Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare?

by Bruce Gerencser cross posted from his blog The Way Forward

Doug Phillips, of Vision Forum/Vision Forum Ministries, recently confessed that he had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a woman who is not his wife. (see my previous post in this) Defenders of Phillips have taken to their blogs, websites, Twitter, and Facebook, to do damage control on the behalf of Phillips and the patriarchal movement. One such defender is Voddie Baucham, the African-American version of Doug Phillips, sans the scandal. Baucham is an Independent Baptist pastor.  (you can find Baucham’s website here)

A Christian woman by the name of Julie Anne, an acquaintance of mine, posted an article on the Spiritual Sounding Board blog about Doug Phillips. In her post she had this quote from Voddie Baucham:

Dennis,You ask, “How many times do we see this in Christian leadership?” The answer may surprise you, but it is actually quite rare. There are hundreds of thousands of churches in America. We hear of these types of things on a national basis when they happen to high profile people. However, considering the number of people in Christian leadership, the numbers are quite small.As to your other point, most men who go through something like this never recover. Of course, there are exceptions. Moreover, there are some circles wherein things like this, and much worse, are merely swept under the rug. However, in circles where leadership is taken seriously, it is very difficult for a man to come back from things like this. People have long memories, and tend to be rather unforgiving. (emphasis mine)

Baucham repeats the oft told lie that clergy sexual misconduct is quite rare. I have heard this line more times than I can count. It is an attempt to prop up the notion that clergy are more moral and ethical than most people; that they are pillars of virtue and morality.  If Baucham doesn’t know better, he should. His statement is easily disproven.

In a study by  J. Krejcir Ph.D. of  the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute, Krejcir came to the following conclusion:

  • Of the one thousand fifty (1,050 or 100%) pastors we surveyed, every one of them had a close associate or seminary buddy who had left the ministry because of burnout, conflict in their church, or from a moral failure.
  • Three hundred ninety-nine (399 or 38%) of pastors said they were divorced or currently in a divorce process.
  • Three hundred fifteen (315 or 30%) said they had either been in an ongoing affair or a one-time sexual encounter with a parishioner.

So much for clergy sexual infidelity being rare.

Numerous studies have been conducted concerning sexual infidelity among married people. The percentage varies widely, but it is safe to say that 10-20% of married people are sexually unfaithful to their spouse. The percentage is higher for men than it is for women.

We know the clergy are not morally or ethically special. They are, in every way, human just like the rest of us. In the United States and Canada, there are approximately 600,000 clergy. According to the  Hartford Institute for Religion and Research, this number includes active clergy and “retired clergy, chaplains in hospitals, prisons and the military, denominational executives, and ordained faculty at divinity schools and seminaries.”  This number does not include clergy who are affiliated with independent churches.

If 10-20% of married people commit adultery, and clergy are no different from non-clergy, then this means that between 60,000 and 120,000 clergy have committed adultery.  Again, so much for clergy sexual infidelity being rare.

Keep in mind, this is only the number of CONSENSUAL sexual relationships. Every month, the Freedom from Religion Foundation newsletter reports clergy misconduct on their White Collar Crime Blotter page. In the October 2013 newsletter there are over sixty reports of clergy being accused, arrested, charged, convicted, sued or imprisoned for criminal acts, many of which are sexual in nature. (this is ONE month) As we know from cases like Bill Wininger, Bob Gray, and David Hyles, predator clergy can prey on children, teens, and women for decades without ever being caught.  Even when they are exposed they are often not prosecuted.

To suggest that there is not a HUGE problem with clergy infidelity and criminal behavior is a denial of the facts on the matter. Like the Catholic church, the Protestant and Evangelical church have their own their own sex scandal. As I have said before, Evangelicals love to point to the Catholic church sex scandal, ignoring their own increasing problem with sexual infidelity, sex abuse, and predator clergy. Catholic priests seem to prefer little boys and teen boys. Baptists and Evangelicals tend to prefer teen girls and vulnerable women. None of these groups have the high moral ground and my advice to them is that they need to shut the hell up.

Yes, most clergy are faithful to their spouse. Yes, most clergy are not sex abusers or predators. But, should we really take any great comfort in this fact, knowing how many clergy can’t keep their pants zipped up or use their place of power to abuse and prey on those who trust them? I think not.

[Editorial Note: This article is written from the premise that the Bible is not the authoritative last word for faith and practice. If you are not one of those readers, please be understanding of the intended audience and refrain from commenting on whether the Bible should be taken as such. Please show some respect for the writer and others of their faith or own belief/nonbelief by discussing the topic, rather than questioning whether the topic is one that even should be discussed or attacking the author. We try to be supportive of everyone coming out of abusive theology and Religious Trauma Syndrome. For more info on the site please visit - Is NLQ an Atheist Website?]

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Read everything by Bruce Gerencser!

Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Bruce Gerencser blogs at The Way Forward.

Bruce Gerencser spent 25 years pastoring Independent Fundamental Baptist, Southern Baptist, and Christian Union churches in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. Bruce attended Midwestern Baptist College in Pontiac, Michigan. He is a writer and operates The Way Forward blog. Bruce lives in NW Ohio with his wife of 35 years. They have 6 children, and nine grandchildren.

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce

 

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