SEX SCANDAL: Healthy Boundaries for Healthy Leaders & Communities

I was alarmed to hear of another church leader struggling with his sexuality.  The leader is a young married man working with youth.  I was made aware of the situation through someone I work with who is processing some of the thoughts and feelings around her sister being manipulated and inappropriately touched by this leader.  I have her permission to share this with you.

It is heart-breaking to hear of these situations but even more so the voice of the victims.  The leader has admitted to the youth in his group that when caught up in the "passion of godly love for them he just wants to kiss them" - the girls that is.  His hugs towards the girls have been front hugs and what observers have noticed have seems like an inappropriate amount of time.  Other behaviors include a “game” where the girls (not the boys) are placed in a ‘sleeper hold’ (a wrestling hold) by this leader until they pass out.  I think without me going into any more of the gory details we get the idea there is something very unhealthy happening.

People have been noticing this and after several months of this behavior, people are beginning to speak out.  They are doing so fearfully - fearful that by confronting this issue it will cause division and may split the church.

In addition, the fear of confronting God’s anointed (code word for the pastor) and the general taboo surrounding sex in many Christian traditions have allowed this horrendously inappropriate behavior to continue far too long.

Let's keep one thing in perspective right away!  Our testimony to the world is love, and anything, especially in the church that is contrary to love must be addressed.  To put the well-being of the church institution before the well-being of our children (& women) is a crime of the highest order.  In fact, Jesus spoke hyperbolically about a millstone and the deep blue sea.

Marie Fortune in her book Is Nothing Sacred? When sex invades the Pastoral Relationship writes of all institutions:

An institution acts first to what it perceives  to be its self interest.  Seldom does it identify its self interest to be the same as those it is supposed to serve.”

In a dramatic sense it reveals a spirit of Moloch ,where we are willing to sacrifice our children and those most vulnerable to protect our institutions.  Harsh?  Strong? Absolutely. but it needs to be.  For the Church to be the Church love must “rule” and love demands injustice must be confronted.

A loving God will never condone the unloving, unjust behavior of any person regardless of position.

To confront the offender is necessary for a couple of reasons; To protect the victims (and others) from further victimization and provide opportunities for healing for the victim(s) and yes, the offender.  This needs to be done by professionals along with a caring, supportive community.

It is also an opportunity to revisit your abuse policies, protocols and critically examine how it failed, and to fix it!

Many of us who have grown up in the church are uncomfortable talking about sex.  The old adage “Sex is dirty and bad - save it for the person you love” has served to shame us about sexuality and has in many cases eliminated any healthy discussion concerning healthy sexual relations.  Often, under the veil of shame, this leads to sexual brokenness in which one struggles with "a dirty little secret” until it is often acted upon in an unhealthy way.

Healthy Christian spirituality will seek to bring wholeness to a person - this includes body, soul, and spirit.  A healthy perspective on the body can bring a great deal of health to our faith and part of a holistic Christian spirituality includes a healthy, evidenced informed view of sex and sexuality.

Organizationally, however, there are a few steps we can take to acknowledge the potential for sexuality misconduct on the part of our leaders.  Establish healthy boundaries which can be a support for our leaders and congregants alike and have a clear process for dealing with situations which occur - God forbid.

A few thoughts of how Churches can be Responsible.

1) Each Church needs to have a written policy that addresses the relationship between leaders and those they serve - most specifically recognizing the imbalance of power which often occurs, and address the issues which contribute to this phenomenon.  This policy must provide a point of reference to establish clear, healthy boundaries of conduct for the Pastor and those they serve as well.

2) When there is a concern raised (any concern) it must be addressed and the church's policy of conduct should provide a clear process which includes protecting the accuser and the accused as well as a process of investigation and hearing. A public and clearly defined process to deal with allegations which includes meaningful support for healing for all those involved - victim and family, pastor and family and the congregation.

3) Resist the temptation to ‘sweep it under the rug’.  For loves sake, any abuse must be addressed in a deliberate, open and loving manner.  This will take courage and affirms the need for a clear plan of action contained within an established policy.  The all to common approach to send the pastor on to another church with a letter of recommendation, and sweep it all under the rug is over!

4) Pastor/Leader Sexual Abuse is not an internal matter to be handled in-house.   It must be reported and investigated by local law enforcement and other relevant agencies.

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