Ministers Guilty of Sexual Sin: Christian Chronicle Editorial

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.

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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12 Responses to Ministers Guilty of Sexual Sin: Christian Chronicle Editorial

  1. Matt Dowling says:


    I appreciate your thoughts in this post and especially appreciate the solutions in your other posts. I have benefitted greatly from Jerry Jenkins' book "Hedges." Many other ministers I know have benefitted from it as well. Perhaps your readers will be helped by the book too.

    Best, Matthew Dowling

  2. Also, some of these appear to only look at CSM within the congregation. In the situation with which I am most familiar, the preacher's illicit partner was outside the church.

  3. guy says:


    i agree that accountability needs to be in place and something needs to change. A lot of time spent in CR taught me that quite a great deal of people's acting out sinfully is typically symptomatic of something deeper. Until that something deeper is dealt with, even if a particular symptom is reigned in or stopped, the problem will more than likely find another way to manifest itself. Attacking and curbing mere behaviors would be a very Pharisaical approach to the problem. Changes addresses at finding the roots and uprooting them is the Christ-like way i think.


  4. John says:

    While it is true that sexual misconduct crosses denominational lines, and, yes, spans the landscape from conservative to liberal, the amount of self control that Christians are able, or unable, to exercise is greatly connected to their religious arrogance; whether they consider themselves "members of the Lord's church", or "Born again". As one who has relatives, preachers, who have had girlfriends in every church they have served, and as one who has sat in Bible classes in which spouses from two different couples were having a sexual relationship, the thing that stands out most is the moral superiority they still have when comparing themselves to those on the left, liberals, who, as they describe, believe in permissive sex. I have listened to such members blast our permissive society, while, if caught or found out, use the rationale "I know I have a weakness, that what I do is wrong. But I am a New Testement christian, or born again, and I pray daily for God's forgiveness", while, and this is the topper, likening themselves to David.

    First, I have never met a liberal Christian who believed in adultery. And, yes, while adultery does exist in liberal churches, it is no more than in conservative churches. And the hypocrisy that the secular world points to is almost, without exception, within the conservative church. Why? The arrogance of the message, "You must be like me".

    I have believed for a long time that the one positive outcome of my sins is the humility they teach me; and, no, this is not a boast of humilty because most of my lessons have been very painful. But what this humiltiy brings is the unmistakable lesson of, not only am I human, but so are my brothers and sisters who are doing their best to face God each day. That "Walking in the light as he is in the light.." is not correct theology, but love, that which God is.

    No, love does not make us perfect. But it does allow us to walk as lights among those who have heard Christians say too often, "I am not like you", finally see that Christians are not only children of God, but also children of humanity…those responsible for one another.

  5. Jay Guin says:


    Thanks for the recommendation!

  6. Jay Guin says:


    If this were especially a Church of Christ phenomenon, we could focus on the problems we have in our tribe. But it's much, much broader.

    I agree with the premise, however. Yes, there is a deep, systemic problem. I'm not sure I can put my finger on it.

    There have been efforts to define what leads to this sort of sin. In the several cases I'm familiar with, there's not a common reason that I can discern. Sometimes it's the desire of a married man for homosexual sex. Sometimes it's the desire of a man abused as a child to prove his manliness. Sometimes it's sheer ego or power. Sometimes a weak marriage contributes, but not always.

    Other than a failure to overcome temptation, I'm at a loss. However, I do know that in each case, greater accountability would have made a difference. Men were tempted because they were not accountable for their time and so found it very easy to sin.

    It's a peculiarity of the ministry that a man can be paid to do a job with no accountability for his time at all — to his elders, to his wife, to his secretary, to the members.

    We are all broken creatures and all sometimes succumb to temptation. Why would we want our ministers to be among the most tempted of our members? Then why grant them far, far less accountability than the members have in their work and their marriages.

    Being certain someone knows where you are and what you're doing won't prevent all sexual sin. But it'll take away much of the temptation.

  7. guy says:


    i have no argument with you about need for accountability. My concern has to do with what kind and what the goals are and how it will pan out.

    It seems to me a Pharisee had a great deal of accountability in Jesus' time–a very high level of public shame being at risk every time he thought about doing something would've been a strong deterrent, especially as Pharisees weren't portrayed as the most forgiving, compassionate people. Okay, so the man is keeping his urges under control for fear of public ridicule. But it's not really the motivation i think a leader ought to have. And further, however much it forced people to "behave," it clearly did not address or solve the root spiritual problems of the Pharisees; rather, it seems to have harbored and incubated those problems.

    An elder breathing down my neck every time i get on the computer or speak to a female does not rectify my heart even if it reins in my behavior. In fact, it could provide an environment that makes my heart worse.


  8. JMF says:

    What do you suggest, Guy? As in, actual concrete steps to reduce the chances of this.

  9. Jay Guin says:


    I'm a lawyer. I am the senior partner and a founder of my law firm. And I don't leave the office during business hours without telling my secretary where I am going. Ever.

    I’m a husband. And when I leave the house, I tell my wife where I’m going. Always.

    You see, I matter to other people. People need to be able to find me. And I want the office staff to know I'm using my time responsibly. I can't ask them to be accountable for their time if I'm not.

    I think that's how adults who are getting paid for their time ought to behave. If a minister is unwilling to tell his secretary where he is going to be when he leaves the office … well, I can't think of good reason for such behavior. It is, at best, unprofessional.

    Being accountable is not Pharisaical. It's Christian. Indeed, one of the essential elements of Christianity is recognizing our accountability — to God and to each other. My church actually has many members in accountability groups — not to be Pharisaical but because our members very voluntarily want to be held accountable. They understand that Christianity is all about submission to one another and about helping each other flee temptation. And we are very far removed from Pharisaism.

    However, in the world — especially here in the West — the goal is individual autonomy and so we revolt at the thought of being accountable. Rather, we want freedom and independence. We want to be self-sufficient. But that's a sinful culture talking, not Jesus.

  10. Joan says:

    "Yes, there is a deep, systemic problem. I'm not sure I can put my finger on it."

    I would put your finger on at least one thing:

    (1) Ministers being made out to be authorities.

    Authorities tend to abuse authority. If a denomination teaches that obedience to the minister is required by God (as in the Catholic church) then the likelihood of him using this authority in order to get some young person to allow him to have his way with them skyrockets. The solution is that ministers should not be considered as having ANY authority whatsoever, as Jesus says "Christ alone is your master and you are all brethren."

  11. guy says:


    1. i never claimed accountability was inherently Pharisaical. i don't believe that. i participated in CR for about 3 years of my life and belief the accountability i had in that program was very healthy, community-like, and helped me overcome a lot of my struggles. Again, i didn't make the claim that accountability necessarily entails Pharisee-ism so i'm not sure why you're arguing against that claim.

    2. You wrote, "I think that's how adults who are getting paid for their time ought to behave. … It is, at best, unprofessional."

    Perhaps this is where we disagree about ministers. i don't believe they ought to be "adults getting paid for their time," nor do i believe they are "professionals." In fact, i think viewing them this way is a great deal of what generates the problems.


  12. Roger says:

    Dear brother,
    I am new to this type of on-line interaction. I realize I’m also very “late” to this discussion. I am a preacher, now for twenty yrs. I would not question the ego and arrogance problems among some of my contemporaries. Some preachers love the attention and spotlight, but we must also recognize that much of this is created by church members who, maybe by our traditions, almost “idolize” the preacher and some preachers love and encourage such.
    I admit that I may be sheltered or even naive. I have not intentionally put my “head in the sand” to pretend this doesn’t happen. I do know of a few incidents, and those did not involve members. I also realize that the behaviors being discussed here are kept very private. I’m having a problem believing the “data”??? I must also admit that I just don’t want to admit to this degree of a problem. One case is too much and totally unacceptible. You acknowledge the Baylor study, but where do you get your “data” for COC preachers? Are these sources authentic? I’m not questioning your integrity, but I just have my doubts about the “data”.
    I would have no problem with the “accountability” questions, but that would actually require the work and involvement of elders. Some preachers would absolutely refuse such. But some “good” men might still be preaching today if their elders or members had required some accountability.
    Thank you for your work and the avenue to discuss issues.
    In Him,

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