Congregants' responses to clergy pornography addiction
Joiner, LynnAnne Michelle
Pornography addiction has been identified as a form of sexual addiction and, although no solid prevalence rates exist, it is believed to be one of the most common forms of sexual addiction among clergy. Even though pornography addiction involves no direct offense against others, congregants are considered secondary victims of clergy’s sexual difficulties. This is supported by bioecological and systems theories which assume that individuals (clergy) are impacted by and have an influence on the systems and contexts in which they operate (church congregations). Despite this, no empirical investigations on congregants’ reactions to clergy pornography addiction exist. This is an exploratory study designed to gain initial information regarding congregants’ judgments and beliefs about clergy addicted to pornography. This study involved 233 surveys from undergraduate students at a private Christian university. Participants were surveyed about their perceptions of the character of clergy with no addictions, pornography addiction, and alcohol addiction. Their beliefs about how the clergy member should respond to the addiction and how the congregation should respond to the clergy member’s situation were also assessed. Results suggest that congregants give clergy with addiction lower trait ratings than those without addiction. However, they do not judge the character of clergy with pornography addiction more harshly than those with alcohol addiction. Surprisingly, participants rated married clergy more highly than single clergy on scales of character traits regardless of the presence of addiction. In addition, congregants believed clergy with both types of addiction should disclose their struggle to another person and receive professional help. They did not believe the addiction should be disclosed to the entire congregation, nor did they think the congregation’s funds should be used to help pay for professional treatment. Participants believed the cleric’s ability to do his job would be affected by his addiction, but did not think he should be removed from his position. These beliefs did not differ between types of addiction, as hypothesized. The study has several implications. Participants’ willingness to remain under the leadership of clergy with addictions may provide a sense of acceptance for clergy dealing with shame from their addiction and provide opportunities for open dialogue. This conversation, however, may be mitigated by congregants’ reluctance to have the addiction disclosed to the congregation. Thus systemically trained mental health professionals may play a vital role in facilitating healthy discussion among congregations affected by clergy pornography addiction. Further conclusions and implications of this study are given.