Ministers Guilty of Sexual Sin: Further Thoughts from the Comments

crying-preacher.jpgI love the blogging format, because I get these great questions that force me to dig deeper or explain myself better.

This follows up my earlier post Ministers Guilty of Sexual Sin: Advice from a Minister. The complete questions I’m responding to will be found there in the comment section. I re-post the material here because it’s critically important that we figure out how to stop the flood of sexual sin occurring within the ministry (and not just or especially in the Churches of Christ).

Is it really true that 20% of ministers are guilty of sexual sin?

Two readers asked me to defend my assertion that about 20% of ministers are guilty of sexual sin.

The 20% figure comes from experience. The figure is supported by research.

A survey of 1,000 pastors and 1,000 subscribers to Christian magazines found that 12 percent of pastors had been involved in adultery while in the ministry, and 23 percent had acted in sexually inappropriate ways, Singleton said.

In a book named “Men’s Secret Wars” written by Patrick Means, an anonymous survey was done of Clergy and church lay leaders which said that 64% of the men struggled regularly with sexual issues and 24% of men had an affair after they had become a Christian!!

Present research indicates the incidence of sexual abuse by clergy has reached “horrific proportions.” Two seminal studies in 1984 reported 12 and 12.7 percent of ministers had engaged in sexual intercourse with members, and 37 and 39 percent had acknowledged sexually inappropriate behavior. More recent surveys by religious journals and research institutes support these figures. The disturbing aspect of all research is that the rate of incidence for clergy exceeds the client-professional rate for both physicians and psychologists.[xii] Often the clergy sexual offender is guilty of multiple transgressions. In one case reported by Newsweek, while seducing one woman her minister boasted of having slept with thirty others.[xiii]

Given that (a) “sexually in appropriate behavior” would be anything short of intercourse, i.e., includes oral sex, and (b) ministers aren’t inclined to tell the truth on surveys when the truth could cost them their jobs, I think my 20% is fair.

Is it scriptural to require ministers to hold themselves to such high standards?

Another reader complained that my suggestions to prevent ministers from ruining their lives with sexual misconduct are merely “manmade” rules, which is quite true. Nonetheless, although my suggestions are not holy writ, holy writ isn’t greatly different –

(Mat 5:28-30) But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Our preacher interpreted this yesterday — correctly, I think — as saying we should give up anything that tempts us to sin. If being alone with a woman not your wife might tempt you, don’t be alone with a woman not your wife.

Jesus also said,

(Mat 10:16) “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”

In other words, be smart and don’t get close to sinning. It’s a dangerous, tempting world. Don’t sin, but don’t be naive.

Finally, Paul wrote Timothy,

(1 Tim 4:12) Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.

How will an evangelist set an example of purity if he’s put himself in a position to be accused of adultery where he can’t defend himself? Or when he routinely puts himself in situations that could lead to adultery?

I’m aware of a church that split because a preacher spent too much time alone with a pretty woman not his wife. He said he was counseling her on her recent divorce. He may not have committed adultery, but he was an idiot — and so idiotic he allowed his naivete (or worse) to split a congregation. You see, half the members believed his protestations of innocence. The other half did not.

As an elder, the case I dread is an accusation of adultery against a minister who denies it but can’t defend himself because he put himself in a compromising situation. Do we take his word for it and so, perhaps, allow him to continue to seduce women? Or do we fire him and, perhaps, ruin the career of a good but foolish man? My preference is that he never, ever put himself, his wife, his children, his church, or me in that position. And given a choice, I’d far rather fire a minister for violating church policy than for sleeping with a half a dozen women in my church.

I’m open to better solutions, but only if they solve the problems that elderships face with ministers who put themselves in a position where they can’t defend themselves from accusations of adultery. What’s a better solution?

Will having a closer relationship with the minister head the problem off?

I’m not convinced by the suggestion that the elders should be so close to the ministers that they’ll know if they’re sleeping around. I’ve recently spoken with an elder who was a very close friend of a minister who carried on a lengthy affair, was accused, lied to the elders about it, kept his job, and was only later proven to have lied — and continued the affair for long afterwards. The elder and the minister were very close friends and saw each other socially and worked together in ministry weekly at least. The minister met with close friends weekly for an accountability group.

He lied very effectively to his close friend, the elder, and to his friends, the accountability group. But, of course, all adulterers are liars.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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3 Responses to Ministers Guilty of Sexual Sin: Further Thoughts from the Comments

  1. jbevans says:

    Ok Jay, that's a good post. You sources are well documented and will be certainly filed away for future use.

    I totally concur with your thoughts about terminating a minister, or elder for that matter, who has engaged in such sin. In the case of an elder he is specifically to be held in high regard by those outside.

    If I recall correctly it was John Stott who said a preacher must be man of sterling character. That has always stuck with me.

  2. Sam Loveall says:

    I cannot help but agree with all you (and others) are saying here. But I have . . . not a problem, I guess; perhaps a dilemma. We're a small church, with a small staff — me (sr. min.), a youth minister, and a secretary. The YM and I take different days off, so that one of us will usually be here during the day, and both of us have duties that call us out of the office at varying times thru the week. So what are we supposed to do? Move our desks to the front porch, so that we're not alone in the building with the secretary? Any advice from Jay or anyone else out there?

  3. JdB says:

    Jay…that was a very good response. I am still a little naive and have a hard time believing the 20%, but not so naive to believe that it is not more frequent than we would imagine. (Once is too frequent.) Also, this doesn't address the problem that preachers face in things like pornography. But I digress…

    I feel for elders. There's is a difficult role. I can speak to the problems a congregation faces when a minister falls. I followed a man who fell and the congregation was never the same. My co-worker and I had a much more difficult time because we were painted with the same brush. I had one person who worked with us tell me, "It's nothing personal, I'll just never trust a preacher again." This once thriving congregation is almost non-existant today. So, I feel for elders as they try to oversee this aspect of church life.

    I think you are well within your role as shepherds of the body to put a policy in place and expect staff to keep it. However, I am also sympathetic with the questions that Sam has asked. In a large, multi-staff, congregation it is going to be easy to adapt a policy like the one you have adopted. In smaller congregations, it is more difficult. In counseling sessions it may be easier to adopt, but not the rule concerning being alone in the same building with the secretary. Anyway, thank you again for the good insights.

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