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Unmarried Evangelical Pastor Seeking Work Decries 'Singlism' Bias in Church Hiring

We've all heard of wrongful sexism and even racism in the workplace, but now at least one unmarried and unemployed evangelical pastor claims there's a whole new "ism" facing his profession: "singlism" -- churches' preference for hiring married pastors over unmarried ones.

Mark Almlie was laid off in the spring of 2009 and is still struggling to find work. After applying to more than 500 job postings, Almlie faces a field where those doing the hiring overwhelmingly prefer married people and, especially, married men with children, the New York Times reports.

Mr. Almlie, 37, has been shocked, he says, at what he calls unfair discrimination, based mainly on irrational fears: that a single pastor cannot counsel a mostly married flock, that he might sow turmoil by flirting with a church member, or that he might be gay. If the job search is hard for single men, it is doubly so for single women who train for the ministry, in part because many evangelical denominations explicitly require a man to lead the congregation.

Mr. Almlie, an ordained evangelical minister who lives in Petaluma, Calif., has also had to contend with the argument, which he disputes with scriptural citations of his own, that the Bible calls for married leaders. “Prejudice against single pastors abounds,” Mr. Almlie wrote in articles he posted on a popular Christian blog site in January and February, setting off a wide-ranging debate online on a topic that many said has been largely ignored.

Some evangelical churches, in particular, openly exclude single candidates; a recent posting for a pastor by a church on Long Island said it was seeking “a family man whose family will be involved in the ministry life of the church.” Other churches convey the message through code words, like “seeking a Biblical man” (translation: a husband and a provider).

“I’ll get an e-mail saying ‘wonderful résumé,’ ” Mr. Almlie said in an interview. “Once I say I’m single, never married, I never hear back.”

Unlike other forms of workplace discrimination, the Times notes that religious institutions are exempt when it comes to hiring for religion-related positions.

But it is really fair to say the churches are "discriminating"?  I'm a Catholic female and know that, according to church tradition, I will never be able to become a priest.  Before my generation, women weren't even allowed to be alter servers.  Men who do become priests are not allowed to marry, but is continuing such traditions really a matter of discrimination?

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., says it's unfair to accuse churches of discrimination in Almlie's case.  “Both the logic of Scripture and the centrality of marriage in society,” he told the Times, justify “the strong inclination of congregations to hire a man who is not only married but faithfully married.”  In this light, Mohler advises his seminary students that “if they remain single, they need to understand that there’s going to be a significant limitation on their ability to serve as a pastor.”

It's true, single pastors are rare, especially among conservative churches.  In more mainline Protestant denominations, roughly one in six senior pastors are single.  And after the sexual upheavel in recent decades, it's understandable that many churches depend on married pastors to reinforce the image of the traditional family.

The Times also includes speculation that churches rely in pastors' spouses as a source of unpaid labor.

While he searches for a job, Almlie says he's also looking for a life partner.  Ultimately, he says, he does not begrudge not being hired and understands the church's underlying desire to have a model family lead the congregation.

One last thing…
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