Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why Paul had to be married so that conservative Protestants in America can avoid hiring virgins

There is a reason I said "most". Sometimes a Christian will propose that Paul was married. Now Paul said that it is better for widows and the unmarried to remain as he is and most people
have interpreted that to mean not married but some Christians propose that this was a reference not to marriage but to sexual self-control. Given that Paul clearly says that marriage is a
concession to those who do not have sexual self-control this seems like a stretch but I've seen the case made via Clement of Alexandria that Paul WAS married and simply did not bring his
spouse with him because it would be inconvenient to bring her. Well, the trouble with citing Clement of Alexandria as an authority on the marital life of Paul who was martyred decades
before he was born is that Clement's case can be construed as an incorrect inference from textual evidence available in 1 Corinthians.

What is more if Paul had self-control while arguing that the married should not abstain from sexual intercourse so as to avoid making themselves vulnerable to the temptations of the devil
how could he possibly live up to this counsel himself if he and his wife never "came together" more than once a year or so? Though some Christians propose this view seriously there are too
many problems with it to take it seriously both because Clement of Alexandria wasn't born until decades after Paul's martyrdom and because there seems to be no compelling evidence from
other patristic sources to say that Paul was, in fact, married. Perhaps even the whole issue itself might be a debate Paul would warn Timothy was a stupid one to get involved in.

Ironically, this rhetorical, textual, and historical move pulls a fast one on the whole point of Paul's statement to Corinthian Christians that self-control becomes the basis for not marrying. It also turns Paul's whole argument in 1 Cor 6-7 into yet another case of "Do as I say, not as I've been doing." Funny, that seems to make Paul look pretty much just like a lot of conservative Protestant pastors but in precisely the opposite direction--Paul gets presented as a married man who never had much sex with his wife who enjoined men and women to marry and not deprive
each other of sex because of the temptation to sexual immorality. Yet if it weren't considered so necessary to say Paul was married so he met the qualifications of his own checklist in 1
Timothy and thus enforce that in contemporary pastoral hiring practices in America this sort of argument might not even come up.

Getting back to Timothy, if Timothy wasn't married and the checklist is still all-important by what measure could Timothy have been considered qualified to be first bishop of Ephesus (if he
was)? Well, two epistles from Paul would seem to have sufficed for evidence of Timothy's character. People who advocate that bishops/pastors/elders must be married are functionally saying that sexual purity, chastity, and celibacy are so utterly impossible that they refuse to believe the Spirit imparts these gifts to ANYONE and that therefore it is best to work on the
assumption that only married people are fit to be pastors.

Somewhere after the fact comes the argument that unmarried pastors won't have the experience or wisdom to counsel married couples or unmarried women or the rest of the practical issues single men are considered imcompetent to learn anything about. I have heard a fellow single guy say in all seriousness that unmarried guys don't know anything about relationships around the same time I helped him negotiate a long-running tension with one of his roommates. If wisdom is conferred by social class, social standing, and being properly "plugged in" there is perhaps no greater delineation between the married and the non-married than the "plugged in" aspect of marriage.

As I have written before, it seems as though there is a firm belief that the unmarried man knows nothing about "relationships" but as soon as he has said the magic words and waved his magic wand he can pontificate about everything once he's married. Timothy was not commended as a man fit to serve in ministry for his marriage or lack of marriage but for his character, his love for the Lord, and his knowledge of the scriptures. He apparently needed some encouragement to not let people look down on him for his youthfulness and was advised to treat younger women in purity. He was advised to drink some wine for his stomach, and he was also advised to flee youthful lusts and avoid getting mired in stupid controversies. Timothy was eminently qualified for the work he was assigned to but he was also a work in progress.

He also probably would not have been onsidered a suitable pastor in today's American conservative Protestant scene if he didn't have a nice little wife in tow. Instead he'd arrive on a scene in which Christians would write about the "epidemic of singleness" in America. He would arrive at a place where even pastors were talking about ways to have a great sex life from the pulpit. He would arrive at a place where the unmarried man is considered uniquely unqualified for being a minister of the Gospel. He would find that many Christians would say there is no gift of singleness but a gift of celibacy and they would be curiously silent about what that would look like. The one thing everyone assumes is that nobody could possibly be a virgin and the ones who say they are may well be least worthy to get hired as pastors because they just can't understand how to counsel married people or parents.

In fact what we see are people who take 1 Cor 6-7 and make a case that none of it applies as an argument that it is preferable to remain unmarried. After all, Paul wrote to a church that
was experiencing persecution and hard times. Unless you're smuggling Bibles to China or risking your life in evangelizing colored people you better not resist your God-ordained design for
your life, which is to get married. Notice the sarcasm there? Good.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

People who advocate that bishops/pastors/elders must be married are functionally saying that sexual purity, chastity, and celibacy are so utterly impossible....

I've heard the same used as justification for sleeping around.

Right up there with "Everybody's Doing It!"