Repost from 2015. Edited, rewritten, and corrected.
In October 2013, Doug Phillips, president of the now-defunct Vision Forum Ministries, confessed to church leaders 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 accounts to do damage control on the behalf of Phillips and the patriarchal movement. One such defender was Independent Baptist pastor Voddie Baucham, a man who is widely viewed as the African-American version of Doug Phillips.
A Christian woman by the name of Julie Anne posted an article on the Spiritual Sounding Board blog about the Doug Phillips scandal. Her post mentioned the following quote by 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. Such claims are patently false.
- 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 between ten and twenty percent of married people have been sexually unfaithful to their spouses. The percentage is higher for men than it is women.
We know that men of the cloth are not morally or ethically superior. In the United States and Canada, there are approximately 600,000 clerics. According to the Hartford Institute for Religion and Research, this total 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 between ten and twenty percent of married people commit adultery, and clergy are no different morally from non-clergy, then this means that between 60,000 and 120,000 clerics have committed adultery. Again, so much for clergy sexual infidelity being rare.
Keep in mind, this is only the number of CONSENSUAL sexual relationships. Each month, the Freedom from Religion Foundation newsletter publishes dozens of reports of clergy misconduct on their Black Collar Crime Blotter page. I also publish for this site the Black Collar Crime series, featuring preachers who have been accused, arrested, charged, convicted, sued, or imprisoned for criminal acts, many of which are sexual in nature. As we know from cases such as Bill Wininger, Bob Gray, and David Hyles, predatory clerics can and do prey on children, teens, and women for decades before they are caught.
Voddie Baucham’s suggestion that there is not a problem with clergy infidelity is a denial of the facts on the matter. As with the Catholic church, Protestant and Evangelical churches have their own sex scandals. Evangelicals love to point to the Catholic church’s sex scandals, all the while ignoring their own increasing problems with sexual infidelity, sexual abuse, and predatory clergy.
Most clerics are faithful to their spouses, and most of them are not sexual abusers or predators. That said, there are tens of thousands of preachers who can’t keep their pants zipped up, and there are thousands of pastors who use their position of authority to abuse and prey on those who trust them. No amount of deflection or misdirection will change this fact.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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