Where Angels Fear to Tread

Tuesday Musing of a Pastor – Where Angels Fear to Tread
February 21, 2017


Where Angels Fear To Tread

I have never been to a NASCAR race but understand that if a caution flag is waved every car must pace until flag is lifted.

Consider the caution flag raised.

Laila’s dissertation for her Virginia Tech doctorate was a study of the wives of pastors. At the time of her research more than 85 books had been written by, for or about ministers’ wives. No part of the life of a minister’s wife was spared advice, sometimes written by men.

Laila perused every book, selected certain ones for her research and proceeded with a contextual analysis. She did not include in her study husbands of women ministers. There were fascinating sociological differences discovered between eras of 1940-1959, 1960-1979, and 1980-1998.

For example, divorce was unthinkable in the first era, but in the last era pastors might divorce and continue to serve a congregation. In the first era, the wife of a pastor was expected to support her husband/pastor at home and in parish work. By 1980 the wife of a pastor might not even attend the church her husband served. There are numerous other notable differences.

Ministry is the only profession that a wife is expected to participate without pay in her husband’s profession. It has been designated the only profession where the hirer gets two for the price of one, i.e., one is paid, but the other is expected to fulfill duties without salary.

Most professions have no handbooks for wives. There are few manuals for wives of military and corporate wives. However, such books are more about behavior and emotional support than participation in the husband’s professional work.

It took me a long while to find my own copy of an out-of-print book “How to Be A Bishop Without Being Religious.” Written by a Methodist minister it has a tongue-in-cheek humorous twist. He suggests that a minister’s wife should be attractive, but not so much that other women feel jealous. She should be friendly, but not too friendly. If this book were taken seriously, being the wife of a pastor would be impossible.

If we move from 1940 to 2017 it feels like hurtling through the Milky Way at light years’ speed.

But before we venture too far let us go back to early Protestant history. Roman Catholicism forbade marriage, though many priests had secret wives and girlfriends and some Popes had children. However, a minister having a wife was a cultural intervention… a revolution. Keeping her quietly at home having babies and maintaining household was discrete. One Bishop’s wife if out in public was carried in a closed container in order to protect her from people who were opposed to clergy marriage.

The historical record of early Protestantism provides little record of wives of ministers being directly involved in ministry with their husbands. If the wife was attractive she was expected to camouflage her beauty by dressing extremely modest.

Now back to 2017. Frumpy dresses, high hairdos and pump heels of 1940’s are out.

Visit Facebook and websites of pastoral couples. You may see on a church web page a pastoral couple in a romantic posture. The wife may be dressed in sassy ways that speak of her beauty or boasts of name brand clothes. Do not be surprised if you see the minister’s wife in yoga pants with a short top. Her hair may be so stylish that it would catch attention in a public place. Do not expect the color of hair to be constant. Fingernails and toes may speak loudly of the comfort of economics to afford luxuries.

You may find pictures of the ministerial couple on Facebook in beach clothes,
sports cars, motorcycles, and exotic vacations are proudly displayed on social sites.

Careful, do not be hasty and judge the writer of this Musing as being an obstructionist to progress. This Musing is a call to reason, to think, to ask that clergy couples spend time in discussion, talking with mentors and praying. This Musing is a call that clergy couples to ask if those we lead see past the social presentation to Christ as Lord. After we have passed from this stage of life does the fragrance of Christ remain when we are forgotten.

To all of this we MUSE. If our liberation is so wonderful we wonder why the number of divorces among clergy continues to rise. We wonder why women are on stages of churches wear skin-tight pants with shirts. We wonder why there is an increasing number of ministers and wives who are becoming addicted to pornography. We wonder…

Yet we are not without answers. People follow their leaders. People in the pews feel free to do all their leaders do and a little bit more. The more immodest or carnal the leaders become, the more immodest or carnal their followers become.

Recently, a man arrived home from work early. He found his wife in bed with their pastor. The pastor fled out of the house naked. Police intervened but decided not to press charges. The pastor apologized to his congregation on Sunday and said to the congregation: “You ought not to have to apologize for my sin.” The congregation stood and asked for him to stay.

Let us take this apart. What the congregation did is not an act of godly mercy and compassion. Biblical mercy requires repentance, correction, and accountability. Yes, grace is a good thing.  But asking the pastor to stay in spite of his adulterous behavior and without any time taken for reflection and resolution before restitution was effectively saying: “Now we can keep our sins and do a little bit more.
The Pastor will have no right to correct us.”

Whatever a pastor and his wife do establishes social boundaries that give comfort zones to parishioners.

I grew up country. When we left the gates down the cows roamed. They knew no boundaries. You might find them, you might not.

It is not our liberty as ministerial couples to let the gates down.

Caution flag lifted… run the race at full speed.  And stay on the track.
It leads to the finish line with success.

Pastor Bare
P.S. Whatever you are reading is Laila’s edited version.

Thank you for your notes of encouragement as I write the Musings.  If you find them helpful, please feel free to forward to friends and ministers.  No charge as long as you do not sell. It is a joy to hear from you.

Harold L. Bare, Sr., Ph.D.
Senior Pastor, Covenant Church
(434) 953-9065

Covenant Church
1025 Rio Road East
Charlottesville VA 22901


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