Monday, June 16, 2014

Sometimes its a Crime, but its Always Abuse: Confronting Clergy Sexual Misconduct

He sat across the table from me--having formerly displayed signs of grief and sorrow over his actions, but now defiant in the face of possible removal from his ministerial duties.  "God forgave David, so why can't the church forgive me?"  Months earlier, he had begun an affair with one of his church members. Once news of the affair became public, I had several conversations with the pastor about the difference between forgiveness and restoration--between grace and his ability to keep his job.  And now here we sat--two months after the initial public revelations of his sin, and with an obvious sense in his mind that his "time out" was over and it was time for them to reinstate him.

During those two months, I had cried with him, prayed with him, and sought to reason with him regarding the seriousness of what he had done--without success.  My patience was running thin.

That meeting didn't end well--at all.

In the past 10 years, I've had a front-row seat to several moral failures by ministry leaders in our churches. The trauma that results from pastors and staff members who commit sexual sin is immeasurable.  It hurts on multiple levels in the deepest way. And it hurts me too. I've lost more than one friendship with a pastor because I refused to "justify" the behavior or fight the church for his job, and sometimes I'm asked why I take such a hard stand when this happens.

My answer is simple. Its because no one has more pain in these situations than the victims.  And they ARE victims!

This past week, the folks at Leadership Journal unintentionally ignited a firestorm when they published the online "testimony" of an anonymous Youth Pastor now in prison for the sexual abuse of one of the teen girls in his group.  In short order, the hashtag #howoldwereyou started trending on social media--with heartbreaking stories of those who have been victims of sexual abuse at the hands of those they once called "pastor."  Ed Stetzer addressed this situation clearly in an earlier post today entitled  "Its Abuse, Not an Affair!"

As a pastor myself, but mostly as a father of three, I appreciate my friend for his strong stand in this article, which exposes the deceptive tactics of predators, and calls out the weak confessions of perpetrators for what they really are--an attempt to garner sympathy from a naive church that is all too eager to act as if nothing has happened.  One manipulative, tearful confession does not constitute Biblical repentance.  Charles Spurgeon said it well when he said  "A man is not ready to be restored until his repentance is as notorious and well-known as his sin."

As Ed rightly states, when this happens with a child under 18, it isn't just abuse, and it isn't just sin.  Its also a crime, and in such cases the police should be contacted without hesitation or question.

But while I am thankful for the emphasis on the prevention of child sexual abuse, and the rightful prosecution of those who commit such heinous acts, I think its also necessary to point out that all sexual misconduct between clergy and those they are charged with serving should be met with the same resolve.  Though the victim may be over 18, and considered a "consenting adult," the fact is that in such a situation, a pastor has used his office to take advantage of another.  It may not be a crime, but its definitely abuse.

Anytime there is sexual misconduct between pastor and parishioner, the issue isn't primarily about sex, but power.  This is because any counseling relationship between a pastor and one of his parishioners is automatically an "uneven" relationship.  These aren't two people on equal ground consenting to inappropriate behavior.  This is someone using his office to abuse his power for his own benefit and sinful pleasure.

Additionally, it is a breach of trust that stains the very office of Pastor.  Once when advising a church dealing with a moral failure of this sort, I advocated a review of accountability procedures by an outside, independent entity. My reason was simple: "You have to rebuild trust, even though those of you who are left did nothing to break it.  No one in the church ever thought this man would be capable of this, so now, even if subconsciously, they will wonder if those of you who are left are capable of it."

Abuse of power and breach of trust are THE issues every time there is inappropriate sexual contact between a pastor and someone over whom he serves as spiritual shepherd.  When the victim is a child, the pastor should be locked up.  But even when the victim is not a child, the victim is still a victim.

Even if what he has done isn't a crime, it is always, ALWAYS abuse, and for the sake of other pastors, our churches, the victims, and the reputation of Jesus Himself, abuse should always be sternly confronted.

No comments: