This is Wack Mass, an offbeat collection of stories on the intersection of religion and internet culture.
I grew up in the Irish Catholic tradition, which means my familiarity with church encompassed gory crucifixes, lots of incense (to which I believe I was allergic) and strange, celibate men you had to call “Father.” These guys never failed to skeeve me out, and given the organization they worked for, that mistrust was not unfounded.
To this day, however, I forget that mainstream American Christianity — a multitude of Protestant strains — is led by pastors allowed to marry! This seems more in line with our national values: no reason you can’t praise Jesus and get your fuck on, amen. Sadly, I’ve been made aware that this arrangement does come at a cost. For while born-again evangelicals have no problem with a minister who does missionary, they do become annoyed if he keeps mentioning how “smokin’ hot” his beloved wife is.
Why did nobody tell me that pastors have hot wives? I would have converted years ago. Nothing could possibly improve a Sunday morning on a hard wooden pew like imagining yourself in hell for seducing a woman wedded to a servant of god. But, as I mentioned, normal Christians are conflicted when it comes to the trend: You don’t have to look far to find sternly worded blog posts and articles titled “Pastors, Stop Calling Your Wives Hot” or “OK, Let’s Stop With All the Talk About ‘Smokin’ Hot’ Wives” or “I’m Sick of Hearing About Your Smoking Hot Wife.” (Come on, you gotta remember to drop that last “g.”) I guess shouting out your spouse’s attractiveness is a thrill that’s hard to kick.
Nothing is simple in religion, and the smokin’-hot wife epidemic is no exception. Theological author Zach Hoag, writing for HuffPost several years ago, explained that we can partly blame a Christian culture increasingly “hyped” on sex and eager to shed some of its puritanical reputation. As long as you’re married, you can have a steamy threesome with the Lord any time! Another reason to hit your congregation with a dose of horniness: Married sex can lead to children, and a church always needs another generation of souls to save. With white Christianity shrinking in this country, there’s added pressure for “butts in seats,” or a critical mass of worshippers. Maybe, by reminding couples of their attraction, you can persuade them to conceive a few more.
Yet the ascendance of “smokin’-hot wife” as the pastor’s favorite superlative may also have a secular origin. In the 2006 comedy Talladega Nights, a frequently quoted scene has Will Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby — a top-ranked NASCAR driver and good ol’ boy — saying grace over a family feast of KFC and Taco Bell. Among other things, he thanks the almighty for “my red-hot-smokin’ wife, Carley, who is a stone-cold fox.” This speech was the inspiration for a prayer given by Pastor Joe Nelms at a real-life NASCAR race in Nashville five years later, one that included appreciations of several automotive brands and his “smokin’-hot wife, Lisa.” Many were charmed by his rousing performance, though a backlash did follow. “To pray this in front of tens of thousands of people is an absolute travesty and inexcusable,” grumbled one true believer. Nelms even had to defend his remarks. Regardless, they went straight into pastor canon.
The objections to the smokin’-hot wife trope — as with any non-pastor guy who loves to show off his #Wife on social media — are understandable, and just what you’d expect: It demeans a romantic partner, minimizes her probably significant role in the ministry and reduces her to a kind of prop. A smokin’-hot wife, in a spiritual setting, serves as proof of god’s blessing; if you don’t have one of your own, perhaps you have angered Him somehow? And at least one minister, Jeff Fisher of Raleigh, North Carolina, frets that this comment enacts an alpha-dominance narrative, encouraging other men to covet your babely companion while indirectly saying: “Hands off, she’s mine.”
Catholic priests’ lifelong abstinence is untenable, but once you sign off on a preacher’s right to bone, he goes and takes it way too far. And really, isn’t he distracting us from our smokin’-hot messiah, Jesus Christ? To be honest, I don’t know that anyone should be calling anyone else “smokin’ hot” unless they’re Jim Carrey in The Mask — and even that’s pushing it. The only additional exception I’m willing to make is for this wedding photographer whose Instagram bio says she’s married “to a smokin’-hot worship pastor,” because now I’m imagining a male strip club where the dancers are pastors, and they floss their asses with turtleneck sweaters. Oh yeah. Work it, boys. God likes his messengers oiled up and ready to face the light.