TMI: A Cautionary Tale

I am slack-jawed in amazement, and not in a good way.

The latest issue of xxxxx magazine contains an interview granted by [young, female pastor].

In the article, xxxxx reveals the following to reporter xxxx.

That she makes out in her car with dates. [Okay, not so bad..]

She has had sex in the past but now has a commitment to abstain from sex until marriage. Oral sex counts as “sex” for her. [At this point I was thinking, “Oh boy. Way too much information here.”]

She was “itching for sex day and night” about a year and a half ago, and didn’t know that she was suffering from polycystic ovarian disease (one of whose symptoms is a hormonal imbalance that creates an out-of-wack libido). [I’m sorry. At the ripe old age of 45 I may have become a prude, but was there no more elegant way to express this struggle than by using the term “itching for sex day and night?”]

She was reading the Twilight series at the time and “constantly fantasized about Edward Cullen.” [This may be the most humiliating detail in the article. Seriously.]

She is not comfortable touching herself and has not had an orgasm in seven years. [And now I just want to refer her to a therapist. I hope against hope that she perhaps talked too freely to this reporter and had no idea that she would be quoted this thoroughly. Maybe?? Has she had any media training? ]

One of her parishioners tried to set her up with her son, a “drug addict who recently served time for dealing meth.” Xxxx is quoted as saying (with obvious sarcasm), “He sounded like a catch.” [This is simply not done. We do not give this sort of quote to the press.]

In this article, Xxxx refers to ministry as her “career” and her “job.” That may shed some light on what I think I might have to consider the worst judgment call around self-disclosure by any pastor I have seen in my fourteen years in this work. And I’ve seen some doozies.

This article is not just a case of unfathomable TMI. It treats deeply personal, profoundly intimate subjects in a cavalier way that I think shows a staggering lack of judgment. It insults one of her parishioners and breaches trust and confidentiality in that pastoral relationship.

I have nothing further to say, but await your illuminating remarks.
I find that I am actually quite sad.
This is not how young women empower themselves. Do you hear me, young ‘uns? Learn this fast and learn it well: over-sharing to this extent is not the way to achieve our shared goal of humanizing the clergy. What you are doing by providing salacious details on your sex life to the media is not empowering yourself or making clergy or Christian life more hip and relevant. More on this later.

62 Replies to “TMI: A Cautionary Tale”

  1. Will her name in the comments bring the same issues as having her name in the blog post?[ Maybe. I am happy to edit myself but I don’t intend to go so far as to edit her name out of the comments. She’s a grown woman with an MDiv from Yale who went through the same rigorous formation we all went through on our path to ordained ministry. – PB]

  2. I’d like to know when it became okay for Christians to respond to another’s struggles with snark and a superior attitude? Here’s a young woman who struggling and we’re concerned with how embarassing it is? And, not really for her, for our church. Wake up, people. These puritanical attitudes about sex are one reason folks are staying away from church in droves. [This is a blog about clergy image. I think you’re missing the point. Let me make it clear for you: when we are not intentional and thoughtful about our image, we make huge mistakes like this. When we do, it harms our ministries and our congregations. Also, the interview is what was Puritanical, not the reaction to it. I was very upset personally that they found a female pastor who was clearly conflicted about being a sexual being. – PB]

  3. My best friend’s advise has been, when it comes to talking to the media, always think about how this will look to your mother if she sees it a year from now–if it won’t play, don’t say it. I still think that’s good advise.

    And I don’t think this should stop clergy from talking to the media…far from it…it is just a reminder that prudence is a virtue. It’s always better to come off more as a mystery than as someone with no sense of boundaries.

  4. I am really amazed at what has been shared in this blog post and in the comments. I am a female pastor, and I loved this article. She did not come off as drunk, silly, immature or unwise, but as a woman who is authentic, honest and deeply human. The attitudes and responses that have been given here seem to underscore why the church is so messed up when it comes to sexuality. I am not advocating free for all, raunchy, tell alls, but that isn’t what she communicated. In a magazine like Marie Claire, she communicated her values, that she was abstaining from sex even though as a sexual being she desired it (something that will likely draw criticism from Marie Claire readers!) Vilifying her b/c of her honesty only shows why there is so much shame that surrounds sex in Christian circles. No one wants to talk about it openly, even though we all know that it happens and is struggled with behind closed doors. No wonder the church is becoming increasingly irrelevant in our society, no wonder people are looking elsewhere for answers. I think God is pleased with Wren Miller, for not being ashamed of who he created her to be.

  5. I am a member of her congregation and think that she is a wonderful pastor. Yes, she’s young, somewhat liberal (for our conservative South) and a little naive and was taken advantage of by the author of this article (who deceptively writes in first person). I’m not shocked that she wanted to address a taboo topic because she’s from a younger generation, but let’s face it–God made us sexual beings and if pastors can talk about their personal struggles with, say, overeating, or desire for the latest sports car, why can’t they talk about sex? Yes it was TMI but refreshing that she had the courage to tackle the topic of making her way in the world as a pastor and sexual being.

  6. Oh, my. Lord almighty.

    First, I agree that it is a worthwhile topic of discussion, so don’t take it down, PB. However, can you remove her name from the posts and other distinguishing characteristics such as the name of the town and especially her name? I believe stating that her church is in the southern US is okay, but any further info is probably not good for her well-being in the long run.

    Poor thing. It was definitely TMI. I hope she’s able to get the advice and help she needs.

  7. TMI???
    People in glass houses…
    Sweetiebang???

    [Right. Because there’s such a close comparison between a 42 year-old woman meeting a man and moving in with him and writing sweet entries about domestic life with her honey (and sharing nothing whatsoever about her sex life) and a 20-something “born again virgin” confessing her infection-induced sexual voraciousness, her hang-ups about masturbation, her history of orgasms and her views on oral sex. Sometimes I wonder if my readers are right in the head. Honest to God. – PB]

    [OH! It’s “Martha Green” again! Hi, “Martha!” Sorry you’re apparently not over your obsession with me… maybe a good therapist could help? – PB]

  8. I’m working on a sermon about sex and family and reading this post in the context of reading about the fears we have about sex.

    In conversation, a friend people in her parish expressed surprise at her pregnancy because it was physical proof that she and her husband actually have sex. Despite the progress we have made as Christians towards more sexual liberation, this does not apply to clergy! We are forced to celibacy or silence by our parishioners discomfort and putting us on an unholy pedestal.

    I haven’t read the article, but reading her quotes, I appreciate her frankness. I don’t see any behaviours that I would condemn in any faithful Christian. I agree that she should have left the parishioner story out of it (how hurtful for this man’s mother!) and I hope I would have exercised more restraint than she has.

    But deep down, I admire her openness. I wish we were all so honest about our beautiful, powerful, God given sexuality.

  9. PB – you can sure dish it out but really can’t take an ounce of criticism can you? And how come you’re always recommending therapy as a retort?

    You, of all people, should not be judging or throwing stones at anyone my dear. You’ve been dribbling your personal life all over the web. What a hypocrite.

    I think you’re a little jealous of the media attention…

    [Let me explain something to you: when I was approached by a religion reporter from the Boston Globe to do an article on me four years ago, I put him off for THREE MONTHS because I was so suspicious of media attention and what it could mean. That fact is actually in the article. It’s there in print, sister. Check it out. The only reason I decided to grant the interview in the end was because Michael Paulson was a Pulitzer Prize-winning religion journalist who I knew respected clergy in general. Okay? Before I did “Nightline” I took the invitation from the producers to my governing board and we discussed it and I got their approval (in fact, I got their encouragement because I didn’t want to do the show!) before I agreed to let the cameras come. I have TURNED DOWN television, radio and media requests from half a dozen reporters. I have carefully selected from among the media requests and chosen to do only those shows that I personally trust and respect — the Liz Walker Show, Busted Halo and Weekend America with NPR. I wouldn’t go NEAR a woman’s fashion magazine for even a quote although I have been approached several times. So your remark about my being jealous of the media attention makes me justifiably furious. Maybe you should ask a few questions before you go shooting off your mouth like that. Second, the fact that you would compare my very general sharing about my personal life (general remarks about dating, falling in love, cohabitating, self-care, nutrition, health) in a way that is totally acceptable and ordinary within my very progressive religious tradition (which may be more progressive than yours — and that’s your problem, not mine) to a neurotic clergywoman blathering on about her history of orgasms, her masturbation practices and her opinion on specific sexual acts just shows me that your powers of discernment are really weak. Your choice of the word “dribbling” is very telling. My self-disclosures have all been the opposite of dribbling. They have been intentional, strategic, written in some cases after consultation with parishioners, and absolutely aimed at breaking open taboos that bind and suffocate too many ministers of all genders (or transgender). As I say to every whiner who levels that same unfounded accusation at me, take a cursory look through the archives and see how many hundreds of times readers disagree with me and I accommodate their opinions and sometimes change my own. I hold to my outrage over the Wren Miller debacle. I found her disclosures shocking and sickeningly inappropriate. What a shame you couldn’t simply disagree with me rather than lob really ignorant accusations at me. It really makes me burn, since I spend so much time fielding media requests knowing that most reporters just want to print some salacious little bit about what we do here. It is a huge point of pride with me that I have protected ALL OF US from tittering little mentions of “silly girl ministers and their conversations about mascara” in fashion magazines and vapid blogs. Instead, this blog has been the subject of several feminist pieces, serious mentions in theological journals and the subject of half a dozen masters and doctoral theses written by seminary students. Disagree with me all you want but don’t you dare tell me I’m jealous of media attention like that garbage Wren Miller provided that made us ALL look bad. Oh, and “Martha Green”has been writing me anonymous comments on and off-line for awhile — years, I think. The therapy is a legitimate recommendation. Whoever it is is a bit fixated. And what’s wrong with therapy? I recommend it all the time in my ministry and have my own therapist. What’s the big deal? And why the fake e-mail from you? See, it’s people like you I find just so gross — you hide out and lurk, and pass judgment from your anonymous secret little hide-out on people like me who are writers, who are connectors, who convene meaningful conversation in a public place for the benefit of thousands of participants. What do you have to say for yourself to which you would be willing to attach your face and name? – Victoria Weinstein]

  10. Touched a very big nerve I see. But I think you protest a little too much.

    And it is wise you have a therapist. That’s a relief. Hope it’s helping.

    I am fairly certain my email works. Maybe during your rant you mistyped? [No, I didn’t type your e-mail wrong. And yes, you touched a VERY big nerve and if you were in front of me I would bawl you out but good. I’m sorry I can’t tell you to your face what I think of you. I don’t think you have any sense, for one thing, and for another you have no clue how much work I put into my writing and how many people I help. I was just on the phone today for an hour with a seminarian in Chicago, and I give my blood and guts to this ministry. I suggest you not avail yourself of my advice or entertain yourself on my site on my dime again. I know your type. You’re a coward who agitates from the sideline while never putting yourself out there in any real way. I protest too much? The classic passive-aggressive response: “Oh my, even though I’ve insulted you and made idiotic assumptions about you, I’m so shocked that you’re really furious! Why would my insulting your integrity make you so angry?” Finger-wagging schoolmarm. “It’s wise you have a therapist…” Oh, please. Another woman who is terrified of anger and thinks it’s a sign of some sort of problem. Just what we need in this culture. Jesus. You owe me a phone call apology but of course I’ll never get one. That’s what an accountable person does when they “touch a big nerve” — they don’t keep insulting and poking. They apologize. -PB]

  11. Just wanted to say that I thought this blog post and many of the comments on it are cruel and short-sided.

    I’m a single bivocational male mennonite minister and I was really encouraged by her story. Her experiences were different than mine in some ways (I’m male, and don’t draw the same ethical boundaries that she draws), but the similarities were pretty uncanny too. I appreciated her frank honesty, and if I lived in her town and didn’t have a church, I probably would join hers because she’s genuine unlike most of the phoneys that most churches are full of.

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