samedi, janvier 16, 2010

Latest Lancaster Column: When Clergy Transgress

Secrecy. Guilt. Shame.

As these are the hallmarks of victims of sexual misconduct and abuse by men and women "of God," so they also are, interestingly enough, feelings experienced by many clergy offenders, and by those who simply find themselves caught in a web of sexual addiction.

"Lusting after the Big Fix, we gave away our power to others," says the pamphlet for recovery group Sexaholics Anonymous. "This produced guilt, self-hatred, remorse, emptiness and pain, and we were driven ever inward, away from reality, away from love, lost inside ourselves."

It is very difficult, in spite of a promise of anonymity, to find clergy willing to openly discuss their battle with sexual addiction. They are often, perhaps correctly, afraid that they will be found out and exposed. In the course of researching this commentary, I have been threatened with a lawsuit, not had my phone calls returned and seen many leads evaporate.

• • •

What does it feel like to be a clergyperson with a deep, dark secret?

One clergyman willing to share his struggles and insights is the Rev. Dr. Mark Laaser. Ordained by the United Church of Christ, Laaser has written six books, including "Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction" and "The Pornography Trap." He and his wife, Debbie, run the Minnesota-based Faithful and True Ministries for individuals and couples grappling with the consequences of sexual addiction.

In the mid-1980s Laaser was a pastoral counselor and part-time pastor who crossed the line and became sexually involved with some of his counseling clients.

"I led a double life," he wrote in a 1998 article, "Therapists Who Offend."

"To the world I was a charismatic and talented leader, counselor, preacher and teacher. In many ways I was a healer ... . No one knew of the dark side of loneliness and anger that affected my spirit or of the sexual fantasies that burned inside my soul."

Eventually one of his pastoral clients, in treatment for another problem, reported him to another therapist &tstr; and he was fired.

"I was lonely, addicted and pretty self-centered," Laaser reflected recently. "I had lots and lots of anger, at the world, at God, at my spouse. I think I had a lot of anger at women."

In the article, Laaser delineates a spectrum of offender traits in therapists, ones that also could be applied to clergy.

Some clergy can be so narcissistic that it is hard to pierce the armor of self-involvement.

But Laaser wasn't one of them.

"I got broken, humbled and totally contrite ... and was able pretty quickly to see where my own 'stuff' came from and to look at my own shame" he said.

His intervention, which included 30 days of treatment, was the start of a new adventure: helping laypeople and clergy who are burdened with one form or another of addiction to sex.

• • •

One fascinating arena for exploration is why some churches have generations of clergy offenders.

Research has shown, Laaser said, that some congregations can inadvertently provide fertile environments for potential boundary violations.

"A congregation may need a strong, charismatic, adrenaline-filled leader — guys who build a cult around themselves and don't know about good self-care and healthy maintenance of boundaries."

I asked the counselor whether he felt that churches had adequately addressed the problem of sex addiction among clergy.

While he praised the work done by mainline denominations in the 1990s and an evolving openness among evangelical denominations and congregations, he said, "I'd like to see it discussed a whole lot more than it has been. I've seen a general level of silence and avoidance."

Making a more general comment, Laaser added that churches are good at telling people what they shouldn't do. But when it comes to discussing what it entails to be sexually healthy, they haven't spoken up.

"I'd like to see more education. (We) need a whole lot more conversation about sexual boundaries and modesty," he said. "There is so much sexual energy, and we are bombarded with uninvited sexual offensive triggers.

"I think our people in this world are just lost."

• • •

Laaser is a rarity, taking the raw materials of exposure and rehabilitation to minister to others — and speaking openly of what others do in secret.

Near the end of the article he wrote more than a decade ago, he encouraged Christian counselors to "maintain like a warrior" their boundaries with clients, be accountable to others, recognize that others give them great power, and "seek God's wisdom in understanding your own vulnerabilities."

Until it is possible for clergy and others to feel that they can own up to their weaknesses in a safe environment, sexual addiction and misconduct (addiction does not always lead to physical misconduct) will thrive in darkness.

But what can communities of faith and their lay and clergy leaders do to strengthen congregations so that misconduct and addiction are less likely to occur? That is the subject of the next and final part of this particular series on sanctuary shadows.

For more information on sex addiction, write Sexaholics Anonymous at SA, PO Box 3565 Brentwood, TN 370024, or visit

If you want to know more about Faithful and True Ministries, send an e-mail, visit or write to: Faithful and True Ministries, Inc. 15798 Venture Lane, Eden Prairie, Minn.

vendredi, janvier 15, 2010

Our little boat

It is my policy not to talk about the most intimate details of our family life, or my potential romantic life, that concern others.

Free to discuss my feelings, I am reluctant to attribute emotions to others.

Plus, darn it some things are still sacred. We all get to decide which ones are and which are not.

Unless, of course, they are religious figures, late night talk show hosts, or politicians. And generally speaking, they don't need my interpretation.

But I do find myself in a difficult spot right now. This feels like a dangerous time for our little family. Crisis or opportunity, I have never been so frightened.

All I can do is ask for your prayers.

Thank you for reading and hanging in there with us. There will be good days -- and not so good ones. Hopefully, in this journey, we'll all come out stronger.

jeudi, janvier 14, 2010

Testing, testing

Apologies for the brief break for major household drama. As my son Mr. C would say, when the you know what hits the fan around Glenmoore... "DRAMA TV"....

Actually, the drama probably has a bunch of acts. I hope that perhaps we'll have a little intermission.

But one result of our latest household teen challenge is that I have installed, with some sadness for her lost childhood innocence (when did she lose it?) and my shaken trust, NetNanny on our household computers.

The problems we are having are spilling out, a daisy chain of revelations and consequences, as the scale of the loss of life in Haiti become evident. In other words, our domestic turmoil is of almost no importance on the grand scale.

So I send money to Haiti, because right now my tired mind doesn't have room to ponder what else I can do at the moment.

I hired NetNanny because I know I'm not smart enough to track the DQ and because I want to have other conversations with her.

NetNanny blocks the Internet shoestore Zappo's, apparently because Zappos stocks intimate apparel. Ha! Wanna talk intimate apparel?

I have a feeling that the internet service is going to act as a mirror to me and my PG viewing habits -- possibly exposing vices I didn't even know I had.

It is funny to see my colleague blogger Dadshouse blocked for adult content, though. Clean it up, Mott!

Happily, I know the password.

lundi, janvier 11, 2010

The light at the heart of love

I wonder if, at the core of genuine goodness, there is love.

I'm not sure. I think of Mother Teresa, who seems to have gone through so much of her life in darkness, but did so much for the God who didn't seem to be present.

And what of those chilly people who "love" humanity -- but don't like individuals?

But when you read about Miep Gies, the woman who helped shelter Anne Frank and her family until the Germans came and took them to the death camps, you have to believe that, in large part, goodness comes from love.

Gies and her husband didn't seem to even consider the possibility of leaving the Frank family (Mr. Frank was her boss) to their fate. They risked their lives to keep the Franks in the upstairs floors above the business where Mr. Frank had worked. As the story linked above details, Gies and her husband even spent a night in the attic to feel what it was like to live in terror.

It is easy to decry morality -- to make fun of a belief in absolutes, like evil and goodness. But what do you make of a Miep Gies?

The bravery of the four people who kept the Franks safe for as long as they could lit up a world of shadows. It is a light that has outlived that darkness.

Miep Gies died today, aged 100.

At the end of his article, NYT writer Richard Goldstein quotes from her memoir:

"But always, every day of my life, I've wished that things had been different...not a day goes by but I do not grieve for them."

Thank you, Miep, for bearing witness to the enduring goodness of which the human soul is capable.

I have a feeling that God was watching for you, as you were watching for the Franks, as we are called to watch for those who need our protection.

Lest we forget -- I don't think you will let us.

dimanche, janvier 10, 2010

Mrs Robinson's Irish fall

How many of you have been reading about the sorry state of affairs in Northern Ireland?

I wasn't aware of the awful state of relationships between Protestant and Catholic politicians until I read the article in the New York Times about the infidelity of Prime Minister Robinson's wife, and it's potential link to a financial scandal involving her husband.

Some of the trouble is personal -- apparently the Catholic Prime Minister and Martin McGuiness, the Protestant who leads with government along with Robinson, don't like each other.

And, as the Times comments, news of the sex scandal comes at roughly the same time as Gerry Adams, the former republican leader, revealed a history of sex abuse in his own family? Not to mention that the awful history of sexual abuse by nuns and clergy in Ireland is still having an effect on former victims and generations of mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters.

Sex and politics and religion -- it's that old, flammable mixture so present in Irish poetry and drama.

Really, Eugene O'Neill could not have made this stuff up.

Isn't it interesting that these troubles come as Ireland is so close to liberating itself from British rule?

How amazing it seemed several years ago, when it seemed like peace had finally come --or maybe that the people who had invested so much in terror had finally tired of bloodshed.

But it seems that they aren't yet weary of hating one another.

A pessimist would see the cold war continuation of the fued of a hot-blooded nation.

And an optimist? Well, he or she might see the death throes of the old order as Irish leaders falter towards peace.

Frankly, at the moment I wouldn't put money on either.