Is Clergy Sexual Infidelity Rare?

steamy romance

Pastor Bob shows Church Member Felicia How Much Jesus Loves Her

Repost. Updated and Corrected.

In October 2013, Doug Phillips, of Vision Forum/Vision Forum Ministries confessed that he had an inappropriate sexual relationship with a woman who is not his wife. Defenders of Phillips took 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 conclusions:

  • 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 superior. 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 Black 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, sexual 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 sexual 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.

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  1. Brian

    It does not seem unusual at all to me that men of the cloth stray from their ongoing affair with Christ. The church is designed to assault decent human boundaries. It tells children they have evil hearts and it shames and blames and then does the one true mind-fuck of salvation. When all decent respect for human boundaries is Biblically demolished (via the local meathead pastor) then why should it be a surprise that people stray? My goodness, they stray especially perhaps in the church because the church insists on it from the beginning: For all have sinned… and will again! And if it makes you angry, then a ‘soft answer turneth away wrath..’. More bullshit to shut you down and harm yourself.
    Hurray for Ireland telling the Church to go fuck-off with their ignorant preaching about same sex marriage. YES Ireland!

    1. Melody

      Brian, thanks for your reply. I guess it takes a lot longer to get the church and its ways out of us, than actually physically leaving. It is only a starting point on a journey to find our own way. I find myself reviewing a lot of what I was taught as a child, including the concept of hell and such and the physical distance from it all helps to see more clearly. Not only does the church blatantly disregard boundaries, like you say, it also creates so much fear between hell and original sin…

      Just the mere possibility that some or maybe even all of it, isn’t true, creates some space to make up my own mind. Lately I’ve begun to become much less afraid and in happily being so, I also grieve for having been so afraid for much of my life. I do have many good memories of church and Christian activities, but sadly I think that, for me personally, the bad does outweigh the good. Wishing you well.

  2. Melody

    “Baptists and Evangelicals tend to prefer teen girls and vulnerable women.” Definitely true in our church; basically preying on teen girls and women who didn’t dare to disagree or object. Even more so because he was the charismatic leader whom everyone loved and adored, ensuring their silence for an awfully long time….

    1. Monica

      “Definitely true in our church” I am curious, why are you still there? I am sorry if I sound judgmental or maybe I am mistaken that this is still your church?

      1. Melody

        I’m certainly no longer there, haven’t been for ages. I just meant that I recognize the pattern, that’s all. It all happened when I was eleven or so. He was relieved of his duties afterwards.

        1. Melody

          I can see how it might look confusing, though… I guess I still think of it as my church as it was the only one I’ve attended for a long time, my entire childhood and most of my teen/young adult life too. It wasn’t until after we had left as a family that I began to realize more and more what a negative influence some of the messages have had. Even though I’ve visited a few churches since, as a guest, I haven’t joined a new one, and it’s becoming quite likely that I never will.

          Like I said, it was a big scandal at the time, the leader was relieved of his duties, but he won the court-case nevertheless (he said, she said). Once I started learning about purity culture and such, it became clear that these teachings have quite a large influence in setting the stage for these kind of situations; i.e. the women being blamed for lack of modesty, men with far too much power and authority, etc.

          1. Brian

            Melody, thank-you for speaking out and sharing. There is no shame in your saying our church. You have been honest and true. It is ‘our church’ indeed and you have survived it. Don’t feel cowed by challenge, only grateful for questions and your freedom to feel. There is no church more holy than the human heart, the mortal heart. Purity culture is the mind-fuck that leaves victims all along its way. Your voice is the way out of being a victim. I appreciate what you have said here. We have so far to go but we are free to be.

  3. mikespeir

    I’ve had that page bookmarked for a long time. The one finding that always stood out to me was, “Almost forty percent polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.” Notice first that we’re talking about Evangelical ministers, not the average Christian. Secondly, they didn’t have these affairs before “finding Jesus,” but, “since beginning their ministry.” Thirdly, these are just the ministers who admitted to this kind of behavior. Surely, it’s really a bit more common than that.


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