The Shame We Feel

In how many other career paths are you asked about your sex life if you are a single person? None that I can think of. But since the opportunity has been provided for us to speak anonymously, we might as well tell the truth about it.

Many single pastors in the ELCA are having sex.

We are. We are gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual, all ages. We are asked to live in accordance with Vision and Expectations, a guide which encourages chaste lives. (I think the phrase “chaste lives” is a phrase which could be interpreted in multiple ways, but that’s for another blog post.) Then we are asked to affirm that we are adhering to principles laid out in a a document, Definitions and Guidelines for Discipline, which, with regard to sexual matters, says “The expectation of this church is that an ordained minister is to lead a chaste and decent life in word and deed…chastity and abstinence are required outside of marriage or outside publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.” (Which makes me wonder what the difference would be for publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, DIFFERENT-gender relationships that aren’t marriage – but that’s also probably another blog post.)

I wonder, if you polled ELCA congregation members, how many would actually hope that their pastors were expressing sexuality in ways that were loving and consensual as part of a holistic care and concern for all people in their lives – even if their pastors are single. I frankly imagine parishioners really don’t want to think about our sex lives at all. But when they hear of cases of pastors being charged with possession of child porn, sexual abuse of a child, or sexual assault/abuse of an adult – of which we’ve had too many in the church catholic and even specifically within the ELCA – they are forced to. When single pastors are asked to sign a document that specifically says they should not be having sex, this leads to an unhealthy culture of secrecy about sex that can, at its worst, lead to sexual behavior that is not consensual and healthy.

We can’t live together with our fiancés before we get married. We can’t speak honestly to church leadership about significant relationships because we might lose our jobs. We rely on therapy and trusted friends to discuss the real ups and downs of our sex lives and relationships – not like we’d go into too much detail with anyone else, anyway. But we’re scared to be honest about our relationships as single pastors simply because church leadership or parishioners might think we are having sex, think that is inappropriate for a pastor, and have us removed from the roster. And that is really sad, because this church also believes in a theology of abundance, of God’s abundant love and grace. God calls us into loving, healthy and consensual relationships and really doesn’t get too picky about the details as long as those few descriptors are covered. (See: the Ten Commandments, Jesus, etc.)

It’s true that pastors are looked to as moral leaders, but we need to end the false separation between morals and sex. It’s time for a healthy sexual ethic, ELCA. It’s time to change language and call for our single rostered leaders to express sexuality in a way that is consensual and healthy – instead of vaguely and unrealistically encouraging them to “live chaste lives” and practice abstinence. It’s time to talk about using contraception for disease prevention AND a healthy sex life and family planning method for all – including single rostered leaders and ordained clergy – as part of an overall healthy life.

Our current president was not elected by a majority of the country. Some ELCA members voted for him. He is a president who faces allegations of rape and sexual assault. Regardless of what you think of his other policies, there is no doubt that the language he has used and the allegations he is accused of are ugly and offensive. As much as we have a call to pray for our elected leaders, we have a call to speak in ecumenical and interfaith harmony into a country governed by this administration. Can we change our sexual ethic to truly honor the call of our faith – that what God creates, redeems and breathes life into is good?

The time to be clear is now. In preparation for the 2019 ELCA Churchwide Assembly and other gatherings of ELCA leadership before and afterwards, where we could take concrete steps to change this – know our stories. Know our truth, the secrecy and fear we live in, the shame we feel.

The fear I feel that someone could find out that I’m the one who’s writing this and that I could lose my job.

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