Hey - I didn't say it. The author of this piece did.
Many thanks to a commentor below who pointed us to this piece in yesterday's Pittsburgh paper about the gaying and feminizing of the clerical ranks:
Over the Fourth of July weekend, my friend Katie got married outside Portland, Ore. The officiant was a gay Episcopal priest, performing his first marriage. He had an earring in each ear and a rainbow-colored stole about his neck. After readings from the Bible -- as we expect from weddings, the Old Testament reading was from the Song of Songs -- came the priest's homily.
He closed his prayer book, took a deep breath and did something unusual, even by the standards of liberal Oregon Protestants: He sang several bars of Valjean and Eponine's tear-jerking finale from "Les Miserables": "And remember/the truth that once was spoken/To love another person is to see the face of God!" Then he took a step back, resumed his normal homiletic mien, and delivered a touching, perfectly ordinary homily about the institution of marriage.
As a student of liberal religion, I have seen my share of unusual, outre, flaky liturgical moments. The priest's moment as Jean Valjean did not compare with the paeans to the Goddess-mother or the deep-breathing yoga-based Shabbos prayers. It was barely in my Top Ten Craziest Liturgical Strategies. But it was -- there is no other way to say this -- the gayest church moment I had seen. It was my first Broadway show-tune church moment. Clergy are famous for being failed actors; 18th-century revivalist George Whitefield rejected his childhood love, the stage, as too sinful. But this was the first time I had seen the pulpit as piano bar.
By 1998, there were 2,000 woman clergy in the Episcopal Church, 14 percent of the total. That compares favorably with the United Church of Christ (26 percent of active clergy, and 50 percent of those preparing for ordination) and Reform Jews (21 percent of all rabbis).
In the mainline Protestant churches, and in Reform and Conservative Judaism, the female percentage of the clergy increases every year. At the University of Chicago, 43 percent of divinity students are women; at Harvard Div, 57 percent are. Though not as quantifiable as the feminization of the clergy, the "queering" of the clergy -- as gay-studies scholars would call it -- is, too, very real. The Congregationalists and the Unitarians ordain homosexuals, and Presbyterians, Methodists and Lutherans may follow soon.
The top divinity schools -- Yale, Harvard, Chicago -- are not as gay as, say, architecture schools, but they are far gayer than law or medical schools. West Coast seminaries like those of the Graduate Theological Union, in Berkeley, are queerer still. This trend has not hit the Southern Baptist Convention, but it's a fact of life in the liberal mainline churches, from which we still draw an outsized share of our educated elite.
What do more female and gay ministers mean? First, they mean fewer straight male ministers. The liberal Christian churches, which have low birth rates and are at best reluctant in their missionary efforts, are shrinking -- which means fewer jobs for all clergy. As more women and homosexuals enter the clergy, fewer straight (or closeted) men get jobs. This argument was once used, by some rather vile folk, to argue against women's ordination ("Men need the work!"), but its provenance does not make it less true.
There will be fewer of the old, stereotypical vicars, the paternal figures like the Rev. Bunting in James Wood's new novel, "The Book Against God," or the imperious Dr. Prescott in Louis Auchincloss' "The Rector of Justin." Fewer preachers like Paul Moore himself: macho, deep of voice, a crew jock at St. Paul's and Yale, a man who stood nearly 7 feet tall in his miter. He was of a different era, a time of muscular Christians like his colleague William Sloane Coffin -- athlete, pianist, Yale chaplain and, for a brief time, CIA agent.
The women and gays affect not just the quantities but also the qualities of the clergy. True, straight men have no monopoly on deep voices or adamantine personas. Nor have they cornered the market on intellection; women and gays represent an increasing share of Bible scholars. But women and gays are more disposed to the "therapeutic" mode of ministry, emphasizing pastoral counseling and rule by consensus. They are more likely to resist hierarchicalism, shun clerical dress and ask to be called by their first names.
They tend to emphasize social justice in their ministries: it would be fair to say that gay ministers are inclined to care more about ministry to AIDS sufferers. "We entered the profession not to be ministers 'just like the men' but to bring women's gifts to the ministry," Suzanne Hiatt, one of the first female Episcopal priests, said in 1985. "Women's gifts of caring and making connections -- something to balance men's gifts for abstractions and insistence on standards of excellence." No doubt many women would be uncomfortable with Hiatt's generalizations, but some portion would not.
Several brief points (it's naptime and that means worktime for me)
1. Before you get all hepped up about masculinity and ministry and religion, please remember that this has been an issue in Christianity for eons. The masculinity of ministers - especially priests and most especially monks - has always been suspect (although is this so in Orthodoxy? Enlighten). Christianity goes through periodic spasms of concern about male involvement in Church - the late 19th century Protestants, for example worried a great deal about this and responded with things like an emphasis on "Muscular Christianity" and the YMCA. So do see this in context - it's not that it shouldn't be a real concern, it's simply that it's not a new one.
2. I do find the preponderance of women in divinity schools quite fascinating, and this is something people have been talking about since I was at Vanderbilt and before. We've talked about here in the context of female servers. What is the tipping point for men considering a profession and perceiving it as "women's work?"
3. The stuff in this piece about gay men being somehow less hierarchical, more concerned with social justice is, pardon me, bunk. Well, maybe in the context of Protestant churches, but if you've known gay RC priests - and I've known some and have known others who have worked and lived with gay priests - you'll know that they are no less political or concerned with social justice than the next guy, to put it gently.
4. And women? Well, sure, women do tend to be more pastoral in their concerns and interests, but the implication of this piece is that women are less political. Hah. That is very much the "in a different voice" kind of thinking (that goes back to certain strains of 19th century feminism, not just Carol Gilligan) than anyone who has ever worked with women in power - even in churches - can dispute, sometimes painfully. Again, women can be marvelous. But like men, they can be cruel and craven and autocratic when they get into power.