Why I Dance Out the Church Door

Every time I think that I never have to step foot in a church again, except as a favor to my poor father, it makes me smile. I feel such great relief, such relief I can’t even begin to express. Maybe it’s not that interesting to you why a minister’s daughter would leave the church and be so happy about it. But it’s something I really would like you to understand about me.

And I worry that you might think that I spend Sunday mornings as far away from the church because my dad was particularly assholish.

So, as much as reading the posts I’m about to share with you made me feel shaky and weepy and grossed-out, I’m actually glad to be able to share them with you. So that you can see for yourself, better than I could ever express.

Here’s the background you need. Marie Claire interviewed a female Methodist minister about her sex life. I haven’t read the story yet, but if she speaks as frankly and honestly as the quotes make it sound, I’ll be searching out the article. Here’s a blog post that deals compassionately with the pseudo-controversy. I call it a pseudo-controversy because it’s really only a controversy not because of anything the minister did wrong, but because of the terrible and cruel judgmental busybody nature of church-folks, especially other pastors.

Over at Beauty Tips for Ministers, the blogger and ensuing commenters stress, continually, the youth of the pastor and decide that her speaking frankly and honestly about her own experiences is or should be so shameful–and people I am not even kidding, look for yourselves–that they remove her name from the post. They strip her of her identity, because they have sat in judgment of her and decided that she is either foolish or perhaps drunk or definitely for sure not able to make her own decisions about her life, but needs to be protected from herself, after being sufficiently badmouth, of course, by people who would never, ever be so dumb.

A grown woman, stripped of her name, in order to “protect” her. They take away her identity in order to “protect” her. It literally makes me want to throw up. They convince themselves in the comments that this is the compassionate thing to do, because she couldn’t possibly know what she’s doing.

Look how many commenters say she should have a mentor or media training. As if the problem is that she went out without a chaperon.

But this, to me, is the richest part. I mean, this is exactly the stuff I saw repeatedly and had hoped that the Church would have grown out of. This poor pastor can’t even fuck up, if that is indeed what she’s doing, without being turned into an object lesson for other young women:

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. More on this later.

Seriously, in the Church, every time you think “Well, for better or for worse, at least now they have to see me as a person,” they take that from you and turn you instead into a lesson for others.

The shaming continues over at Reverend Chris Roberts’ blog, where he is “not comfortable with my colleague writing about her masturbation or speaking about her orgasms.” I laughed out loud about that, that Roberts feels that some person he doesn’t even know three states away from him is open for criticism because she made him uncomfortable. I mean, shoot, at least he’s honest, right? He admits, “Now I don’t want to seem a prude. I’m not afraid to talk about sex. Yet I cannot deny my traditional and orthodox views on matters around the family and marriage and sex.”

But he doesn’t seem to understand that this isn’t about him. He spends one paragraph expressing some little bit of compassion for her and three paragraphs talking about how it affects him–“I am not comfortable,” “I would be as opposed,” “I disagree,” “The article is embarrassing for me,” “I am filled with disappointment,” etc. And he has the gall to call Miller “self-absorbed,” “self-serving,” and “narcissistic.”

Whoo boy.

Well, for better or worse, there’s nothing new here. They are who they’ve always been and I am who I am. And every once in a while it’s good to be reminded of how it goes.

Reverend Miller is obviously going to be getting a lot of advice. I’d advise her to consider how nice it is to be free of folks who would strip you of your name, say you need counseling, and publicly shame you. It takes a long time to get over it, but leaving can be a great relief.

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11 thoughts on “Why I Dance Out the Church Door

  1. Aunt B, thanks for the link and I tried to be compassionate while recognizing that I skirted the line of assuming too much of her intent.

    Your critique of the whole situation is spot on…as if you need my affirmation. I also was floored that the Beauty Tips blog stripped her name from the post. It was there originally and then they stripped it when they got pushback from the commenters to make it more about her “object lesson” than the woman they were objectifying. Incredible.

    Being male in a male-dominated profession, I have absolutely no place to say that I disagree with your final advice to Rev. Miller. I also don’t know your story and can only speak from my own experience. But in the areas of the church where I have to choose to (a) walk away and let the sickness fester or (b) stay and try to do my best to fix it, I try to choose the latter. Miller has overcome many obstacles to women in ministry, and to keep her from being an object lesson and instead be a real human woman who resists objectification, I hope she stays in.

  2. Interesting perspective here. I agree you that the Church has a long way to go before it accepts human reality, and especially around sexuality: part of the reason it’s so atrociously screwed up. However, while reforming the institution from within as female pastors we cannot be so naive as to think the public is ready for the sort of confessional that Wren Miller gave to MC. I edited her name out of the original post not to obliterate her but because some of her friends thought it would give her a break. It was a professional courtesy, and the blog is devoted to helping clergynto be savvy about public image, PR, etc. I am very much in favor of pastors being real – sexuality and all, but this was not done in a mature way. I have written extensively about how one can do it well, but occasionally someone sets a bad example and I critique it. I appreciate your idealism.

  3. Peacebang, I’m not trying to be mean here, but consider this:

    …we cannot be so naive as to think the public is ready for the sort of confessional that Wren Miller gave to MC.

    Now I admit to having abandoned my own path to the clergy at an early age, so I have little practical experience in managing God’s earthly bureaucracy. So it might be a little naive and idealistic of me to skip over two millenia of history and go straight to the example of Jesus Christ, but it’s what I’ve got to work with.

    Now as I recall, Jesus didn’t have a PR staff. In retrospect, wasn’t it naive of him to wander Roman-governed Judea excoriating the existing social order and advocating a kingdom governed by, well, someone not-Roman? I’m not comparing Wren Miller’s actions to the teachings and miracles of Jesus, mind you, but Peacebang, you don’t say that what Wren Miller was wrong. In fact, you preface your explanation by implying that Wren Miller is on the right moral and spiritual track. Then you say, in so many words, that the public is not ready for her honesty.

    I’m wondering, based on the teachings and example of Jesus, just who’s in danger of setting the bad example here.

  4. What is the core of Christian teaching if not a radical unsettling of “things as they are”? And just because you’ve told yourself that the intention is good — to save a woman from what you view as immature oversharing — does not mean that you’re not engaging the behavior from the phenomenon Betsy describes. When you remove a person’s name from their sexual revelations, you imply that what they have said and done is shameful and damaging to themselves and to your organization. Otherwise, you wouldn’t need to “protect” them or the congregation from the truth.

  5. Peacebang, that’s in part what I mean. I’m not idealistic. I have, in fact, had all the idealism I had about the Methodist church shaken out of me. I grew up in a parsonage. I know how it goes.

    You don’t have to ascribe to me a position in which you know better or are more savvy about things than me, because I have “idealism,” and thus you have the position of authority.

    Just hear me as a person.

    It is true that it is harder for women pastors and that you all have to navigate things male pastors are barely aware of.

    I have great compassion and great admiration for that.

    And, yes, things do indeed have to change, for the health of the ministry and the church.

    But what I would ask you to consider is that, by the way YOU have treated this incident, YOU are contributing to an atmosphere in which a woman pastor can’t talk honestly about her sexuality without there being terrible and uncomfortable repercussions, because you are, in fact, implementing some of the terrible and uncomfortable repercussions yourself under the guise of trying to help other women pastors from encountering them.

    What I would ask you to consider is whether it’s necessary to do the work of the jerks in order to teach women pastors how to better avoid them.

    Reverend Miller is a woman pastor. What if you were on her side?

  6. I’m wondering B, what action would you consider supportive from a male pastor? Because it sounds like you consider anything other than complete agreement with Rev Miller to just be piling on with the other jerks.

  7. Really? I didn’t find UMJeremy to be in complete agreement with Reverend Miller and I specifically said that I found his approach to the issue to be compassionate.

  8. True. I had forgotten that part of the original post by the time I got through reading all the comments. Sorry.

    I guess I should go back and see which of the links Peacebang wrote because your response to him above was what I’m most curious about.

  9. Okay, I get it now. That peacebang article was horrible. Reads like old folks deciding she did something stupid since they entirely missed what Miller was trying to do.

    we cannot be so naive as to think the public is ready for the sort of confessional that Wren Miller gave to MC
    The only way the public will ever be ‘ready’ for that sort of confessional is to adjust after it happens a few times.

  10. But, yeah, there’ve been women in the Methodist church for a long, long time. If people are still surprised that women–even pastors–have sex and sexual thoughts, I’m not sure how long is reasonable to ask women to wait for people to get more comfortable.

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