Single, Female Pastor? “It’s Complicated”

Rev. Wren Miller in Marie Claire tell-all

I don’t know Rev. Wren Miller, an Associate Pastor at a United Methodist Church in Alabama. But for readers of Marie Claire magazine, she is interviewed in an article entitled “Confessions of a Single, Female Pastor.” And readers got to know a lot more about her than they might have been prepared for.

And that’s okay.

You can read scans of the issue here: Page One, Page Two. No, I don’t have a subscription and I didn’t make the scans. If that is taken down, you should probably read it in a newstand or purchase it (it’s the February 2011 issue with Michelle Williams on the cover, pp. 87-88). **UPDATE: Looks like the links have been taken down, which makes discussion difficult without the context. Sorry folks.**

But in short, Miller discusses many intimate aspects of her 27 y/o single personal life as it is impacted by her pastoral identity. She talks about kissing boys who get self-conscious that she is a pastor, men who want her to leave the pastorate to become a housewife. She talks about past intimacy, present chastity, intimate forms of self-care, and balancing personal and pastoral duties.  The title is apt: “Confessions” it certainly is! It’s Marie Claire, a magazine by women for women. What did you expect, timidity?

Two bloggers on the internet are horrified at the extent of her disclosure and make inferences about her character:

  • Beauty Tips for Ministers is a well-read blog and the “Peacebang Review” of the article blogger was horrified. The blogger comments on her seeming lack of media training (even though she is the communications director at a large UM church), the way how she violates the privacy of a parishioner who tried to set her up with her son, and assuming that she writes shock-value to “humanize” the female clergy. The blogger concludes:

This article is not just a case of unfathomable TMI. It treats deeply personal, profoundly intimate subjects in a cavalier way that I think shows a staggering lack of judgment. It insults one of her parishioners and breaches trust and confidentiality in that pastoral relationship…This is not how young women empower themselves. Do you hear me, young ‘uns? Learn this fast and learn it well: over-sharing to this extent is not the way to achieve our shared goal of humanizing the clergy. What you are doing by providing salacious details on your sex life to the media is not empowering yourself or making clergy or Christian life more hip and relevant.

  • Rev. Chris Roberts (a male pastor in Indianapolis) happened upon the article (and provided the scans above) and wrote in his blog “UM Pastor discusses sex life with Marie Claire.” In it he knocks her for using the word “career” (which a commentor “friend of Wren” on the Beauty Tips blog clarifies that it is the magazine’s wording not Miller’s) and for talking about a subject using street language like “it is inappropriate for a clergyperson to express her “turn-ons” in a national publication.” Finally he says that she clearly needs to utilize the UMC’s mental health programs. He concludes:

In the end, this article seems both self-absorbed and self-serving. There is a narcissistic tone in which the author wants the reader to sympathize. Of course, I did. I do. However, the United Methodist Church offers a tremendous health care program with great mental health benefits. Should Rev. Miller desire to discuss her love life, perhaps it would be better expressed and processed with a mental health professional. This is not the right venue to discuss these matters.

I wonder if these people who have rendered judgment about her media training and her mental health remember that we worship with a book that has sexually explicit (and unacceptable-by-society) content:

  • In the Hebrew Bible, the Song of Songs stands out as an example of erotic poetry, and many of its other books embrace a positive view of sexuality, bodies, diverse relationships and mutuality. Other Jewish texts look beyond the male-female binary to embrace the aylonit (barren woman), saris (eunuch) and tumtum/androgynus (hermaphrodite) as equals in society.
  • In Christian scriptures, there is a consistent ethic of loving one’s neighbor and embracing the stranger. In early Christianity, women were important messengers of the new faith, and an Ethiopian eunuch was among its first converts (Acts of the Apostles 8:29-36). In a message of inclusion to the community in Galatia, Paul erases social and gender distinctions as he declares, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

From the Religious Institute’s study on Sexuality and Religion 2020 (PDF)

When I read the article, I was struck by the tone (not trusting the language as it was compiled by a MC writer) of alienation I could feel from Rev. Miller. She talked about being rejected by guys at dates, the “turn-off” look when she outs herself as a pastor, the way how she retreats into books and fantasy. While I feel I could be rendering judgment like the other bloggers (and that’s what bloggers do best after all), the sense of alienation I think would be one she might agree with.

I’m a married man in a male-dominated pastoral world, so I clearly can’t truly understand. I honestly wince when I imagine the powerful women pastors who read this blog and are ready to call me to the carpet if I even think of saying “I understand this.” Hence I will rely on women who write about their own experiences. Christine Pohl and Nicola Creegan in “Living on the Boundaries” write about alienation as having a complementary half: that of forming solidarity with others.

While alienation is the common human condition, we expect–perhaps especially as women committed to church–that our church experience will be otherwise [but] the theologically educated evangelical woman will find herself straddling cultures–literally living on the boundary, on the edge of maps…and this in itself is alienating, when the common ground is sometimes only oneself.

With alienation, though, often comes a sense of solidarity with others who are similarly not includes in the hierarchical establishment of church. Thus a number of women have developed scenarios of church as shelter for the outcast, a place of hospitality and grace, a round table open to all.

Living on the Boundaries, pp. 146-147.

I’ll bet that there are people in Rev. Miller’s congregation who needed to know they weren’t alone. Maybe even Rev. Miller herself wanted to know she wasn’t alone and reached out in the most  embarrassing  way possible. I would hope that now the members of her congregation, community, the Internet who are only an email away from her, who may struggle with the same sense of alienation, that they may also respond, create a relationship, and possibly form one of those communities of solidarity who deal with their deeply personal issue in a similar deeply personal and explicit fashion.

Perhaps this was a lifting of the veil moment, where the secret issues of sex and clergy were laid bare for a moment in a really awkward cringe-inducing “oh my is she a pastor and saying THAT?” fashion…and other people might see themselves there too. Others who feel the pressures of the collar and find it presses too closely to their vocal cords to truly speak their feelings, and now feel relieved that they are not alone either.

  • Was this moment intentional? I doubt it. Having been misquoted before by the press, it wouldn’t surprise me that these were selectively picked for shock value from the magazine whose same-issue cover also has a “how many men is too many?” article.
  • Will there be retribution from her higher-ups? Certainly, talking frankly about one’s personal life (especially by uppity women!) always has consequences.
  • But perhaps the Spirit is moving through this situation to allow other women (and men in some situations) to talk about their experiences and to find ways together to cope, identify, and transform their places of ministry into more open, honest, and healthy places of expression.

I will pray for Rev. Miller. Not that she gets her mental health checked or media training, but rather I will pray that she has the sensitivity and insight to embrace those who might contact her out of a sense of seeking solidarity and that her pastoral ministry is widened and deepened through it. And that she survives this roller coaster with a clarified sense of God’s call on her life and a weathered sense of how to express that call in a world of sensationalism.

So, let’s try this:

  • Any female clergy want to chime in with their reactions to Rev. Miller’s article?
  • Any comments at all about how any readers received the piece?
  • Any prayers for Rev. Miller and all those who feel alienated beneath the clergy robe?

Finally, if you are a single female clergy and want to express your prayers and thoughts in solidarity to Rev. Miller directly, here’s her contact info.

Thoughts? Thanks for reading.

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Comments

  1. says

    I haven’t read the whole MC article yet – but I think it’s about time someone considered what a young single woman might experience with a vocation so seemingly incompatible with the popular culture.

    I don’t have any answers, seeing as I’m still single, even after ultimately choosing a lay vocation. But, I was 20 when I started seminary, and you should see how guys in a club will run the other way when they find out what kind of school you’re attending! I wonder if it may even be worse here in left-of-left-leaning Boston, because God is seen as the provenance of the so-called Religious Right. Guys look at me like: “So, you’re hung up on that God thing and you won’t even sleep with me after I’ve waited until the third date?!”

    Much is made of the sacrifice of men who are celibate as part of their vocation, but for women, it’s supposed to be inconsequential. After all, if television is to be believed, it’s just another wifely duty for women, who have no libido of their own, and whose needs therefore needn’t be considered. So here’s to Wren for calling some attention to the sexism our still patriarchal society would like to pretend no longer exists.

  2. April Coates says

    It iss interesting that while we work so hard for the church to be a place of hospitality, female clergy often find that hospitality seldom reaches to include them (TMI moments and all) fully. It is also interesting, that while there is often a call to solidarity among those marginalized for one reason or another, there is seldom solidarity. Often those set out as different find it hard to trust others and often find themselves pitted against one another. I believe this is specifically true when you add age to the factor. Young are pitted against old, men and women alike.

    Also, I do feel like it speaks somewhat to the loneliness of single life in ministry. I do wish she would have reflected in general on the absence of immediate community (but I imagine she wouldn’t have been published in Marie Claire).

    Also, I feel like it prompts a reflection for a church that is seeking younger clergy what exactly that entails…

  3. Carolyn says

    What this article, and these bloggers, raises for me is the question: how do we as women and men live as embodied ministers? And are clergy men who discuss sex seen as taboo in the same harsh way as women?

    If clergy cannot discuss sexuality as openly as laity do, then where/ when is the appropriate time to talk about these things, and with whom? Why are young women blasted in PeaceBang’s post for TMI? I have often been grossed out by older women talking about diaper blowouts and morning sickness around the coffee hour table. How is the squirm-factor different in this case? Personally, I think the difference is that women have been made to symbolize embodiment and incarnation in Christian systems are thought, and often this association with the corporal is linked to sin and corruption. It’s OK to talk about things that bring to mind a baby’s genitals, because in our cultural symbolism, they are viewed as innocent. But young women are construed to symbolize all that is sexually desirable, and thus are labeled as corrupt in traditional Christian thought. Young women are seen as seductive, whether we try to be seductive or not, and therefore are seen as dangerous by those whose religion attempts to control their sexuality.

    That brings up another question… older women have libidos too, so how are they dealing with sexual tension as women of the cloth? Ladies over 40, share your wisdom!

    I think you are on to something, Jeremy, by pointing out that women make room for those who are marginalized. We are trained to see to others’ needs (mainly men), and to notice how to make others feel comfortable (also usually men). But these culturally transmitted skills can be taught to our male colleagues, and when practiced by any gender, can be used for God’s glory.

    What really troubles me is that the hullabaloo over young clergy women’s activities- whether it be drinking, sex in or out of marriage, or even activism- obscures the gifts for ministry that are unique to us. When I show verve and excitement for ministry, I’m called “naive.” When I make room for others in the Church, I’m asked to provide justification and prove that I am also attending to the interests of white, straight males. I am afraid that double standards (clergy and lay, women and men, young and young at heart) cause us to lose sight of the spiritual gifts for ministry offered by our many ministers and future ministers. The more we allow our prejudices to shape how we view women and young people, the more alienated we will all become!

  4. says

    The first thought I had was “DOUBLE STANDARD!” Would we have this reaction if it was a male pastor? Because from what I’ve seen in the male clergy of the UMC it is apparently ok to flaunt your dating life, your string of girlfriends, announcing your divorce and then 4 weeks later bringing a date to church. These are all real life experiences I have witnessed myself. You (male pastors I’m talking to, and female pastors) are called to a HIGHER standard. I do not condone her actions or the article, but I do not think this would be on our radar had it been about a male pastor. Ok, stepping off my soapbox now.

  5. Melissa Tustin says

    You all make excellent points about double standards and the loneliness of ministry. I myself thought the article was refreshingly honest, not a violation. What I find much more dangerous than one young woman sharing her experience warts and all, is the pervasive refusal to have frank discussions about sexuality in the Church.

  6. Chris Roberts says

    I’ll only add one comment in reply to yours: I never questioned her mental-health. My wife is a marriage and family therapist. Just because one sees a counselor to discuss struggles and issues does not mean that the person needs their “mental health checked.” You bring a certain negativity to mental-health. Or perhaps you are implying that I was being judgmental of her for suggesting she express her views privately instead of in a national publication. I do sympathize with Rev. Miller. The church should be a place to talk about sex. But it can be approached in the right venue with a little more tact and a lot more faith.
    PS: I address those who would take the “lifting the veil” side of this discussion.

    • Carolyn says

      I think we need to find a balance in the Church. On one had, there’s strict abstinence-only and virtually no conversation on the topic. On the other hand, there’s pastoral sex advice for Evangelicals: c.f. Mark Driscoll and “The Peasant Princess” sermon series on YouTube, known for its advice to Christian women to perform oral sex. (I would like to note that most of the sex advice was on how women can please their husbands- the majority of the video- than how men can please their wives- only 5 min.)

      How can we strike a balance of healthy discussion of sex without pastors falling silent or proscribing behavior?

    • Martin Harper says

      Chris, I understand that you did not intend to question this woman’s mental health. However, your use of the term “narcissistic”, prior to talking about the need to see a mental health professional, does just that. Suggesting that someone speak to a mental health professional is very different from suggesting that they speak to a counsellor or therapist, and I’m sure you are aware that narcissistic personality disorder is included in the DSM.

      I’m glad that you are not remotely diagnosing Wren Miller’s mental health based on an article about her written by Deborah Jian Lee, and that you have clarified that on this blog.

  7. says

    So many things: (And yes, I’m a youngish, single-female, UMC clergy woman).

    1) It was told in first person, but clearly NOT by Rev. Miller. “As told to Deborah Lee,” the article says. I think this is important in any judgements we make! Marie Claire has been in the news a lot lately for their lack of journalistic integrity. For taking stories whatever way makes them most sensational. There was a huge hullabaloo in the Healthy Living Communities about a story written after a blogging conference last year. http://www.healthytippingpoint.com/2010/10/my-rebuttal-to-marie-claire.html. I agree with PeaceBang and others that the wording used in the article was tough to swallow and tacky, but I’m not sure the wording was hers! I think we need to take the article (especially discussions of her wording) with that grain of salt.

    2) I think as a church we don’t talk about sex enough. Flat out. We have hyper-sexualization with TV, magazines, books, etc but we’re not allowed to talk about it in church more than to say, “Don’t do it”. We are not having real conversations about these things. Its like we pretend they don’t exist. Being said, I’m not sure that this was the best way to go. I hurt for her, because I assume that she was taken advantage of by a reporter. I have to assume that Rev. Miller could have written that article more articulately and more beautifully and still gotten the point across tha she would have liked to have.

    3) Being a single clergy member is hard. For so many reaons. And that is true. Its hard to do what we do, and go home at night to an empty house. Its hard when there’s not enough time to date, or you have to cancel dates because of pastoral emergencies. Its hard not to have the support of a spouse. Its tough when you feel unfulfilled in the ways a spouse might fulfill you. But, its also tough to be a married clergy member. You have responsibilities I don’t have. You have to juggle two extended families and other sets of friends and support someone when you don’t have any more energy for yourself. But, even with all the tough parts, there is joy. There are good things. There is love.

    I wish the article however could have spent more time on the joys of dating and of people loving you and your ministry. I wish Rev. Miller had had experiences more like that. I hate that so many have found men/women who find their passion for God a turn off. I’ve been blessed not to have found men who have supported my ministry, and wanted to date me no matter what my vocation. (Although I have had the men who wanted to argue that “there’s no way God would call women”. But that’s a story for another day!) I wish she could have talked about how our call and vocation puts stress on any social life. That we put in such long hours in often emotionally draining times that having time for any dating is hard. I wish she could have stressed that her life is full and beautiful, no matter how sexually stimulated she is. And I wish there had been real discussion on her/the UMCs views of sexuality as it applies. I don’t know, maybe I want too much (which is definitely true).

    In the end, I hurt for her, her church, and her conference. I wish she had not chosen to do the article, and I would imagine, after all of this, she probably wishes the same. Let us take some time to think about and pray for our clergy–single and married alike–that God can continue to support, guide and fulfill us all as we try to transform the world.

    • says

      My spouse reminded me last night of the Marie Claire/food bloggers controversy and how the food bloggers were backstabbed with the hit piece of them encouraging eating disorders (from a magazine that has size zero models, no less). Hence why I was leery of judgments of her word choices (like “career”) because it’s Marie Claire.

      • says

        You think we as the church do talk about sex enough, Chris? Maybe its just my context, but “sex” is a taboo word that is not to be brought up where I serve.

    • Kelsey says

      I am a member of her conference and I am PROUD of her! You can pray for us in this conference if you want, but pray that we can use Wren’s gifts and bravery to their greatest potential.

  8. says

    A pastor speaking openly and plainly about their struggles over sexuality; how dreadful! It’s about time we stopped putting clergy up on a pedastal and realized they’re normal human beings just like the rest of us. Sex is a part of all our lives and the church needs to deal with that. Shoving it behind the curtain because it makes some folks uncomfortable is not an option. Perpetuating the idea that sex is bad and should be hidden causes us to ostracize and marginalize our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we do that, we’re not being The Church.

  9. Paul says

    Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors

    Well at least I thought so. I am a lifelong member of the UMC and I think the openness in this article is fantastic. Maybe it will begin a REAL discourse within our Church that can begin to address the lack of concern for the lives, mental well being and care of our pastors. I am a physician and work around the clock at times, the group of people I identify most with are my Clergy. There are no barriers between work and life in these jobs and I find it quite refreshing to hear someone actually SAY SOMETHING that is real.

    I have no doubt that the article used a sensational license to write a story with language that could be quoted broadly and raise eyebrows. I know that the rawness of the language is not the approach Wren would have taken with this article. But the content is no less important and is a true example of someone attempting to be OPEN. It is a look behind a personal veil that may be described as TMI or making one’s self very vulnerable in hopes of reaching out to others.

    Openness. Lets give this a real try. I congratulate Wren on attempting to follow the Motto of her chosen denomination.

    • Chris Roberts says

      Open Mids. Open Doors, Open Hearts.
      that is a tagline. It is not a mission statement.
      The Mission Statement of the United Methodist Church is “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

      • Paul says

        Well thank you for that lesson Mr. Roberts. Glad to know that the “tagline” used on every piece of Methodist advertising is of no value to you. I hope you recognize what a complete jerk you are and how you have exploited another clergy member at time of intense scrutiny. I have no words to describe how disappointed I am in the fact that you are a leader within the Brotherhood of Christ. I think I would consider taking a significant time for discernment for yourself and maybe a good look in the mirror.

  10. says

    I was originally put off by the “career” references too until reading the comment that the word was MC‘s language & not Rev. Miller’s. But that knowledge itself brought up a couple of questions for me.

    I’d be curious as to how the decision was made to agree to this particular magazine’s request. You don’t have to read it regularly to know that it likes to emphasize the salacious and sometimes prurient details of stories and interviews. So it would be likely that such details would get some special play, if not actual distortion in order to be brought out most strongly. Some folks here have noted that Rev. Miller’s words can play a role in the ongoing discussion about issues of embodiment and its sexual dimension in the lives of lay Christians as well as their clergy. I don’t disagree. But I do think those are matters that can have a better airing in a format other than a Cosmo-lite mag like Marie Claire. It doesn’t have to be in some all-text, no-pics stuffy theological journal, but I can’t believe that, among the many women’s magazines on the newsstand, there aren’t better venues.

    It’d also seem to me that considering the importance of this kind of discussion, it might be better done in a first-person piece rather than an interview. If I’m going to talk to my congregation about issues of sexuality and that conversation is going to include some personal details, I don’t want an intermediary, especially one who’s got an agenda of his or her own. I want to be as sure as I possibly can that my congregation hears my own words rather than someone else’s version of them.

    And lastly, I guess I wonder what kind of conversation Rev. Miller might have had with her congregation about the choice to do the interview. There are a lot of specific details I don’t want to know about other people’s lives in certain areas, and I think that would include my pastor were I a layperson. That my pastor has normal desires I would assume — what exactly triggers them is his or her own business and not something I need to know, any more than I need to know the same details about my friends, favorite actors or my elected officials. I can’t help but think that, by being fairly explicit in the interview, Rev. Miller has decided her parishioners will know intimate details about her life whether they wanted to or not, and I don’t know if she was entitled to make that decision for them.

    But I’d add a word of prayer for her as she deals with the issues of being a single clergy, especially a single female clergy. That’s a harder task than it might be for a lot of us who aren’t single or aren’t female, so God’s blessings on her in her journey.

  11. Creed Pogue says

    I can only imagine how brief the tenure would be of a male pastor who decided it was appropriate to share similar thoughts and experiences in “Men’s Health” or somewhere similar. She can’t say that she had no idea about what may occur since her “job” at Huntsville First is “Communications Director.” She could have gone to GBCS and asked them to add her story to their sexuality series. Besides giving herself an opportunity to vent, who exactly is she “helping?”

    Finally, gossip usually doesn’t heal. Discussing a failed dating situation involving someone in the church isn’t a model of good behavior on any scale.

  12. stephanieG says

    I resonate with Em Case and others. As a young, single, female pastor – my reaction is mixed. From a clergy perspective, I value my role and congregational relationships as pastor and my privacy too highly to ever share my personal love life information in such detail or so publicly.

    Yet I also share the lament that we do not talk authentically enough about sexuality and ‘embodiment’ in church (though most church folk would not relate to that word at all. Its a safe, theological word that clergy can use to talk since we don’t feel safe using vernacular.) Sex is everywhere. It does matter to people. And most people do not have the maturity to handle it well, married or not. And we focus on outward behavior and norms rather than discussing where it really comes from and why it matters to people. There is someplace better than ‘what you do in your own life is your private business’ or ‘sex is bad, only do it to bring in the next generation of acolytes.’ That is tongue in cheek, I know, but we operate between the two extremes of ‘whatever’ and ‘sex-demonizing abstienence’ with the effect of both being that we don’t talk about it. We have not created a space to say, sex is both a human need and a sacred act of intimacy and love and it is a challenge to honor that in a way that invites God in and welcomes God’s guidance. Biblically, the examples of sex are messy. Similarly so in real life. So, we ignore it until the most obvious and discomforting issues of sexuality are brought up by outside forces. I’d bet that the church would still be silent on homosexuality if secular discussions and politics were not forcing the issue. The church has not been the one to set the agenda on sexuality. We have been reactionary and silently uncomfortable.

    I would like to lead the church in an authentic discussion of sexuality and why our handling of that matters to God and our own life of faith. I would like to boldly name and humanize our struggles and joys. But because of the double standards, the vows I have taken, and the professional culture among clergy, I do not feel comfortable starting that conversation. I start that conversation from a much shakier foundation. If I strive to make it a comfortable place for all the divorced, single, co-habitating, sexless married people to talk openly, I risk myself being accused according to the double standards and disciplinary vows I am bound to uphold. Not only in violating them but in making them.

    Do I say, I hold to those not because I agree with them wholeheartedly but because that is simply what makes things easier for me, for the church, and for them (my parishioners)? Do I ask why those vows reinforce an image of the pastor and church that the world wants in place but won’t embrace for themselves? How do I call out the church system that I am part of perpetuating without discrediting it or myself? How do I call out my parishioners for wanting the double standard without discrediting them or myself? I am stuck. These conversations need to happen for the benefit of the people’s relationship in the pews and for the church. I do want to talk as a church about all of this because I believe it is important. Maybe I just need to wait until I am an older, married clergy woman where I imagine it will be safer. The trick is, that might not happen for me unless I meet someone willing and able to love both me and the church in spite of ourselves and all these issues.

    And while I want my parishioners to see me as human, vulnerable in sharing a journey of faith together, I don’t want to discuss my love life publicly with them or with my bishop. It violates a professional boundary that is there for a reason. It is slightly ironic that there are comments about the article discussing ministry as ‘career’ and ‘job.’ And I understand it and know all too many pastors riding out a ‘job’ to get their pension rather than living into a sacrificial calling. I think young clergy especially respond negatively to those words. But then the criticism that doing the article is unprofessional because there are people who have to see you in particular role who do not want to know things reserved for friends and confidantes is based on a recognition of pastor as ‘job’ and ‘career’ with certain boundaries. I would not have done the article but not because it goes against a calling to a higher moral (which many have pointed out, she is living out) or because the discussion is not real and relevant to our identities as human children of God (I just don’t feel comfortable starting that conversation.) Aside from privacy and comfort, I would not have done the article mostly because of the professional and job considerations related to ministry and how it would affect my ability to serve as pastor to my flock and relate to my colleagues. So, career and job are not bad words, especially when they point to a reality that we expect people to live into just as much as calling and identity.

  13. says

    Anyone else notice that the Beauty Tips for Ministers blog that I referenced above removed her name and identifying characteristics from the article? She is now [single, female pastor] and her name is now [Xxxx].

    As Aunt B says on Comment #16, women can’t do anything “without being turned into an object lesson for other young women.” And now Rev. Miller’s lost her name and identity and has been objectified by a blog that deplores the same. Sigh.

    • Carolyn says

      Jeremy, PeaceBang did that because her commenters begged her to remove identifying information. The comments and post itself were so scathing that Rev. Wren’s friends asked that her future reputation on the Internet and current embarrassment be reduced by not having a permanent search trail to such incriminating comments.

  14. says

    Thank you, Jeremy, for your discussion on this article and topic.

    I’m young and female, although not single (I married before attending seminary), and I resonate with Rev. Miller’s feeling of isolation even when it comes to making friendships outside of church. I usually tell people I work for a church and leave out the pastor bit when I’m looking for a young mom to have coffee with.

    I really agree with a lot of Carolyn’s thoughts above. To me, this is about authenticity, embodiment, and bringing our full selves to ministry. I love PeaceBang, but she consistently, in my opinion, insists upon a sort of veil of professionalism. I’m all for being professional and reverent, but a huge part of what it means to be called in my experience means knowing that God can and does use late, short-tempered, overweight, tired, working moms and other imperfect vessels. If I grieve, I grieve. If I rejoice, I rejoice. If I am lonely, than doggone it, I’m lonely, and more power to a woman who can discuss with a reporter whether or not she’s comfortable with masturbation.

    I think most if not all of this was intentional. I think Rev. Miller meant to be a bit shocking, a bit not-what-you-expect. She’s raw and real and just like any other woman. Good for her. I bet it makes her more approachable in the eyes of her congregants. That veil of professionalism needs tearing down now and then, or at least some good solid punctures. (Wow– what a great sermon thought– what if Moses’ veil was not so much so the people didn’t see GOD on moses’ face, but so people didn’t see god on MOSES’ face, because they couldn’t take the familiarity of the vessel… sorry, beware the extrovert typing). As I was saying, I think 95% of what’s in the little article is good, human, authentic, and chips away at the church’s fear of talking about sex or letting pastors be (gasp!) sexual and embodied human beings.

    A word on double standard: I did have someone tell me that seeing a pregnant pastor made them feel uncomfortable because, you know, you don’t really want to think about how the pastor got pregnant. I also had a male colleague report that when his wife was pregnant the overwhelming response was “way to go, pastor!” *wink, wink* So maybe it’s not about whether or not *pastors* can be sexual beings, but only pastors who are also women.

    Since the rest of the article seems so intentional, I’m willing to give Rev. Miller the benefit of the doubt on the part that may be a breach of confidentiality. That sounds almost too exaggerated to be true, and I’m guessing it was embellished by the article’s author or taken out of context. If not, then it is an unfortunate slip in true professionalism in an otherwise healthy glimpse behind the phoney veil.

    She’s brave, and she has my respect. If nothing else, she is striving to bring the voice of a young UMC pastor to Marie Claire magazine, and that’s no small task.

    Becca

    • Brooke says

      Hi Becca,
      I wondered the same thing re: intentionality. Perhaps she took this step very deliberately the way that Beth Stroud very deliberately put herself front and center in the church’s debate about homoSEXuality.
      Even if she really did know what she was getting herself into, the venomous attacks on her character (especially since she is celibate and doesn’t even masturbate) really surprise me. Her sex life is boring; isn’t that what her detractors want the public to think – that pastors’ sex lives are boring?

  15. Sean says

    I love the conversation you’ve started, Jeremy.

    I want to add a gentle reminder that there’s a world outside of the local church. This isn’t just about her congregants. It really isn’t about people who already are United Methodists: the good reverend just reached more people that all the rest of us are likely to reach in a decade (Marie Claire’s circulation is almost one million), and shown them, in language to which they’re accustomed, that United Methodist clergy know and care about real challenges that women face everyday. She modeled how to be in the world but not of it – how to be engaged fully in today’s world while maintaining a commitment to higher Christian standards.

    In a world in which even young conservative evangelicals think the church is hypocritical and judgmental about sexuality, I’d say this not only is a major accomplishment, it’s great evangelism.

  16. Chris Roberts says

    It was a person outside the church that brought the article to me. She was she was shocked and appalled. If we are honest, let’s admit that everyone in THIS discussion is inside the church. Have you bothered to ask anyone outside the church what they think? I would guess two things about them (based on my experience with this very matter):
    1) They won’t be impressed that a clergyperson is a “REAL” person. They know that ALL people are capable of being real. Younger generations don’t hold “people of position”to higher levels of expectation. Younger generations know politicians, community leaders, and yes, even, clergy have struggles and make mistakes. We’ve grown up witnessing it.
    2) They will be disappointed that someone like a clergyperson has stooped so low. They aren’t impressed when “people of position” go on “Jerry Springer” and “confess.” I think they’d rather clergy and other leaders ACTUALLY live a life consistent with their words.

    In my experience, this is exactly how an outsider felt about the article.

  17. Jess says

    Mr. Roberts, I am a person outside the church. Way, way outside. I have never visited this website before today, and given the vagaries of internet surfing, you may safely assume I never will again. I am Southern, under 40 and female.

    All that said, I am not disappointed, shocked, appalled or otherwise negatively impressed by Ms. Miller’s revelations in Marie Claire. Not in her and not in your denomination. The plural of anecdote is not data, etc., but I thought you might appreciate knowing a counter existed to your one-person sample of extra-church views.

    • Chris Roberts says

      and so I ask, do you Jess think that a clergyperson is without mistakes or struggles? Did this article somehow inform you of such new knowledge? Or did you already know this fact and this article confirmed your held belief in the members of the cloth?
      If you had read about a male clergyperson speaking of his masturbation or fantasies about being turned on by cheerleaders during the football game… what then would you think? What if that clergy was a catholic priest?

      Sure there are plenty of opinions. It is the duty of teh clergy to not put themselves in a position to compromise their credibility or that of the Gospel. We are warned about being stumbling-blocks. Perhaps this did nothing to lead you to the Good News of Jesus, nor bring more hostility to the Gospel from you. However, it will for some. One could argue that I have done the same. But I would retort that at least I know I can stand with Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience as a firm foundation. I can find little basis, without a stretch, in Scripture or tradition to defend what Rev. Miller has done in Marie Claire.

      The point: clergy must hold themselves to a higher standard, even if (or I should especially because) non-believers do not hold themselves, others of the clergy to any higher standard of morality and behavior.

      • Brooke says

        Chris, I’m sorry you are still so worked up over this article. I really doubt the woman who brought it to your attention has now drawn you into a web of suspicion that maybe you too have fantasies or masturbate.
        I get that you set for yourself high standards of behavior, but we all make mistakes from time to time. Why is the behavior of the woman in the article so much worse than you posting illegally scanned copyrighted material on your blog? Maybe your blog’s readership might even exceed the readership of Marie Claire magazine. Get it? We ALL make mistakes.

      • Mandi says

        Mr. Roberts,
        I too come at this from outside of your church. I did not find the article to reveal new information about pastors or their nature, but I did find hope in the bravery of this woman to share her story. Why? Because in a society where women have never been afforded the power or priviledge that men have she put her trust in God and in the greater public community to be able to hold her struggle with caring hands.

        Women clergy are still sexually oppressed in the church. For this reason, you can never compare Pr. Miller’s situation to that of a male clergyperson. And to invoke a vow of celibacy or possibly pedophilia (depending on your intention of “cheerleadrs”) is unfair and unjust.

        The hurtful things that are being said on her on many blogs and in many comments, not only yours, continues to prove to me that the church protestant is still so fearful of discussing sex and losing its control over the topic that we have to discredit those who trust the community enough to be honest.

        Didn’t Christ teach that we cannot shoulder a burden alone? If she doesn’t make her burden public then we cannot walk with her on her journey – whatever it might be. Do you not trust the unchurched readership of Marie Claire enough to share in her journey? Then how can you trust them enough to engage in your faith commmunity at all?

  18. Christine says

    I am really astounded at the negative reaction to Rev. Miller’s honest and vulnerable sharing. All she did was admit that she is a sexual being with sexual desires. Aren’t we all, whether clergy or not? She said that she wanted to abstain from sex before marriage and she included oral sex in that. That is a pretty courageous and honorable thing to say in a secular women’s magazine where she will probably also be vilified by MC readers for being puritanical and repressed. I feel for her, not b/c she made a mistake in sharing that, but b/c people on both sides are criticizing her for what was a pretty harmless story. She has sexual desires. Is this really a news flash for anyone? While MC readers may not fall down and confess Jesus as Lord b/c of this article, I really don’t think that people will be turned off from the Gospel b/c of this. If she receives criticism from those outside the church, it would be b/c she has chosen to abstain from sex, which will also not be a news flash for them. Honestly, I think it probably helped to change some readers perspectives about sexuality in the church, that yes, even a pastor has sexual desires, is truly human, rather than a pedophile or repressed.

    Your response to Brooke about how she would feel if a male pastor told all seemed to miss the point. If a male pastor was honestly sharing about the challenges of being single, sexual and a spiritual leader, I would genuinely appreciate that. And if he shared that he didn’t feel comfortable masturbating (which is what she said), I would not vilify him for saying that out loud. If he said, as a pastor I know did once, that he struggles with lust as he walks down the street in summertime and sees women in skimpy clothing I would not criticize him or say he made a mistake. And for the record, so many men and women came forward for prayer afterward in tears, confessing their sin, secrets they kept in the dark as a result of that sermon. Sex is a real issue that Christians struggle with, that pastors struggle with, and simply to not say it out loud, or admit that we too think about these things b/c we’re human, seems like we’re just avoiding addressing the realities head on.

    I would not say that you are standing on Scripture, reason and tradition any more so than Rev. Miller. Perhaps you are standing on tradition, but I think it is worth looking at whether all tradition is good or healthy. If we look at the health of the church when it comes to sex and sexuality, I would say that the tradition has done more harm than good. There is so much shame in the church around sexuality. I know too many single/married people who will not dare talk about sex with their pastors and Christian friends. I know too many pastors in ministry who will not dare talk about sex with anyone, and sadly find other unhealthy ways of dealing with it. I am glad that this discussion is happening b/c it’s important to look at how we as the church can better engage with people’s struggles, show grace, speak truth, and ultimately point people to Christ and the freedom we have in him.

    • Brooke says

      Hi Christine, just to clarify – Chris has not yet responded to my comments on this blog or on his own blog. My point is simply that those of us who live in glass houses ought to just put the rocks down. Chris hasn’t yet figured out that his own house is just as glassy as everyone else’s.
      Chris also wants to insist that this is all about him, about how he has been injured by this article. So, I offer, “Chris, practice some forgiveness. Get past this already.”

      • says

        Growing up in a home – probably very similar to Chris’ (although it would appear that he has never left) I discovered something quite to the dismay of my Southern Baptist church – grace. It revolutionized my own views and these days I would call myself unashamedly a United Methodist. Legalism is a difficult road to travel – you are never good enough – sin plagues you. Until you find the freedom of God’s grace – you can never really be happy. What happens if you live your life trying to do your best and God doesn’t accept you? Learning that God loves you for you – not some trumped up spiritualized version of you – then you can really start to live. Persons who try to live apart from grace – cannot truly be themselves.

  19. Liz A. says

    I was pleasanlty surprised to even read an article about a female clergy person in a magazine like Marie Clarie. I don’t subsribe to the magazine but for some reason I get it in the mail. I usually don’t like their articals because I find them irrelevant and sometimes shallow. I am a female, single clergy woman and wasn’t horrified by what this author said in the artical. I thought it was brave. I also commend her for being celebate as it is not an easy thing to do in today’s culture. I think the “shock” that some expressed by this artical would have made more sense if she were someone who was sleeping around and saying that that was an okay thing to do. As a Latina I grew up not seeing pictures of girls, then teens who looked like me in magazines. (Latinas ARE finally in the wider media, now- yay!) In my “world” I often feel invisible b/c I don’t meet many female clergy women who are Latina at all. Much less do I read articals by ANY female clergy in ANY main-stream magazines. So, I’m glad Marie Clair thought to include it. Who knows, it may even inspire a young woman to consider ministry!

  20. JC2012 says

    I would love to read the comments on this and use them to help shape my views. But the type is too light, and it’s such a struggle that I’m giving up at about comment #10. I’m sorry about that because I think what is being said has value.

    • says

      If you make the text bigger (Hold down CTRL and SHIFT and hit the + button or scroll the mouse wheel), then it should stand out better. Sorry for the discomfort.

  21. says

    “Learn this fast and learn it well: over-sharing to this extent is not the way to achieve our shared goal of humanizing the clergy. What you are doing by providing salacious details on your sex life to the media is not empowering yourself or making clergy or Christian life more hip and relevant.”

    Says the “less than perfect” U*U minister who is a huge source of embarrassment to the Unitarian Universalist “church” with her “over-sharing” of her insulting and abusive thoughts on her Peacebang blogs. . . Talk about “Do as I say, not as I do. . .” Rev. Dr. Victoria Weinstein’s own “unfathomable TMI” that she has posted to the internet on her blogs includes a “sodomy fantasy” sadistically imagining “Senator Bill Napoli anally impaled on the Statue Of Liberty’s torch.” Her “staggering lack of judgment” includes blogging about wanting to kick a thief who stole from her UU “church” “real hard in the teeth” and *actually* kicking one of her young parishioners in “the tushie”, twice and “hard”, for stealing cigarettes. Peacebang repeatedly insults other clergy, and not just Unitarian Universalist clergy, with her questionable “Beauty Tips For Ministers” and she insults the intelligence of her readership with her own bizarre fashion choices in which she sometimes looks like she just walked of the set of a John Waters movie like ‘Female Trouble’. . .

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