Sexual misconduct on the part of the clergy is fast becoming a national problem of epidemic proportions. In an over-sexed society, bombarded by sexual themes and images on all sides, increasing sexual misconduct on the part of trusted leaders (even spiritual leaders) should not come as a surprise; however, neither does it come with an excuse. In a very timely and necessary article, Stanley Grenz deals with the reasons behind this growing problem and how the tide can be stemmed. (For consistency of nomenclature in this review, the pastor will be referred to as “he,” while the congregant will be “she.”)
Sexual misconduct often involves someone “violating” another, but in the case of the clergy, that violation occurs on several different levels. It is a violation of the congregant’s trust (as she entrusts to her pastor the vulnerable areas of her life), a violation of the pastor’s power, a violation of sexual trust (as the congregant looks to the church as a place of safe and healthy relationships), a violation of the image of God (as the pastor is to reflect God’s character), a violation of the pastoral office, and a violation of the pastoral calling.
Oftentimes, when sexual misconduct occurs, the focus of victimization tends to fall on the congregant. However, Grenz makes the important point that she is not the only victim in this case, but one among many, including the families of both parties, the pastor’s wife and children, and the congregant’s children and spouse. (I would like to add two other groups of victims that Grenz did not specifically mention: the congregation (among whom may be some who may become disillusioned with the church or with God), and the unsaved (among whom may be some who may see this as just one more reason to reject Christ).)
What can be done to prevent sexual misconduct from occurring? In what is arguably the most important section in his article, Grenz explores nine concurrent lines of defense to lessen the chances of the pastor falling sexually:
1. Recognize your identity in Christ and your need for his help in overcoming temptation;
2. Avoid the urge to try to “fix everything”;
3. Realize that you are a healer who also needs healing like everyone else;
4. Take the necessary steps to help bring about that healing;
5. Set up support systems and accountability around you among people you trust;
6. Maintain proper boundaries in counseling settings;
7. Understand the dynamics of therapeutic relationships;
8. Watch for the warning signs and signals that proper boundaries are in danger of being crossed; and
9. Rely on the power and presence of the Holy Spirit for help.
The warning signs and effective support systems are described in detail in a helpful sidebar to the article, as well as a “Covenant of Clergy Sexual Ethics,” recommended by the Assemblies of God (thus providing another form of accountability).
Grenz presents us with a message of hope in the midst of a disturbing trend, showing us that the situation is not hopeless by any means. With discipline, common sense, a bit of work, and overall reliance on the Holy Spirit, the trend can be reversed, removing out of the way just one more obstacle in the quest to fulfill the Great Commission before our Lord comes again.
Reviewed by Michael J. Knowles
At the time of publication, this article was found online at: http://enrichmentjournal.ag.org/200404/200404_038_miscon.cfm