Review of “Ashamed No More”

Patheos invited me to review Ashamed No More by T. C. Ryan who writes about his own life experience battling sexual compulsive behavior from adolescence on while simultaneously serving his church as a senior pastor for 20 years.  The first half of the book does a thorough job of describing the “set up” many religious people find themselves in as they strive to live the standards and principles of their faith – specifically by clarifying the relationship between inner shaming and the inescapable scenario of sin and brokenness we all find ourselves in.  He speaks of a loving God who understands our weaknesses and loves us regardless.  Yet, because there is such a focus on moral behavior within church communities, we can become paralyzed with shame instead of approaching our weaknesses from a more accepting space where God wants to walk with us on the journey of individual progress – instead of standing unattainably in front of us while we attempt to walk towards Him.  “The thing that is really important to know about God is that he’s never ever surprised by our failures, our brokenness.  Nor is he put out by it… So shame is toxic to strugglers, is a lie about who we really are and is something Jesus refused to apply to those he came to set free.”

Ryan speaks to the importance of understanding what drives compulsive behavior to begin with.  He explains the roles unmet attachment needs, trauma, and neurobiology play in the development of poor coping skills people often adopt as a means of survival and pain avoidance.  Often religious communities, instead of taking this empathic stance, perceive and treat known sinners as weak, selfish, and uncommitted to God – further isolating those who are in desperate need of a loving and supportive space to worship within.

Therefore, in the second half of the book, Ryan forces us to consider our own failings in applying the grace of Christianity, both as individuals and as a “church” which further exacerbate the problems we face in relation to unhealthy sexual behavior.  One of his strongest statements which saddens him and saddens me to agree with is, “The church is often the least safe place to be a real person.”  This is because of the unnecessary vilification some of our sinful behavior engenders.  When the emphasis of “good Christian” living is focused so heavily on our behavior instead of our ongoing journey of self progression, it is difficult to reveal our weaknesses.  Especially when they are met with disciplinary action, inability to continue serving in certain callings and accountability focused only on decreasing said behavior.  He continues, “The biggest threat facing the church in America isn’t the erosion of ‘moral values’ in our culture.  It isn’t the rampant drug use or the growing divide between upper and lower classes or encroaching relativism or foreign terrorists.  The biggest threat is the hiding and pretending of those who make up the church.  We aren’t honest about our failings.”

He challenges “the church” to put sexuality in proper perspective.  Instead of elevating sexual sin above all others, again making it difficult for those who struggle to be sexually honest and open, we can adopt healthier attitudes and be willing to offer helpful sexual education.  “Our behaviors do matter, and we can help each other understand why we have some of the impulses we have and what to do with the way we’ve been formed sexually as we’ve grown up.  All these are natural and healthy issues that ought to be addressed in the spiritual community.  When we do, we send the message to emerging generations that their sexuality is not something to be afraid of or ashamed of but is a powerful and wonderful gift from our Creator.”

There is only one thing I’d like to push back on.  Ryan approaches the issue of sexual compulsion primarily from the lens of having some type of traumatic history.  In my experience, I have worked with many members in the Mormon church who report being raised in loving families with no traumatic event occurring in the sense of what we may usually consider “trauma” (i.e. abuse, neglect, etc.).  In these cases, I often find the “trauma” which has played a significant role to the individual’s inability to comfortably integrate their sexuality is the tremendous shame correlated to teachings of masturbation being sinful behavior.  As long as Ryan and other ecclesiastical leaders take the stance that a normative part of human sexual development is wrong in the eyes of God, the negative effects of shame Ryan so eloquently describes in his book, will continue to fester within our communities.

Otherwise, I strongly appreciated Ryan’s willingness to share his personal story, his framing of information regarding sexual compulsion and the shame cycle, his respectful challenge to church organizations and Christian individuals, and his scripturally based perspectives regarding our relationship with a divine being who is willing to engage with us towards transcendence and wholeness.

 

  • Bradley Hintze

    It is neat to see a book like tis out there. More frank dialog about sexuality can only be healthy and comforting for those still in conservative, strict traditions the believe they are ‘bad’ because they ‘struggle’ with their libido. I agree with Natasha though, as long as ecclesiastical believe that normative sexual behavior, such as masturbation and sexual thoughts., are evil it doesn’t matter how carefully they walk the line, people will be needlessly hurt.

  • http://gleaningthefields.com Ruth

    Quick question, does the author not feel that the shamming normal sexual behaviors and thought is harmfull, even traumatic? I have found personally that the ecclesiastical obsession (at least when I grew up) with chastity and sexual behavior, and all supported by my parents, led to a whole lot of trauma! having young men being told that they “should tie their hands to the bedpost rather than defile themselves,” or youth being told they are better “dead than unclean” has led to some profound thinking errors, and in many ways, self abuse.

  • http://Poetrysansonions.blogspot.com Julia

    I do think that “better dead than not a virgin,” and using church discipline to both sexual abuse survivors and unendowed members involved in sexual relationships when not married, does a terrible disservice to all members of the church.

    I am not saying that sexual relationships outside of marriage should be encouraged. I think that before being endowed, those relationships are breaking a commandment. That is very different than breaking temple covenants. Even after endowment, I think that church discipline should be slow, and come after professional counseling and other treatments have been exhausted. Natural consequences dictate that a temple recommend would not be appropriate until the Atonement has made either repentance or healing wounds caused by the sins of others. Using church discipline to punish someone who is already struggling to find a connection to Christ, seems to only push people farther from the parts of the church that they need the most.

    I wonder if those thoughts make sense to others. I am a childhood incest survivor and teenage rape survivor. I know how close I came to losing my testimony after the choices of my church leaders to disfellowshipped me within days of the rape, and after I left my first husband and wasn’t willing to take my bishop’s counsel to return to am emotionally (and sometimes sexually) abusive environment. I found my testimony in spite of those experiences, but I meet many men and women, in rape support groups, who leave because they can’t get over the additional trauma from church leaders.

  • http://goodstrongmen.blogspot.com Strong Man

    I agree with this: “We aren’t honest about our failings.” in the LDS church. Also that the emphasis on the evils of sexual sin, “sexual addiction” and pornography makes those problems worse. The emphasis extends even within marriages of people who don’t have those problems–because they have such a fear of doing something “wrong” within the bedroom.

    My wife, for example, fears there are a collection of unknown, unnofficial behaviors that are somehow not allowed between husband and wife–even if both spouses enjoy those things. For example, phone sex while on a trip (“It’s masturbation–and of course we know that’ s bad.”), oral sex, even regularly getting in bed naked together. She cannot produce a single official statement to back up these fears, and I can produce numerous scriptures and statements to the contrary, but she harbors these fears (or excuses?) anyway–and it stifles intimacy and harms marriage.

    Finally, I think you’re right on here:

    “I often find the “trauma” which has played a significant role to the individual’s inability to comfortably integrate their sexuality is the tremendous shame correlated to teachings of masturbation being sinful behavior. As long as Ryan and other ecclesiastical leaders take the stance that a normative part of human sexual development is wrong in the eyes of God, the negative effects of shame Ryan so eloquently describes in his book, will continue to fester within our communities.”

    Yep. And therapists and bishops only see or hear from a tiny fraction of those who actually have this trauma. The vast majority suffer in silence.

  • http://goodstrongmen.blogspot.com Strong Man

    I just realized I have a bit more to say about this than I thought.

    Recently, when she said she just promised a councilor in the stake presidency that she would wear her garments, and cited a few other things I know have physically turned her on, but that she didn’t “feel right about,” I felt seriously like kicking his butt. I know the guy–he’s our neighbor–and it ticks me off that he has more influence in my bedroom than I do. This is MY wife and MY marriage.

    Of course, it’s not his fault. And, if asked, I’m confident he would adamantly insist it’s none of his business what I do in my bedroom with my wife. I totally have a testimony of the actual gospel, the scriptures, etc.–which I strongly believe includes God wanting married couples to have lots of freedom in their intimate life.

    Still-I know better than to ask the Bishop if certain activities are okay or not–from reading the church handbook, which says if you have to ask, you should probably not do it.

    Just one more example of ways that this lack of honesty and lack of communication about real life is harming marriages.

  • http://themormontherapist Been there

    I struggled with sexual addiction all my life and know EXACTLY what Ryan is going through. I heard him being interviewed on Focus on the Family. Men don’t go to parks to “exchange” pornography. That’s ridiculous. He was acting out with other men – I guarantee that. He said he was accused of “something” but would not elaborate but I can easily guess what he was doing there. This man is STILL in denial and he’s using all this publicity with this book and blaming his childhood etc. as a smokescreen to what the real problem is. He cannot stand the thought of his wife and children knowing the real him. All I can say is I’ve been there and have come out the other side victorious with the help of my Savior Jesus Christ. He gave up his LIFE for me so I am willing to sacrifice this small part of me in return. This is the only answer, the only treatment for Mr. Ryan’s problem.


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