From the January 2011 edition of the Christian Chronicle —
The automatic reaction of some is to attribute the recent cases [of sex between a minister and a teen] to young, single ministers. In the cases referenced, though, the ministers were married. One perpetrator is in his 50s.
Despite the actions of a few, ministers deserve respect and support. We praise God for the faithful Christians — young and old — who work so diligently with children and teens.
Nonetheless, we live in a sex-saturated culture. Many members, preachers and even elders struggle with sexual temptation and the easily accessible nature of Internet porn.
In such a society, it should not surprise us that sexual sins — and crimes — occur. We can’t stop all abuse, but we can take responsible steps to limit the potential for it:
• Make sure your church has procedures for selecting and evaluating employees and volunteers. Check references. Conduct criminal background checks. Search the Internet. No exceptions.
• Set appropriate limits for adults’ interactions with young people. Have two adults present at all times if possible. Avoid any hint of immorality — or flirting — in text messages and other contacts.
• Be vigilant in reporting and responding to abuse. In many cases, people later say, “We had suspected it for years.” May we not avoid our responsibility by such denial.
A 2009 study published by Baylor University (associated with the Southern Baptist Churches) concludes,
Of those surveyed:
• More than 3% of women who had attended a congregation in the past month reported that they had been the object of CSM [clergy sexual misconduct] at some time in their adult lives;
• 92% of these sexual advances had been made in secret, not in open dating relationships; and
• 67% of the offenders were married to someone else at the time of the advance.
• In the average American congregation of 400 persons, with women representing, on average, 60% of the congregation, there are, on average of 7 women who have experienced clergy sexual misconduct.
• Of the entire sample, 8% report having known about CSM occurring in a congregation they have attended. Therefore, in the average American congregation of 400 congregants, there are, on average, 32 persons who have experienced CSM in their community of faith.
The study crosses denominational lines and includes the Churches of Christ in its database. The study’s advice on how to prevent and deal with sexual misconduct may be found here.
What percentage of the clergy would have to be guilty of sexual misconduct for 3% of all church-going women to have been the victim of sexual misconduct by a minister? And the 3% figure only summarizes heterosexual misconduct.
According to the 1997 book Ethical Dilemmas in Church Leadership, in a survey, 12% of pastors admitted having adulterous sexual intercourse while in the ministry. Another 23% admitted to conduct that is “sexually inappropriate” with a non-spouse. And another 18% confessed to other forms of sexual conduct with a non-spouse. That’s 53% of those responding!
The 3% and 53% figures are not inconsistent, because there is likely about one minister per 150 members (just a guess, really), about 100 of whom are women. If every minister had one sexual victim, then about 1% of all women congregants would be affected. You see, 3% is about 3 victims per active minister. Of course, many ministers have multiple victims. If you spread the 3% over the number of ministers a woman will come into contact over her years in church, the rate drops quite a bit. Still, the 53% figure is not inconsistent with the Baylor study.
I’ve read other studies that find the rate of sexual sin by clergymen to be in the 20% to 30% range. I think that’s likely closer to true in the Churches of Christ. But even that is a distressingly high figure.
This is not a rare or unusual problem. It’s not limited to single men. It’s not limited to heterosexual sex. And it’s not limited to sex between adults. But it is limited to men that the church trusts. Only men perceived as trustworthy get hired.
Now, if the old ways of handling sexual sin worked, we’d not need to change. But the studies and experience both show that we have a serious problem with sexual sin among our ministers. Therefore, the way we work to prevent sexual sin has to change. The status quo is entirely inadequate.
I’ve proposed some solutions in prior posts.