Press-Republican

On Religion

June 27, 2014

Clergy, temptation, minors and the law

Surely one of our world's most endangered species -- up there with the mountain gorilla or the Sumatran tiger -- is the church "ministerius youthii."

That was the conviction of the late Louis McBurney, a Mayo Clinic-trained psychiatrist who spent decades at his Colorado retreat center helping ministers crushed by the demands and temptations of their jobs. Youth ministers, for example, face stunning parental expectations, low pay, the loss of privacy and a nagging sense of powerlessness.

Plus, it's hard to work with adolescents in a sex-soaked culture. Many older teens think they are more mature than they really are, noted McBurney in his 1986 volume, "Counseling Christian Workers." Consider the case of "Joe," a newly married seminary graduate who was energetic, talented and driven. Then, there was this one girl.

"She was a beautiful 17-year-old who was more mature than her peers," wrote the psychiatrist. "They began to play tennis together, and she was frequently the last to leave group activities. Joe couldn't remember who made the first move to sexual intimacy, but once that happened, it snowballed."

Many were hurt in the train wreck that followed -- an all-too-common scenario that, in the past, often played out behind closed doors with parents and church leaders hiding the damage. Times have changed, to some degree, after years of public debate about the sexual abuse of minors by clergy, teachers, coaches and other trusted adults.

The respected evangelical publication Leadership Journal recently unleashed a firestorm of criticism by publishing an anonymous piece -- since taken offline -- entitled "My Easy Trip from Youth Minister to Felon." One passage was particularly galling to Twitter critics who used #TakeDownThatPost and #HowOldWereYou as hashtags.

"A few years into my marriage and ministry I began to believe a lie," wrote the author. "The realities of parenthood and marriage were sinking in, and I felt unappreciated at home. From my perspective, I was excelling at work and at home -- and this perceived lack of appreciation led me to believe I deserved more.

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