Since the dawn of the Sexual Revolution, cultural sexual attitudes in America have dramatically shifted. Casting off old moral restraints, several generations now have experienced a society that promises sexual freedom, but leaves untold millions of women, men, and children suffering from sexual brokenness of all kinds. Further, sexual abuse, pornography addiction, gender identity confusion, and other sexual struggles are among the most difficult life challenges to address because they are so deeply personal. Shame and fear often prevent people from sharing their struggles with others. As the silence and isolation grows, it becomes increasingly difficult for many people to find the support and healing they need.
The question for many of these people is, “Will I find support from my church?”
There is no single answer—and certainly no easy answers—to such a question. Our research reveals that many pastors are not engaged on these issues and most are not well-equipped to handle them. The first in a series of reports, Sexuality & the Church in America I explores how Protestant senior pastors are addressing sexual challenges within the church.
- There is much sexual brokenness in churches today. Four in five pastors (80%) were approached in the past year by a church member or staff dealing with infidelity and three in four (73%) have handled pornography-related questions. On average, pastors were approached by members or staff about nine of eighteen listed issues over the past year.
- Seven in ten pastors (70%) are approached several times per year or more with concerns about sexual brokenness, including 22% who are approached once per month or more.
- Fewer than one in four pastors involves the larger church community in the healing process through DVD or Bible studies on sexual topics (23%), training lay leaders to assist with sexual concerns (19%), or hosting related support groups (16%). Most pastors offer pastoral counseling (86%) or refer to a professional counselor (76%) when approached by someone with a sexual concern.
- Two-thirds of all pastors (68%) “agree strongly” that the Christian Church should help people deal with personal sexual challenges. Another one-quarter (27%) “agree somewhat.”
- Yet, on 15 of the 18 sexual issues listed in our survey, fewer than one-third of the pastors feel “very qualified” to address them. Just one-third of pastors (35%) indicate that they feel “very qualified” to address the most common concern brought to them (marital infidelity) even though 80% of them encountered the issue in the past year. Only seven issues were ranked by at least one-quarter of pastors as being among those they feel “very qualified” to address.
- Church affiliation matters a great deal. *Non-mainline pastors are significantly more likely than mainline pastors to strongly agree that the church should address sexual brokenness (77% vs. 56%); three times more likely to be approached on a monthly basis with sexual concerns (29% vs. 9%); and are far more likely to encounter a wider variety of issues. Non-mainline pastors are slightly more likely than their mainline counterparts to feel “very qualified” to address certain sexual issues, but are far more likely to offer greater support options to those who come to them for care. (* See full report for definitions.)
- Cultural concern drives pastoral engagement. Pastors who are concerned about the negative impact of a sexualized culture are far more likely than neutral pastors to strongly agree that the church should be involved with sexual issues (81% vs. 44%) and seem to place a greater emphasis on addressing the sexual brokenness they encounter.
- Optimistic pastors provide greater support for sexual concerns than pessimistic or neutral pastors. Pastors who feel optimistic about their ability to minister, teach, and preach on sexual issues connect with struggling people more often and provide greater support than other pastors.
- Church capacity is significantly connected to engagement on sexual issues. Pastors in smaller churches (<100 people) with smaller budgets (<$150K) encounter fewer sexual concerns, are approached less frequently by members, are less likely to think the church is responsible to address these concerns, and offer fewer supports than pastors in larger churches (250+ people).
- When pastors aren’t regularly approached for help, many act as if sexual problems aren’t a concern. There is a strong correlation between pastoral inaction and church member silence. When pastors do not regularly and intentionally preach and teach on sexual issues, it becomes much more difficult to create the safety and trust that many people need to talk about difficult sexual issues.
All information in the Sexuality & the Church in America series is copyrighted © 2018 The Brushfires Foundation and TrueNorth Freedom Project. All rights reserved. Use of statements, findings, statistics, or information contained in the survey for commercial purposes is prohibited without express written consent and acknowledgment of authorship. Media and non-commercial entities may use statements, findings, statistics or information from this survey by including the following citation: Sexuality and the Church in America I © 2018 The Brushfires Foundation and TrueNorth Freedom Project, brushfiresfoundation.org/integrity/