To fornicate, or not to fornicate
August 26, 2008 1:24 PM   Subscribe

Looking for practical input from those familiar with dating members of the Christian/Protestant clergy

I'm a woman in my early 30s and I met a man last year in his late 30s who is a minister at a local Protestant church. We met on a dating website. He is, I'm assuming, actively and openly dating. (We live about an hour apart, me closer to the city. I've never been to his town and we socialize in the city together.) My questions lack definition but the general gist is that I'm wondering what I may need to anticipate that would differ from my usual expectations of dating someone who is not a church leader. (I was raised in a Congregational church in the northeast, baptized and confirmed, but I'm no longer an active member and know little to nothing about the "rules" of the church.)

Does anyone know whether I should anticipate complications along the lines of a conflict with pre-marital sex?

I'm also curious about a potentially public role as his life partner. We've had a couple pretty direct conversations about him being with someone who's not a member of the church and he said it shouldn't complicate things for him. I have these visions of "church wife" and a public role a la a politician's wife or something. Could he really be being straight with me that he doesn't forsee it as an issue that I'm not an active member of his church? Or that I at times pretty openly question my faith? (And if he's not being straight with me, and just looking to get laid, which seems a natural counterpoint here, then that brings me back to question 1.)

I'm confused and I find that it's hard to get all of the answers I want without being too presumptuous (we're dating - asking many detailed questions about my potential role as his wife is a little cart before the horse) or seemingly condescending. I'm sort of out in a universe of my own here. Most of my friends are so completely incredulous that I'm dating a minister in the first place, our conversations begin and end with that fact.

If anyone knows any ministers personally, could you share what you know of their dating lives? Thanks so much!
posted by smallstatic to Human Relations (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
From what I know of various Protestant denominations, this is a largely unanswerable question. There's a large difference between a liberal Presbyterian church and a fundamentalist Baptist one in terms of the expectations involved in the wife or girlfriend of a member of clergy and her role in the church, not to mention extra-marital sex or even a hint thereof.

That said, why hasn't he invited you to his town or his church? I could understand it's because he'd like his personal life to develop naturally in its early moment, away from the eyes of parishioners, though it could be more sinister than that, too. Has he talked to you about marriage? There's a lot of crucial information missing here.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:36 PM on August 26, 2008


Does anyone know whether I should anticipate complications along the lines of a conflict with pre-marital sex?
If he's a minister with any flavor of christanity I think it's safe to say you won't be getting any.
posted by Kellydamnit at 1:45 PM on August 26, 2008


Regarding the potential public role as his life partner, in the "mainline" Protestant churches, for the most part that is no longer an expectation. For one thing, some denominations are ordaining more women than men. Pastor's Spouse can go ahead and have a career of his or her own, and is not expected to serve cookies at meetings in the parsonage (if there even is one -- many ministers are choosing to buy their own houses rather than living in church-owned parsonages), or take a leadership role in church affairs. I'm sure there are examples of non-practicing spouses who just don't show up at church at all.

Obviously, should it come to that, you'll want to discuss any expectations regarding your church role up front. If this is a more fundamentalist or evangelical church, the expectations could be for stronger involvement, but not necessarily. I know one couple where she is a fundamentalist minister in a semi-megachurch, and he attends a mainline UCC church.

Regarding Dee's question, I would think he wants to separate his personal life from his professional life, which bodes well -- if you date a doctor, he doesn't suggest that you make an appointment for a physical.
posted by beagle at 1:46 PM on August 26, 2008


Yeah, without knowing the denomination, or (in the case of an independent church) its closest related denomination, it's impossible to know. There is such a huge variety of beliefs, cultures, and expectations under the "protestant" umbrella that more info is really needed.

But it's safe to say that the "by-the-book" rules of most protestant churches preclude premarital sex. How closely any particular member or minister adheres to those rules is another matter.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 1:49 PM on August 26, 2008


Your perception of the "minister's wife" is not far from the truth. Even if he has no expectation of you, and even if there are no official expectations of you, there are still many congregations that feel that a minister's wife should be a highly visible member of the church and active in church activities.

With regard to pre-marital sex, your best bet is to have the conversation before it comes up. Pick a time where you're both relaxed and comfortable and approach it straightforwardly. The fact that he's a minister in a Christian denomination makes it a valid conversation to have. It can only be a good thing for each of you to know the other's expectations. Most Protestant denominations hold that premarital sex for their clergy is a no-no, but there are churches who go their own way on issues such as these. Ask your fellow.

As for openly questioning your faith, most intellectually-honest Christians will admit to doing this; if you're not asking questions, you're not thinking. You may need to figure out where you stand, though. I can't imagine a Christian congregation being happy with their minister marrying an unbeliever.

You're in an challenging situation. Good luck to you.
posted by DWRoelands at 1:50 PM on August 26, 2008


We've had a couple pretty direct conversations about him being with someone who's not a member of the church and he said it shouldn't complicate things for him

Of course it wouldn't, it's easier for him to keep his personal and work life separate. Same with the rest of us, it's not wise to date at the office. I think that's extra true for the clergy- a pastor shouldn't be trolling the people he's providing spiritual leadership to for dates.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:57 PM on August 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


I dated a woman who was a youth minister and second in command of her Baptist congregation, while I'm an ethically left of center mystical type. While we were only together for three months or so, her faith or my lack of it were never issues.

One thing the experience opened my eyes to was how political church life is. In her church of 100 or so there was constant bickering over everything, with the older members trying to drive off the younger crowd seemingly to ensure that the congregation dies with them. Expect bullshit in baptismal sized quantities if you end up as Ms. Lovejoy.

On the other hand, there was a refreshing selflessness among the ministers of the church that didn't come off as a phony attempt to avoid the flames of hell. If you could seperate the minister from his flock you'd probably have a great guy. If you have a diplomatic nature and can see the best in people even when they're squabbling like children then you'd stay sane as a minister's wife.
posted by bunnytricks at 1:58 PM on August 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


We've had a couple pretty direct conversations about him being with someone who's not a member of the church and he said it shouldn't complicate things for him.

I can't think of something more harrowing for a minister than introducing his girlfriends to members of his church. You know how uncomfortable it is to tell your friends, families, coworkers that a relationship ended? And do you remember how many times you had to tell people it ended who you weren't close too? Imagine telling all the little old ladies at your church not only that it didnt' work out but have to explain why it didn't, receive their input on why it didn't work, and then have them try to set you up with their daughters/granddaughters/etc. And, if you're actively dating, imagine having to do this multiple times and then having your girlfriends measured up to another person constantly. Managing a church is extremely stressful - adding your lovelife into the mess doesn't sound something that most people would want.

Reading this question, and your previous ones, it seems that you are not very close to your minister friend (to the point where I'll question that you are even dating - you've known him for at least 9 months and the concept of sex hasn't come up yet?) and that, rather than actually talkinig to this fellow, you are drowning yourself in assumptions about what will happen in the far flung future. That is good...to a point. But if you're not willing to talk to your partner, communicate your assumptions, fears, etc, you're probably not going to even get to that far flung future, are you?

You seem to be very afraid of being pigeonholed but, honestly, it looks like you're not even in the spot where that will happen. Talk to him, lay your assumptions out there, and get his input. If you're unwilling to do that...well...time to move on I would think.
posted by Stynxno at 2:14 PM on August 26, 2008 [2 favorites]


Response by poster: Stynxo,
You CALLED IT. I've tried to transition him to friend status before - introduce him around, potentially hook him up with one of my girlfriends and keep him in friend orbit, etc. but he was having none of it. When I met him I was only recently out of an engagement and was in no shape to be dating anyone seriously and I told him as much. But as I've gotten the rebounds out of my system, and he's still around asking for dinner dates, things have taken a turn for the more affectionate lately. And he's, bottom line, a great, trustworthy guy. I'm thinking of trying to give him a chance. But I've got all these (capital M) Minister questions and confusion, in addition to the latent fear that we're just not compatible anyway because if something great was going to happen, wouldn't it already have? This one is so complicated. But I'm nothing if not game for a challenge. We'll see I guess.
posted by smallstatic at 2:20 PM on August 26, 2008


I'm 11-years-now married to a United Church of Canada (CDN UC of Christ, sorta) minister, and hope I can offer a little help.

My questions lack definition but the general gist is that I'm wondering what I may need to anticipate that would differ from my usual expectations of dating someone who is not a church leader.

As others have said, without knowing the denomination/affiliation of said Minister, this is a tough question to answer, but I'm going to go out on a bit of a conjectural limb here:

1) Identifying a church as Protestant usually (but not always) leans towards more "lefty" and liberal views. Non-left churches tend to describe themselves as Baptist. I know that US-Canada don't exactly align on the spectrum, but more left tends to mean more accepting, less traditional views on wives/spouses/significant others and relationships. (YMMV -- MeFites, please don't flame me on left/right or right/wrong denominations. I'm speaking from my own experience, not yours.)

2) If he's listing himself on a traditional non-Christian dating site, and not doing it secretly or on the sly, I'd guess he's much more likely to be from the left side of the spectrum. If he's from a Baptist-type congregation, and doing so, I'd personally be concerned about what this means down the road (disclaimer again, IANYou, and IANAnAuthority).

Does anyone know whether I should anticipate complications along the lines of a conflict with pre-marital sex?

Again, see above. MsLiquado and I lived together for over a year before we were married (though we were engaged), and while we may have raised a few eyebrows with older members of our then-congregation, most accepted it as not a big deal. In our denomination, which focuses on the importance of a committed relationship (rather than a legal one), this is generally a non-issue.

I'm also curious about a potentially public role as his life partner. We've had a couple pretty direct conversations about him being with someone who's not a member of the church and he said it shouldn't complicate things for him. I have these visions of "church wife" and a public role a la a politician's wife or something.

Make no mistake, as a spouse/SO of a minister, you will be in the spotlight at times. Again, depending on the denomination, your role is impossible to determine, but this assumption/requirement is all over the map. As the male "minister's wife," as well as a congregation member, I'm very involved in our congregational life, but through my own choice. It is possible to *not* be involved in the church's life, but has been awkward at times for other ministerial spouses I've known in the past, more wives than husbands. (Of course. Yay for historical patriarchal predispositions! Argh.) As DWRoelands mentioned, there are, however, sometimes vast differences between official and unofficial expectations.

Most of my friends are so completely incredulous that I'm dating a minister in the first place, our conversations begin and end with that fact.

For me, I have had more fun being the spouse of a minister because of said incredulity, rather than in spite of it. I regularly mention that the real reason we got married was so that I got a "Get Out of Hell Free" card.

@ Kellydamnit: If he's a minister with any flavor of christanity I think it's safe to say you won't be getting any.
I think it's safe to say your assumption could be occasionally inaccurate. :)

@ Dee Xtrovert: I would guess that he hasn't invited her because he doesn't want to hear the nonstop allusions to wedding bells and matrimonial bliss that well-meaning but nosy congregation members can engage in. Visibility comes into play here, as well. In relationship-type stuff, congregations tend to be like parents -- don't bring the love of your life home unless you (a) think she's got potential as a mate, and (b) she's up to the inevitable grilling and microscope time.

Ministers are humans, too -- just with a (usually) somewhat-more-profound commitment to their profession than the rest of us. :)

Good luck -- msg me privately if needed.
posted by liquado at 2:30 PM on August 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


@Stynxo: You said it far better than I.
posted by liquado at 2:32 PM on August 26, 2008


Well, from what I recall reading in Savage Love, it's easier and more legal to date someone NOT in your congregation. So that shouldn't be a problem right now.

However, if you got to the point of marriage, I would expect that you should probably become an active participant/leader in the church he's in. There will be great pressure on you to, and great awkwardness at best if you don't. I have a friend with a sister who is a minister and married someone who was an atheist and refused to go to church or do anything in the way of churchiness. This has completely dive-bombed the sister's career. At that point, if you're still questioning, you're probably going to need to keep that on the down low.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:39 PM on August 26, 2008


RE: The role of a church wife (/spouse):

On one hand, our minister's wife is very active involved with the congregation. She plays a very public role as "the minister's wife" (Presbyterian Church USA). On the other, I met someone online (at BeliefNet) who was an atheist married to a minister (Methodist Church). He didn't particularly try to hide his atheism but he didn't parade it either, and by his account got along reasonably well with the congregation (although he obviously wasn't a regular attender).

I think it's hard to generalize without getting into more detail about your minister friend and his church. Like liquado says, how liberal or conservative his church is will have a large influence on the situation; the more liberal, the better (although I don't pick up on the "Protestant" versus "Baptist" labels as much here in Texas; Protestant around here means more like "Christian, but not Catholic".
posted by Doohickie at 3:40 PM on August 26, 2008


Nthing everyone saying depends a lot on the denomination. So will just share personal opinions.

My church has a pretty conservative older congregation and one of our pastors had a non-Christian wife. She went to church most if not all Sundays (never actively looked for her myself, but saw her around). She wasn't introduced to the congregation until they were engaged. (I agree with stynxno about the ordeal of dating for ministers). I don't think anybody protested it, some whispers maybe, but I don't think anyone was hugely upset by it. But she also gave off the impression that she was exploring the Christian faith, and she was open to the idea of becoming one.

Admittedly, I don't know a lot about other denominations, and I'm not really a practicing Christian anymore, but I would guess a minister that would ok premarital sex is rare. It would be very hypocritical to me. It seems to be such an important part of Christian doctrine/life, that to not follow it would make him seem a little incompetent to me. That said, a slip-up/accident/heat-of-the-moment-blah-blah is not the same as consciously and calmly deciding to disregard his faith. For me, if you guys "slip up", he should actively look for ways to ensure it doesn't happen again until you're married. Because that's what he supposedly believes is right.

I think the bigger issue would be, why would your being non-christian NOT become an issue? I hate to put this so harshly, but according to his faith, he believes you're going to hell. I don't know about you, but if my husband thought I would go to hell and did not care... well, it would make me question whether or not he actually loved me. But then again, it would irritate me to no end if he tried to convert me. So somehow, he would have to figure out a way to balance them.
posted by cheemee at 8:30 PM on August 26, 2008


The (liberal) ministers and div students I know have modern dating lives, with sex. It's a big pain to be a single minister with a parish, because you spend all of your time with your congregation, and you're not supposed to date people in your congregation (well, you can, but it's complicated).
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 9:03 PM on August 26, 2008


If he's a minister with any flavor of christanity I think it's safe to say you won't be getting any. LOL. ROTFL. I went to a church where boys had to have short hair, and girls had to wear dresses that were less than an inch off the floor when they kneeled down. Barbie dolls were passed over flames to simulate HELL, and just you wait, that seven headed dragon is going to rise up any day now. Mom was banging the married preacher. Small town gossip, church split-up. (we had a song-leader leave because of an easter egg hunt that was pagan). you won't be getting any. I have a little sister to prove you wrong.

They've been married for 15 years or so now, sorta worked out. They have 'church' in the house. Yes I'm a bit bitter.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:43 AM on August 27, 2008


« Older My Room Smells Disgusting. Help?   |   Undelete after a copy/paste error? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.