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.
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.