United Church of Christ

Should pastors kiss women on lips? I say no!

Should pastors kiss women on lips? I say no!

Minister Kiss


Dear Minister Kiss,

For real? There are pastors out there who WANT to kiss women on the lips? And maybe even men, too? They don't get enough colds and flu from merely shaking hands with dozens or hundreds of parishioners in the receiving line each week?

They want to put their health further on the line by leaning in for a kiss, holy or otherwise, with all that microbe-ridden saliva moiling and frothing on the terrifying lips of their parishioners?

There is only one person I kiss at my church. Mabel (not her real name) is 90 years old. She likes women pastors like me and has made sure she has had them for the last 30 years. She has never married, and has no kids. I asked her once if she was attracted to women, and she just sighed and said, "no, if I had married, I would have married a man. But I just never met one that I liked well enough to clean up after for 50 years."

In the receiving line, Mabel always leans in for the kiss. It seems wrong to deny a loving old woman, who lives alone, this form of touch, especially since we know exactly where we stand with each other, and my husband is not a bit jealous of her. If I have a cold, I veer left and peck her on the cheek instead.

It's true that in the New Testament letter I Peter we are urged to "greet one another with a kiss of love." But the stakes are much higher these days: not only avian flu and norovirus, but all that we now know about how clergy sexual abuse (hardly confined to the Roman Catholic church!) has deeply affected its victims for life.
We clergy have a tremendous amount of power and authority because of our positions. It would be easy for us to take advantage of our dominant position to get our own emotional, physical or ego needs met. We need to make sure we get these needs met in appropriate ways: with friendships and committed sexual relationships located entirely outside of the church community. We can't be friends with parishioners, not in a truly reciprocal way, and we should never, ever be sensually intimate with them, even if everyone's watching so it seems somehow "all right."
Considering all these complicating factors, it seems good common sense to keep clear boundaries around how we touch one another in church. A firm handshake, or a bro-hug (contact only at the shoulders, with a nice high-on-the-back pat for a kicker) will go far to let both the men and women in our churches know we care about them.

I'm not sure if you're a minister who agrees with these boundaries—or someone whose boundaries have been violated by your minister. If it's the latter, screw up your courage and tell your pastor that their behavior is inappropriate and an affront to the authority vested in them. Better yet—tell their boss. Not God (although you can tell Her too—She'll be on your side), but whatever denominational official or body has purview over clergy misconduct. In the UCC, you could write to your local Committee on Ministerial Standing or speak with the Conference Minister.

Many conferences now offer Boundary Awareness Training for their clergy, which can help ministers who are in danger of being pervy or otherwise inappropriate get their heads on straight. Another good resource to understand boundaries in the ministry is the excellent book At Personal Risk by Marilyn Peterson.

And now, the safest kind: Air kiss! Ta!

Bless you, and may you be a blessing,


Who is Theo?

"Dear Theo" is written anonymously by three UCC ministers of different ages and backgrounds--one main writer and two respite writers. We're hoping the questions will span all kinds of topics: from sexuality and relationships to church culture and conflict to mental health, family drama, ethical and moral dilemmas, and everything in between.

Every week will feature a new letter and a new answer. Please write Dear Theo with your questions and problems by sending to deartheo@ucc.org. Letter writers identities will also ALWAYS remain anonymous.

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