Sexual Abuse Within the Church
Sexual perversion is running rampant in our world today, and none of us can deny it’s also present in the Church. How do we as Christian brothers and sisters help those who have fallen into sexual sin? How can we help them achieve lasting freedom?
Sexual Temptation and Addiction
There is a difference between sexual temptation and sexual addiction. Every one of us faces some degree of sexual temptation. Sexual temptation starts with a basic desire to lust. This comes from our natural desire for sexual pleasure outside of marriage, which is clearly defined in the Bible as sin. Sexual temptation is driven by our sinful nature and must be resisted with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Sexual addiction usually starts with normal temptation but develops into something different. For those caught in sexual addiction, the resistance to temptation is often much harder, due to a false identity and the belief that they can never change. Most people caught in sexual addiction would do almost anything to be free. They hate what they are doing and who they’ve become. They no longer believe they have the power to overcome temptation, since they have failed so often.
The Church’s Response
Most of our churches don’t spend enough effort helping people deal with normal temptation. Maybe it’s embarrassing, or maybe we just don’t like to bring it up. But ignoring temptation means we don’t address sexual sin until it becomes a habitual addiction, and can no longer be handled like a basic sexual temptation. Once it is an ongoing problem, we need to help the addict to identify the core beliefs that are at the root of their addictive lifestyle.
We need to recognize the cycle of shame they’re caught in.
Sexual addicts have shattered identities. They’re caught up in a cycle of shame, fantasies, sexual acts, and more shame. In his book, Pure Desire, Ted Roberts explains how the addictive lifestyle works. He writes that addiction starts with fantasy, then a sexual act. The next step is to cover it up, which leads to shame and guilt. Sexual addicts often believe that they can never find freedom, it’s no good even trying, they’re total losers or worth nothing. Feelings of hopeless desperation drive them back to fantasy, which sends them right back into endless loopings of sin, guilt, shame, and more sin . As long as Satan can keep them quiet, keep them hiding, keep them dwelling in their shame, he has them right where he wants them.
We need to offer hope over condemnation.
The Church has tended to intensify shame by treating sexual sins as immoral behavior that needs to be fixed. In our attempts to help the individual, we usually emphasize the sinfulness of what they have done. Most sexual addicts already know what they’re doing is wrong, hate what they’re doing, and desperately want to stop. They’d give anything to undo the damage they’ve done. We don’t need to lessen the seriousness of their sin, because it is sin, and it has devastating effects on both themselves and other people. But sexual addicts are usually already dealing with shame and self-condemnation, and they need hope, not further condemnation.
We need to help them rebuild truth in their lives.
Sexual addicts need to recognize sexual sin as an idol and realize their identity in Christ and their value as an individual. Breaking the lies they believe about themselves and their lack of value to God and others is a crucial part of finding freedom from sexual sin.
We need to provide accountability.
Accountability is providing sexual addicts with either a group or a partner who will walk the journey to sexual freedom with them. It often becomes a session of reciting failures instead. Telling an accountability partner, “I’m really struggling right now” only validates the belief that true freedom is probably never possible. Accountability should be more than just keeping track of failures – it’s really designed to help in the moment of temptation. For instance, if I have an accountability program on my computer, and I know it instantly sends a report to my accountability partner, it helps me to not open the website.
Partners or groups can also help identify patterns that lead to sexual sin and pinpoint areas of the addict’s life or environment that might be providing temptation. Accountability is powerful tool to finding freedom, especially when the addict knows they can call their partner anytime and ask for help to walk through temptation.
But what about sexual temptation? What if we could equip our members to fight sexual temptation before it turns into sexual addiction?
How do we fight sexual temptation?
God always provides a way out of temptation (1 Corinthians 1:13). Usually, we wait too long to fight temptation. The battle for our purity is more a battle in our minds than in our actions. Kill the thoughts before they take over, taking every thought captive.
One tool our family uses is the four second rule – when an impure thought or image pops into your mind, you have four seconds to renounce it and move on before it becomes lust. We also talk about bouncing your eyes – creating a knee-jerk habit of bouncing your eyes off immodesty or other temptations as soon as you see them.
Joseph ran from Potiphar’s wife without stopping to think, leaving his cloak behind, because he had already determined his response. In sexual temptation, we usually hate the action and determine never to do it again. But when temptation comes, we don’t kill it in time and instead allow ourselves to be convinced that it’s not really that serious, one more time won’t hurt, or that we deserve it. Like Joseph, we need to determine ahead of time our response, and run without stopping to think when we see temptation coming.
As we face sexual addiction in our churches, let’s stand together and fight for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Instead of condemning them, let’s offer hope and healing. Yes, they’ve sinned, but so have we. They’ve hurt people, but so have we. Let’s band with them and, through Christ, offer them forgiveness, redemption, and accountability as a brotherhood.
|Danielle Mast, a regular writer for the Radi-call blog, is joined by her dad, Davy, for this article. Davy started counseling in 1998 and has a passion for people and helping them find freedom. He’s been a travel agent even longer, loves the first cup of coffee from a new bag, has eight children, and will talk for hours about his family, adoption, counseling, and well, anything. His dreams for the future include finally going sky-diving, becoming a grandpa, and retiring and doing, in his words, extensive traveling.|
 Roberts, Ted. Pure Desire. Regal Books, 1999