Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare?


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.

Comments (10)

  1. Matt Martin

    Some insight into the sexual activities of Catholic priests can be found here:

    It’s important to remember that celibacy is only a requirement for most Latin priests (aka Roman Catholic) and consecrated religious priests (eg Benedictines, Fransicans etc). Eastern Catholics (Melkites, Maronite etc) can and do have married priests in the same manner as the Orthodox.

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Thanks for sharing this link, Matt.

      Polly and I were talking about this the other day. I read one study where they stated that 40-60 percent of Catholic clergy are gay. By dropping the notion of celibacy and allowing priests to marry, I suspect the rate of sexual abuse in the Catholic church would drop. While there are certainly men (and women) who have no interest in sex, this is not the case for the vast majority of humans. We want, need, dare I say, crave, sexual intimacy. It is how we are biologically wired. History tells us that going against against “nature” rarely turns out well. I read an article years ago that stated, in the days of the Puritans, over 60% of women were pregnant on their wedding day. Like many wars, the war on human sexuality has been a big failure. Of course, sexual freedom would break the hold that many sects have on people. Preaching the “Bible” sexual standard, along with hell and judgment, keeps people in the pews. Imagine if they ever came to the place where they no longer feared hell and judgment and were free to be sexual beings?

      1. Jada

        It’s interesting that you point out that 60% thing. There are so many christians who seem to live free of any historical awareness at all. They think “these are the worst of times,” not realizing that mankind has always been exactly the way it is right now. There was never some peaceful, golden time when everyone “lived the right way” and where and when they would have been much happier to live. My mother always thought it would have been so great to be Amish. I loved her dearly, but sometimes I did have to (invisibly) facepalm like crazy!

        1. Appalachian Agnostic

          I get so tired of people talking about how modern society has lost this or that in these terrible modern times and how we need to get back to some earlier time when life was so much better. Once, during one of these conversations, I asked a minister just exactly which time period he thought was the best in the US, He said the 1950s. I don’t think I would want to stay permanently in the 50s with its juvenile delinquents, racial segregation and ever present fear of being bombed, but that is just me. (These same people often complain that young kids spend way too much time “on the computer” and not enough time playing ball. I feel like making a list of all the diverse things people do on the computer-everything from playing games to reading classical literature to discussing religion on blogs, then asking one of these folks which computer related activity they think needs to be cut back.)

          1. NeverAgainV

            I hear you Appalachian! So they want the good ole days with separate water fountains for blacks and whites….where women stayed barefoot and pregnant and of course had no control over her own reproductive system…I think they should really want to go back to the REAL good days of burning heretics at the stake & where medicine was blood letting…Sheesh.

            Those people are living in a fantasy. They should look around and be thankful they don’t live in the “good ole days…” LOL I know I am! :D

          2. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

            Yep, there is no time that is “better. ” Different? Sure. But, better? No. Most people who talk like this consider America post WW2 and the 1950′s has nirvana. But, just like you mention in your comment, this is a naive and historically ignorant way of looking at the past.

  2. Pingback: Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare?

  3. Lana

    Stll sad. Where I lived in Asia, 90% of men had marital unfaithfulness. It was much lower in women, but they are stuck at home with the kids too.

  4. Ian

    I left a church that was a split from a church I’ll call BP. The split was actuall because so many people were moving away for housing, so it was a good split.
    Here is my proof that clergy and their families aren’t any better than the rest of us.

    BP had a pastor who was conceived out of wedlock. BP’s pastor conceived his first child out of wedlock. The youngest daughter of this pastor was hauled In front of the church repeatedly for fornication. This daughter’s oldest daughter was hauled in front of her church for fornication. The second oldest daughter was caught sleeping with oldest daughter’s estranged husband.

    BP had 2 deacons. I never heard of any sexual immorality with the deacons, but ALL of their children were having sex out of wedlock. One deacon raised his nephew, and the nephew was called in front of the church for fornication, for getting the other deacon’s daughter pregnant. My thought is that the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree.

    Nope, they are no better than me. They might be worse, because they were able to get away with their sins. I, on the other hand, would have had to face the consequences.

    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Thank you for sharing this. I would love to see you write a post on this.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>