Let's be honest: the behavior behind the latest clergy sex abuse scandals are not limited to just one denomination. Clerical sexual improprieties, moderate or extreme contaminate every Christian community.
Clergy immorality in Christian set tings ranges from the inappropriate to the scandalous and on to the criminal. Recently, church leaders called to be at the spiritual, moral and ethical forefront have behaved in the most contradictory, destructive way.
Perhaps above all, it's tragic and unnerving that some of us within the ministerial community acting in our capacity as servants of Cod have exploited the trust placed in us. And yes, we clergy have felt hurt and chagrined by it all, especially at a time when so much in Christian faith and witness is already disdained and when, in many cultures, the credibility of the pastor simply does not have the capital to sustain this kind of internally gener ated assault.
But I must not appear to rant about the sins of my brothers, because along with the thoughts and feelings I've expressed so far, other thoughts also need to aired.
The most striking and, at the same time, most hidden of these thoughts is perhaps those that have to do with our now heightened sense of personal sexual weakness and imperfection. Why are sexual impulses so notoriously difficult to handle? What is so powerful in "sexual temptation" that makes us willing to risk so much for such fleeting gratification? And, perhaps most importantly, where do we find actual relief from the failures we experience in this area?
In future issues of Ministry we will work on these questions. Also, don't miss Dr. Archibald Hart's fine article in this issue of Ministry dealing with some of the aspects of this topic (see pages 9-11). Meanwhile, here are some insights found in just a couple of pages in the writings of C. S. Lewis:
1. "Before we can be cured we must want to be cured. Those who really wish for help will get it... It is easy to think that we want something when we do not really want it."1 The question is, What do we actually want more than anything else?
2. Lewis talks also of "our warped natures, and the devils who tempt us and all the contemporary propaganda for lust [that] combine to make us feel that the desires we are resisting are so 'natural' and so reasonable, that it is almost perverse and abnormal to resist them."2
Our own personal sexual "wrestling" seems to make these culturally conditioned perceptions all the more believable, but authentic Christian faith takes hold and claims the powerful work of God, which goes deep inside the human soul providing us the power to overcome, yes, even sexual temptations and sin. Do we still actually believe this to be true?
3. "Many people are deterred from seriously attempting Christian chastity because they think (before trying) that it is impossible . . .You must ask for God's help. Even when you have done so, it may seem to you for a long time that no help, or less help than you need, is being given. Never mind. After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick your self up, and try again. Very often what God first helps us towards is not the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again."3
Indeed, the New Testament shows us that the most obstinate demons sometimes become most desperately active at the moment they are con fronted by the presence and power of the living Christ and the will to cast them out.
We are, I think, just beginning to realize the far-reaching negative effects that contemporary sexual, and other more generalized attitudes have had on our formerly sensibly established faith and value systems. We are also, I think, gaining a deeper awareness of how we have in so many ways significantly abandoned the positive power found in the promises, in the pardon, and in the presence of God in our life and in the fabulous potency of the gospel. It's the half-hearted, halting and above all the partial inner knowledge and application of this gospel that sometimes make our efforts seem so fruitless.
With this in mind, here are two magnificent promises:
"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires" (2 Peter 1:3, 4, NIV). "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony" (Rev. 12:11, NIV).
1 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: McMillan Pub. Co., 1943), 78.
3 Ibid., 79.