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Sexual Ethics in Ministry


"The greatest challenge facing the church in the next century is," according to Arch Hart, Dean of the School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, "sexuality."[1] Given the prominence of sexuality in advertising and entertainment, the rise of sexual addiction, the rise of sexual activity among teens, and the emergence of the Gay Liberation movement, this is not a surprising statement. Sexuality dominates our pop culture from television talk shows like Ricki Lake to Cosmopolitan Magazine. It is the primary storyline of many television sit-coms (like "Friends" and "Married with Children"), and it is the focal topic of some journalistically styled programs (like "Real Personal" on CNBC and "Real Sex" on HBO).[2] Sexuality is a major cultural topic, and is a flashpoint for the clash between Judeo-Christian and non-Christian worldviews.

A recent survey of American sexuality reveals that 15-35% of American males and 20% of American females have been unfaithful in their marriages. 16% of those calling themselves "Conservative Protestants" have had two or more sexual partners in the last twelve months. 41% percent of all American males have done one of the following in the last twelve months: watched an X-rated movie, attended an adult entertainment show, read pornographic material, purchased erotic devices, or called a phone sex number. Commenting on this last piece of data, Bob Moeller notes that any minister "could safely assume at least some individuals sitting in the congregation are reflected in these statistics."[3] In fact, the recent study by David Lewis and company, Shattering the Silence, demonstrated that sexual activity among teenagers in the Churches of Christ is not significantly different from other teens. 29% of our teens have lost their virginity (half of whom intend to continue their sexual relationships), and 75% have experienced intimate touching.[4]

The situation is not much different among America's pastors, even among ministers within Churches of Christ. In an 1987 survey, 38% of the pastors said that they fantasize about having sex with someone other than their spouse at least once a month (as compared with 26% on the part of the laity). That same survey revealed that 12% of the pastors had actually had sexual relations with another partner besides their spouse, and an additional 18% had experienced mutual fondling with someone other than their spouse.[5] This data is consistent with a recent poll of three hundred ministers which reported that 39% have had sexual contact and 12.7% have had sexual intercourse with someone other than their spouse.[6] The memory of recent incidents among Churches of Christ indicates that not only are we susceptible to the same temptations, but that probably the percentages are not significantly different.[7]

In this chapter, my purpose is threefold. First, I want to ground our sexual ethic in a biblical theology of God. We must be convicted that we represent God's love, righteousness and faithfulness in this fallen world. As God's imagers, we must reflect a sexual ethic that is grounded in God's own nature. Our sexual ethic will reflect who we are and the development of our character. Second, I want to remind us that our sexual behavior is largely linked to the quality of life in our marriages. It is linked to the depth and nature of our commitment to our spouses. An unhealthy marriage leads to sexual dysfunction and then that may lead to sexual misconduct. Third, I will provide some practical boundaries and suggestions as preventive medicine. Our sexual ethic provides theological and marital boundaries, but we also need practical strategies for living out our theological and marital commitments. As males who minister to females, or females who minister to males, we need to have some practical sexual sensitivities which illuminate our theological convictions.

Conviction: A Sexual Theology

As Christians, we are committed to the biblical story of God as it is given to us in Scripture. The story is important because it molds our character, and ethical decisions, especially sexual ones, arise out of our character. The story must shape us so that our decisions flow from who we are rather than from the immediacy of the moment. If our character is not developed, and our convictions are not rooted in God's story, then we will be driven by momentary pleasure or the allure of an adventure rather than by fidelity. Conviction and commitment to the story of God are the fundamental barriers to sexual misconduct.

God created humanity as male and female, and he created them in his own image. He created them as family who would image the divine family. God said, "Let us make man [humanity, JMH] in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish. . ." (Gen. 1:26, my emphasis). Humankind is created in the image of God as male and female. The divine community created a human community. Even before the foundation of the world, the Father loved the Son and Son loved the Father (John 17:24). They, along with the Spirit of God (Gen. 1:2), existed as a divine community of holy love. Humanity, as male and female, images that divine community. We mirror the nature of God. The story of Scripture begins with the divine community creating a human community to image the holy love of God in communal relationship and to share the fellowship of the divine community.[8]

The story of God is not individualistic nor self-seeking. God himself created out of his overflowing, self-giving love. The love of the holy community flowed out from God to create a community of imagers who could share their community and love. God intends to dwell among his creatures and to commune with them (Rev. 21:3). Married couples themselves image God by procreating children. Just as God created humanity to share his loving community, so husbands and wives create children to share their loving community. Sexual intercourse involves the implicit commitment of two partners to receive and be responsible for new life.[9] There is a willingness to share the communal love between husband and wife with children just as the divine community is willing to share its loving fellowship with us. Procreation itself, then, images the creative work of God.

Sexuality, of course, is at the heart of this communal relationship which produces children. The sexual experience expresses the oneness of male and female in community. We become "one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). That oneness of fellowship and love images the oneness of God's fellowship and love. Our sexuality images God, and so our sexuality must reflect the nature of God. Sexual ethics must be rooted in the nature of God himself. The love of the holy community of God is the love we must image in our sexual ethic, particularly the sexual fidelity of marriage partners. Sex was not intended for selfish, individualistic pleasure, but for a communion born out of commitment and intimacy that images the self-giving love of God's community.

The Christian is committed to image God in all his relationships, which means, in part, that the Christian does not seek self-fulfillment at the expense of others. Paul sets sexual immorality over against agape love (1 Thess. 4:3-8), and claims that sexual immorality is the fraudulent exploitation of another. We must "walk in love" and thus avoid fornication (Eph. 5:2-3). Sexual immorality is a manifestation of our radical selfishness in contrast to God's call to loving selflessness. It expresses the desire of self-fulfillment at the expense of another. It exploits others for the sake of individualistic pleasure. Thus, sexual immorality fails to image God at the most basic level our relationship with him. It fails to act out of love for another. It destroys community through exploitation. It substitutes agape for eros where eros destroys agape. When we use our sexuality in the exploitation of another, we no longer image God's holy community of self-giving love. When we exploit women through pornography, through one-night stands, through sexual encounters begun in helping relationships, we seek our own interests rather than theirs. We violate the very character of God (cf. Phil 2:1-11).

Character development is an important aspect of sanctification.[10] It lies at the heart of our transformation into the glory of God (2 Cor. 3:17-18). Character arises out of our fundamental convictions about who we are. Are we solitary, pleasure-seeking adventurers who create our own stories, or are we part of God's story where his people image his love and community? The question of character raises the question of who we are (our essence) which answers the question of who we should be (our goals), and this answers the question of how we should behave (our conduct). Christians begin with the understanding that we are God's creatures whom he created to share his community of love and to image that community. We are God's representatives in the world who are to share his love with others. In order to credibly communicate his love to others, we must act out of his love. But when we sexually exploit another, we undermine that image, destroy genuine communion with that person and impair our relationship with God. We communicate something destructive rather than communicating the agape of God. When we are convicted of our imaging role in the world, our character can develop along the model of God's character.

This is particularly important for ministers of the gospel. As ministers we model the love of God in Christ. We are Christ's ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20). If we proclaim the reconciling message of God's love in Christ, we must live that message of reconciliation. And nothing can be more destructive to that reconciling message than to exploit the power and position of ministry for sexual fulfillment.[11] When the one who represents God, not only as imager, but as redemptive messenger, turns the redeeming agape of God into the self-interested, self-fulfilling eros of lust, then the very image of God is defaced. When we as ministers enter into a sexual relationship with a congregant we communicate the wrong message to them. We who sit in positions of authority and influence, who represent God's Savior to the world in the pulpit Sunday after Sunday, can destroy a person's image of God when we, as his representatives, act out of eros and selfishness. It is little wonder that some who have been scarred by sexual misconduct on the part of God's ministers feel little warmth for God or his people. Sexual misconduct among ministers is a fundamental betrayal of trust--the trust God has given to us as stewards (1 Cor. 4:1-2), and the trust that congregants have placed in us as God's ministers. Youtha Hardman-Cromwell has called this a kind of "spiritual rape" because it entails four kinds of spiritual loss: "the loss of the Church as a safe haven, loss of the Church as a community of faith, loss of confidence in the teaching of the Church, and the loss of faith in God that sometimes never returns."[12] For one who has been exploited and abused by God's minister, the message of "God's love" has a very different meaning. When ministers use their power for sexual fulfillment, they image the god of this world instead of the God of the gospel.

A deep sense of conviction about the trust God has given us and a deep sense of conviction about who we are as God's imagers will function as a barrier to sexual misconduct. When our character arises out of conviction, then when temptation comes, character will have already declined the tempting option. When the tempter offers sexual pleasure, we will not have to stop and decide what we are going to do. On the contrary, our character has already decided the question. We have decided to live God's story rather than our own. We have decided to image God in our relationships rather than seek our own pleasure. We have been convicted by and are committed to the story of God.

Commitment: A Sexually Healthy Marriage

Sexuality belongs to the creative act of God who intended marriage to proceed along sexual lines, male and female, because through the communion and procreation of that sexuality, God's community is mirrored in human relationships.[13] God created male and female with sufficient differences and similarities that they provide the basis of bonding in family. Sexuality belongs to the creative intent for human bonding. It is the means by which male and female consummate and celebrate their marriage union. Sex is the ultimate bonding act. As such, it reflects the loving fellowship of God. The community of God is imaged through the loving fellowship of husband and wife.

Our identity as sexual beings drives us to bond with other humans. The dynamic of bonding is the basic purpose of our existence as sexual beings.[14] The creative intent of God for us as sexual beings is family. The sexual impulse drives a person beyond their own self to seek bonding (communion) with others. The void in Adam's loneliness was sexually based. God created Eve to fill the loneliness of Adam's heart (Gen. 2:18). Without the sexual other, we are incomplete and the bonding drive will be channeled in other directions.[15] Homosexuality is dysfunctional and sinful because it seeks human bonding in a direction other than what God intended. Family (male-female marriage with children) is the place of human bonding where husband and wife are "one flesh" and produce "godly children" (Mal. 2:14-15) in a context where children receive an identity and share in a loving story. Family provides the loving environment where children learn to love by being loved, just as we learned to love God by his loving us in Jesus Christ. This loving fellowship of family is the foundation of social stability. Confusion in sexual ethics tends to destabilize society and render it inhospitable (Sodom and Gomorah illustrate this, as well as the treatment of the concubine in Judges 19).[16] This may be exactly what is happening in American culture today. The diversity of sexual ethics in our culture propels this tendency toward destabilization.

Contemporary views of sex tend to divide into three types. The first type may be called "relational" or "romantic" sex.[17] This type understands sex to be the expression of a loving relationship which does not necessarily include marriage. Love is a sufficient condition for sex whether or not long-term commitment is involved. Half of Americans believe this is all that is necessary for an ethical sexual relationship.[18] It is certainly the perspective generally touted by the media which seems to narrate the ideal that whatever two consenting adults do out of mutual respect and love is permissible. The second type may be called "recreational" or "individualistic" sex. [19] Here sex is pursued in terms of its pleasure and not because of a relationship. Sex becomes a human technique for self-fulfillment and pleasure. It is as recreational as a ski trip; it is simply "good, clean fun." Sex is a means to an individualistic, selfish end. Apparently, one quarter of Americas think about sex in this way.[20]

In either of the above typologies, sex is deromanticized so that it may be either a momentary, perhaps single, expression of "love" or it may be reduced to the mechanics of something like racquetball as a pleasurable activity. In the former case, sex becomes the expression of love without commitment--it becomes a superficial love rather than one of depth and meaning. The key question in sexual activity is not "How much do you love me?," but "How long will you love me?"[21] When we give ourselves to another in sexual intimacy, the real question is one of faithfulness and continuity. The intensity of the sexual moment is life-affirming only when there is the trust that this self-giving will not be violated by the other's selfishness. The fundamental premise of that trust is long-term commitment or continuity. In the latter case, sex becomes impersonal. Indeed, like in the movie "Pretty Woman," it becomes so impersonal that a kiss is more intimate than sexual intercourse. The prostitute will not allow the customer to kiss her on the lips ("That's too personal"), but she will have sexual intercourse with him for the right amount of money. As a mere recreational sport (the context in which "Johns" seek prostitutes), sex becomes the means by which we exploit others for our own pleasure.[22] One cannot play sex with another person like they play racquetball with them. The act is too intimate, too personal and too life-involving. Sex involves the whole person. Without love and commitment, sexual activity scars the emotional and spiritual heart.

The third typology is the traditional view of marriage and sexuality (which one quarter of Americans believe, and, surprisingly, only half of conservative Protestants believe[23]). I call it a "covenantal" view of sex. Sexuality is something in which we may delight (the Song of Solomon certainly does), but also something about which we must be sober (as per the warnings about adultery in Proverbs 5-7). The sexual act celebrates the communion of an exclusive relationship covenanted between "two persons who are committed not only to each other but to the cause of the one who creates and keeps covenant and renews all things--including them."[24] The sexual act celebrates a divinely witnessed marriage covenant; it celebrates the depth of commitment between two people in the presence of God. It is an act of faithfulness and mutual giving. Sex within marriage is a symbol of our mutual submission to each other. The sexual act epitomizes the desire for each to give freely and completely to the other so that both are fulfilled (1 Cor. 7:1-5). Marriage is a covenant begun with vows and continued in faithfulness. The sexual pleasure of that covenant does not celebrate the sexual act itself (which would be idolatrous because it exalts sex above the covenant), but celebrates the communion which exists between two persons within the context of God's story with his people. Indeed, it celebrates God's involvement in this covenant. God is a witness to this covenant (Mal. 2:14) and when we are faithful to our marriage covenant, we image the God who is faithful to his covenant. If we are unfaithful to our marriage covenant, God will no longer accept our offerings of praise to him (Mal. 2:13).

God models for us the covenantal relationship of a husband and wife through his relationship to Israel (Jer. 2:2; 3:6,8). In fact, God illustrates the nature of this love in the life of the prophet Hosea. God's love for his people is one of long-term commitment. God enters into an eternal ("forever") covenant with a three-fold commitment of righteousness, love and faithfulness (Hos. 2:19-20). Just as God entered into covenant with Israel with a commitment to justice, an enduring love and a promise of faithfulness, so we must enter our marriages as well. God's story with his covenant people is one of patient love, justice, and faithfulness, and if we are to image him, then our story must become his. We must live out God's story in our own marriages with righteousness, love and faithfulness.

Sexuality belongs within the context of covenant, that is, long-term continuity, commitment and faithfulness. Only in this context does sexuality serve God's intended goals. Only in this context does sexuality engender depth of affection, mutuality and community. Outside of a covenantal framework, sex is individualistic, selfish and exploitative. It destroys rather than builds. But within a covenantal framework sexuality provides the means by which a husband and wife bond together, enjoy each other, and celebrate their communion. Sexual relations within marriage reinforce the commitment of each partner to the marriage and provide a healthy atmosphere for mutual emotional and spiritual development.

Ministers must have a healthy sex life. Ministers are most susceptible to sexual temptation when their marriages are sexually dysfunctional or when their martial relationships are unfulfilling. Very few ministers are predators (Arch Hart estimates only ten percent[25]), that is, those who consciously and systematically use their power to seduce others. Most ministers are wanderers whose self-esteem can be stroked by someone who seems interested in them, or lovers, that is, those who "fall in love" with someone because there is a void in their own marital relationship.[26] The predator has a fundamental character flaw, but the wanderers and the lovers have failed to pay attention to their own frailties. They have succumbed to weakness and temptation. The "wanderer" has failed to develop spiritually, and has not found self-worth in marriage nor found strength in the light of God's empowering Spirit. "Lovers" have failed to maintain and develop their own emotional and spiritual health through their marriage covenants. "Lovers" have failed to maintain the health of their own marriages. Both the wanderer and the lover succumb to sexual temptation because their own personal and marital relationships lack spiritual substance. Since they do not receive the spiritual and emotional sustenance they need through their marriage (and they must take primary responsibility for themselves rather than blame their spouses), they will seek it elsewhere.

In order to avoid sexual temptation, the minister must devote attention to their own spiritual development, and to their relationship with their spouses and families. In a survey of some 400 respondents, Leadership magazine found that the familial relationships of many ministers were in serious trouble. Marriage problems, according to 81% of the respondents, arose because of "insufficient time together." 33% of the ministers complained of infrequent sexual activity, and sexual intimacy (46% of the couples had sexual problems) was difficult because of the "pastor's busy schedule" (according to 69%). Of this group of ministers, 15% had sought help for sexual temptation, 9% had had sexual intercourse with someone other than their spouse, and 19% were guilty of some "inappropriate sexual contact" with someone other than their spouse.[27] Their problems, it seems clear, are directly related to the unhealthy state of their marriages. Ministers need to create time and space for their families or else they will find themselves seeking sexual and emotional fulfillment outside of God's story.

In a Leadership symposium called "Traits of a Sexually Healthy Pastor," moderated by Scott Wenig, several key principles were discussed.[28] Permit me to summarize several of these by way of concluding this section. First, ministers must be honest with their own temptations and create an environment in which they will be held accountable for those temptations. Often a good friend of the same gender is important for accountability.[29] Ministers must find friends or mentors who will hold them accountable to the story of God. Second, the minister ought to listen to their spouses' radars concerning potential dangers. Spouses often sense when another is overly interested in their mate. We ignore their warnings to our own peril. Once my wife alerted me to a sexual predator and heightened my awareness, and I am thankful that she did. It saved me from a potentially destructive situation. Third, ministers must pursue an emotionally and sexually healthy relationship with their spouses. They must devote time to this pursuit and place it above all other responsibilities, including their ministerial careers. Fundamentally, families must spend time together, and we must carve out significant time for them. The family, not the local church, provides the stability necessary for spiritual and emotional development. When church is consistently put before family, a clear danger to the spiritual health of the minister has emerged. Fourth, ministers must devote attention to their own spiritual lives. We ought to be engaged in spiritual disciplines which ward off sexual temptations, as Jerome himself studied Hebrew in order to combat his sexual feelings. When we walk with the God of agape in spiritual intimacy and we find well-being in our marriages it becomes more difficult to offer ourselves to the god of eros and sexual adventure.

Circumspection: Sexual Sensitivity

The King James translation of Ephesians 5:15 calls us to "walk circumspectively," that is, we should live our lives by constantly watching everything around us. We should always be sensitive to oour environment and carefully inspect every circumstance in which we find ourselves. This means we must walk with wisdom. It is interesting that when Paul told Titus to teach "sound doctrine" to the older men, the young men, the older women and the slaves, he told the older women to teach the younger women (Titus 2:4-5)--not bad advice for young ministers like Titus. While Paul does not indicate his motive here, I think it is a good supposition that Paul wants Titus to avoid teaching younger women for sexual reasons. In other words, Paul gave Titus a circumspectional principle. He gave Titus a boundary.

Ministers serve people, including others of the opposite sex. Male ministers cannot avoid contact with younger women altogether. When a spouse dies, the minister needs to offer comfort. When a single parent needs help with her children, a minister needs to be available. But as ministers we need to set up some clear and practical sexual boundaries.

William Arnold has suggested five boundaries for ministers which must never be crossed.[30] If we cross any one of them, we ought to step back from that relationship and reflect on God's story again. If we cross them, we need to renew our covenant with our spouses and redouble our commitment to those boundaries. First, there is the boundary of "space." We must be careful where we meet with a congregant. The place will signal certain messages. There is a vast difference, for example, between meeting in the minister's office and meeting at a hotel or at a congregant's home. Second, there is the boundary of "time." When we begin to spend excessive time with a congregant, then we ought to pull back. When we begin to spend four or five hours a week with a person, and we only see our spouses an hour each evening, then danger signals have appeared. We would need to restructure our time with family and significantly decrease our time with the congregant. Third, there is the boundary of "language." When language becomes too intimate, or when language is interpreted intimately, then we need to clarify the relationship between ourselves and the congregant. Intimate language breeds physical intimacy. Fourth, there is the boundary of "touch." While hugs and pats on the back are common in closely-knit congregations, hugs, pats and kisses are inappropriate in counseling or private contexts. The nature, timing and place of a touch communicates volumes and dangerously opens up the possibility of sexual temptation. Fifth, there is the boundary of our own "feelings." If we sense a sexual attraction toward another person, then we continue to meet with them to our own peril. We must be careful what we think or feel because they are the beginnings of our actions. We need to be honest with our feelings, and remember our commitment to God's story and our own marriages. Sometimes "feelings" cannot be controlled, but behavior and covenantal commitment can put those "feelings" into proper perspective. Once one begins to develop these "feelings," the relationship with the congregant must be ended or it will develop to our own destruction.

These boundaries must function as absolutes. We must not cross them. They are the practical barriers which signal our commitment to God's story and our own marriages. However, sometimes these boundaries are blurred by our own insensitivities to the situation. Consequently, we need to have a clear vision of "warning signs." Stanley Grenz and Roy Bell offer six warning signs:[31]

"1. Conversation is becoming increasingly personal; the pastor talks unduly about himself.
2. The pastor's physical contact with the congregant has moved beyond a warm handshake to friendly pats and hugs.
3. The pastor finds himself fantasizing about a sexual relationship with the congregant and does not dismiss such thoughts.
4. The pastor offers to drive the congregant home.
5. The pastor begins to arrange meetings with the congregant outside his established counseling routine (such as over lunch).
6. The pastor increasingly desires to hide his growing feelings for, interest in, and meetings with a congregant from his accountability systems, especially his spouse."

These warnings are red-flags that signal us to take a close look at whether we have crossed any boundaries. When warning signals appear, it is probably because we have inappropriately crossed a boundary. Ministers who would protect their commitment to God's story and their commitment to their spouses must take these warning signs seriously. They must resolve never to break a boundary. To break a boundary is to break down the practical barriers that insulate your commitment to God's story. When those practical barriers are destroyed, then Satan can make a full frontal assault on our commitments.


Sexual misconduct among ministers is always a real danger. It must never be underestimated. In our increasingly sexually explicit culture, the danger of sexual misconduct will grow. We can already see the effects of ministerial misconduct in our culture. Evangelists are grouped into the same category as the Bakers and the Swaggerts. Local churches are devastated by ministers who fall into sexual temptation. Instead of bearing the marks of Christ, the church bears the reputation of its fallen ministers.

I have attempted to address three questions which will help us maintain a sexual ethic toward our congregants. First, "Do we really want to represent God to this person in this way?" We are the imagers of God, and we communicate God's love to this world. We bear his image as Creator, and as ministers of the gospel, we proclaim the Redeemer God. We have been given a sacred trust. If we abuse this trust, we have abused God himself, and we have destroyed another's image of God. When temptation comes let us remember who we are as the ones who represent God in this world. There can be no more fundamental betrayal than the destructive exploitation of another in the name of God's love.

Second, "Do we really want to destroy our relationship with our spouse, and destroy ourselves in the process?" Those of us who are married must remember our covenantal commitments to our spouses. Again, we image God when we keep our covenants because God is a faithful God. Just as he is faithful, so we should be faithful. When we break this covenant through an illicit sexual encounter, we betray the trust of that covenant and we offer our spouse pain rather than joy. We destroy rather than build (Prov. 6:32). When sexual temptation comes, let us remember our marriage covenant. Let us keep the covenant with the spouse of our youth and drink from our own cisterns (Prov. 5:16-23). Let us devote attention to our families and make room for them at the center of our busy lives.

Third, "Have we broken any boundaries or ignored any warning signals in our relationships with any congregants?" The boundaries and warning signals function as practical tests which may alert us to our own blindness. God's boundary of "Do not commit adultery" is a moral absolute which stands over against our own self-deception (as in "but we are really in love"). So these practical boundaries must stand as absolutes which will hinder our fall into sexual temptation. They protect us from both sexual predators and from ourselves. Anyone who ignores them does so to their own peril.

As I end this chapter, I am reminded that two points need to be made in this context. First, no minister is absolutely insulated from the dangers of sexual misconduct. It would be arrogant for anyone to think that it could never happen to them. Paul's warning applies here: "if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don't fall" (1 Cor. 10:12). Vigilent prayer must be our unceasing disposition as we combat the spiritual advances of Satan. We must depend upon God's empowering grace to sustain and protect us in times of temptation. Second, for those ministers who have fallen, God offers them grace. If they will return to him, God will return to them. Indeed, God takes the initiative to bring them home (as in the example of Hosea and Gomer), and he waits like the prodigal father to wrap his arms around them. The church must be a place where fallen, penitent ministers can come home and receive healing. It must offer them the hope of future ministry within the body of Christ just as God renewed his covenant with fallen Israel and renewed his grace in the life of fallen David.[32] As ministers of God's grace, we ought to minister God's grace to fallen, penitent ministers. And this is our hope and our sustenance that as we come to God in humility and submission, God will ever renew our fallen lives through his faithful covenant love.


Sexual Ethics

Grenz, Stanley J. Sexual Ethics: A Biblical Perspective. Dallas: Word, 1990.

Hanigan, James P. What are They Saying About Sexual Morality? New York: Paulist Press, 1982.

Hauerwas, Stanley. A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981.

Hauerwas, Stanley and Allen Verhey. "From Conduct to Character." Reformed Journal 36 (November 1986): 12-16.

Hybels, Bill. "Preaching that Oh-So-Delicate Subject." Leadership 16 (Summer 1995): 43-48.

Smedes, Lewis. Sex for Christians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976.

Stafford, Tim. "Great Sex: Reclaiming a Christian Sexual Ethic." Christianity Today 31 (October 2, 1987): 23-45.

Thielicke, Helmut. Sexual Ethics. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1964.

White, John Wesley. Eros Defiled: The Christian and Sexual Sin. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977.

Sexually Healthy Minister

Arnold, William. Pastoral Responses to Sexual Issues. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993.

Dawn, Marva J. Sexual Character: Beyond Technique to Intimacy. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.

Goetz, David. "Is the Pastor's Family Safe at Home?" Leadership 13 (Fall 1992): 38-44.

Hauerwas, Stanley. "Clerical Character: Reflecting on Ministerial Morality." Word & World 6 (Spring 1986): 181-93.

Joy, Donald M. Bonding: Relationships in the Image of God. Waco, TX: Word, 1985.

Laaser, Mark R. The Secret Sin: Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.

Penner, Clifford and Joyce Penner. The Gift of Sex: A Guide to Sexual Fulfillment. Dallas: Word, 1981.

Roberts, Wes and Judy Roberts. "Who Cares for Pastors?" Leadership 16 (Summer 1995): 76-78.

Rosenau, Douglas E. A Celebration of Sex: A Christian Couple's Manual. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1994.

Wenig, Scott. "Traits of a Sexually Healthy Pastor." Leadership 16 (Summer 1995): 19-29.

Wheat, Ed and Gloria Okes Perkins. Love Life for Every Married Couple. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980.

Sexual Misconduct and the Ministry

Alcorn, Randy C. "Strategies to Keep from Falling." Leadership 9 (Winter 1988): 42-42-47.

Bustanoby, Andre. "Counseling the Seductive Female." Leadership 9 (Winter 1988): 48-54.

Grenz, Stanley J. and Roy D. Bell. Betrayal of Trust: Sexual Misconduct in the Pastorate. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995.

Flatt, Bill. "The Misuse of Power and Sex in Helping Relationships." Restoration Quarterly 36.2 (1994): 101-109.

Fortune, Marie M. Is Nothing Sacred?: When Sex Invades the Pastoral Relationship. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989.

Lebacqz, Karen and Ronald G. Barton. Sex in the Parish. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1991.

Rediger, G. Lloyd. Ministry and Sexuality: Cases, Counseling and Care. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990.

Rutter, Peter. Sex in the Forbidden Zone. Los Angeles: Jeremy Tarcher, 1989.

Sipe, A. W. Richard. Sex, Priests, and Power: Anatomy of a Crisis. New York: Brunner/Mazel, Publishers, 1995.


[1] Arch Hart in Scott Wenig, "Traits of a Sexually Healthy Pastor: A Symposium," Leadership 16 (Summer 1995), 28.

[2] USA Today watched one week of prime time television on ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox and found 45 sex scenes, only four of which were between married couples. In prime afternoon and evening hours the three largest networks broadcast a total of 65,000 sexual references each year so that the average American now watches 14,000 references to sex on the television in the course of a year. See Barbara Hansen and Carol Knopes, "Prime Time Tuning Out Varied Culture," USA Today, July 6, 1993, and Donna Gable, "In Search of Prime-Time Faith," USA Today, July 12, 1993, as cited by William J. Bennett, The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators: Facts and Figures on the State of American Society (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994), 104-105.

[3] Bob Moeller, "The Sex Life of America's Christians," Leadership 16 (Summer 1995), 31. This data, as cited by Moeller, is derived from Robert Michael, John Gagnon, Edward Laumann, and Gina Kolata, Sex in America: A Definitive Survey (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1994).

[4] David Lewis, Carley Dodd and Darryl Tippens, Shattering the Silence: Telling the Church the Truth about Kids and Sexuality (Nashville, TN: Christian Communications, 1989). The church ought to be encouraged to teach our teens about sex in direct ways. See Lewis Penhall Bird, "Why the Church Should Teach Teens About Sex," Christianity Today 26 (November 11, 1983), 24-31

[5] "How Common is Pastoral Indiscretion?," Leadership 9 (Winter 1988), 12-13.

[6] The survey was conducted by Richard Blackman for a Ph.D. dissertation at Fuller Theological Seminary. The data was cited by John D. Vogelsang, "From Denial to Hope: A Systemic Response to Clergy Sexual Abuse," Journal of Religion and Health 32 (Fall 1993), 197.

[7] Allen Black, Associate Professor of New Testament at Harding University Graduate School of Religion, noted that of twenty graduates from HUGSR in 1980 about whom he had personal knowledge, three became involved in adulterous relationships and their marriages ended in divorce (personal conversation, October 2, 1995).

[9] I would recommend Stanley Grenz, Sexual Ethics: A Biblical Perspective (Dallas: Word, 1990), 31-37 for an extended theological discussion of this point.

[9] Theologically, this point explains why abortion is wrong. Abortion is a selfish, irresponsible act. The partners are not willing to take responsibility for their sexual pleasure. Rather than imaging God's love, even God's love for the unwanted (as in an unplanned pregnancy), they exalt their own interests over that of the child. By so acting, they reject the pattern of God's love and substitute their own selfishness. Fundamentally, this is idolatry because it substitutes the love of self for God and the love of the other, the unborn child. See Stanley Hauerwas, A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Social Ethic (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), pp. 196-229.

[10] See Stanley Hauerwas, Character and the Christian Life: A Study in Theological Ethics (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 1975), and "Virtue" in Powers That Make Us Human, edited by Kenneth Vaux (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1985), 117-40. For a good exposition of Hauerwas' ethics, see Stepehn S. Bilynskyj, "Christian Ethics and the Ethics of Virtue," Covenant Quarterly 45 (August 1987), 125-34.

[11] Two articles make this point very well. Stanley Grenz, "When the Pastor Fails: Sexual Misconduct as a Betrayal of Trust," Crux 31 (June 1995), 23-30, and Karen Lebacqz, "Sexual Pastoral Ethics--A Theological View," Dialog 32 (Winter 1993), 33-36.

[12] Youtha C. Hardman-Cromwell, "Power and Sexual Abuse in Ministry," Journal of Religious Thought 48 (Summer-Fall 1991), 66.

[13] This theological principle is why homosexuality is sinful. Homosexuality circumvents the creative intent of God for sexuality. It undermines the very reason God created male and female. See Thomas Schmidt, Straight & Narrow? Compassion & Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 39-63, and John R. W. Stott, "Homosexual Marriage: Why Same Sex Partnerships Are Not a Christian Option," Christianity Today 29 (22 November 1985): 21-28.

[14] I am indebted to Grenz, Sexual Ethics, 19ff, for much of this material. See also Donald M. Joy, Bonding: Relationships in the Image of God (Waco, TX: Word, 1985).

[15] We must remember, however, that God gives the "gift" of singleness to some for the sake of the kingdom (1 Cor. 7:7; cf. Matt. 19:12). In this gift the bonding drive is fulfilled in ministry for the kingdom with "undivided devotion to the Lord" (1 Cor. 7:35).

[16] See Schmidt, 86-89, and S. Niditch, "The 'Sodomite' Theme in Judges 19-20: Family, Community and Social Disintegration," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 44 (1982), 357-69.

[17] "Relational" is the terminology of Michael, et. al., Sex in America, as reported by Moeller, "Sex Life," 31. "Romantic" is the terminology of Stanley Hauerwas and Allen Verhey, "From Conduct to Character," Reformed Journal 36 (November 1986), 13.

[18] Moeller, "Sex Life," 31.

[19] "Recreational" is the terminology of Michael, et. al., Sex in America, as reported by Moeller, "Sex Life," 31. "Individualistic" is the terminology of Hauerwas and Verhey, "From Conduct to Character," 13-14.

[20] Moeller, "Sex Life," 31.

[21] Hauerwas and Verhey, "From Conduct to Character," 15.

[22] A good discussion of this material can be found in Hauerwas, Community of Character, 173-195.

[23] Moeller, "Sex Life," 31.

[24] Hauerwas and Verhey, "From Conduct to Character," 15.

[25] Arch Hart in Scott Wenig, "Traits of a Sexually Healthy Pastor," 26.

[26] These categories are derived from Stanley Grenz and Roy D. Bell, "Predator, Wanderer, or Lover," Leadership 16 (Summar 1995), 35.

[27] David Goetz, "Is the Pastor's Family Safe at Home?," Leadership 13 (Fall 1992), 38-44.

[28] Wenig, "Traits of a Sexually Healthy Pastor," 19-29.

[29] The "Promise Keepers" movement is encouraging in this light. It provides mutual male accountability which encourages marital faithfulness and responsible leadership within the family. See Edward Gilbreath, "Manhood's Great Awakening," Christianity Today 39 (February 6, 1995), 21-28.

[30] William Arnold, Pastoral Responses to Sexual Issues (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993), 48-52.

[31] Grenz and Bell, "Predator," 36.

[32] R. Kent Hughes and John H. Armstrong, "Why Adulterous Pastors Should not be Restored," Christianity Today 39 (April 4, 1995), 33-36, suggest caution and their advice deserves consideration.

This article first appeared as "Sexual Ethics in Ministry," in Building a Healthy Minister's Family, ed. by Don Kinder (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1996), pp. 51-74.


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