Clergy Sexual Abuse as Abuse of Power

Clergy Sexual Abuse as Abuse of Power

James Newton Poling1

UMC Conference, Nashville, TN 2007


Everyone agrees that Clergy Sexual Abuse is a bad thing, yet clergy are still abusing.

We have trained thousands of congregational leaders on clergy sexual abuse, yet many churches continue to deny and minimize when a beloved leader betrays their trust.

What is going on here? Why is this problem so stubborn?

Some people say it is just human sin. Individuals enjoy abusing their power to manipulate and control others.

Some say it is because of our confused ideas about sexuality. We can’t talk about sex in church without creating a mess.

Some say it is theology. As long as we promote ideas like sacrifice, servanthood, obedience, and forgiveness, we create clergy who put themselves in the place of God and expect others to serve their needs.

I say that it is all of the above, and the thing that links them together is abuse of power. The problem the church doesn’t talk about is power and how God wants us to use power.2

Human sin can be understood as the abuse of power. In our failure to find the nurturing relationships and prosperity we want, humans engage in manipulation and power plays to get what we think we need.3 In this sense, clergy sexual abuse is just one among many forms of abuse of power in the church, one of “the many temptations that inevitably accompanies power.”4

Sexuality can be understood in relation to power. Sexuality is a human drive that permeates all our relationships. Sexuality as a commodity drives advertising and U.S. values. Because we don’t talk about sex in a sensible way, we push sexuality into the unconscious world where its power multiplies. The structure that creates this mess is male dominance or patriarchy.

Theological doctrines are forms of power. All the terms above – sacrifice, obedience, and forgiveness – depend on power – who is sacrificing for who; who is obedient to who; and who is asked to forgive who. Who decides these questions is a matter of power.

So what do we mean by power and the abuse of power? What is power for, and how can we recognize the abuse of power? These questions are important because at this conference we are talking about how to use power to prevent clergy abuse of power. Through our public debates, our policies on sexual misconduct, our training programs, and our response teams, we are challenging the usual power arrangements to provide healing for the victims of clergy sexual abuse and accountability for everyone.

Every reform movement is a claim on power, and the movement to prevent clergy sexual abuse is no exception. We are here because we don’t like the way things have been for many generations. We want to change things – where male and female leaders are excused for abusing power even before they repent and change their ways. We want to change the way the church mistreats victims – by silence, by shunning, and sometimes by forcing them to leave the church. We want to change the ethics of church leadership so that vulnerable people will no longer become victims of sexual exploitation in the church family. We want true repentance and rehabilitation for offenders as they are restored to membership in the community. We want to restore the faith and trust of the congregation so it is empowered to fulfill God’s mission of love in the community.

We are here because we believe that we have power to change all of these things “through Christ who strengthens us.” (Phil 4:13) If we want power, we need to understand what it is, and what God intended when God gave human beings power.

I believe that all power is from God. Abuse of power is the abuse of a gift that God gives to us. God created us; God put us in this garden, the earth, on which we depend for food, warmth, shelter; God gave us loving communities of support and challenge and called us to be witnesses in the world. In Jesus Christ, we have been redeemed from our sinful ways and shown the way of loving power. In John 13, Jesus called us to be servants by kneeling and washing one another’s feet, thus showing us one way of empowering others; in John 15, Jesus called us to stand up and become friends, no longer servants, thus inviting us to claim the power of leadership in the name of Jesus. Whether we are kneeling down as servants or standing up as peers, we are exercising the power God gives us. In Acts 2, God sent power in the form of the Holy Spirit so that we no longer fear the violence of evil forces and the threat of death. We can look even at the horrible event of the crucifixion of Jesus and know that God is with us through whatever happens. We live in the power of the Holy Spirit that has called us into this conference and calls us every day to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. (Micah 6:8) We have received power from God to live fully in the excitement and challenge of this world until God’s kin-dom comes.

Five Principles of Justice-Love

Several pioneers of our movement have spelled out the details of “justice-love,” that is, the Christian combination of love and power, or loving power. One of these teachers is Marie Fortune who clearly defined justice-love in her book on sexual ethics, Do No Harm.5 Fortune says that there are five necessary conditions for a sexual relationship based in justice-love: a) peer relationships; b) authentic consent; c) stewardship of sexuality; d) sharing of pleasure; e) faithfulness. I believe these five principles of justice-love are expression of the more general principles of Christian life. I will also draw on another of my teachers – Daniel Day Williams, a process theologian who wrote an important book – The Spirit and Forms of Love in 1968.6

Power in Relationships:

Fortune says that we should limit sexual intimacy to peers with whom we share relatively equal power. The more general principle is that we must be aware that every human relationship is a relationship of power, and inequality is a characteristic of most relationships that we have. Except for lovers and certain close friends, we relate constantly to people within unequal relationships – parents and children, teachers and students, supervisors and employees, etc. John Swinton, a Scottish pastoral theologian, suggests that the term friendship can be applied to unequal relationships.7 He has a special interest in ministry with persons who have mental disabilities. He believes that these relationships, when understood in the light of Christ, can be mutually transforming and beneficial, even though they are not peer relationships. When we become aware of power in relationships, we are faced with moral choices – what is my responsibility in this particular relationship? How can I help the other person be a more whole person? What are the appropriate ways of getting my needs met? How can I resist attempts at domination that come from those who have more power? When these power dynamics are taken into account in relationship to love, then Swinton is correct – unequal relationships can be friendships. Daniel Day Williams calls this principle “individuality and taking account of the other,” by which he means that love requires a basic respect for the uniqueness of other persons, taking them seriously without reducing them to a projection of my own needs or a stereotype. Love of the other must “be a concern for the other which does not negate the selfhood of the lover or destroy the uniqueness of the one who is loved.”8 God’s love for us is an example of loving power in an unequal relationship. We believe God loves each of us in a personal way. Loving power in an unequal relationship means that the power of all persons is respected and taken seriously as a contribution to the beauty of the world.


Fortune says that authentic consent in a sexual relationship requires “information, awareness . . . and the option to say ‘no’ without being punished, as well as the option to say ‘yes.’”9 Authentic consent is rooted in God’s gift of freedom. God gave free will to the creatures, and God respects human freedom in spite of human sin. One of the mysteries of Christian faith is why God tolerates freedom in the light of human sin and evil? One answer is that God respects human freedom in spite of the evil that results because freedom has intrinsic value. In freedom, we can love one another; in freedom we can choose our most intimate relationships; in freedom we can resist evil. Justice-love in human relationship means that we must respect the freedom of others the way God does. Any loving relationship should increase the freedom of both persons. Parents hope to raise children who have mature freedom and can make their maximum contribution to the world. Thus, it is important that parents not squelch the freedom of their children. In the same way, we are called to increase freedom within the relationships we have. For Daniel Day Williams one of the basic categories of “love is to affirm and accept the freedom of the other . . . [to support the other’s] growth in freedom, [and] to keep the integrity of the self within the realities” of covenant.10

There is a tension in the Bible between human freedom and human obedience and submission. On the one hand we are called to express our creative freedom as one made in the image of God; on the other hand, we are called to respect (obey and submit to) the ethical guidelines that make human community possible – to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves. Valerie Saiving introduced us to the tension between pride and sloth.11 When we are proud, we need a good dose of obedience and submission to return us to love of God and neighbor and remind us of the requirements of love for healthy community. When we are slothful or lazy, we need a good dose of creative freedom that gives us new energy and challenges us to use our power for the glory of God and our neighbor’s good. In either case, the freedom to choose is central to what it means to be human in the world God created. God encourages us as human beings to be daring in our faithful action, refusing to be intimidated by the principalities and powers that would subdue us. Human freedom can be seen as a form of resistance to evil, refusing to submit to illicit authority. Human freedom is also our way out of our own sin and back into love of God and neighbor. Jesus Christ is our example of freedom because he did not shrink back from telling the truth even when the powers threatened his life. God empowers us with the same kind of courageous freedom, and we should empower one another so that our mutual freedom is increased. Loving power means that we respect our own freedom and that we respect the freedom of the person with whom we have a loving relationship.

Do No Harm:

The third category of Fortune’s justice-love is “stewardship of my sexuality” which means to protect our partner from harm such as sexually transmitted disease, unwanted pregnancy, or other negative consequences. The more general principle is the title of her book and our conference, “Do No Harm,” from the Hippocratic Oath taken by medical doctors. While doctors hope to enhance healing, above all, they should do no harm. When doctors are giving potent chemicals to attack dangerous diseases, they often agonize about the harm that might come, what we call “side effects”; such risks have to be carefully evaluated. Do no harm is an important principle of justice-love because human relationships involve powerful influences that have to be monitored closely. While it is not possible to always do no harm, we are called to do the least harm to other human beings. In justice-love, we are responsible for any injuries we cause to other people. And if injury occurs, then we are called to cease and desist and provide resources for healing. Daniel Day Williams suggests that love must be expressed with full knowledge of our effects on one another, what he calls “causality” – actions have real effects on both self and other.12 Whenever we engage in loving relationships, we must accept responsibility for the effects of our behaviors on the other as well as on ourselves. In fact, within loving relationships of trust, the possibility of harming others increases greatly. When we trust someone, we are much more vulnerable to the harm that they can cause by being insensitive or deliberately hurtful. Jesus taught the principle of nonviolence to remind us of the potential harm we can do to one another within families, local communities, and nations. “Unless you change and become like children, you cannot enter the Kin-dom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3 And again, whoever harms one of these children will be punished. Matthew 18:6.

Do good:

Another Christian ethical principle of justice-love is the principle of beneficence. After do no harm, we should do some good, another part of our conference theme. In a sexual relationship, Fortune calls this “the sharing of pleasure.” The more general principle is that a loving relationship should be pleasurable and beneficial for both persons. The goal in any true human relationship is to do good for self and other, to be helpful to the other person and to ourselves. In all aspects of relationship, there must be cooperation, collaboration, mutuality. Daniel Day Williams says that every relationship involves “action and suffering.” My actions affect the other person, and their actions affect me. Love means having a loving effect on the other as well as receiving and accepting the effect that the other has on me. In this way, justice-love requires the commitment to do good for the other as well as suffer with one another through the ups and downs of life. Justice-love must be empowering for both self and other. Paul said that one of the central marks of Christian community is our ability to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” 1 Cor. 7:30.

Covenantal Faithfulness:

Fortune says that justice-love in sexual relationships requires “honesty and the keeping of promises,”13 which easily becomes a more general principle for all loving relationships. In short-term relationships, honesty and keeping promises means making realistic commitments and fulfilling them. In long-term relationships, this means respecting the covenant that we have developed, renegotiating it when necessary, and using one’s rational faculties to be realistic about what is possible for self and other. Daniel Day Williams calls this love as “impartial judgment in loving concern for the other.”14 That is, we are called to pay attention to the actual situation of the other person and whether our relationship has a positive effect on their lives. This kind of justice-love requires accurate perception of the other and careful thought about the whole context in which he or she lives. Even though love cannot be reduced to simple cognitive rationality, our ability to think contextually about the other’s life is necessary for love.

In summary, these five principles – power, freedom, do no harm, do good, and faithfulness – depend on God as a covenant-maker. We are heirs of the promises made to Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, and we are recipients of the promises made on behalf of God in Jesus Christ. “Lo, I am with you to the end of the age.”

The Faith Trust Training program defines clergy sexual abuse this way:

It is clergy misconduct when any person in a ministerial role of leadership or pastoral counseling (clergy, religious or lay) engages in sexual contact or sexualized behavior with a congregant, client, employee, student, staff member, etc. (adult, teenager, or child) in a professional, ministerial relationship.15 (Faith Trust Institute)

Clergy sexual abuse is an abuse of power because a clergyperson has crossed a boundary of ethical and professional behavior and engages in sexual contact or sexualized behavior with a person within a ministerial relationship.

The Problem Clergymen Don’t Talk About

Until this point in the lecture, I have referred to all humans and their potential for abuse of power. We know that both men and women clergy are sexually abusive; both heterosexual and homosexual clergy; clergy from every race, class, and culture. We know that clergy have abused children, adults, persons with disabilities, and that clergy abuse across lines of race, class, and culture. All of these contexts for abuse of power are complex and require clear ethical thinking. Wherever there are structures of power, there is the potential for sinful abuse. In this next section I will focus specifically on male clergy and the problem of abuse of female adult parishioners. This is a common form of abuse because we live in a patriarchal culture where gender is constructed around images of abuse. I will limit my discussion to the abusive relationship between a clergyman and a female parishioner; I will not do justice to the consequences of abuse of power for the congregation, the judicatory, and the integrity of ministry itself.

There is a little-known book on clergy sexual abuse written in 1976, more than a decade before Marie Fortune’s book, Is Nothing Sacred? in 1989,16 and before the church had discovered the epidemic of clergy sexual abuse, Charles Rassieur wrote his book based on his interviews as a graduate student at Claremont School of Theology, The Problem Clergymen Don’t talk About.17 This book is limited in its usefulness today because it was written without a feminist consciousness, without the input of a critical women’s community, and therefore appears naïve about many of the things we have learned from 30 years of critical thinking about gender, power, and theology. Even though the book appears dated, Charles Rassieur had the courage to try to address the problem of clergy sexual abuse when it was “the problem with no name.”18

Rassieur interviewed Protestant male pastors to ask them about their sexual attraction to women in pastoral care and counseling. He wanted to discover the dynamics of such attraction, what problems it created, and he wanted to protect the integrity of pastoral care and counseling in the church. Even though Rassieur believed that acting on such sexual fantasies was wrong, the book does not deal with the consequences of clergy abuse for women who are victims and does not develop an adequate ethical framework for preventing such abuse. The reason I want to examine Rassieur’s work is because the men who were interviewed are unusually candid and unguarded in describing what we now call clergy sexual abuse, even though they did not say all that needs to be said.

Rassieur describes four factors at work when a clergyman abuses a woman in a pastoral relationship. 1) Personal Preference: 2) Sexual Subject Matter;19 3) Satisfying Important Needs;20 4) Sexual Availability.21 I will reframe these four factors as general principles to help us understand the dynamics of abuse of power in certain circumstances.

Avoiding Personal Responsibility

Every person in ministry, whether male or female, has weaknesses that can become occasions for sin. Taking personal responsibility for our weaknesses is crucial. Sexual temptations are powerful and unconscious, especially if the clergyperson has never examined his or her history and desires. Clergymen seldom discuss the effects of society on their sexual fantasies. Rassieur cites several clergy who blamed women for their fantasies and excuse themselves by saying – “that’s just the way I am.” If a women who comes for help fits the clergyman’s stereotype of attractive, then he tends to excuse himself for thinking about sex.

Whenever clergymen reduce women parishioners to sexual stereotypes, we abuse our power and become sinful. The first rule of Christian ethics is “do no harm.” As clergy, we are responsible for our own desires and temptations, and when we lack understanding of ourselves as sexual beings, we are responsible to engage in therapy and supervision to unmask any secret desires that might be occasions for clergy sexual abuse.22

Encouraging Sexual Subject Matter:

Rassieur says that many clergymen obsess about their own sexual fantasies if the woman discusses any sexual issues. U.S. society is confused about sexuality in a way that endangers persons who are vulnerable. On the one hand, we have powerful restrictions about sexuality, especially in church – fidelity in marriage; chastity in singleness; don’t ask, don’t tell; silence on masturbation; and we live in a society with effective political movements to remove sex education, condoms and other birth control methods from the public domain. On the other hand, we observe orgies of sex constantly available in TV, movies, and music videos. Internet pornography has become a multi-billion dollar industry. I think we must assume that half of the men in every congregation, including clergymen, have regular contact with pornography. Pornography is constructing the male imaginations of millions of men around the world including Christian men. Yet the church is stuck debating ordination for homosexuals, abortion, and the marriage amendment to the constitution. In this crazy world, sexuality has become increasingly privatized. I agree with Freud when he said that if awareness of sexuality is repressed, its power to influence human fantasies and behaviors actually increases. But he did not live to see the hyper-sexualized society in which we are forbidden as Christians to talk about sexuality while encouraged to fantasize about it. In the midst of this confusion comes the occasion for sin.

Nurturing sexual fantasies so that they affect the quality of one’s ministry is abuse of power and human sin. One guideline from Fortune is respecting the individuality and integrity of the other person in a relationship. Sexual stereotypes reduce people to objects that can be abused for our own pleasure. In pastoral relationships, a clergyman who cannot see the individuality and integrity of a female counselee because of his sexual fantasies has already become abusive. Jesus’ teaching on lust in Matthew 5:28 indicates that we are responsible for our sexual fantasies and desires and must deepen our self-awareness of how sexuality influences our everyday behaviors.

Abusing Vulnerability in Gender Relationships:

Rassieur says that clergymen nurture sexual fantasies in the presence of vulnerable women. This observation corresponds to the feminist analysis of gender relationships in the U.S. According to Catherine MacKinnon, women are made vulnerable by three factors – the fear of violence; economic inequality, and sexualization.23 We have seen the nurturing of abusive sexual fantasies in the previous discussion – men fantasize about sex if a woman talks about her sexual experiences or for no other reason than she is a woman. We need to talk more about the reality of violence against women in the U.S., and the economic inequality that characterizes most women’s lives. We know that one-third of women have had a sexually abusive experience before age 18, and that one-half of women experience violence in an intimate relationship within a lifetime. We also know that almost all women work, even mothers with pre-school children, and women earn, on average, 76 cents for every dollar that men earn.24 In modern society most women are employed in horizontally stratified jobs at the bottom of the economic pyramid, ‘as secretaries, domestics, nurses, typists, telephone operators, child-care workers, [and] waitresses.’25 The denial of equal employment and educational opportunities for women means that most women are stuck with the jobs they have and cannot afford to challenge sexual harassment. Women are often forced into marriage in order to have adequate support for themselves and their children, and for protection against the threat of rape, even though the family is the most violent place for women. In fact, most women in U.S. society are vulnerable because of the dangers of male dominance, and women who seek pastoral care most often come to a clergyman they trust to respect their vulnerability.

But if clergymen are sexually aroused by women’s vulnerability, then pastoral counseling is a particularly dangerous place for women to seek help; it is an abuse of power and human sin. Another general principle from Fortune is “to do good,” or in William’s terms, to act for the mutual benefit of the person within the integrity of the self. Persons come to clergy for personal and spiritual counsel because of trust. They open their lives in hopes that God’s grace and mercy will come into their lives in a new way. They hope for some benefit to their lives. The church promises benefit to persons who are vulnerable – healing, increased creativity, salvation. Clergy sexual abuse is the denial of good to persons who believe the promises of God and seek salvation in the church.

Pursuing Sexual Availability:

Rassieur says that clergymen are sexually aroused if they think that a female parishioner might be sexually available. One reason why pornography is so popular among the male population is the male stereotype that all women are sexually available. Pornography helps to create lies about women – that all women are assertive about wanting sex, compliant to whatever the man wants, and insatiable in their sexual appetites. Thus the image is created that all women are sexual animals waiting for the right man who can satisfy them. John Updike’s novel, A Month of Sundays, is the story of a clergyman in a residential treatment center whose diaries show how, over time, he abused the women in his congregation. Even when he was offering communion, he fantasized that their mouths taking communion were also organs for oral sex.26

Whenever clergymen fantasize that women who are parishioners are sexually available, they have abused their power and sinned. Another of Fortune’s guidelines is the importance of authentic consent or freedom. We know from our training that the clergy-parishioner relationship is affected by many factors – the pastor’s education, skills, ordination, and social role and status. All of these factors are sources of authority and power that the pastor can use for good or evil. In addition to her personal vulnerability, the parishioner or counselee is vulnerable because of the unequal power in the relationship. Therefore, consent is no defense.


In spite of its limitations, Rassieur’s book can help us identify how and why clergy sexual abuse is an abuse of power. Everything he has mentioned – personal temptation, sexualized conversation, vulnerability, and perception of sexual availability are clearly the opposite of what we have discussed as the ethical use of power as a gift from God. Many of the clergymen he described were not aware of the role of power in their relationships with women parishioners, and they did not take responsibility for the power they exercised. Indeed, they often felt like it was the woman who had the power because of her sexual attractiveness. The clergyman was not concerned about enhancing the freedom of the person. In fact, his sexual fantasies prevented him from engaging in an authentic conversation with a real person. The clergyman was not following the principle of do no harm. Rather, this sexual fantasies and behaviors turned the woman into an object for his gratification. A pastoral relationship that should have been healing and empowering instead became abusive. The clergyman was not doing the woman any good, and he was certainly not fulfilling the promise he made to engage in an ethical relationship for the sake of spiritual growth.

As Christians we believe that God gave us power as human beings in order to be effective witnesses to the loving power revealed in Jesus Christ. We believe that human sin is an offence to God and must be confronted and transformed. We believe that faith in Jesus Christ provides a way out of our sin and gives us a path into righteousness.

The final question for today is this – how does Jesus Christ transform clergymen and clergywomen from abusers to advocates of justice-love in pastoral relationships? How does Jesus Christ transform the church from passive toleration of clergy abusers into active advocates for love and justice for all people? Briefly, there are two answers. First, Jesus Christ has given us ethical guidelines that make clear the limits and possibilities of clergy power. We have discussed these guidelines in this lecture. Second, Jesus Christ gives us the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our personal and corporate lives so that justice-love becomes available to all people. I believe our work as the movement to educate the church about clergy sexual abuse and offer a model of ethical and loving power is the work of the Holy Spirit. Even though our efforts so far have not been sufficient to prevent clergy sexual abuse, and even though many congregations remain confused and resistant to the deep changes necessary, we should pray that we will not lack courage in our movement. We need to keep talking about justice-love and loving power as images that can reveal the will of God for the church. Our mission is much bigger than changing the behavior of a few errant clergy. Our mission is a new vision of what God is calling the church to be. May it be so.


1 Professor of Pastoral Theology, Care, and Counseling, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Evanston, IL. Send comments or questions to

2 Special thanks to my accountability group for this lecture: Sarah Rieth, Linda Crockett, and Kathryn Jones.

3 See Daniel Day Williams, The Spirit and Forms of Love. NY: Harper and Row, 1968, 153.

4 “The corruption that still crops up in the country is the result of . . . the proverbial human propensity to succumb to the many temptations that inevitably accompanies power.” International Cooperation Political Information Unit of Finland’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, “Finland’s Successful Experience in the Fight Against Corruption,” Envio 25:297 April, 2006, 55),

5 Marie Fortune, Do No Harm: Sexual Ethics for the Rest of Us. (NY: Continuum, 1995). Another teacher is Marvin Ellison, Erotic Justice: A Liberating Ethic of Sexuality. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.

6 Daniel Day Williams, The Spirit and the Forms of Love. NY: Harper and Row, 1968. The material for this lecture is taken from chapter 6, “Love and Being,” 111-129.

7 John Swinton, Resurrecting the Person: Friendship and the Care of People with Mental Health Problems. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000, 141.

8 Williams, 115.

9 Fortune, 85.

10 Williams, 116.

11 Valerie Saiving, “The Human Situation: A Feminine View,” in Womanspirit Rising, edited by Carol Christ and Judith Plaskow, San Francisco: Harper Row, 1979, 25-42, originally published in 1960.

12 Williams, 119.

13 Fortune, 128.

14 Williams, 120-1

15 Faith Trust Institute, “Clergy Misconduct: Sexual Abuse in the Ministerial Relationship,” Seattle: Faith Trust Institute, 1992, 25.

16 Marie Fortune, Is Nothing Sacred? Cleveland: United Church Press, 1989.

17 Charles Rassieur, The Problem Clergymen Don’t talk About. Westminster John Knox Press, 1976.

18 Idea first coined by Betty Friedan, The Feminist Mystique.

19 Rassieur, 23.

20 Rassieur, 23-4.

21 Rassieur, 24-5.

22 See the material on self-care in Faith Trust Institute, Clergy Misconduct: Sexual Abuse in the Ministerial Relationship, 85-97.

23 Catherine MacKinnon, Sexual Harassment of Working Women (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979), p. 149, quoted in ‘Compulsory Heterosexuality’.Adrienne Rich, ‘Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence’, in Elizabeth and Emily Abel (eds.), The Sign Reader: Women, Gender and Scholarship (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,1983), 149.

24 accessed June 27, 2006. Depending on the occupation, womens’ income ranges from 54% to 90%.

25 Adrienne Rich, 149.

26 See Carrie Doehring, Taking Care: Monitoring Power Dynamics and Relational Boundaries in Pastoral Care and Counseling. Nashville: Abingdon, 1995, Chapter 1, 23-46, for commentary on this novel and its implications for clergy sexual abuse.

References cited

Doehring, Carrie, Taking Care: Monitoring Power Dynamics and Relational Boundaries in Pastoral Care and Counseling. Nashville: Abingdon, 1995

Ellison, Marvin, Erotic Justice: A Liberating Ethic of Sexuality. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.

Faith Trust Institute, Clergy Misconduct: Sexual Abuse in the Ministerial Relationship, Seattle: Faith Trust Institute, 1992

Fortune, Marie, Do No Harm: Sexual Ethics for the Rest of Us. (NY: Continuum, 1995).

Fortune, Marie, Is Nothing Sacred? Cleveland: United Church Press, 1989.

Friedan, Betty, and Anna Quindlen, The Feminist Mystique. NY: WW Norton and Co, 1963

International Cooperation Political Information Unit of Finland’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, “Finland’s Successful Experience in the Fight Against Corruption,” Envio 25:297 April, 2006, 55),

MacKinnon, Catherine, Sexual Harassment of Working Women (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979)

Poling, James Newton, The Abuse of Power: A Theological Problem. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991.

Rassieur, Charles, The Problem Clergymen Don’t talk About. Westminster John Knox Press, 1976.

Adrienne Rich, ‘Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence’, in Elizabeth and Emily Abel (eds.), The Sign Reader: Women, Gender and Scholarship (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,1983).

Saiving, Valerie, “The Human Situation: A Feminine View,” in Womanspirit Rising, edited by Carol Christ and Judith Plaskow, San Francisco: Harper Row, 1979, 25-42, originally published in 1960.

Swinton, John, Resurrecting the Person: Friendship and the Care of People with Mental Health Problems. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2000, 141.

US Census,, accessed on June 27, 2006.

Williams, Daniel Day, The Spirit and Forms of Love. NY: Harper and Row, 1968, 153.

2 thoughts on “Clergy Sexual Abuse as Abuse of Power

  1. Dear Reverend Newton Poling,
    I came across your article just now on Clergy Sexual Abuse as Abuse of Power and enjoyed reading it. It seems to me, however, that the themes you discuss in relation to clergy power are just part of the general picture in society. I gained an MA in Theology at Manchester University, UK, and I’ve always been interested and involved in Justice and Peace issues and Pastoral issues.
    Most recently I’ve visited Palestine to participate in Peace projects. A puzzling feature of human abuse of power, including military power, is the way it is frequently expressed in sexual terms. So, for instance, Israeli soldiers have been known to prevent women in labour from going through checkpoints to get to maternity hospitals and forced them to give birth in public view of the soldiers. Research on Palestinian children and men in Israeli prisons show that they are subjected to sexually abusive threats, behaviour, and language from Israeli soldiers and Prison personnel. The sexual degradation of Iraqi prisoners by American soldiers is another example of male-on-male sexual abuse. A very different area of non-clergy abuse and one rarely acknowledged, is the sexual abuse of women by their partners/husbands.
    So it seems to me that there is some deep psychic wound in the male consciousness which sees sexuality “as dirty and degrading.” If men were to perceive their own sexuality and that of all others as something dignified, fulfilling, etc. maybe they would be unable to see it any longer in terms of degradation, abuse? Just a few thoughts.
    Thankyou for your beautifully written and thoughtful article.
    Blessings to you and your family,
    Anne Candlin, UK

  2. Anne Candlin. thanks for your post. I too wish to thank Rev’d Newton Polings for this post. That being said, I wish to pick up on the theme of the “psychic wound.” I think it is profound and needs exploration. Thanks.
    Vonnie James, Grenada

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