| The clergy sexual abuse in the news recently refers mostly to
the abuse of young boys by the male clergy. The reality is that women are
often (men are occasionally) victims of sexual abuse and professional exploitation
by pastors, ministers and clergy, as well as other professional caregivers,
instructors and mentors. In fact, some studies have shown that abuse of adult women by clergy is even more prevalent than the abuse of children by clergy!
We aim to bring to light the clergy sexual abuse situation as it relates to
female victims, and to provide courage, strength, hope and healing through
God’s love and mercy.
Words like “adultery,” “affair,” “relationship,” etc.,
typically take the forefront when an adult is abused. Let’s be
clear: You are not having an affair with your pastor. These are improper
words to describe what happens in this type of situation. The “relationship” between
a pastor and his congregant (or counselor/counselee, etc.) is NOT an “affair”—it
is ABUSE. Due to the imbalance of
power in the relationship between Pastor/Congregant (Teacher/Student,
Counselor/Counselee, etc.), there can be no mutual consent to any type
of intimate behavior or sexual activity. In fact, a woman who has been
victimized in the past (either during her childhood or in other ways)
may find that she is, in effect, virtually UNABLE
to WITHHOLD consent. She may feel, due to circumstances, that
she is not free to refuse any unwanted sexual advances. In reality,
she may be subconsciously re-enacting her earlier abuse (by someone
else) in the situation with the pastor, especially if the pastor is
much older than she is and if he is not someone she would ever be attracted
to if it were not for his power, age and authority over her. Pastoral
sexual abuse doesn’t always occur due to transference. Sometimes
it happens simply because the pastor is a sexual predator. The abuse
is more than just a physical or emotional abuse. When a pastor (or
elder or anyone seen as a spiritual leader in the church) betrays his
sacred trust, it is spiritual abuse as well, spiritual adultery, if
When Satan’s bewitching power controls a person,
God is forgotten, and man who is filled with corrupt purposes is extolled.
Secret licentiousness is practiced by these deceived souls as a virtue.
This is a species of witchcraft… There is always a bewitching power
in heresies and in licentiousness. The mind is so deluded that it cannot
reason intelligently, and an illusion is continually leading it from purity.
The spiritual eyesight becomes blurred, and persons of hitherto untainted
morals become confused under the delusive sophistry of those agents of
Satan who profess to be messengers of light. It is this delusion which
gives these agents power. Should they come out boldly and make their advances
openly, they would be repulsed without a moment’s hesitation; but
they work first to gain sympathy and secure confidence in themselves as
holy, self-sacrificing men of God. As his special messengers they then
begin their artful work of drawing away souls from the path of rectitude
by attempting to make void the law of God.
—The Adventist Home, page
330, paragraph 1 (Ellen G. White)
Clergy sexual abuse is many things. It is a relationship of trust that
has been broken by sexual behavior. It is when one who is in a position of
trust or power takes advantage of the person who is entrusted to his care.
It is when someone who is supposed to help another takes advantage of her
to satisfy his own selfish sexual or emotional needs. Abuse of power causes
tremendous harm to both parties (and their respective families, the church,
etc.), but especially the one whose trust (and body) has been violated.
A quote from Sex in
the Forbidden Zone by Peter Rutter, M.D. states, “A
sexually abusive pastor can easily exploit his authority by telling
the woman that their “sexual relationship” is part of
a divinely ordained plan.”
How many women must feel entirely compelled to “go
along with” whatever this pastor desires simply because he says
it’s the Lord’s will! This should never be! We are each
responsible for knowing our Bibles and knowing what the Lord’s
will is and what is acceptable behavior to Him.
To make matters even worse, the victim usually
feels responsible for the abuser’s career, his family, the church
family, maybe even his life if he has threatened suicide if the “relationship” is
Note: This site
is written with the assumption that most (some studies show 96%) victims
are women and most pastors/clergy are men. The information contained
here is not gender-specific and we do recognize that women are capable
of abuse and that men may be vulnerable in certain circumstances.
We also recognize the fact that some women do seek
to seduce their pastors and that, at times, the pastors may succumb
to this temptation. This, however, in no way lessons the pastor’s
responsibility (or guilt if he falls) to protect the woman (even if
only from herself) and to maintain proper boundaries. The person with
the power, whether it be the pastor, a teacher, a therapist, etc.,
is ALWAYS the one with the highest responsibility and accountability.
While the subject is not pleasant, nothing is served
by ignoring it any longer. The Adventist
Review is to be commended for opening up the discussion this widely.
Several things come to mind. As pastors occupy positions of authority
and power, they are always the predators in these situations. The victim,
no matter how apparently complicit or seductive, is still the victim in
clergy abuse situations…
We must also take steps to be sure the victims are not further victimized
by our processes. While the SEC process outlined in Ms. Banks’s
presentation has worked well in some situations, in others it has been
most unproductive. That process must not be construed as a court of law
in which the accused has the right to face the accuser. It has been my
experience that many victims will not come forward at all if they are
forced to tell their story in the presence of their abuser.
—Tom Lemon, V.P. for Administration of the Mid-America Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists
Review Web Site (Response
to an article written about a fictitious pastoral abuse case based on
a compilation of actual cases.)