The Arguments Against Clergy

Ah, spring has truly been here for a few weeks now, as I’m now uncomfortably warm enough to be sweaty. And it’s evening here. Where did I put that fan?

A few weeks ago I wrote a brief article on why I think we need trained Pagan clergy, but since the article was getting long by this blog’s standards, I left off my responses to the Pagan folks out there (and there sure are a lot of them) who think that we don’t. I give the statements they’ve given me, and my responses to them. If anyone out there has more arguments against, please do post them here. (Make me feel like somebody reads these!)

“Pagans don’t believe that a priest is necessary as an intermediary for interacting with the Gods.”

I agree. I’m very much a “Protestant Pagan” in that sense, and I’ve known very few “Catholic Pagans” (those who think they do need someone else to intercede with the Gods on their behalf) over the years. I would never argue that Pagans should be required to have a clergyperson help them create and run their rituals, or build their home shrines, or anything else. If you don’t think you need someone to help you with that stuff, then you don’t.

Keep in mind, though, that not everyone feels the same way you do. Some people are comfortable with their personal spiritual life, but think they can improve it. Some people actually like getting advice on such things. And some people are very insecure about their techniques, and really believe that they need the help. Should we refuse to give them someone to turn to for assistance? Wouldn’t our Pagan traditions and their members be better served by at least giving them the option of people with special training to help?

“Anyone can perform their own rituals if they really want to.”

A slight variation of the first argument. My response is pretty much the same: If you feel that you can perform all of your own rituals, you probably can. I’d argue against performing one’s own wedding or a family member’s funeral, though, as the emotions involved can be very intense, and even the best ritualists may have trouble performing under the circumstances. After the many weddings I’ve officiated, I’ve learned that one of my key roles is simply being a calm voice when everyone in the wedding party is on the verge of panic. (I had one where they literally forgot which side the bride’s and groom’s friends/family were supposed to sit on. And this was the day after we’d gone over it at the rehearsal.) Oh, and performing your own wedding is illegal, too, can’t forget that. >8)

But there are plenty of people out there who want to have Pagan rituals of all sorts who either don’t feel they’re good enough to do the rites themselves, or they have other things on their minds and just don’t want to have to deal with it. Again, should we deny these people access to trained clergy to help out?

“Authority breeds corruption, and if we have clergy, then they’ll start committing sexual abuse against other Pagans.”

No, really, I had someone tell me that on Facebook. Literally.

I’m certainly not going to argue that Pagan clergy should be treated in a way that their actions are not questioned. Especially their illegal actions. But we Pagans are a freethinking-enough lot that I just don’t see that happening, certainly not in my lifetime. We should make sure that everyone out there knows that they should report sexual abuse to the proper authorities, whether it’s being perpetrated by Pagans or not.

(And I would add that I was in this Grove when we had over $4000 dollars stolen from us by our Treasurer, and he wasn’t clergy. You don’t need to be clergy to be corrupt.)

“We can’t afford to pay them.”

Sad but true. I’m sure that our Pagan religions have lost many talented potential clergyfolk to other religions for that very reason. (I know we had one ADF member who wanted to become clergy with us, but ended up leaving us for the Unitarians because, as he put it, they actually care enough about their religion to spend money on it.) I’ll be very surprised if ADF manages to have paid clergy in my lifetime, but I still think it’s a good goal to shoot for. I feel like we’re a small-market baseball team in constant danger of losing our best players to the Yankees, and it’s getting frustrating.

That said, Pagan clergy doesn’t have to be paid, and at the moment it almost never is. If idiots like me are willing to do this for free in our limited spare time, after spending even more of that limited spare time in training, then I’d hope that people would let us do so.

“Christians have clergy, and we don’t want to be like them.”




Really? You want to base these decisions on the theological equivalent of “Opposite Day”? Christians have rituals, too, should we stop doing those? Or should we have rituals every day of the week except Sunday? I’d accuse this idea of being straight out of the works of Lewis Carroll, but that would be an insult to Lewis Carroll. At least his bizarre ideas were entertaining.

I doubt that any of my readers would agree with that particular argument, but just in case: Let’s worry less about what other religions do and worry more about what *we* should do to address our members’ needs.

Okay, that’s enough of that. Next week, I’ll talk about planting, planning, or both.

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF


One thought on “The Arguments Against Clergy

  1. (Comments from the original post on our old site:)

    Posted by Toad:
    First and foremost I have to somewhat agree w/ your statements. But I would like to comment on the fact that it is nice to have neo-pagan clergy for the following times throughout our lives…

    Legal handfastings.
    For those neo-pagans incarcerated.
    For having neo-pagan clergy to assist during a death of a neo-pagan.

    I am sure There are other times/events that I am forgetting about.. what it does come down to there is a middle road to this debate. But yet you and I both know this debate will continue… its showing that there is a middle road :)

    In Servicer to our Gods,
    Sunday, April 11th 2010 @ 9:56 PM

    Posted by Rob Henderson:
    Er, you do know that I support having Pagan clergy and the arguments against weren’t mine, right? That I was refuting them?
    Sunday, April 11th 2010 @ 10:51 PM

    Posted by Missy:

    I think it would also be nice if our clergy would at least give their cards to the local hospitals. I know that the hospital in which I work has a representative on file for many different faiths, but in order for anyone to be permitted to counsel or comfort a family in the throes of tragedy, credentials must be provided.

    In other words: A little piece of paper goes a long way.

    Rev. Rob, we do, in fact, need you. Unfortunately, some people don’t realize this until they need you themselves.

    Monday, April 12th 2010 @ 2:57 AM

    Posted by Grey Whittney:
    (Posting for Grey because his work server won’t play nicely with Bravehost. -Rob)

    One item I see from an outsiders point of view is that Pagan + the title Rev makes people think you’ve sent off to an online place to get the credentials. Before I get any further; Yes, Rev. Rob, I understand
    you have done (and are still doing) a lot to have gotten to be Clergy in ADF (as do all of those who are ADF clergy). To those who think we don’t need clergy (although, I doubt anyone reading your blog is against it), how else do *I* learn? Who do I look to for advice, and thoughts on spiritual aspects. Not saying Clergy know it all (hopefully no title grabbers get to be ADF Clergy), but I hope they have gained more wisdom than I have. Just rattling off ideas.
    Monday, April 12th 2010 @ 5:45 PM

    Posted by Rob Henderson:
    Yeah, the online ordinaion thing is a concern for me, since it does mean that people can go around saying they’re clergy when they have no training as such. (I discovered a few months ago that even the good ol’ ULC no longer requires money or an affirmation of their principles for people to get credentials.) But I’d argue that this makes it even more important that we have good training programs in place, and make sure the people who get their credentials through hard work and study can be recognized by the greater community. And I certainly wouldn’t argue that ADF is the only place to get them (Hek, after a 10+ year hiatus we’ve only had our Third Circle program in place for a few years), in particular I’d note the great work that Cherry Hill Seminary has been doing.

    And from my experience, we’ve had a few title grabbers try to get clergy creds through ADF, but one they realize how much work it is to get and keep them, they tend to go elsewhere.

    Actually, your last sentence reminds me of a comment I often make to myself and others when I/they feel like I’m undereducated on a particular topic: “I don’t have to know everything to give you advice, I just have to know more than you.” >8)

    (URL for Cherry Hill Seminary: )
    Monday, April 12th 2010 @ 5:56 PM

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