Every time you turn on the television, it seems like you hear of another sex scandal involving a church leader. But are these leaders falling from grace, or is there more to consider when it comes to sex scandals in the church?
- C. Ryan, author of “Ashamed No More: A Pastor’s Journey Through Sex Addiction,” said there are many layers to consider when discussing and addressing sex scandals in churches. T.C. uses his training in religion and mental health, as well as his personal experience with addiction, to help clients at Boulder Recovery, where he is a pastoral consultant.
Are Sex Scandals Increasing?
If you look at media today, you may think that sex scandals in churches are rampant. It seems by the coverage that they’re multiplying. T.C. said, while he can’t be certain, he thinks it probably is happening more often. The reason? Access.
“We’re in an era where access to sexually stimulating, arousing material is more than we’ve ever had in human history,” he said.
And he was quick to point out that compulsive sexual behavior should not be confused with criminal behavior, like sex offenses.
There’s always been a human vulnerability around erotic sexuality, but there was limited access to these materials and experiences until now, T.C. said. The the last 50 years or so brought on an explosion of sexual materials, he said.
“It’s exposed a tremendous vulnerability in the human experience,” he said.
Sexual material is affordable and accessible, and there is an idea that it’s anonymous because of the internet, T.C. said. That anonymity isn’t necessarily real, but it makes compulsively misusing sexuality one of the easier addictions to hide, especially when your shame already motivates you to do so.
The Perception of Church Leaders
Along with unprecedented access to sexual materials and experiences, parishioners’ perceptions of church leaders exacerbate the shock value of sex scandals in the church.
Sex addiction is rooted in trauma and issues with intimacy and attachment. People with hypersexuality disorder use sex, masturbation, or pornography as a way to block adverse feelings and create a sense of connection, even if it isn’t real.
Church leaders have always experienced these wounds, T.C. said. It’s just that access to adverse coping mechanisms is more readily available now.
“Being a spiritual person doesn’t remove the issues we all struggle with,” he said.
But church members think of their pastors and other leaders as beyond reproach. They aren’t. T.C. said:
“Spiritual leaders are as human and flawed and broken as everyone else. We elevate leaders to a place that assumes that the leader is a little bit holier than everybody else, but they aren’t. Gifts for ministry are not the same as sanctification.”
Healing From Sex Scandals in the Church
Will there ever be a time when there aren’t sex scandals involving church leaders? T.C. said it’s unlikely because even pastors are human, and faith doesn’t spare the church from problems.
What’s more important, T.C. said, is how the church learns to address the barrage of sexuality all of its members are exposed to and respond when issues arise. After all, even Jesus had human experiences like hunger, thirst, fatigue, and uncertainty, and He was aware of his own sexuality.
“We shouldn’t be surprised that all of His followers experience human sexuality as well,” T.C. stated.
The church should provide members with psychoeducation, helping congregations understand that addiction is a complex neurobiological response to trauma, environment, and lived experiences. Church members will benefit greatly by being equipped to help support addicts and their families through recovery. Information will help lessen fear and heighten awareness.
Instead, addiction grows in secret because of the shame associated with it. But, genuine connection is key to healing. Unfortunately, most congregations don’t know how to deal with these issues, and the organization’s survival becomes the priority at the expense of appropriate care for the individuals involved. It’s really unfortunate, because proper care and collective education will usually nurture the emotional health of the organization, according to T.C.
“The church needs to reach beyond itself and find those who know how to coach and guide it through the situation,” T.C. said.
To compound the issue, many churches see addiction as a moral failing, when it finds itself in troubling situations because of someone’s sexual behaviors, T.C. said. But, he said, we’re all guilty of moral weaknesses because we’re human and do things like envy, gossip, or slander. The Bible doesn’t elevate our sexual struggles over all of our other behavioral struggles.
“It’s not just about having a pure pulpit — which there’s no such thing because we’re human — but it’s about our next generation who’s coming along with iPhones in their hands and exposure to sexuality and access to these materials really early in life,” T.C. said.
Because we can’t protect anyone from the culture, the church has to equip people for realities. Those realities include that people within the church will develop addictions, T.C. said.
“We can’t be afraid of sexuality, but we must tell the truth,” he said.
Telling the truth and acknowledging what’s happened will mean that some church leaders will and should be removed from their positions, T.C. said.
“Sometimes removing the person is the necessary approach, but it shouldn’t be the automatic or assumed approach,” he said.
Instead, the church should recognize when a leader wants and needs help and support them through their recovery. Galatians 6:2 calls for Christians to bear one another’s burdens.
“Addicts are responsible to do their own personal work, and at the same time they cannot do it alone,” T.C. said. “We’re asking ministry leaders to live a life of recovery but not embarrass us, which means doing it alone. But they can’t.”
The Other Side
Once church leaders are in recovery, they’re uniquely positioned to help others with addiction. They can even more effectively teach about both addiction and grace if they’re willing and allowed to tell their stories.
That’s what T.C. does today with his work at Boulder Recovery. He uses his personal story of addiction as a church leader to help other men understand they aren’t alone and that healing is possible — they can get to the other side of their addiction and have happiness.
Boulder’s 14-Day Men’s Intensive is an excellent way for Christian men to jump-start their recovery in a community with others who share their faith. The intensive focuses on healing the traumatic experiences and attachment wounds that drive addictive behavior and problematic thinking around sex, limiting the experience of intimacy.
For more information about the intensive or other sex addiction treatment options, contact Boulder Recovery today.