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Summer 2004 Rapport: The War Within

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Maintaining Sexual Integrity

In recent years, America has been stung by leaders who have fallen into sexual impropriety. The Bible clearly defines the boundaries: abstinence in singleness and fidelity in marriage. Each act of ministerial indiscretion marks a violation of the Christian message and its credibility. The good news is that even though sexual temptation abounds, there are practical things we can do to lessen the likelihood of falling. While it may take some intentional effort and discipline on our part, those who have fallen testify that the pain of self-discipline is far easier than the pain of regret. Consider the following techniques for maintaining sexual integrity.

Recognize Your Vulnerability

Sexual temptation is no respecter of persons, denominational labels or leadership positions. Marriage and counseling professor Archibald Hart advises, “It’s absolutely critical that we assume we all can fall… Given the right circumstances, each of us is capable of succumbing. None of us is beyond the reach of temptation.”1 What pride to believe that sexual sin could overtake Samson, David, Solomon and a host of modern Christian leaders, but that we are immune! First Corinthians 10:12 warns, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (NIV) Ministers who recognize the powerful force against which they minister, live with the frightening but motivating knowledge that they are not immune to sexual temptation, and take appropriate precautions.

No one prepares for a battle of which they are unaware, and no one wins a battle for which they do not prepare.

Guard Your Heart

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Prov. 4:23). Often those who fall into sexual sin can point to lapses in their practice of the spiritual disciplines and the healthy self-examination the disciplines foster. Most ministers know this, but in the busyness of giving out, they can easily neglect the replenishing of their spiritual reservoirs. Regular, honest heart “checkups” can prevent this from happening.

Guard Your Mind

A battering ram may hit a fortress gate a thousand times, and no one time seems to have an effect, yet, finally, the gate caves in. Likewise, immorality is the cumulative product of small mental indulgences and miniscule compromises; the immediate consequences of which were, at the time, indiscernible. As Romans 12:2 reminds us, we are “transformed by the renewing” of our minds. This can be called the principle of displacement. When an impure thought thrusts itself into our consciousness, we can choose to replace it with something good or just. “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

Guard Your Marriage

Without a doubt, being in love with one’s mate provides the best defense against sexual misconduct. Unfortunately, many Christian leaders minister in such a way that unless they make a concerted effort to invest in their marriages, it simply does not happen. You must intentionally engage in activities that will build your marriage, consistently working to maintain spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical closeness with your spouse. Show how important your family is to you by surrounding your work environment with reminders of your spouse and children—pictures, drawings and mementos. Loyalty to your spouse is very important; try to speak only highly of your spouse in public, and never downgrade your spouse in front of others.

Guard Your Monitor

According to 2001 Justice Department statistics, pornography is a bigger business than professional football, basketball and major league baseball combined.2 Sex is the number one reason American adults use the internet. Conservative estimates claim that a third of all visits are to sexually oriented websites, chat rooms and news groups.3 Sadly, the statistics are not much different for ministers. In recent surveys by Christianity Today and the Leadership Journal, 33% of clergy responded to having visited a sexually explicit website, and 18% of these admitted they visit sexually explicit sites between a few times a month and more than once a week.4 internet pornography is a definite reality, and it exists on both sides of the church’s doors…and pulpits.

Pornography is a dehumanized, synthetic version of sex that eliminates love, honor, dignity, true intimacy and commitment. The use of pornography is simply self-gratification at the expense of others; it is a self-centered, consuming experience that disconnects the person from God, from his or her spouse and family, and from his or her own feelings.

One excellent avenue of accountability is web-based programs that combine personal and virtual accountability (i.e. www.covenanteyes.com). These programs remove the secrecy and privacy of using the internetby automatically emailing to your chosen accountability partners a regular log of all of the sites you visited, including the web addresses and amount of time you were on the internet

Guard Your Ministry

Ministries should put accountability measures in place and regularly adhere to them. This includes human and virtual accountability, as well as organizational structures and guidelines designed to protect yourself and those in your ministry. For example: run regular checks of all computers to monitor internet use; or, make it a personal policy not to do long-term counseling with a person of the opposite sex. Ministers need to take the initiative and responsibility for establishing and maintaining boundaries. A clergy code of ethics, properly developed, clearly written and appropriately enforced, can strengthen ministerial integrity.

Guard Your Health
(physical and emotional well-being)

Western society places heavy expectations on its leaders, and ministers are no exception. They feel the pressure to be successful, to fulfill all their goals and work nending hours for the Kingdom. Over time, the high expectations exact a toll. Ministers must recognize when they are the most vulnerable. They can adhere to the Alcoholics Anonymous slogan and HALT when Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. Ministers need to take time regularly for themselves and their families—not always easy but always necessary.

Recognize and Address the Warning Signs

Be self-aware. Know yourself and know the risk factors and warning signs. The instant you recognize signals from a member of the opposite sex, or inappropriate thoughts within, you should call it for what it is and consciously put preventive measures in place. A relationship can be headed in the wrong direction long before it becomes sexual. One of the most important responses to these subtle warning signs is to back off early. If you are concerned that a relationship may be becoming inappropriate, review the questions in “Is this relationship appropriate?” on the next page. An affirmative answer to any of these could be a warning sign.

Hold Yourself Accountable to Others

“Accountability is the mark of maturity in discipleship. It is not optional, nor a mere by-product. It is essential, central, and definitive of life in the community of the Spirit.”5 Accountability among ministers is critically important, yet most fail to seek it. It is imperative that ministers find others, whether staff, laity or other ministers, who will love them as they are and regularly hold them accountable

Regularly Rehearse the Consequences

Ministers would do well to write their own lists of specific consequences that would result from sexual immorality. As they consider the consequences, they may want to visualize themselves standing in front of their spouses, children or churches, confessing what they did, in order to feel the anxiety, shame and regret. In times of temptation, they can read through the list. In a tangible and personal way, it brings home God’s inviolate law of choice and consequence.

Provide Biblically Based Teaching on Sexuality

The Church needs to be talking about sex. The schools do, people on the street do and the media do; but the majority of ministers do not. Christian leaders have a crucial role to play in leading the Church toward living in accordance with God’s understanding of human sexuality. We are called to serve our people by providing a healthy affirmation of the biblical view of sex and sexuality, so needed in a day of infidelity and promiscuity.

Conclusion

Most ministers will face sexual temptation, but if we safeguard our lives in these important areas, we can be less vulnerable. I challenge you, as Christian leaders, to put in place these proven practices.

Endnotes

  1. Archibald Hart, Louis McBurney, Burdette Palmberg, and David Seamands. “Private Sins of Public Ministry,” Leadership: A Practical Journal for Church Leaders 9, no. 1 (winter 1988): 16.
  2. Frank Rich, “Naked Capitalists: There’s No Business Like Porn Business,” New York Times Magazine, May 2001; quoted in William F. Buckley Jr., “Porn,Pervasive Presence,” National Review, 19 November, 2001; available from http://www.nationalreview.com/19nov01/buckley111901.shtml; internet; accessed 15 July 2002.
  3. Jane E. Brody, “Cybersex Leads to Psychological Disorder,” New York Times News Service, 22 May 2000. Data based on a 1998 survey of 9,265 adults by Dr. Alvin Cooper; quoted in the Prodigals International website, “Stats & Facts”; available from http://www.iprodigals.com/dox/prg_stats.htm; internet; accessed 13 July 2002.
  4. Christine Gardner, “Tangled in the Worst of the Web,” Christianity Today,
  5. March 2001, 44-45 and Erik Reed, “Hooked,” Leadership: A Practical Journal for Church Leaders 22, no. 1 (2001): 89.5 David Augsburger, “The Private Lives of Public Leaders,” Christianity Today vol. 31, no. 17 (November 20, 1987): 24

Recognizing the Warning Signs

Most ministers who have fallen can look back and see identifiable early warning signs that should have been a red flag, especially when the signs appeared in clusters. By becoming more aware of crucial warning signs, ministers are more apt to avoid falling into sexual misconduct.

External Warning Signs: Things Ministers Should Watch for Around Them

  • A breakdown in your marriage intimacy
  • A breakdown in your marriage communication
  • A breakdown in your physical and emotional well-being
  • A dangerous relational progression while counseling/ working with someone (increasing amount of time together, personal nature of conversation, emotional dependency and eventually physical intimacy)
  • Your spouse begins to feel uncomfortable with the person/situation

Internal Warning Signs: Things Ministers Should Watch for Within Themselves

  • Being consumed with your own self-interests
  • Compartmentalizing your behavior
  • Rationalizing and justifying your behavior
  • Allowing yourself to indulge in pornography or sexual fantasies
  • A dangerous relational progression while counseling/ working with someone

 

Are You Struggling with Sexual Temptation

Many people don’t realize that the bondage cycle follows a predictable pattern. Ask yourself the following questions to understand your personal temptation habits. Once people understand the triggers and rituals that have developed, they begin to notice that the details of their lives actually have become arranged to support the very bondage from which they want to become free.

  1. What day(s) of the week am I most challenged?
    • Monday
    • Tuesday
    • Wednesday
    • Thurdsday
    • Friday
    • Saturday
    • Sunday
  2. What time of the day am I most challenged?
    • Morning
    • Lunch
    • Afternoon
    • Dinner
    • Early evening
    • Late evening
  3. Where am I tempted most?
    • Work
    • Home
    • In the community
    • Away from home
    • Other
  4. What specific stressor is likely to lead me into the bondage sequence once again?
  5. How do I feel when I am battling temptation?
  6. What mind games and/or rationalizations do I tend to play so I will feel entitled to act out sexually?
  7. What does the sexual sin give me that I feel I need?

    *Adapted from Pure Desire by Ted Roberts, Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1999, 118-121.

 

Is this relationship appropriate?

To determine if you’re in a questionable relationship, ask yourself the following kinds of questions:*

  1. Do you think about this person a lot?
  2. Do you take more care with your appearance when you expect to see this person?
  3. Do you find excuses to be around this person?
  4. Do you set up appointments with the person that is outside the normal routine with other parishioners?
  5. Would you be uncomfortable if others knew about your feelings/thoughts?
  6. Are you much more aware of yourself sexually? Do you feel as if you were dating in high school all over again?

* Randy C. Alcorn, “Strategies to Keep from Falling,” Leadership: A Practical Journal for Church Leaders 42, no. 3 (1996): 49.

Recommended Resources on the Biblical and Theological Significance of Sexual Integrity in Ministry

  • Gaddy, C. Welton. Adultery and Grace: The Ultimate Scandal. (Eerdmans, 1996).
  • Grenz, Stanley J. Sexual Ethics: A Biblical Perspective. (Word, 1990).
  • Grenz, Stanley J., and Roy D. Bell. Betrayal of Trust: Confronting and Preventing Clergy Sexual Misconduct, 2d ed. (Baker Books, 2001).
  • Harley, Willard F., Jr. His Needs, Her Needs. (Fleming H. Revell, 1994).
  • Arterburn, Stephen, and Fred Stoeker. Every Man’s Battle: Strategies for Victory in the Real World of Sexual Temptation. (WaterBrook Press, 2002). Companion workbook available for personal or small group study.)
  • Hayes, Steve. Safe and Sound: Protecting Personal and Ministry Relationships. (Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002).
  • Laaser, Mark R. Faithful and True: Sexual Integrity in a Fallen World. (Zondervan, 1996).

Several websites provide helpful resources to assist ministers in understanding and addressing the problem of internet pornography.

Updated: Wednesday, September 8, 2004 4:35 PM

 

 
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