Thursday, June 29, 2006

Does Ministry Fuel Addictive Behavior?

Interesting, it's not just pastors that can suffer this fate. Anyone who is struggling can fall into an addictive behavior, be aware, and be accountable.

by Sally Morgenthaler

Most church leaders know me as the woman who writes and speaks about worship. What only a few know is that I have spent the last decade experiencing the effects of my spouse's sexual addiction, an addiction that began in late childhood and was never treated.

As untreated addictions go, my husband's escalated. In the 1990s, his secret life overtook his life as pastor and resulted in a felony sex offense: molestation of a child by a person in a position of trust. The girl was my daughter's best friend who lived next door; a special needs teen who was eight years older than my daughter, but her exact mental age: eight.

What an unspeakable tragedy. This young woman is still living with her parents, afraid of men, incapable of living a normal life. And the damage didn't stop there. My daughter's childhood was shattered. She entered her teens without a father, the memory of what father she'd had tarnished beyond recognition. At thirteen, my son assigned himself the role of man-of-the-family, and has carried way too many burdens into his adult life.

Image-driven pastors learn how to edit their real lives for public consumption. In the heat of stress or in the wear and tear of the mundane, the veneer will wear through to what is really there.

I never imagined such a nightmare.

Since the offense had actually been a series of about fifty molestations over a two-year period, and since the victim was an underage, special needs child, my spouse's bail topped that set for some murder suspects. He was convicted, incarcerated, and subsequently sentenced to eight years in a halfway house for sex offenders. To date, he has served five of those years.

I became a separated (and subsequently divorced) parent; a single woman with baggage the size of a small continent, and sole provider for my children. What had looked to outsiders like television's 7th Heaven somehow morphed into film noir: American Beauty.

Addiction of any kind leaves its marks. Yet the mark we carry that is more embossed than any other is that of God's faithfulness.

Over the past eight years, my children and I have been healing. Much of that healing has come through loving family and friends. More has come through a marvelous local congregation, giving me a new reason to hope about the church in a broken world. Most significantly, however, our progress into wholeness has been the result of an intentional re-shaping of who my children and I are as a family: consciously deconstructing unhealthy family patterns (we are a no-secrets, truth-telling family), as well as adopting a practice of radical presence: being there for each other at unprecedented depth and levels of sacrifice.

Another component of my own healing has come from studying the addictive process (its precursors and effects). Reflecting upon our family's bizarre journey in light of recent research on sex addiction, I began realizing that others may benefit from what we have experienced. Redemption and transformation are at the heart of the gospel. God is in the process of redeeming our family's journey, our descent into addiction's vortex.

And God never wastes a journey. Read More.

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