerations, and can lead folks to stick around in ministries that pay the bills when they really and truly should be elsewhere. It can turn pay into a sign of spiritual attainment, as every paycheck inflates the ego of the Big Parking Lot pastor. It can also turn pay into an issue of contention, a bone to fight over as a pastor and/or their spouse stresses about the well-being of the family.

Paul wasn't just being a repressive and/or repressed freak when he commended celibacy. He knew human nature, and just how easy it is for us to put personal material concerns above those of the church.


  1. I've argued that we Presbyterians have run our system by capitalism for so long that we fail to see the benefits of clergy socialism. If we were all paid the same, taking into account the difference of cost of living in different places, maybe we would move when we should and not when we want to earn more.

  2. Dear Pastor Bob,

    Even though I am a member of the United Church of Christ I will take this moment to speak up for the Presbyterians and point out a practice they engage in that ameliorates the situation that Frater Dave describes...

    I'm starting Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond VA in early July and it is the practice of this seminary to provide 100% tuition coverage for Presbyterian seminarians and 75% tuition coverage for non-Presbyterians such as myself. Additionally, just by applying and getting accepted my name was tossed in the pot for some other monies. All this with the deliberate end goal in mind of not churning out graduates so in debt for their education that they couldn't answer a call to a poor chuch.

    It also puts seminary education in the reach of poor rednecks such as myself.

    So, I'm feeling some Presbyterian love these days, even if the general situation is not as I'm experiencing it.



  3. @ Dawg

    How wonderful! And Union doesn't even have anywhere near the money Princeton has! But I digress.

  4. I've always marveled at how God always calls people in ministry to make more money.