What is Adult Clergy Sexual Abuse?

Perhaps you have stumbled upon this website, because you are looking for answers. Maybe a little red flag raised itself in your mind causing you to question the behavior of a man of God. Maybe you even feel a little bit guilty for being here.

First of all, I want you to know that you are not alone. You are not crazy. And you have absolutely nothing to feel guilty about. The fact that you clicked on this link tells me that you are listening to the Holy Spirit, and that you want some relief from the suffocation of the secrets you have been asked to keep. You really want to know the truth about what is happening to you. You are tired of the confusion, the doubt and the chaos inside of your mind. You believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, yet the man who is teaching you about God every Sunday is asking you to tell lies. I know what confusion this causes. Please know Jesus has no part in the lies. He is not the author of confusion. He is the author of peace. He wants you to know the truth. He wants you to be set free.

What is clergy abuse?
Religious abuse is abuse administered under the guise of religion, including harassment or humiliation, possibly resulting in psychological trauma. Religious abuse may also include misuse of religion for selfish, secular, or ideological ends such as the abuse of a clerical position.

Baylor University did a survey in 2008 on the prevalence of clergy sexual misconduct and discovered:

    • More than 3% of women who had attended a congregation in the past month reported that they had been the object of CSM at some time in their adult lives;
    • 92% of these sexual advances had been made in secret, not in open dating relationships; and
    • 67% of the offenders were married to someone else at the time of the advance.
    • In the average American congregation of 400 persons, with women representing, on average, 60% of the congregation, there are, on average of 7 women who have experienced clergy sexual misconduct.
    • Of the entire sample, 8% report having known about CSM occurring in a congregation they have attended. Therefore, in the average American congregation of 400 congregants, there are, on average, 32 persons who have experienced CSM in their community of faith.

Your pastor, according to scripture, was placed in a position to watch over the members of God’s church. I Peter 5 says:
1And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: 2Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. 3Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. 4And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.

Your pastor has a high calling from God. His position is about serving God and not himself. Of course he is also just a man. A man who can fall prey to Satan’s evil schemes and the weakness of his own flesh. He needs grace, mercy, and compassion just like the rest of us, but he doesn’t need to be allowed to abuse his position and bring harm to you. So I encourage you to find a safe person or a professional counselor to talk to. In some states there are laws against clergy abuse. Click here to find out if it is illegal in your state. If it is, find an attorney or go to the police. I have linked several places on this site where you can go for help if you do not know anyone in your area who is safe. I encourage you to be careful about approaching others in the church where the pastor is leading unless you know they will support you. Many times the pastor’s faulty leadership patterns have resulted in a damaged community.

The most difficult thing for me to do was to come forward and to tell the truth. I stayed in the relationship with an abusive pastor, because I kept believing that there was something wrong with me. Because of my own history of sexual abuse, I carried about a lot of self-hatred and shame. I went to my pastor for relief from the weight of all of this, and initially I full believed that he was helping me. However, as I came to trust him things in the relationship began to turn drastically toward a destructive path, and rather than finding relief for my shame and self-hatred it grew expediently, and I became desperate for relief. As a result, I made him the center of my existence, and the one I went to about everything that bothered me. Without even knowing it he became my God.

Maybe you think your situation is different. Maybe your pastor is the only person you feel you can trust. Maybe he is the father you never had, but always wanted. Maybe he is the one man in your life who really listens. Maybe the church is your only family. This was the case with me. I cannot judge my pastor’s heart, however the way he interacted with me was clearly predatorial rather than pastoral. He groomed me for months earning my trust and causing me to let my guard down. Sometimes he was so loving and gentle, but at other times he was very cunning. During the first few months of counseling with him, he actually went over a chapter in a book on counseling victims of sexual abuse and when a counseling relationship became unhealthy. He explained that there were many counselors who would believe that our relationship had crossed boundaries they should not have crossed. He wanted to be sure that I understood that our relationship was not the typical pastor/member relationship. He told me that were soul mates, and our relationship was different. And I believed him. However, the nagging doubt never went completely away.

I know how hard it is to reach out for help. The consequences of the truth coming out into the light seem all too much. However, let me assure you the consequences are too much to stay in it.

I am so sorry if you are in this terrible position. I know how heavy this weight is. I know how crippling the ambivalence can be. I want to reassure you again – this is not your fault. And God has not left you. He is pursuing you, and He wants you to be free. Ephesians 5 says:
8For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9(for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10and find out what pleases the Lord. 11Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14

For more information on Adult Clergy Sexual Abuse, please see this resource from Diane Langberg. You may also order a video series on abuse in the church here.

The Hope of the Survivors website has many helpful resources and a number to call for help.