It’s God’s Will

Well this is horrible:

One in every 33 women who attend worship services regularly has been the target of sexual advances by a religious leader, a survey released Wednesday says.
The study, by Baylor University researchers, found that the problem is so pervasive that it almost certainly involves a wide range of denominations, religious traditions and leaders.
“It certainly is prevalent, and clearly the problem is more than simply a few charismatic leaders preying on vulnerable followers,” said Diana Garland, dean of Baylor’s School of Social Work, who co-authored the study.

The piece has a story of a young woman who was sexually assaulted by her pastor at her Evangelical Lutheran Church – when seeking spiritual guidance, he told her that having sex with him was ordained by God. Even after years of therapy, she still has a hard time walking into a Church.
Sadly only a couple of states have laws in place around this, including Texas, which defines clergy sexual behavior as sexual assault if the leader “causes the other person to submit or participate by exploiting the other person’s emotional dependency on the clergyman in the clergyman’s professional character as spiritual adviser.”
This just depresses me. I’ve never been religious so I’d really like to hear from some readers’ of faith thoughts on this. Any experiences, thoughts?
ht/ to Hugo.

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  1. hardlycore
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately, I think this is at its root another instance of men feeling entitled to women’s bodies. Although many of the more conservative Christian denominations do have pretty fucked-up and rigid gender roles, I’d hesitate to ascribe this entirely to religion. I feel like the combination of patriarchy + conservative gender roles + people in positions of hierarchical and especially spiritual “power” = a lot of potential for abuse.

  2. Jut Gory
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    I disagree. You might be right, but I have a different take.
    Many (if not most) of the teacher-student sex cases you see around the country involve female teachers (on the college level, they are probably mostly male). What these have in common with this story is that you have two people in a strongly intimate relationship. When two people share an intimate connection, that connection can easily become sexual.
    You see it in all kinds of professions and relationships (even though many professions prohibit such conduct).
    Of course, his excuse or explanation seems to be manipulative BS. However, at its foundation, I don’t think it is an instance of men feeling entitled to women’s bodies (or, at least, not completely). It may just be another example of an intimate relationship that develops (rightly or wrong-my comment makes no judgment there) a sexual component.

  3. allieb87
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    I’m not the least bit surprised. I’m generally hesitant to share this sort of thing on the internet but I think it’s relevant in this case so I’ll go ahead and do it…
    I was raised Catholic and went to a private Catholic college run by the Christian Brothers (similar to Jesuits). During my sophomore year I was assaulted by a Brother who had been teaching one of my classes that semester. At the time, I already felt that I was losing touch with my faith but that incident sealed the deal completely. I now consider myself to be an atheist and I haven’t set foot in Mass since.
    When I tried to report the incident to the school they discouraged me. They said that he was a beloved member of the community and that I would only humiliate myself. They also said that if I was successful in “punishing” him, he would lose his retirement and I would essentially put him out on the street. I still kick myself for listening to that nonsense. I was scared and I didn’t know what to do.
    I never formally reported it and I spent two more years living on campus with the creep (it was a small school so I saw him often). At my graduation he gave me a hug.
    I don’t think my faith was exploited because I didn’t really consider myself faithful at the time. However he did take advantage of his position in the community. And furthermore, I no longer feel comfortable participating in Catholic celebrations with my family. Both my parents know what happened but my extended family is oblivious and I’ve dealt with some harrassment from them for no longer practicing my faith.
    It’s a scary and life-altering thing… the Brother who assaulted me retired this year so at least he won’t be around students any longer…

  4. LalaReina
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I agree. The anti-religious spin will be evil men doing wrong but I see more inappropriate behavior than anything.

  5. hardlycore
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    That’s true, but I think these cases are a little different because the women in the churches have been assaulted or harassed, whereas the teacher-student relationships often have an element of consent to them (to the extent that the students involved are able to consent.) If romantic relationships were developing in these churches, I’d be less inclined to blame the situation on gender hierarchies, although the power differential between the pastors/priests and congregants would still be problematic.

  6. Sandra
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    I think you might be mistaken there. The majority of teacher-student sexual misconduct widley reported in the media involve female teachers. It’s the titilation factor – it’s far more exciting to talk about women who lose sexual control than it is to talk about men who do. Plus, the male students (as I’ve never heard of a same-sex teacher-student relationship in the news) are rarely cast as victims, unlike their female counterparts.
    So, the point I’m trying to make is that, although I haven’t taken the time to google it, I’m pretty sure the instances of male teachers being charged with sexual misconduct with a student are as common than instances of female teachers who are charged with the same thing.
    As for the entitlement argument, I have to agree that it plays a role. If you believe half of what the Abrahamic faiths say about the role of women, and I suppose most ministers do, then you do believe that you have entitlement to conrol their bodies.

  7. ChibiK629
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    I was raised Catholic but have moved away from the Church because I think the fact that it is an organization is a problem in and of itself. The Church has a history built on manipulating people in the name of God and a lot of backwards ideology (slavery, homosexuality as sin, women as inferior, etc) has been defended by twisting words in the Bible. I still believe in God but my faith operates so much better between myself and God and doesn’t require me to be a part of the religion it has become.
    One thing I’ve also always rejected is the notion that I should view priests or pastors in a holier-than-thou sort of way. I’ve never taken for granted that though they may be leaders of the Church, no one knows what’s going on in their private lives and it’s not as though they’re “closer” to God for being who they are. In a way, hearing about priests making sexual advances on women doesn’t surprise me. It’s disgraceful but it doesn’t surprise me. Maybe I’m just too jaded about the church.

  8. alixana
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

    It probably has more to do with the types of people who gravitate towards leadership positions. It makes sense to me that people who feel entitled to others’ bodies would be attracted to positions where they are in control and have people who look up to them. I disagree strongly with the above suggestion that teacher/student dynamics are somehow more romantic. The notorious female teachers who sleep with their students often seem to have a background where they’re not in control of the rest of their life and are treated badly by their husbands – of course they’re going to be attracted to a situation where they do finally have some control. And Hugo Schwyzer has written an awful lot about older male/younger female relationships (and a little bit about the reverse), especially in teacher/student pairs, that leads me to believe that control and power rule there far more than romance does.

  9. Bethany
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    I agree with the other commenters that this is likely a case of a person who gets off on power and has the opportunity to take advantage of someone else, like politicians or business people do. It’s especially regretable from my perspective as a believer, because they associate their bad behavior with faith.

  10. Ori
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Allieb87, I’m so sorry to hear about the assault that you endured, as well as the callous attitudes of the school administrators. There are some great organizations that help survivors of clergy sexual abuse, such as the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) at
    Bishop Accountability may also be a useful resource:

  11. The Non-Student
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    While states may not have laws, most denominations do and they strictly prohibit any such relationships, especially because pastors provide care and counsel to parishioners. One cannot be both a pastor and a lover to the same person because of the power dynamic. Marie Fortune at FaithTrust Institute has done lots of work on this; you should check her out.
    However, I do get tired of posts like this that continue to paint religion as an enemy to women.

  12. Jut Gory
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    Sure, there is the titlation factor which could create some sort of bias in reporting.
    But, even assuming a 50-50 split in teachers, my point was more that the intimacy of the relationship could be an important factor. The teacher sex cases was only meant to illustrate that it may not be male entitlement (or religion, for that matter, as that was part of the original post) that is the cause.

  13. americanaexotica
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    I think this is even more problematic though because people who see clergy members as a path to God will feel very torn when told that having sex is the way to righteousness. It’s like all of the things Warren Jeffs did. People thought God spoke through him, and they didn’t want to go to hell so they let their daughters marry at 14. If a clergy person says “God wants you to have sex with me,” and they are a believer, it’s going to be really hard to go against that. It’s sacrificing your eternity.

  14. allieb87
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    I can really only speak for myself but I don’t think that’s always what happens. I know that’s what the example in the OP was talking about but I feel that it’s actually a little more complicated.
    In my case (see my original comment above), I was locked in a room alone with him. I struggled and fought. He didn’t convince me to do anything. He never said it was God’s will and it wouldn’t have mattered to me if he did.
    I felt guilty afterward not because I thought that I was “sacrificing eternity” but because I knew I would draw negative attention to myself in my religious community. I think because so many religious environments are extremely small, manipulations like this become much too easy.
    And to the posters who have said that it isn’t related to patriarchy, fine. Maybe not in some cases. But I was raised in a religion that taught me that women were subservient. My religion also elevated a man capable of assault. Patriarchy definitely had something to do with it. I respect people of faith and I respect Catholic traditions but there are some serious problems. Let’s not pretend that they aren’t there.

  15. tink manslaughter
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    Actually, I think religion can have a GREAT DEAL to do with it. I belong to the UCC – which is a WONDERFUL, politically progressive church – and the UCC has policies in place to protect against such abuse.
    HOWEVER, I was raised Southern Baptist – and taught that women were the root of all evil, and that we TEMPTED men with our bodies. Generally, it was made clear that if I were assaulted, it was my fault for being “seductive” and well, female. I was 13 when I stopped going. So yeh, I was told all that as a kid….

  16. llevinso
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

    Same thing happened with Jim Jones.

  17. Mindy
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    The issue for me, as a victim, is that he contorted my beliefs into thinking that god was responsible for us being together, and that god wanted for us to be happy in what I now understand was his own version of happiness.
    Maybe it’s just me, but I couldn’t really believe in a god whose name doesn’t hold enough power not to be misappropriated.

  18. Steven
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Something about the article bothers me…
    It seems to conflate all sexual advances with “inappropriate sexual behavior.”
    One one hand you have the woman who was told that she should have sex with her pastor as it was ordained by god… fucked up, right?
    On the other hand you have some denominations where it is OK for a member of the clergy to get married.
    So if a cleric is dating, has premarital sex, gets married, and lives happily ever after with a spouse that might show up in the study as ‘inappropriate sexual behavior.’
    The language lacks the required precision to know what the article is really reporting.

  19. aliciamaud74
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    Actually, in k-12 education, 80-85% of teachers are women. So, if we’re suggesting that the degree to which it’s reported indicates anything about the ratio this is occurring in the real world, every ONE male we hear about engaging inappropriately is *far* more statistically significant than any one female. So, to me, that doesn’t really overturn the idea that male entitlement plays a role here.
    I agree with what you say about the intimacy of the student teacher relationship—I just don’t know that is necessarily absent in the mentoring roles that religious educators/leaders play.

  20. TD
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    The stories involving male teachers are absolutely reported in the media, they there simply to inspire anger rather than titillation.
    Further I fail to see how the fact that a young boy is not portrayed as a victim speaks better of the situation. In fact I’d say it makes it far more messed up and results in things such as male victims of statutory rape being forced to pay child support, or female perpetrators getting a slap on the wrist as punishment.

  21. Tara K.
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    OMG — this so reminds me of a situation with a Pentecostle church back home. The preacher there, who was a big flirt, would regularly put the women and only the women of the church on a broth-and-rice diet. The only

  22. TD
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Depends a lot of these cases happen in Junior High/High School where the gender ratios even out a fair amount in faculties.
    At the same time it could easily indicate other factors at play. e.g. many men who are interested in teaching shy away from teaching at particular levels because of the stigma which would be attached to them. This ends up removing many from the pool of teachers causing the imbalance, but it is not as likely to remove the sickos. Ultimately this wouldn’t say anything about men, instead it suggests something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  23. aliciamaud74
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    I just wanted to be clear that when I mentioned the intimacy in teacher/student relationships, I was NOT talking about “romance.” I meant a closeness and a feeling of trust and a certain degree of dependency. There’s an exchange of information, and a classroom can be to some extent an emotional place. Learning occurs really effective in cultures where people are to some degree vulnerable to each other. That’s something that happens daily in healthy, normal teacher student relationships.
    However—and this is a really big “however”—a person with a messy sense of boundaries or a high degree of volatility, or their own dependency issues is susceptible to misreading and even taking advantage of that sense of trust, as we’ve seen so many times in these teacher/student affairs, and that’s where the intimacy becomes inappropriate and even predatory. As a teacher for 13 years, I’ve seen many emotionally needy adults who want more from kids than it is their job to give, and it always raises my hackles, even when there’s not an obvious boundary being crossed.

  24. Jut Gory
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Well, if we want to play the numbers game 80%-85% would mean that 1-out-of-5 to 1-out-of-6 teachers will be male. So, every ONE male is as statistically significant as Five or Six females.
    The point was: we don’t have numbers to compare. Assuming an equal (or, more appropriately, a pro rata) distribution avoids that problem.
    And, I am not necessarily suggesting “male entitlement” does not play a role. But, it does nothing to explain a very similar phenomenon involving female school teachers. I am suggesting that, if you try to understand the female school teacher, that may, by analogy, tell you a great deal about this scenario.
    And, because, presumably, male entitlement does not factor into the female teacher scenario, it may not be as significant an issue in the religious context.

  25. Ian
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    Thats just disturbing. I hate to even think of how malnourished they must have been. Didn’t someone stand up to him or at least report him? Sorry for the derail, but I just can’t even begin to fathom that happened.

  26. Ori
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    I’m horrified that the women complied, and the men said nothing. This preacher clearly had too much power over his congregation, and he was feeding them BALONEY as well as rice and broth.

  27. Athenia
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes, don’t you just wish religion would leave sex out of it? What does sex really have to do with God and religion?
    Of course, everything.
    But I just wish that religion would leave the issue of sex to the health experts.

  28. llevinso
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    “I meant a closeness and a feeling of trust and a certain degree of dependency. There’s an exchange of information, and a classroom can be to some extent an emotional place. Learning occurs really effective in cultures where people are to some degree vulnerable to each other. That’s something that happens daily in healthy, normal teacher student relationships.”
    All of what you said here can also be applied to the church or temple or any religious institution. That’s where many people go to learn and connect and bond. They develop deep connections with their spiritual leaders that can lead them to being vulnerable with one another as well.

  29. aliciamaud74
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Exactly. That was why I was bringing it up. (:

  30. aliciamaud74
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    That, and to clarify my earlier point.

  31. Steven
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    You are misusing the term ‘statistically significant.’
    When something is statistically significant it means that you can say with confidence that the results are not from random chance (or hopefully bias). And there are various levels of confidence you can use… You could be 95% confident is the usual standard.
    So, depending on population size and characteristics even 100 male teachers having sex with students would be statistical insignificant where as just 50 female teachers having sex with students could be statistically significant.
    Based on the characteristics of the population.

  32. llevinso
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    Oh okay, I thought you were saying that was how school and church/temple/etc were different. My mistake.

  33. Jut Gory
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    I was only using the phrase used by aliciamaud74.
    And, I am not sure I was using it in a different way than you are suggesting. The whole point of this sub-thread discussion was to address or isolate for bias in news coverage, and the differences in population spread. The sub-thread was isolating for those factors. So, if 1 out of 6 teachers is male, and 1 out of 2 teachers involved in a sexual relationship with a student is male, you see a distinct difference between the males and the females.
    However, for the sake of argument, I am ignoring any sort of disparities like that, because they are not rtelevant to the point that male entitlement cannot account for seemingly similar behavior in female teachers.

  34. aliciamaud74
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    I had my arm put in a cast and needed help buttoning my blouse afterwards, as it kept my elbow extended straight out. The male nurse who helped me was from Jamaica, and made a joke like, “oh, look at me, helping the *teacher* get dressed.” (He was *trying* for a moment of levity in an awkward situation.) It led to a discussion of a local news story of a young female teacher who had “become involved with” (read: committed statutory rape against) one of her hs male students. The nurse told me that when he heard the story he thought “This is how I know I’m in the states, because where I come from? This boy would be a national hero!”
    Again, he was *trying* (however unsuccessfully) for levity, but it was pretty f*ed up that he couldn’t fathom why this young boy was a victim. There was a cultural issue at play here, of course, but it probably wasn’t that drastic, given the way my own high school students referenced the news story.
    Another way patriarchy is bad for men AND women.

  35. cattrack2
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

    While I don’t minimize the problem (I’m all too aware of the mischief that preachers can get into with congregants), one out of 33 = 3% of the population. To be honest, my only surprise is that its that low, I could easily imagine 5%. So net-net, this hardly seems like an egregious problem. As long as men like sex, you can guarantee that, even in the church, people will have sex.
    Also its hard to define “inappropriate” as another commenter mentions. My grandfather married a congregant (some years) after his first wife died. Does that make my grandfather & grandmother’s relationship inappropriate?

  36. alixana
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Me too, I admit I’m having a little difficulty telling whether each of the commenters above are arguing that religion is somehow different from other leadership positions or not. It’s the end of Friday, my brain is trying to shut down.

  37. aliciamaud74
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Yeah it’s the end of a long week for, me, too, and I could have been more clear. And I can’t speak for anyone else, but I was making my comments under the assumption that the teaching/mentoring and religious leadership were roughly analogous.
    There’s one important distinction though, in terms of intensity–I have yet to have a single English Language Arts students who believes his/her SOUL is riding on anything they’re required to do in school. So, the stakes with the clergy are an awful lot higher.

  38. Tara K.
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    I highly doubt anyone complained. I forget how he worded it, but he framed it as a mission from god created to prove how pious they were and likened it to Mary and sacrifice. It was pretty assumed by people in the community that he was a womanizer who just wanted to make the ladies hotter. And, no, no one, husbands included, ever complained.
    I remember seeing my neighbor’s mixture — it was about a cup and a half of broth with about 3 tablespoons of white rice in it. And she ate that three times a day. Needless to say, they certainly dropped the pounds. This is the same sect, however, that doesn’t allow hair-cutting, pants, short sleeves, etc.

  39. Comrade Kevin
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    My Grandfather always wanted me to be a minister because he said I’d have any woman in the congregation that I wanted.
    Unfortunately this sort of stuff happens and gets hushed up all the time. One of my dearest friends was raised Mormon and sexually abused by her father from as long as she can remember until she was 17 and moved out of the house. The Church covered it up. Apparently the Church covers a lot of similar experiences up, from what I’ve come to understand.
    But I’m not just picking on Mormons. This happens everywhere. In a church I attended some years ago, two members explained that the reason they left their previous church was that the minister was molesting some of the young girls and the matter was not being brought to light. Some men will take the positions of authority granted them and use it to their own selfish benefit.
    I think about some of the male professors I had in college who routinely slept with admiring female students. There’s something attractive about authority figures and people in positions of power and as a result some abuse this power and trust for their own gratification.

  40. Sass
    Posted September 11, 2009 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    I think by labelling sexual harassment and assualt by preachers towards their congregants as “mischief”, you are indeed minimising the problem. Implying that 3% is an insignificant amount is also minimising the problem.

  41. Steven
    Posted September 12, 2009 at 3:56 am | Permalink

    There is a difference in minimizing a problem and putting it into perspective.
    3% of anything is a pretty low number. I know some people that seem to adopt the notion that all men are sexual offenders.
    But it seems that only 3% of clergy members are… so with that logic you are 97 percent less likely to be sexually assaulted by a member of the cloth than the general male population.
    All being full of shit aside, cattrack2 made a good point. We don’t know what to think of the numbers until we know what the baseline is.

  42. Sandra
    Posted September 12, 2009 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    I wasn’t suggesting that the boy was less of a victim. I was pointing out that they are rarely treated as ‘real’ victims by the media and society in general. Therefore, reporting the abuse of students by female teachers is easier for the media because it’s all the titilation and none of the guilt of exploiting the victim a second time, this time for ratings.

  43. AgnesScottie
    Posted September 12, 2009 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    Maybe yours isn’t, I’ve heard of many progressive churches, but the religious attitudes of the church I grew up in WERE an enemy to women. That’s part of why I started having religious dissonance at such a young age. Any Christian denomination that takes an even somewhat literal position on the Bible will be an enemy to women and a continued bastion for patriarchy. It says right there in the bible that women should STFU and only men can have the knowledge to teach and hold positions over others.
    This isn’t applicable to some of the more liberal denominations that take the Bible as metaphor and don’t place as much emphasis on the questionable bits, but those churches are the minority.
    Even Buddhism, which in its own tenets is extraordinarily egalitarian, is presented in a patriarchal structure. Never has there been a female Dalai Lama. Of the 100 important positions of leadership in Buddhism, only two are reserved for women, and the others almost never have a women chosen for them.
    My point being, that when a religion operates within a patriarchal society, it will most likely lend credence to and support the current patriarchal power structure. Is patriarchy an enemy to women? Yes. Is a religion that supports and upholds patriarchy an enemy to women? Yes. If your religion does not support patriarchy, that’s great, but the majority do, so I consider the majority of religions to be working against the cause of equality.

  44. TWP
    Posted September 13, 2009 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Well, I am a devout Catholic, and it makes me sad to hear of someone who is supposed to have dedicated his/her life to the service of God, not only behaving in a way contrary to that dedication, but outright abusing it.

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