Pat Jobe, a Greenville, S.C., pastor, writes on LGBT inclusion and the place of LGBT clergy in the church:
The man across from me in the coffee shop is an unemployed minister. Boy, is that ever a strange phrase, “unemployed minister.”
There are a few former ministers in the world who, for whatever reason, found church work did not match their skills or desires. Plenty of retired ministers can be found doing volunteer work, hiking the mountains, or trying to avoid three-putting local greens, but hundreds of those men and women still serve small churches on a part-time basis.
But a minister with skills and desires to serve who can’t find work? That’s a very unusual animal. Drive along any five-mile stretch in Greenville County and you’ll pass churches. Each church needs a minister. The big ones need a bunch of them. I recently visited the website of a local mega church. They have more ministers than flies around honey; and I’d be willing to bet a decent wager that all of them work long hours, sacrifice greatly to serve their congregations, especially the sick, the wounded, the widows and orphans.
So how can this man sitting across from me, this man I know to be well educated, well read, an excellent writer and a dramatic story teller, how can this man be unemployed? As we talked about his options, I thought of a number of religious groups who would pounce on a preacher of his talents. The United Methodists have been seeing their clergy retire in droves. The Catholics have been talking about a shortage of priests for decades.
Hospitals, colleges and prisons all need chaplains. There are special ministries to home churches, campgrounds, even industries sometimes staff their HR departments with at least one clergy person. Who doesn’t need a good minister every now and then?
Oh, but wait. My friend is gay. Boom! Did you hear those doors slamming? Ninety percent of the ministry jobs in this part of this country just disappeared. What? Oh, yes, as strange as it may seem to young readers who don’t understand how anybody could be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation, there are very few churches open to gay ministers.
I discussed this strange mode of discrimination with the Rev. Charles O. Milford Jr., a native of Greenville who led the Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte for 34 years. He said of churches who refuse to ordain gays and lesbians, “They are losing the most sensitive of the men and the best leaders among the women.”
Sure, these are stereotypes, but sometimes they hold true. Gay men, as a group, probably are more sensitive than straight men; and lesbians may not all be tough leaders, strong leaders, excellent leaders, but among my lesbian friends, there sure are plenty I would follow into any fight for social justice.
This debate will last at least another generation, although most of the young people I know don’t quite understand the controversy. In another generation those who discriminate against gays and lesbians today will feel the shame their parents felt at discriminating against blacks 40 years ago.
For now, both my friend and the churches he could be serving are suffering a ridiculous loss. He has given his life to serving others only to now be looking for a job. Churches in search of a great voice of truth and love and peace and justice have to pretend he doesn’t exist. What a waste. If I could snap my finger and make it all different, it would not change the damage that has been done already, the months he has sent out job applications, the Sundays he has not been available to call a congregation to its better angels.
There is a movement in the back channels of Washington power right now to change the military’s policy on gays and lesbians serving. Conservative politicians are being lobbied by military commanders to keep gays and lesbians in uniform. Why? Because many of the service personnel being drummed out are among the best trained, best qualified, smartest, most talented airmen, soldiers, and sailors we have.
The same argument could be made for my gay minister friend. The problem is not that some church is having to function without a minister. It’s that some church is functioning without a great minister. : :
— Pat Jobe is a pastor and author or co-author of four books, including ”365 Ways to Criticize the Preacher.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.