Engage

Two Reasons Sexual Sins Dominate the Church

Every day another pedestaled pastor gets caught with their pants down. Some say it’s ironic that sex has become a central cause of turmoil in the church, considering the topic has historically been so taboo. But, this isn’t poetic justice. It’s grievous.

We could place the problem on the lap of Catholics. There was, after all, that damning report published in October 2021 exposing French Catholic clergy for sexually abusing an estimated 216,000 children over seven decades. A similar report from Germany disclosed that over 1,600 clergy had sexually assaulted over 3,600 children. And, don’t forget The Boston Globe’s 2001-2002 spotlighting of the systemic practice of bishops reassigning sexually predatory priests to new diocese. The tactic was still in use according to a 2015 report of U.S. clergy being reassigned to underprivileged parishes in South America despite criminal investigations and cash payouts to victims.

Truthfully, the practice of “promotion for avoidance” is a catholic one. In the early 80’s, the tiny Methodist church in my rural hometown got assigned a minister who was entangled in sexual scandal. More recently, it’s been reported that in the past 12 years over 375 leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention have been charged with some form of sexual misconduct. And, since individual churches govern themselves, predators roam freely in pulpits and pews. Lately the high-profile Association of Related Churches (ARC) that has come under fire for allowing leaders ensnared in sexual sins to continue pastoring unsuspecting parishioners in new congregations. ARC packages the scheme as “restoration,” giving the appearance of gospel grace and shrewdly exploiting Christ’s instruction to …

Leave the weeds.

Jesus presented the command within a broader metaphor:

“‘24The kingdom of heaven is like a person who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, an enemy came and sowed darnel among the wheat and went away. 26 When the plants sprouted and produced grain, then the darnel also appeared” (Matt 13).

Most teaching of the parable focuses on how we should all try to get along despite the conflict caused by weeds. There’s an occasional explanation about darnel being so eerily similar to wheat that the two cannot be distinguished until maturity when the large, golden berries of wheat clash with the small, grey darnel berries. Personally, I appreciate the distinction because if I ever ate a loaf of darnel bread, well, I’d be stumbling around, vomiting, and slurring. Darnel intoxicates people…literally and metaphorically. Yet, Christ said to leave it, which is convenient for church leaders hell-bent on keeping predators with parishioners.

Wait, where is the darnel growing with wheat (v.24)?

Humph.

And, when Jesus explained his metaphor in verse 38, what did he say was “the field”?

The world…not the church.  

So, believers are to leave toxic counterfeits growing in the world while in the church we’re to …

Remove the evil.

The command comes from Paul’s stern letters to the young church in Corinth.

1“It is actually reported that sexual immorality exists among you, the kind of immorality that is not permitted even among the Gentiles, so that someone is cohabiting with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you have been deeply sorrowful instead and removed the one who did this from among you” (1 Cor 5)?

The church—not the stud apostle—was to expel the incestuous man. The church—gathered in the Name and power of Christ—was to deliver this fella over to Satan for the purpose of repentance and, ultimately, reconciliation with God and the church. The church—not an external advisory board or law firm or circuit judge—was to reprove, rebuke, and, when necessary, remove the sexually immoral person from her midst.

And, no, “remove” doesn’t mean taking the offender off social media for a year until folks forget. Neither does it mean reassigning them to an unsuspecting congregation or crafting a six-month “restoration plan.” Boasting of such “removal” is arrogance, especially when the average sentence for these violent crimes is 16 years. (See v.2, 6.)

Arrogant and ignorant church leaders keep believers fretting about the evil ones in the world when Jesus clearly said to leave them for God to judge at the end of the age (Matt 13.40-42; 1 Cor 5.13). They continue excusing the evil ones in the church, when Paul clearly said that judging and removing them is for the salvation of their souls at the end of the age (1 Cor 5.4-5).

I see your wheels turning. You think this is about forgiveness. It’s not. Christ purchased forgiveness once and for all the sins of all people. It’s not about restoration to the church either. Whether weak or strong, we’re each living members of the Body of Christ. This is about institutionalized cultures condoning violent crimes and sexual sins while believers fail to purge the evil within.

I hear your heart racing. You wonder how you could remove a sexual predator, especially a pastor enshrined with power and popularity. Perhaps start with the lament Paul called for in verse 2. Then, gradually take the next step he mentioned in verse 11: disassociate. That is, do not entertain acquaintance with them beyond basic Christian kindness. Don’t esteem or allow them to influence you. Practically speaking, you may need to unfriend, unfollow, or decline “ministry opportunities.”

As you continue, make no mistake; this is grievous and the grief will threaten to divert you, just as it did for Paul (2 Cor 7). I pray God gives each of us eyes to see that rightful rebuke is a sword of sacred wounding that cuts the church, allowing her to grieve, repent, and experience restoration. That’s not ironic. Or poetic. It’s Gospel.

Amy Leigh is a writer, landscape designer, organizational development specialist, and teacher living in Dallas, Texas. Her articles address themes in faith, culture, creation, the church, theology of the body, theology of women, and relationships.

2 Comments

  • AshleyPittman

    Hey Amy Leigh – you may not know who I am because we never had much interaction, but I was at the Highlands Auburn campus. I now live just outside Kansas City. So much of what you write here resonates with me. There were a lot of things that didn’t sit well with me and it has taken time to name those. Leadership culture is one of those. It’s so ingrained that people are hashtagging newborn baby photos with #littleleader and I want to scream.

    What really got me was the one semester I did HC at night. The Bham pastor leading class started using family and house language and told all the students that PC is the Father of the house. And there was a strong emphasis on “honoring the man of God.” It was weird a cult-ish and I was done. Then I could talk about LIFE retreats and some of those teachings and how they led my husband to believe he was THE protector, leader, and priest of the home. He decided if I was saved or not. He made decisions. He was the voice of God to the family. We are now divorced because I couldn’t handle feeling crazy all the time. It because emotionally and spiritually abusive and he dove deeper and deeper into the teachings of supposed prophets and couldn’t even be in relationship with humans.

    And don’t get me started on the idea that I’m supposed to take a class to find my purpose, which will be fulfilled on a Sunday morning for an hour and a half.

    These issues you named are features of evangelicalism, not bugs. The fallen pastors miraculously restored in 12 months or less…The idolizing of pastors…The highly paid campus pastors… I can’t even tolerate sitting in a church service anymore. I love Jesus but am struggling with people. This is probably way too much for a blog comment, but I haven’t said anything I wouldn’t say directly to the people involved.

Leave a Reply