Clergy Sexual Misconduct More Prevalent Than Understood

Baylor University has concluded a study which is to be published soon, on the prevalence of clergy sexual misconduct. Below is a press release on the findings of the study.

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Baylor University Conducts Largest National Study of Clergy Sexual Misconduct with Adults

Misconduct with Adults More Common Than Previously Thought; Occurs Across Many Religions, Denominations

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(Baylor University press release)

Baylor University’s School of Social Work today announced that findings from the nationwide study of the prevalence of Clergy Sexual Misconduct (CSM) with Adults have been accepted for publication later this year in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. The findings come from questions included in the 2008 General Social Survey (GSS), a widely-used and highly-respected survey of a random sample of more than 3,500 American adults conducted by the National Opinion Research Center. Respondents were asked if, since turning 18, they had ever been the object of a sexual advance from a religious leader. The responses were used to establish a statistically reliable baseline for discussions about CSM with adults.

The findings suggest that the prevalence of Clergy Sexual Misconduct with Adults is higher than many people realize and that it occurs across denominations and religions.

“Because many people are familiar with some of the high-profile cases of sexual misconduct, most people assume that it is just a matter of a few charismatic leaders preying on vulnerable followers,” said Dr. Diana Garland, Dean of the School of Social Work at Baylor University and lead researcher in the study. “What this research tells us, however, is that clergy sexual misconduct with adults is a widespread problem in congregations of all sizes and occurs across denominations. Now that we have a better understanding of the problem, we can start looking at prevention strategies.”

The study found that 3.1 percent of adult women who attend religious services at least once a month have been the victims of clergy sexual misconduct since turning 18. To explain another way, in the average U.S. congregation of 400 adult members, seven women, on average, have been victimized at some point in their adult lives.

“This is the largest scientific study into clergy sexual misconduct with adults. We hope these findings will prompt congregations to consider adopting policies and procedures designed to protect their members from leaders who abuse their power,” said Garland. “Many people – including the victims themselves – often label incidences of clergy sexual misconduct with adults as ‘affairs’. In reality, they are an abuse of spiritual power by the religious leader.”

This study is part of a comprehensive effort by Baylor University to identify the prevalence of clergy sexual misconduct with adults and the details commonly associated with its occurrence across religions. Using this data as a foundation, the Baylor team has been working to outline possible initiatives designed to identify and prevent CSM, and draft model legislation to make CSM illegal in the same way that relationships with patients and clients are illegal for other “helping professionals” including doctors, lawyers and mental health practitioners. At present only two states – Texas and Minnesota – have legal statutes in place to guard against CSM.

“The religious community should be a place where people, especially those in crisis, find comfort and support,” said Dr. Randel Everett, the Executive Director and CEO of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. “When a religious leader abuses the power or trust vested in them through sexual misconduct, it results in multiple sufferers. First the victim herself, then her whole family system, and eventually the congregation and the community.”

Garland also studied clergy sexual misconduct with adults from first-hand accounts. She interviewed more than 80 women and men including victims of CSM, family members or spouses of victims, religious leaders who have committed CSM, and helping professionals who have provided care for offenders and survivors. With this information, Garland and her team have begun to identify characteristics of the social context of congregations in which misconduct occurs, as well as the behavioral identifiers of offenders and the situations of those they victimize.

Based on this qualitative research, Garland and Christen Argueta, a Master of Social Work alumna from Baylor’s School of Social Work, developed a second paper, “How Clergy Sexual Misconduct Happens: A Qualitative Study of First-Hand Accounts.” This article has been accepted for publication in the journal Social Work & Christianity later this year.

“I am extremely thankful for Dr. Garland’s work in identifying clergy sexual misconduct with adults as a common problem and putting a real name and real numbers behind this issue,” said Carolyn Waterstradt, a clergy sexual misconduct survivor who took part in the qualitative research. “When it was happening to me, I felt confused and isolated. Now I know that many others have struggled with this, and that there is hope for putting systems in place to help prevent it from happening. She has given me, and others like me, a voice.”

Research Background

Research was conducted using the 2008 General Social Survey (GSS) to collect data from a nationally representative sample of 3,559 non-institutionalized English- or Spanish-speaking adults. It is conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
The GSS is conducted through in-person interviews, but questions targeting clergy sexual misconduct with adults were self-administered to alleviate respondents’ possible pain and embarrassment associated with reporting such an experience. The goals of the questions were to identify the prevalence of CSM and also to learn about the contexts in which clergy sexual advances occurred.

The clergy sexual misconduct with adults study has been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication by the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, a quarterly journal published on behalf of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. It is scheduled to appear later this year.

Funding for this research project was provided by the Ford Foundation, the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the JES Edwards Foundation of Fort Worth, Texas.
For more information on the full research project, visit the study web site, which includes a project overview, case studies of clergy sexual misconduct survivors, and other information.

About the Baylor University School of Social Work

The Baylor University School of Social Work is emerging nationally as a leader in social work education that merges Baylor’s distinctive Christian heritage with professional skills and knowledge. Its mission and concepts incorporate a Christian worldview with professional standards. The school impacts the social work profession through undergraduate and graduate education of its students, original research by its faculty, publication in top-rated peer journals, leadership roles in national social work organizations, collaborative efforts with denominational entities and social justice initiatives. The mission of the school is to prepare students in a Christian context for worldwide service and leadership.

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Pastors Scott Webb and David Webb Sued in Sex Abuse Case

Sr. pastor Scott Webb, and his son, former youth minister David Webb, have been sued by the girl David Webb pleaded guilty of sexually abusing, and by her father. David Webb was sentenced in July to serve five years in prison.

According to the linked article, “the lawsuit alleges sexual assault, battery, harassment and seduction of an underage woman against David Webb, and accuses his employer, Word of Life Christian Center, of negligent hiring, training, supervision, retention and entrustment.”

This situation is another example of why churches must begin to self-regulate. This will become more and more common and end up putting individual churches and even entire denominations out of existence — the natural consequences of failure to stand for righteousness in the first place.

Former Music Minister David Pierce Convicted of Child Sex Abuse

Former music minister David Pierce was convicted of child sex abuse on Aug. 27. Pierce, minister of music for 29 years at First Baptist Church in Benton, AR, was originally charged with 54 counts. He accepted a plea agreement to four counts of sexual indecency with a child and will serve 10 years in prison. After his release he will have to register as a sex offender and will be listed as a habitual offender.

In the linked article I found it interesting that a statement made by Pierce includes his minimization of his crimes. It is very important for the body of Christ to understand that there are no “shades” to sexual sin or violation. What Pierce did was not somehow “not so bad” because he never “had sex” with any of the many boys he victimized over the years. Pierce is a convicted serial predator and pedophile. There is no way to soften that reality with delicate words.

If we start grading sin and crime in the church we have gone seriously amiss of the truth. The violation to the body of Christ, in having such an individual in a position of leadership, and to the specific victims who have been harmed beyond words, is astronomical. The minimization of these facts by Pierce and by the senior pastor of Benton’s First Baptist Church, Dr. Rick Grant (who called serial sexual predation and pedophelia against his church members a “circumstance”) is both telling and alarming. Pierce expressed greater concern for his family than for his victims and promptly started talking about the need of others to forgive him, in a prepared statement read by his attorney after his conviction. He also said it was never his intention to harm anyone. Really? Does that make it OK? Over at least a 20-year period he systematically sexually abused children but didn’t mean to hurt anyone? There are a small host of revelations in such a statement – and none of them are good.

An additional sad commentary is that Greg Kirksey, the former pastor of the church and previous president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention wrote a letter asking the judge for leniency, specifically requesting that Pierce be given no jail time. Kirksey expressed concern for Pierce’s life in prison due to health issues. I find it difficult to grasp why a denominational leader would ask a judge to bypass the reasonable (even minimized under the plea agreement) legal and natural consequences of Pierce’s actions. The Word plainly teaches the law of sowing and reaping. Why is it appropriate to beg for crop failure, especially in light of Pierce’s continued minimization of his actions and his responsibility for them?

It is my hope that if anyone affected by this case should find this blog, you can find some help and additional insight about the issue in the articles in the right sidebar of this site and under the Church Abuse tab. God has hope and help, but it will never be found through denial and minimization.

Associate Pastor Ronald Jones Charged with Child Sexual Assault

Associate pastor Ronald Jones has been charged with criminal sexual conduct with a minor in the second degree relating to a 15-year old boy.

According to the linked article, Jones also has multiple convictions for breach of trust and writing fraudulent checks. (Why was he still an associate pastor?)

Anger and Christian Virtue

The linked article is a very good analysis of how Christian leaders have somehow distorted their understanding of perceptions of evil and their responses to it, particular as it pertains to child sex abuse by clergy. This article was written from the perspective of the Catholic church, but it can be transposed directly to apply to the Protestant church.

Anger and Christian Virtue

Youth Pastor Richard J. Wagner Sentenced for Child Sex Abuse

Former youth pastor Richard J. Wagner, of Kenai, AK, was sentenced today to 13 years in prison, with 8 years suspended, plus 3 months hard jail time, 7 years probation on each count, sex offender treatment, and permanent banning from work around children. According to the linked article, Wagner had earlier pleaded guilty to one count of second-degree sexual abuse of a minor and one count of possession of child porn, in exchange for dismissal of four counts of sexual abuse of a minor, two counts of indecent exposure and 10 counts of child porn possession.

Pastor Darrell Dunn Charged with Child Sex Abuse

Pastor Darrell Dunn of Crosby, TX, has been arrested and charged with multiple counts related to child sex abuse allegations. He is charged with molesting two teenaged male students and sending sexually explicit photos and text messages to them. Police suspect there may be additional victims from the Living Praise Church and Academy and ask for anyone with information to contact them.