Stories in the media covering church-related sexual abuse cases have focused primarily on the abuses of boys by male pastors, deacons, youth leaders and priests. The reality is that females are most often (males are occasionally) victims of sexual abuse and professional exploitation by pastors, ministers and other church leaders, as well as professional caregivers, instructors and mentors (former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky is a perfect example). We must also consider step-fathers, uncles, fathers, and momma’s boyfriends who are also frequently implicated in sexual abuse of minor females and young children.
Black women are prone to protect their boyfriends, husbands and church leaders under almost any circumstances, most often quoting 1 Chronicles 16:22 “…Touch not my anointed, and do my prophets no harm.” I’m not here to have a debate about the meaning of those words, but I am confident they were not designed to provide “diplomatic immunity” to religious leaders that intentionally abuse and take advantage of innocent women and children. Minister Mika Edmondson addresses the issue of black women protecting bad pastors very well in a timely editorial piece entitled “The Guarded Wolf: Why Black Churches Follow Bad Pastors.”
Another disturbing aspect of the zeal with which black women defend sexually abusive men is the willingness to accuse women and girls sexually victimized of “wanting it” … totally shocking and very disturbing behavior. At times the black church woman’s eagerness to excuse men in power from accountability by saying they should be forgiven and not destroyed for their behavior totally overlooks the fact that these men had no problem destroying the lives of their victims, the lives of their victim’s family, and the lives of their own family. Ultimately, dozens of people will be forced to live with feelings of betrayal, confusion, hurt and shame because of one selfish man’s actions.
Why should he be forgiven when HE had a choice and the victim did not?
Words like “adultery,” “affair,” “fling,” “relationship,” etc., are polite euphemisms often used to mask the true evil nature of the egregious acts surrounding abuse of a church member. Let’s be very clear: The victim is not having an affair, a fling or a relationship with the pastor. These are improper words to describe what happened in this situation. The “relationship” between a pastor and his congregant, teacher/student or therapist/patient, no matter their age is NOT an “affair” — it is ABUSE.
How is Pastor Sexual Abuse Defined?
In Chapter 8 of The Black Church – Where Women Pray and Men Prey (Sexual Predators and Prey in Black Churches), I describe sexual abuse as the actions which take place when one who is in a position of trust or power takes advantage of the person who is entrusted to his care. Sexual abuse takes place when someone who is supposed to help another takes advantage of her to satisfy his own selfish sexual or emotional needs. Abuse of power causes tremendous harm to both parties (and their respective families, the church, etc.), but especially the one whose trust (and body) has been violated.
Due to the imbalance of power in the relationship between the pastor or deacon and the church member, there can be no mutual consent to any type of intimate behavior or sexual activity. In fact, a woman who has been victimized sexually or physically in the past (usually during her childhood) may find that she is UNABLE to WITHHOLD consent. She may feel, due to circumstances, that she is not free to refuse unwanted sexual advances. In other words, she has no voice and feels powerless… without the right to say “NO!” to her pastor. She may also be subconsciously re-enacting earlier abuse (by another individual) in the situation with the pastor, especially if the pastor is much older than she is, and if he is not someone she would ever be attracted to if it were not for his power, age/maturity and authority over her.
A quote from Sex in the Forbidden Zone by Peter Rutter, M.D. states:
“A sexually abusive pastor can easily exploit his authority by telling the woman that their “sexual relationship” is part of a divinely ordained plan.”
Pastor Sexual Abuse is Not God’s Will Nor is it the Work of the Devil
How many naive or fearful women would feel compelled to “go along with” whatever this pastor desires simply because he says it’s the Lord’s will? Other will tell their victims that God spoke to them and said they were to be his wife in the future and that sex between them was not a sin.
It’s been reported that many pastors used the “it’s God’s will!” line to coerce young boys and girls and even adults into unethical sexual activity. To make matters even worse, the victim usually feels responsible for the abuser’s career, his family, the church family, maybe even his life if he has threatened suicide if the “relationship” is broken off or authorities are called in. The black females in the church will often harangue the whistle-blower, accusing her of trying to “bring down” and “ruin” the pastor. For some reason it is very difficult for the loyal church woman to focus on the fact that her beloved pastor was doing something he had absolutely no business doing.
Pastor sexual abuse doesn’t always occur due to transference, as many church women prefer to blame a third party (usually “Satan” aka “the Devil”) for the pastor’s bad behavior.No, these things happen simply because the pastor is a sexual predator, and no one or outside force made him do anything.
Pastor sexual abuse in black churches is more than just physical and emotional abuse… when a pastor (or elder or anyone seen as a spiritual leader in the church) betrays his sacred trust to represent God to his congregation, he has committed spiritual abuse as well.
The book The Black Church – Where Women Pray and Men Prey was written from the position that most (studies show about 96%) of the victims of pastor sexual abuse are female, and most pastors and religious leaders in the black church are men.
Yes, I do recognize the fact that some women do seek to seduce their pastors and that, at times, the pastors may succumb to this temptation. This, however, in no way mitigates the pastor’s guilt or responsibility to protect the woman (even if only from herself) and to maintain proper professional boundaries.
The person with the power, whether it be the pastor, a deacon, a teacher, a physician or therapist is ALWAYS the one with the greatest responsibility and highest standard of accountability. The person with the power is ALWAYS the one held to a higher standard of behavior, and we should expect strict adherence to all moral, legal and professional codes of conduct. The individual with the power is ALWAYS the one that must bear the sole burden of blame for events which violate codes of conduct and expectations of proper behavior, without exception or excuse.
The exciting new book The Black Church – Where Women Pray and Men Prey contains dozens of real-life stories of sexual abuse by Pastors, Ministers, Bishops, and church members, along with astute observations about the games being run on women in Black churches across the nation. Based on the shocking 2010 blog post The Black Church: How Black Churches Keep African American Women Single and Lonely! author Deborrah Cooper continues an uncomfortable examination of Christian religion in the black community, non-biblical tenets of the prosperity gospel, and the games played by unscrupulous black preachers. For those men and women willing to take a look at what is going on at their churches, and strong enough to demand protection from predatory men for women and children within the walls of the House of God, this book is right on time.