I'm also despondent about pastoral scandals (having learned of a few more recently). I've been part of seven churches in my life, and there have been ten pastoral scandals within the orbits of those churches (some at sister churches or related groups). Is that normal? There's pedophilia, affairs, boundary-crossings, pornography...all are somehow related to sex.
First, I thought it was because they're all evangelical - so uncomfortable with the body that sexuality is hidden and comes out inappropriately. Then, I wondered about maleness. Sexual inappropriateness is rampant among American men, but for the most part, pastors are one of the only professions in the bar is set fairly high for sexual sins are job-threatening offenses (affairs and emotional entanglements wouldn't normally get you fired) and in which people expect greater morality from men. In one institution where I worked, a pastor's scandal was made public, but another office worker (whose offenses were 'worse') was disappeared privately. So is it maleness? If women were given similar power, we'd abuse it too - perhaps in different ways, but blaming gender isn't the answer. My final and most depressing suggestion is that something (the pastorate? the American church? Christianity as we know it?) is just rotten to the core.
Powerful questions. I can assure Jenell that sexual scandals are not unheard of outside evangelicalism! Obviously the Roman Catholic church has had its struggles, but having spent plenty of time with Episcopalians, mainline Presbyterians, and even ultra-progressive Unitarians, I've seen the same sort of tragedies occur within these (theoretically) more "open" denominations. If there's a large subsection of American Christianity that has never been touched by sexual wrongdoing on the part of a male leader, I haven't heard of it.
Here goes a "Hugo theory", and it's just that, a theory. I have no evidence to offer beyond a considerable amount of anecdotal experience. I am convinced that all of us, male or female, Christian or not, are vulnerable to sexual misbehavior. None of us is born with a perfect sense of boundaries and propriety, and though men and women often manifest their boundary violations differently, we are all ultimately, quite capable of crossing lines we shouldn't cross. But I am fairly certain that there is something about the "pastoral personality" that makes many of us particularly prone to sexual misconduct.
The most effective pastors and youth ministers I've known (and I'm not just speaking about All Saints Pasadena, but about several other churches of which I've been a part) are, of course, "people people." Though not all good pastors are genuine extroverts, most love the opportunity to connect with their congregations on a spiritual and intimate level. Almost every young pastor or priest I've known has had a real problem setting boundaries with time and emotional energy. Congregations from the left to the right, from Unitarians to Reform Calvinists, place superhuman expectations on their all-too-human shepherds. For men and women of any age, but perhaps especially for the young who are new to ministry, it becomes virtually impossible to say "no." So many needy people want to plug themselves into what they imagine to be your socket of spiritual energy! (Nowhere is this more true than in youth ministry.) Most pastors want to be selfless givers, following in the footsteps of Jesus. They don't know how to say "no" to the needy, the vulnerable, and the chronically self-absorbed (all churches are full of the latter). They give and give and give and, as we've all seen in our churches, they burn out.
I think that the thing that ties all sexual sin (adultery, pornography, affairs with parishioners, boundary violations with teens) together is a hunger for an experience that is all about us, our pleasure, our happiness. People who spend their lives in public service are perhaps particularly vulnerable to these sins because they do such a poor job of taking care of themselves. Over and over again, they deny their own needs and push themselves to the limits of spiritual, physical, and emotional exhaustion. Their minds and bodies crave rest, but they also crave an experience that is, for once, "all about them." They long for something that is "just theirs", a time or an activity or a relationship where they don't have to feel the crushing burden of public demands and expectations.
As anyone who has spent time with a porn addict -- or been a porn addict -- knows, time seems to disappear when one is "using." One's world gets very, very narrow when one is masturbating to porn. All that matters is the next image on the screen or on the next page, all that matters is one's own gratification. It is, perhaps, the single most selfish activity imaginable. It's not only intensely selfish, it's intensely private. For someone like a pastor or a youth minister, whose career is about public sharing and giving, porn use (and other sexual sin) is at the very opposite end of the human emotional and spiritual spectrum from their vocation. But because they exhaust themselves so easily, because they are all-too-conscious of the huge expectations placed upon them by their congregants, the allure of sexual transgression becomes all the greater. It is a perverse kind of emotional balancing, I think, an attempt to restore equilibrium.
I had an old friend who had lost his job in ministry (again, not at any church I've named as one with which I am associated.) He was caught with tons of porn on his church computer, and had regularly visited strip clubs on "church time" (and with church money.) We talked about what he had been doing, and he said that he justified his behavior by saying "I deserve this." He had worked so hard for his church, gone so far beyond his job description that he was at church or doing pastoral care work close to 100 hours a week. He gave and gave and gave. And at the end of the day -- or sometimes in the middle of the day -- he thus felt quite justified in "taking a little bit of time for me." When he would look at porn for half an hour, all by himself, he would tell himself, "This is my 'me' time; I deserve this after all the work I've done." On a deeper level, he struggled with shame and the "If they only knew!" anxiety. It was, he explained, almost a relief when he was caught.
So how can the church address this? Well, we need to get more honest about the human frailties of all of those who do ministry work. We need a two-fold strategy that both demands greater accountability for private behavior and "personal time", but also watches carefully to prevent the sort of pastoral burnout that so often precedes sexual scandal. I think both men and women in ministry need to be partnered with others in their church. These partners (who should generally be of the same sex and age) will regularly and lovingly ask the "tough questions." They might use an internet program like Covenant Eyes together. (I use it and recommend it to everyone.) When they see their partner spending too much time with one person, they'll confront them -- not publicly, but gently and privately.
And when a "fall" happens, the worst option is to have the sinner quickly and quietly leave the church community. Obviously, if a child has been molested and a crime committed, the authorities will need to be involved and the minister removed for the sake of the victim if no one else. But in the case of consensual adultery, or pornography, or other less heinous but still serious transgressions, the focus has to be on healing and redemption within the church itself.. Folks who want their priests and ministers on pedestals need a wake-up call; they will benefit from seeing the brokenness of their shepherd. They may figure out that the laity need to take more responsibility, and that the "priesthood of all believers" involves holding everyone to the same standard rather than demanding Christ-like self-sacrifice from church leaders. They will get a chance to witness and participate in a journey of restoration and healing, and that will be a powerful sermon indeed.
I'm a "people person." I naturally gravitate to situations where I can connect with others emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. There's a generous and giving element to this: it's what makes me a good teacher, a compassionate mentor, and a very loving youth leader. There's a darker, more selfish element as well: I need -- and I'm not shy about saying this -- a lot of praise, affirmation, and "stroking." In both my profession and my youth work avocation, I give and give, but I also receive and receive. As with so many of my brothers and sisters, generosity and narcissism are both part and parcel of what I do and who I am. Some folks see more of the former, some more of the latter, but my true friends see both and love me in my goodness and my brokenness. But I have to be careful to ask for help and affirmation even as I continue to give and share! Pretending to be superhuman, pretending to be like Jesus, will get me no place good and it will get me there fast. (Sorry, Mom and Dad, about the grammar -- but trust me, that's the best way to put it.)
Because of my past, because of my nature, I have really, really good boundaries in place with students and teens and colleagues and fellow volunteers. I'm careful both in terms of public perception of my behavior and in terms of my own emotions and my own sexuality. And I know enough that I can't do this alone. Both in and out of the college and the church, there are men and women who know me, love me, and watch me lovingly as I watch them. We can ask each other the hard questions, hold each other accountable, and together, keep everyone safe. I couldn't do what I do without them