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December 08, 2005



Porn use is sin, even if my spouse and I enjoy it together? Sez who?


Brian, I'm writing for the church here, not those outside. For varying reasons, most thoughtful Christian writers are deeply troubled by porn; most Christian denominations are explicit in their belief that its use is damaging on a soul level. And here is where I split with some of my secular feminist sisters and most (not all) of my secular brothers.


Alas, a Blog has a really good post about porn today.


I think the Hugo theory is a good one, and it explicates one aspect of the problem. Another is power. Teaching, and all helping professions have some of this, but the pastorate is uniquely a career in which people hold organizational and culturally ascribed power over other people's spiritual lives. Child molestation is one case with its own dynamics, and porn addiction another. What about the many 'consensual' affairs and emotionally embedded relationships between a male pastor and a female underling (staff or layperson)? I've seen so many pastors threatened by their peers or professional 'superiors', who indulge themselves in cultivating groups of followers who will 'stroke' them in the ways they need. This cycles back into your theory at this point. People who hold power over others (and professors are certainly in this group) have to learn how to handle it, and ultimately, how to share and diffuse it. Too many of us get life, ego, and self-esteem from the power we hold over others. And for pastors, the church is a pretty unforgiving setting in which to mature and grow through those issues.


Hmmmm....well, I appreciate the perspective because I hadn't thought of it like this before but I have to agree with jenell. Clergy are in positions of power and I think we have to look at that element of it. However, your post makes me think of ways in which I may be doing inappropriate things and justify it as "me time." Blogging is one of those things since I tend to do it at work. Ultimately the lesson for me seems to be that I'm not taking enough time for myself - still. Um, when will I have learned that lesson already?


Your post was very interesting to me, as it touched on a nexus of issues for which I have a passion: the way religion intersects with personality types and attitudes towards sexuality within a spiritual community. I would like to respond--respectfully, of course--as a pagan.

"I am convinced that all of us, male or female, Christian or not, are vulnerable to sexual misbehavior."

Yes, I think it comes down to personal responsbility, not religious affiliation.

The main reason why I think sexual abuses and addictions occur in churches is because Protestant Christianity tends to separate matter and spirit and then place the minister on high with those "superhuman expectations" and as a locus of spiritual energy. When there is a separation like that, the unconscious seeks a balance and what better place than the "underworld" of porn? Your friend's experience sounds to me more like an issue of balance rather than sin. However, you've explained your position on porn and I respect that. I see it as more a problem of economic exploitation.

But that's not to say pagan communities are perfect. Although we may be more open about sexuality and seek more egalitarian relationships and not hierarchical, abuses and misunderstandings still occur--for example, people will attend rituals and celebrations with the attitude that they'll "hook up because pagans are easy" and not because they have a spiritual commitment. Also, when a group enters a state of ecstasy through ritual or singing, boundaries dissolve, and vulnerabilities arise. It's important for us all to develop strong boundaries, whatever our beliefs may be, to be able to say "this far, and no further because I respect you and myself."

(And "stroking" isn't so bad--we all need affirmation, although, speaking as an ENFJ, I see this as a particular need of extraverts).


Hugo -

I think both you and Jenell are right. I think it's a combination of the shadow side of the "pastoral personality" and the position of spiritual power that pastors find themselves in. And Bacchante has a good point about dualism as well.

People in other "helping" type professions, such as social workers, therapists, and teachers tend to have the same kind of issues with boundaries, ego, etc, but their power is more limited. a teacher or social worker isn't given the power to pass judgment on the state of your soul, so I think that all of those issues get magnified in the lives of pastors. Plus, a senior pastor or priest is in a position of power over others in a dynamic that you don't see in any other setting. How big of an ego trip is it to have a few hundred people sitting in silence, listening to you, and taking notes on what you say every week? In my experience of churches, while it's the sexual stuff that will get you fired, a pastor can be abusing power and have very unhealthy relationships with his family, staff and congregants and not get called on it for years. And if they do get called on it, usually they just get fired rather than having the opportunity to work all of that through.

It's more than just the shadow side of the pastoral personality - it's the system that we've set up that encourages us to give up control of our souls to someone else. It doesn't work very well for clergy or the rest of us.

The Gonzman

I think once you get down to it, the same percentage of people in such professions - statistically - wind up abusing authority, acting unethically, or whatever, as the rest of the population.


Hugo-I appreciate your input and take on this topic. As a pastor/minister you are constantly in the spotlight and many people place very high expectations on you to perform and be perfect. I think at times, sexual "misbehavior", can be seen as a personal/private escape for people in ministry. With so many people watching your every move, anything you can pull off or get away with in private is liberating. I wonder if, at times, sexual misbehavior feels liberating to a pastor/minister. They can finally get out of the spotlight, stop being perfect, and enjoy breaking the "rules"... It just seems like for someone in that position, it would be very freeing to go against everything people expect of them and like you said, do something for themselves. I don't necessarily agree with it, but I totally get it. The pressure of ministry is tough and something we so often forget, is that pastors/ministers are people too...just like us...they screw up, they sin, they make mistakes...and God forgives them just like He forgives us!


Hugo, I am almost sold on your theory. However, I am unclear on whether you're suggesting it's a problem with the pastor's personality (generally speaking) or the very role of "Pastor". (I think you're saying both?)

For me, the issue is the role and the expectations and opportunities that go with it. Like you, I have good boundaries in place because I wouldn't trust myself as far as I can throw myself! However, I'm also painfully aware that I have constant opportunities to by-pass those boundaries - and get away with it.

If I add to the opportunities that Pastors are given the sheer exhaustion that can accompany the role, and the splitting of one's personality as saint/sinner, then I am almost surprised that this doesn't happen more often.


Graham, you're right -- I am suggesting it is both.


Oh, and Carissa, you're absolutely right about the sense of liberation. The "if they only knew" effect is a very powerful one.

Speaking of power, I agree that that is part of the problem. To have such access to so many lives, to be so trusted, to be so needed and so (often) idolized is intoxicating. Even in a lay capacity with kids, I've never known anything quite like it.

john alan turner

Thanks for your clarity on this subject. I try reminding people in ministry of the old airline mantra: "Make sure you put your own oxygen mask on first before assisting those around you." Ministry is exhausting enough. Ministering from a deficit is impossible to sustain over the long haul and usually precedes some sort of compromise (moral, ethical, legal, etc.).


While I truly appreciate your kind, empathetic and generous perspective on the matter, some of the issues surrounding sexual misconduct that churches contend with, don't come within an inch of this theory. Someone already spoke to the issue of power, so I'll speak about safety.

One of the aspects of religion (I am not religious, thus I put it so) that I appreciate the most, is the sense of community and extended family a church offers. Where a church as succeeded in this realm, there is a sanctity of 'the group', of the community, that is respected. A unification and code of solidarity is nurtured. The unfortunate side of this, can be that uniquely unacceptable behaviors are overlooked for the sake of that union. Denial can run rampant where that sanctity is deeply felt. I have seen, for example, the occassion where a community of faithful have 'overlooked' the abuse of one members wife and children. Not because they conciously efforted tolerance nor because they supported such a situation, but because they refused to accept the evidences before them. It was as if to 'see' would be to threaten to distroy that sanctity. It was, in some cases, as if it would even threaten their faith.

The "Church" (as a generalization) has long been a time of refuge and combined with the above, can habour some cultural norms within itself, that may for the most part be positive for all involved. But it can also be a place for people to 'hide'. Sometimes, a safe place to hide, isn't a safe place for everyone.

I'm very sure that you did not intend to speak of more serious and grave issues, such as physical abusers or the molestation of minors. But these thoughts came up for me, when reading your post. Due to past experience / observations and due to the well publicized circumstances related to sexual misconduct, over time.


Ricia, you're right. My post here was not about how churches ought to deal with protecting the congregation, but more on what the particular connection between the pastorate and sexual acting-out might be.



I think your theory is generally true. As someone with a volunteering temprament, it is very easy to get out of balance. We often forget Christ said "No" fairly frequently and went away with His disciples.


You're right, John. I've always felt Mark 6:31-32 should be mandatory reading for pastors and volunteers on a regular basis!


Much as it pains me to agree with Gonzman, I think he may be right in this case. Could it not be possible that the perception that an unusually high percentage of the clergy are involved in sexually inappropriate behavior is just a side-effect of the fact that, due to their position, they may simply be more likely to get caught than the rest of the population? Honestly, the "me time" explanation sounds like nothing more than a clever person's attempt to justify behaviour they know to be wrong. Smart people are good at making excuses for themselves.
There's also the fact that clergy, like teachers, sports coaches, social workers etc are simply more likely to be given unsupervised assess to young people than those in other professions. There may be an opportunistic aspect to the phenomenon.


But I am fairly certain that there is something about the "pastoral personality" that makes many of us particularly prone to sexual misconduct.

I've heard a related point from women over the years. It's that they see pastors and priests as "safe." These are the alpha males of their church community, full of power and with the respect of other men. So women can flirt about them but not (in theory) have to worry about sinning by actually having sex.

sandra c. o.

WELL i believe that most of our problems in the church today is our inability to understand our temprament , as we know that most of this tempramental behaviour are natural and we can only overcome them if we know them and their weaknesses.

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