According to a new Lifeway Research survey, most Protestant pastors believe that any pastor who sexually abuses or assaults another person, be it a child or an adult, should permanently withdraw from public ministry.
When asked how long a pastor should withdraw from public ministry if they are found to have sexually abused a child, 83 percent of Protestant pastors said the pastor should withdraw permanently.
Lifeway Research Executive Director Scott McConnell notes, however, that this does not mean that pastors do not believe the actions of abusers are beyond God's forgiveness. According to Lifeway Research, McConnell said, “Most current pastors believe the office of pastor is incompatible with having sexually abused or assaulted another. This does not convey that they believe these behaviors are beyond God’s forgiveness, but a large majority believe sexual abuse is a permanent disqualification from ministry leadership.”
Others noted that the pastor should withdraw at least 10 years (2 percent), at least five years (3 percent), at least two years (3 percent) and at least one year (1 percent). In the categories of at least six and at least three months, less than one percent said the abusive pastor should withdraw for either of these time frames. Seven percent of pastors also responded that they were unsure of how long the pastor should withdraw from ministry.
“The five years or less time frame, that 7 percent of pastors suggest is appropriate, does not even cover the length of the typical prison sentence for offenders convicted of sexual abuse,” McConnell said of the survey results. “In contrast, more than 10 times that number of pastors do not hesitate to say the disqualification from ministry should be permanent for a pastor who commits child sexual abuse,” he added.
When asked how long a pastor should withdraw from public ministry if they are found to have sexually abused or assaulted an adult, the number of pastors believing the abusive pastor should permanently withdraw dipped to 74 percent. The numbers were, however, slightly higher among those who believed that the pastor should withdraw for 10 (5 percent), five (5 percent) or two years (5 percent). Two percent of respondents also said the pastor should withdraw for at least a year and one percent said they should withdraw for at least 6 months. Less than 1 percent of pastors said the abusive pastor should withdraw for at least 3 months or does not need to withdraw at all. Nine percent of pastors answered that they were unsure of how long a pastor should withdraw.
“When someone sexually assaults an adult, it is both a violent sin and a crime. It is the opposite of the love, care and respect toward another the Bible teaches,” McConnell asserted. “The role of pastor has incredibly high standards in the Bible, including that the overseer of those in the church be above reproach or beyond criticism. Seventeen percent of pastors think someone could move beyond reproach in this matter given enough time.”
In recent years, the topic of pastoral or clergy sexual abuse has dominated the church. In the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting last week, following numerous accusations of sexual abuse allegations being mishandled, the denomination decided to launch several major investigations into the allegations of sexual abuse and possible coverups.
The survey of 1,007 Protestant pastors was conducted between September 2, 2020, and October 1, 2020, using phone and online interviews.
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Kayla Koslosky has been the Editor of ChristianHeadlines.com since 2018. She has B.A. degrees in English and History and previously wrote for and was the managing editor of the Yellow Jacket newspaper. She has also contributed to IBelieve.com and Crosswalk.com.