Skip to content

As if it needed to be said

It’s good that a recent NY Times article has drawn attention to the unending evangelical idolatry of marriage and family and their correspondingly shameful treatment of single pastors, and especially of single women pastors.

Well known theological hack and neocon ideologue, Al Mohler gives us a rather striking display of his own idolatrous and anti-biblical views on the matter saying that “if [students seeking to enter the ministry] remain single, they need to understand that there’s going to be a significant limitation on their ability to serve as a pastor.”

It seems to me that the Apostle Paul believed the exact opposite of the shit that Mohler’s spouting here (1 Cor 7:28-38). Funny how explicit rejection of the clear teaching of the NT can be made to go hand in hand with blustering proclamations about inerrancy. Add it to  the laundry list of evangelical self-contradictions I guess.


  1. Kait wrote:

    I think that the obsession for clergy to be married within evangelical Churches (EC’s) stems largely from sexual issues that remain undiscussed and unchallenged (I am continually impacted by this since I am a single female student studying at a male-dominated evangelical seminary though I love my overall experience with this issue aside). There is so much paranoia within the EC’s that singleness among the pastorate will automatically serve an “invitation” for sexual scandal. But more than going against explicit passages in the NT that you cite, it seems (as my friend pointed out) such criteria would deem even the Apostle Paul as unworthy to pastor most EC’s. Tragic.

    Monday, March 21, 2011 at 8:08 pm | Permalink
  2. derek wrote:

    It had been too long since you broke out the “things that make you” tag-glad it’s back

    Monday, March 21, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Permalink
  3. Rod wrote:

    Interesting that the topic of singleness comes up. The other day over at Mere orthodoxy (it was the first time I visited- probably one of the last), but the post was about traditional marriage, and I asked if there was a place for singles.

    Of course, i got no answers, but another commenter received plenty of responses. sigh.

    Monday, March 21, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Permalink
  4. Peter wrote:

    What does Mohler mean by “the logic of Scripture”? Does he think the Bible is one long cohesive philosophical argument or something? Was St. Paul being sarcastic in 1 Corinthians?

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 1:17 am | Permalink
  5. dustin wrote:

    I play music with a band that played at an event at Southern Seminary where Mohler spoke. He’s a sharp dude, but sharp in a certain way. Like the way where one is utterly convinced everything one says is always right.

    His whole talk was based around how most of the students there already know certain things about “God’s will” for them. He rattled off about 30 things (no joke), but my favorite was: “God’s will is for you to be married, now.” “Men, if you have a girl you like-go and marry her now. Some of you need to get off your butts and go get married now.” This was to a room full of college students. Also in there: “God’s will is for you to have lots of children, this means all of you.”

    Good stuff indeed….

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 5:29 am | Permalink
  6. Brad A. wrote:

    Well said, Halden. Mohler’s other untenable statement was, “Both the logic of Scripture and the centrality of marriage in society [justify] the strong inclination of congregations to hire a man who is not only married but faithfully married.” Biblical eisegesis and cultural nostalgia on parade at SBTS, apparently…

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 5:55 am | Permalink
  7. Marvin wrote:

    Isn’t this about the anxiety over “unregulated sexuality?” To borrow a metaphor from the news, people like Mohler regard the sexual impulse as they do nuclear power; it needs to be contained in the vessel of marriage. Single people are like power plants whose reactor cores are breached. That means leaks, contamination, etc.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Evangelicals wind up instituting some kind of temporary chastity vow for single clergy and candidates for ministry. The purity ring thing made mandatory. A strangely Roman Catholic-like solution to this “problem,” but what unites Evangelicals and RCs is an abiding anxiety about the sexual impulse.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 7:00 am | Permalink
  8. Halden wrote:

    It has always befuddled me how anyone can imagine that marriage, as such, actually keeps sexual impulse “reined in.”

    More people need to watch Mad Men.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 8:54 am | Permalink
  9. Halden wrote:

    Yeah, I thought the problem was that society didn’t consider marriage to be central anymore?

    So much doubletalk.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink
  10. Kevin Davis wrote:

    Thanks for pointing this out, Halden. I keep-up with Mohler, and the SBC in general, and this is a favorite topic of his for the last few years. It’s this sort of stuff that has kept me out of the SBC — not any particular issue but, rather, the cultural-exegetical constraints that make this possible (and common). There are a few SBC’ers who are aware of these problems (e.g., Timothy George at Samford), so maybe there’s hope yet. But, the thousands of young males that flock to the six SBC seminaries are, by and large, completely on board with Mohler’s analysis of church and culture.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 8:57 am | Permalink
  11. Kait wrote:

    It seems to me that this is a failure to grasp the reality that the problem isn’t singleness, but all humanity in general. Each human being has the propensity to use another human being as a utilitarian means for sexual satisfaction. Whether married or single, all individuals are prone to sexual activity that excludes commitment. But even after marriage, sometimes single women in EC’s get treated by married male types as if both are ape-like mammals without any sense of self-control. As soon as a male and female are left alone together, many EC’s churches seem to believe that the only default option is adultery. It can truly be a disturbing experience.

    This post might seem a bit of an exaggeration, but I tell you that it is the norm within EC’s. While I understand they might have the best intentions, it really does make single females within EC’s feel uncomfortable to say the very least:

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 9:27 am | Permalink
  12. Evan wrote:

    I’m not sure why something like this would be a sign of a unique anxiety about sex. While there is certainly a lot of debate about how to approach sex in the churches, fidelity/chastity vows for ordination don’t exactly strike me as an odd practice or some recently emergent hang-up… and you don’t need to go to evangelicalism or Roman Catholicism to find them in place.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 9:28 am | Permalink
  13. Evan wrote:

    …this is in reply to Kait’s second paragraph of her first comment about chastity vows. I’m not denying that there are problematic conceptions of singleness present in the church or that these conceptions inordinately affect women.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 9:31 am | Permalink
  14. Evan wrote:

    …sorry again. Marvin’s second paragraph.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 9:31 am | Permalink
  15. Tony Hunt wrote:

    Heck, you don’t even have to watch the show, just look at a picture of Cristina Hendricks.

    On the topic, having been a virgin when I got married, I’ve found married life much more difficult to navigate sexually than the celibate life.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 11:06 am | Permalink
  16. Tim McGee wrote:

    We should also consider the economic issues. Hiring a married man with children often means you get a “women’s ministry” or “children’s ministry” coordinator for free (pastor’s wife is expected to “be involved,” meaning, unpaid labor). A single guy, single woman, or even married woman does not provide this economic benefit. Obviously, this isn’t the only thing going on but I do think it is another contributing factor.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  17. Halden wrote:

    Yeah, the author mentions that in the article. I think the expectation for pastor’s wives to provide unpaid labor is a very real factor.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 11:23 am | Permalink
  18. Hill wrote:

    To be fair, I’ve heard that Catholic insiders consider the problem to be the other way around. Married priests with kids would require much more money to support. It would be fiscally very difficult, if not impossible, to support the current priesthood of it a significant fraction of it was composed of married men with children. I think evangelical pastors probably make a lot more money than Catholic priests, though, so maybe it is already baked in, i.e. “We’re already paying these guys a lot, so might as well get the free labor.”

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 11:26 am | Permalink
  19. Halden wrote:

    Yeah I suspect that evangelical pastors get paid a lot more. And its certainly not as if they can get away with paying single folks less outright (what with the law and all).

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 11:28 am | Permalink
  20. Geoff wrote:

    Evangelical churches do pay single folks less.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Permalink
  21. Halden wrote:

    I’m sure in many cases they do. Its just that with many pastoral positions the salary is set at the outset, and they couldn’t very well alter it upon finding out that someone was single (or if the did it’d be illegal). Seems like it would more likely be the case that the churches would just refuse to hire the single people except for positions that pay less and in which they have less authority/responsibility. That’s what I remember seeing quite a bit of anyway.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Permalink
  22. WenatcheeTheHatchet wrote:

    It does seem as though, even as an evangelical, that too many of my fellow evangelicals have a social hierarchy with singles at the bottom, most especially single males, single women and children above that, dating people above that, married people above that, and married parents at the top of the pecking order. It would appear that in many settings a single man is considered unfit to be a teacher of anything Christian. No sooner has the previously completely unqualified single man exchanged rings, said the magic words, and waved his magic wand then he is endued with all wisdom and authority to pontificate (if he chooses) about all forms of human discourse and experience.

    I’ve been told that because, basically, I’m an unmarried man that I don’t know anything about sacrifice and some have even gone so far as to basically say that a person isn’t really an adult until marriage … or until parenthood. I’ve pointed out that this seems to be a constant moving of the goalposts but mostly to no avail.

    I’ve also noticed that there is a double standard whereby straight sexual desire is considered prima facie evidence one “should” be married whereas a gay sexual orientation is considered a need for reorientation or celibacy.

    People who haven’t studied the use of castrati in the Church (or of stories about Catholic castrati who converted to Anglicanism so they could marry) and don’t know about eunuchs think that “eunuch” refers to someone who doesn’t have sexual desire. That’s not the case. The value of the eunuch was not that he wouldn’t have sexual desires, it was that he couldn’t produce an heir who could be a rival to the throne. There are probably very few evangelicals preaching through Isaiah’s word to the eunuchs. In some ways our culture is worse about this because volitional romantic pairing is seen as the thing that defines true humanity in a lot of America, regardless of whether or not it is an evangelical group we’re talking about or not.

    There ARE evangelicals who point out that there is no necessity to marry and that serving the Lord without the distractings of maintaining a marriage is just as good a thing as being married. When I discover these unfortunately rare evangelicals I keep listening to them.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Permalink
  23. MFB wrote:

    I wonder if this issue looks the same on both sides of the gender divide. I’d imagine a single female pastor would be more in demand than a married one. No divided attention with family. No maternity leave policy. You can send her on mission trips without having to work things out at home. All things you’d get in a married male pastor, eh?

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Permalink
  24. Halden,

    As someone who not only attended SBTS, but also has been in the types of talks that dustin mentioned his buddy observed, I want only to say that this is a slight caricature and misrepresentation of what Mohler is actually saying.

    First, he’s not saying that you have to be married to be a pastor. He’s pointing out the pragmatics of the situation: Scripture speaks of an elder being a “one-woman man” and it is a central institution in our society, so it’s understandable that churches have this bias, like it or not (and we shouldn’t). He says the same thing about alcohol – drinking is not unbiblical, but it will keep you from getting a job at most SBC churches, whether it should or not (and it shouldn’t).

    But I won’t dispute that in many evangelical circles, and especially in the SBC, there’s a supposed ontological superiority ascribed to the married couple. The single man/woman is looked at askance, ‘what’s wrong with them?’ is the common refrain. But “neo-cons” also have voices who point this out and challenge it. Every tradition has its vices.

    Second, and this is for dustin’s comment, Mohler told them it was “God’s will” to do those things in the context of communicating that they shouldn’t be overly concerned with “finding God’s will,” as if it was something hidden that needed to be unearthed. Marriage and procreation are God-ordained things and they are thus “God’s will” for us, otherwise he would prohibit them! He was trying to strip those college students of the hindering notion that they need to find “the one.”

    I’m not going to stand here and defend Mohler at every point, even I have my disagreements with him and with some of the culture at SBTS, but he deserves more than a ham-fisted hearing. Where’s the charity, gentlemen?

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 4:59 pm | Permalink
  25. roger flyer wrote:


    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Permalink
  26. roger flyer wrote:

    You must be new to the scene. Ham fisting is one of Halden’s culinary specialties.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Permalink
  27. Marvin wrote:

    It gets better.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Permalink
  28. Marvin wrote:

    I was thinking more of an office, or ministry, or thingy, than a vow. Really, I was just shooting my mouth off from a general impression that conservative Evangelicals make mountains out of molehills, and trying to game that out regarding the “problem” of single clergy.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Permalink
  29. Marvin wrote:

    Two things. One, in an effort to bend over backwards, is there any chance that Mohler has in mind the stereotypical video game playing, Lite Beer drinking, unserious guy who won’t commit? That guy does need a talking to about marriage avoidance.

    Second, I posted a few more thoughts here:

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Permalink
  30. Brad A. wrote:

    Tyler, that’s how I took the Mohler’s statement that Halden quotes originally. But when I re-read it, especially in light of the other comment I quote above, it doesn’t come out merely as an empirical observation of the situation, i.e., the limiting circumstances of contemporary (conservative) evangelicalism. It seems to be an ontological characterization. Moreover, he does not seem to question the appropriateness of the empirical situation, either – he takes it for granted, and it seems, takes it as good.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 7:08 am | Permalink
  31. rasselas wrote:

    YES! just when i was getting tired of playing red dead redemption undead nightmare zombie overrun – thx :)

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 8:10 am | Permalink
  32. Brad, it’s a journalistic piece. I worked for a newspaper and I can tell you first hand, about 1% of an interview is actually used in any given article.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 8:36 am | Permalink
  33. WenatcheeTheHatchet wrote:

    A high end ratio would be 5-10%. I was a journalism student so, yeah, I can verify how tiny a proportion of interview material gets into an article and that’s not even ensuring that things get quoted accurately or in context.

    I do think Halden gets overly cranky about American evangelicals sometimes, speaking as one. But I can’t shake the impression that as John Stott approaches his 90th birthday that more than a few American evangelical churches would not hire him and consider him unfit to pastor because he’s never married.

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Permalink
  34. Lindsay wrote:

    I have to admit that I nearly vomited when I read that link . . .

    Wednesday, March 23, 2011 at 11:18 pm | Permalink
  35. Hatchett,

    No doubt. The common line in younger SBC crowds is that Jesus couldn’t be our pastor. The man didn’t wear a suit, had long hair with a beard, drank wine, he was single, etc.

    Same goes for Paul.

    Thus, we pray.

    Thursday, March 24, 2011 at 8:58 am | Permalink
  36. MFB wrote:

    I agree with Lindsay. Awful.

    Friday, March 25, 2011 at 5:17 am | Permalink
  37. Brad, I concede that you’re right about this to a degree:

    But he doesn’t take it for granted. I disagree with his exegesis, but I see how and why he takes this view.

    Friday, March 25, 2011 at 8:42 am | Permalink
  38. Halden wrote:

    I just now worked up the courage to click on that.

    I now have incurable mind cancer.

    Friday, March 25, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink
  39. WenatcheeTheHatchet wrote:

    I would say the problem with his exegesis is that it’s mere prooftexting. If both epistles to Timothy are authentically Pauline it actually messes up the assumption that marriage was a non-negotiable requirement for eldership. Paul urges Timothy to appoint teachers, describes which men are qualified, and urges Timothy to not be too hasty to install elders.

    Then in the second epistle Paul urges Timothy to install men who are fit to each and to go join him as soon as possible and bring books and a cloak with him. Given how common marriage was in that time and culture the odds that there weren’t enough married men to choose from who managed their households well seems like a stretch. Why hadn’t Timothy managed to find and install any suitable elders? Why, further, does church tradition describe Timothy as the first bishop of Ephesus? If both Timothy epistles are genuine it would seem that finding qualified married men to be elders in Ephesus was more challenging than either Paul or Timothy anticipated. If church tradition about Timothy is reliable the task turned out to be so challenging Timothy stayed in Ephesus and became bishop there because, we may guess, he found it necessary to battle false teaching. Now if guys like Mohler can either prove that Timothy was married and thus qualified to be an elder himself or that he was never actually an elder they can make the marriage-required case. Speaking as a pretty conservative evangelical I would say that given authenticity TWO EPISTLES FROM PAUL vouching for Timothy’s character count for much better qualifications for eldership than marriage.

    As others have pointed out over at Internet Monk, it just makes no sense that Paul, as an apostle who was notoriously not married, was unqualified to be an elder at Ephesus by the checklist he gave to Timothy for appointing elders. As I see it, the more traditional and conservative you are about the pastoral epistles the more impossible it is to make a sustained case that marriage was a prerequisite for eldership. The overkill on celibate bishops in Catholic tradition may have gone too far but overcompensation for overcompensation doesn’t yield a more responsible reading of the textual evidence.

    Friday, March 25, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Permalink
  40. Kait wrote:

    I should note that the link doesn’t make *all* females within EC’s feel uncomfortable. Obviously women in the neo-reformed Acts 29 Church networks are okay with these type of guidelines since they endorse such regulations in various ways. But they make *me* feel very uncomfortable (to say the least as I said before) and obviously you all as well.

    Sunday, March 27, 2011 at 6:59 am | Permalink

Switch to our mobile site