Not of This World

St. Hippolytus’ Careers Christians Should Never Have

Conservatives claiming their careers are “threatened” by gay rights should check out St. Hippolytus, who wouldn’t have let them get those jobs in the first place.

Peter Dazeley/Getty

In a recent fundraising email, the president of the American Family Association, Tim Wildmon, warned his mailing list that the number of careers available to conscientious Christians “is quickly shrinking as homosexuals pro-actively seek opportunities to wreck the personal business and career of any Christian who declines to support the gay lifestyle.” The professions now prohibited by homosexual activism? Photographer, Baker, Florist, Broadcaster, Counselor, Innkeeper, and Teacher. (Not included: Host on Bravo.)

The list is truly shocking. Innkeeping? What’s a conscientious hotelier to do? If he can’t refuse service to same-sex couples then he’ll be forced to accept a pregnant unwed teen and her ne’er-do-well fiancé as well. If he can’t stone them, maybe he could have them all stay out back. (Like this.)

Some hypersensitive liberals might feel that Wildmon’s persecution complex is showing, but there have always been professions off-limits to Christians. It’s just that Christians themselves decided to avoid them. The Apostolic Tradition, a third-century text attributed to St. Hippolytus of Rome, has its own list of unacceptable careers for prospective candidates for baptism. While a few—prostitute, brothel keeper, and garment trimmer—seem unlikely to feature in anyone’s second-grade “what I want to be when I grow up” masterpiece, there are other professions forbidden by church fathers that are routinely glamorized by the secular media.

Perhaps we should include the following in advising sessions at Christian high schools:

Gladiator and/or Charioteer

This is a tough one, but the text is clear. Whether in a vehicle or out of one, Christians should not make money from publicly competing in violent displays of athleticism. Nor are they allowed to coach gladiators or participate in hunting. This has some potentially serious ramifications for Christians in the NFL and for those speeding around the NASCAR track in a latter-day chariot. Sorry, Tim Tebow, it’s not only the quality of your football that makes you a poor example.


The prohibition against artists is also complicated. It’s not art in general that is prohibited, but idolatrous artwork. Wedding photography (one of Wildmon’s species-of-Christian-under-threat) is an especially gray area. Don’t believe that weddings can be idolatrous? Two words: Royal wedding. Who didn’t worship at the altar of Alexander McQueen after seeing Pippa Middleton’s bridesmaid dress? Seems like wedding photographers are turning us all into idolaters.


Acting in the theater was off-limits, and not because it’s so hard to make it in the business. This isn’t as odd as it might seem. For much of the Common Era performers have been seen as a small step up from prostitutes. (It’s probably the extra-heavy makeup and garish clothing.) The pedantic type might note that Hippolytus makes no prophetic mention of the cinema or the Internet. So carry on, adult entertainment industry, carry on. Neil Patrick Harris, you’re fresh out of luck, though: you shouldn’t be so open about your acting. Going off-Broadway won’t help you here.


The Apostolic Tradition says that any prospective Christian who wants to become a soldier should be rejected. Christian soldiers should not kill anyone. If they are ordered to do so by a superior, they should refuse. They’re also not allowed to swear oaths. Like an oath of allegiance to country or Constitution, one assumes. The Christian writer Tertullian chastised Christian soldiers for accepting crowns—the ancient equivalent of medals—from the authorities.

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But even in its own day, this was controversial. There were many soldiers who were revealed to be Christians only after years of service. You wouldn’t want your brothers in arms to think you loved Jesus—so, you know, don’t ask, don’t tell.


Anyone “who has authority of the sword, is the ruler of a city, or wears the purple” has to resign his job or leave. It seems that anyone in a position to “baptize terrorists” wouldn’t have been eligible for baptism herself. Given that “wearing the purple” is a euphemism for becoming emperor, Christians should probably abandon their aspirations for the highest office in the land. I just don’t know how President Obama, supposed Christian, sleeps at night.

Kindergarten Teacher

According to the church manual, if a person teaches “young children” then “it is good indeed for him to cease. ” As the Rev. Maxwell Johnson, Professor of Liturgical Studies at the University of Notre Dame, points out in his commentary on the text, the problem seems to be that schoolteachers would have to teach classical literature about pagan gods and festivals. Homeschoolers would likely be exempt, then, but we do need to abolish the Classics Major.

This regulation is softer than the others. In an ancient version of “those who can’t do, teach,” the Apostolic Tradition adds that if you have “no trade” and really can’t find another job, then you’ll be forgiven. If Hippolytus seems to be going soft here, bear in mind that he didn’t know about the evils of Galileo, Darwin, or the Core Curriculum.

Of course, Christian tradition has rejected many of these stipulations about unsuitable professions. It happened pretty quickly, in fact, as many of them no longer applied once the Roman Empire was Christianized. As classicist Douglas Boin has shown the debate about being a soldier would resurface two centuries later; only this time Christians were chastised for being pagan civilians when they should be members of the heavenly army. The majority of these regulations derive from a period in time in which Christians were a small powerless group and culture was essentially pagan.

The Apostolic Tradition maintains that people should avoid professions where their values conflict with those of culture at large. Tim Wildmon thinks this is going on today. After all, Fox News would have us think that secular American culture is renewing ancient attacks on Christianity. So just to be on the safe side and because I’m only thinking of the fate of our immortal souls: perhaps Christians should stay off the stage, keep out of politics, and leave the finger painting to the heathens.