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Adultery

25
Apr

A Fallen Pastor’s Story, part 13: Return, Loss, & Starting Over Mean Going Backward

I spent a total of 35 days at Keystone. Those days created necessary space for me; they gave me gifts I needed to not only survive, but start life over again. Those 35 days may not have saved me, but they sure helped.

I returned to Portland on a Sunday and began a new job working accident claims for a major insurance company. One of my former students helped me get in the door. It was a great opportunity with an excellent company.

When I arrived home, my ex, knowing she could get away with it, changed the locks on my house and left all my clothes in one of our cars, parked in my brother’s driveway. The illegality and immorality of her choice didn’t bother anyone. Afterall, I was the bastard who cheated on her. She was able to get away with whatever she wanted, and so, she chose to exercise that freedom, seemingly, as much as possible. It is sad how my lies led to her needing to lie. Sin works like that, though. Like our forefathers, the Pharisees, our righteousness becomes the seed of our sin. My wife’s “righteousness” in our marriage allowed her to sin against the sinner — me — without remorse or a second thought.

My brother and sister-in-law let me stay in their spare bedroom for a month. That was such a gift. I had no idea what was going on beneath the surface of their seemingly happy life together. It would show itself later after the elders of our church (the one that sent me out as a missionary and then shamed me from the pulpit in their own misguided pride) embarrasesed themselves and God by attempting to exorcise the demons from my brother’s house after I left.

Much later, after my brother’s demons came to light, my “non-practicing-atheistic” sponsor pointed out that probably there were demons in my brother’s house, and that they were his not mine. At the time, however, the elders couldn’t see anything because of their anger at me. As a result, they helped destroy any hope for my brother’s marriage; much, in the same way, the elders from my house church destoyed any hope for my marriage. My brother I and I still don’t speak. Neither of us trusts the other. Psychologically, he has to stay mad at me, making up reasons to do so. Since his anger isn’t safe for me, I keep my distance. We both lost our opportunity for a relationship with the only other human who could understand what it was like to grow up in our family. My disease, and his disease combined to destroy us.

My brother I and I still don’t speak. Neither of us trusts the other. Psychologically, he has to stay mad at me, making up reasons in his mind to do so. Since his anger isn’t safe, I keep my distance. We both lost our opportunity for a relationship with the only other human who could understand what it was like to grow up in our family. My disease and his disease combined to destroy us.

Even after I left my brother’s home, Mom and Dad were incredibly gracious to me. Mom’s Alzheimer’s had already stolen much of her mind, and though at times, she was aware of parts of my story, she never felt the humiliation my choices would have visited on her only a few years earlier.

I returned to Portland from Keystone with a solid recovery plan: See Dr. Shaw each week, get to 90 meetings in 90 days, call my sponsor every day, make a lot of program phone calls, keep doing step work, join a recovery small group, spend a bunch of time with my kids, and get more involved with St Matthew’s Church. I also found an apartment near my children and made overtures to my Ex about putting our marriage back together, but thankfully, she wanted nothing to do with me.

Two weeks after starting my new job, my employer sent me to Phoenix for two weeks of training. Then two weeks after returning to Portland they sent me to Tampa for another two weeks of training. They gave me a more-than-generous stipend, room, a shared rental car, and said, “Pass your training. Have fun. Drink a lot. Don’t go to jail” Though I had created a recovery plan with my sponsor, those weeks away sent me spinning back into my addiction; more wildly, making more insane and deadly choices. Though I was still calling my sponsor every day and telling him the truth of what was happening; though I was getting to meetings when able while travelling, I could not stop my sexual behaviors. I didn’t know how to act out efficiently; and was unaware of how the sex marketplace in unfamiliar cities worked and so I blew all my money on gorgeous, wanton women who were only there to take my money and came home to Portland broke from both trips,

The White bookThe first two weeks in Phoenix broke something loose in me. I became intent on obtaining sex to feed my addiction thinking that “the next one could save me.” 1In meetings I’d hear, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Since I didn’t want to be insane, I kept trying new and kinkier stuff — more gorgeous women; more, more beautiful women; found different ways to meet, discover and seduce women.

In the In the months between April 2002 and August 2002, I acted out more than I had in the previous 36 years of life. I was in active rebellion against God, my family, the Church and women in general.

Though I am not proud, nor grateful for those months, I needed them. I needed to know the emptiness of the promise I sought. I needed to discover how vapid it was. Don’t let me fool you; I found hedonistic pleasure. It was glorious. It was mindblowing, and, it was vacuous.  I found all of the pleasures I desired and cashed in on promises of mind-blowing sex with stunningly beautiful women and still didn’t find what I was looking for. 2

My sponsor didn’t know what to do with me. I went to a meeting or two every day. I called him every day. I was not proud of what I was doing. He watched the life drain from me as I lost hope. Finally, in August, my city hosted my 12-step fellowship’s international convention and he asked me to attend the 12-step seminar to work the steps rather than going to the breakout sessions that sounded interesting to me. It was there that I learned how to work the second step and it was learning to work that step that eventually set me free.


Part 1 /2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8 / 9 / 10 / 11 / 12


 

Notes:

  1. The white book. (2001). Nashville, TN: SAICO.
  2. The cost was not merely financial (though that cost was massive.) No, both my wife and I still pay toward the interest on the physical, mental and emotional loans I took out in that brief period of hedonistic indulgence. I will write more on that later, for that story belongs in a much more current chapter of my life.
13
Apr

All Messed Up and Nowhere to Go

Written by Alexander W. G. Seidel

Ministry is a lonely pursuit. Or, at least that’s what some church leaders make it. The pressure to perform is far too common in church circles. The image of the noble pastor and his wife and family has placed crushing pressure on many leaders. At best, it leads to burn out. At worst, this careens into a moral tailspin. When the pristine image of a pastor goes, the pastor likewise has nowhere to go. How could it be possible to confess burnout or moral failing, when a pastor fears the fallout of his shattered image?
Read more

11
Apr

A Fallen Pastor’s Story, part 11: Abuse & Rehab

Johnson & VanVonderen defines spiritual abuse as, “Using God as a carrot or a stick to get people to behave the way you’d like them to.”* Spiritual Abuse came naturally to me. As a junior in college, Campus Crusade for Christ tried to ask me to come on staff with them, and I did not allow them to get very far. At the “Senior Panic” I attended, I did not even know it was a recruitment event, and after I discovered what it was, it was too late. I went to my interview time in shorts and a ripped tee shirt and informed the three people who were there to interview me that they were wasting everyone’s time and that I was not going to go on staff with them. When they asked, “Why not?” I said, “Because it

I said, “Because it isn’t God’s will…” knowing that the answer would leave them nowhere to go. I was right. My college staff worker came to me soon after that, and we agreed that my ongoing involvement with Crusade would be a distraction rather than a help to them or me. So I joined InterVarsity.

In those days, IV held “Bible & Life” weekend conferences. I attended my first event as a senior. Costs were kept down by meeting at a local church, and attendees stayed with families in the community. I was placed in the Bible Studies method course — and I discovered that this old guy named Tom  (he must have been in his mid-40s) was at my table. I was blown away when, on Sunday, he was the speaker for the event and man, could he preach! I discovered that he was the Area Director for Central Michigan, and he was there to “vet” me. As we left the conference, he asked for a moment of my time, “Steve, I’d like to ask you to pray about the possibility of considering joining InterVarsity staff.” I tried to formulate the word, “No,” but couldn’t. How could I possibly say no to praying about the possibility of anything.

In my unknown woundedness, I latched onto Tom as a surrogate father to me. He was more of a mentor to me. I wanted to be him. Later in my career with IV, I realized I demanded way too much of him, and though we remained close; he was the preacher at my first wedding, and I named my son after him, he felt betrayed by my move back to Oregon and we drifted apart. Though I don’t know entirely why, since I fell, he became unreachable. Sadly, and to my detriment our relationship, which I valued above nearly every other was a casualty of my sin.

I began using the phrase, “I’d like you to pray about the possibility of considering…” I discovered when I “twinned” his expression with the story of how he used it with me; students could not say no to me. If I really wanted to twist the knife, I would add, “If as you pray, God says no to you. I will not argue with him. Arguing with God is not smart.” I was developing into a great salesman for Jesus. I do not know how many people I manipulated this way. To my shame, the number is too high for me to count.

It was the fall after the Church publicly vomited my sin for the world to see; as I read Johnson & VanVonderen’s book that I saw more of the fulness of my abusiveness and recognized more fully the abusive nature of the Church system I had been raised. What killed me was that I realized that so much of what I thought was good was really evil and had driven people away from Jesus.

I use Johnson and VanVonderen’s definition of Spiritual abuse. And, I am convinced that we spiritually abuse people whenever we use God, or his written word as instruments of shame. There is no shame in the Kingdom of God.

Since nothing the church tried was working, and since I couldn’t get clean and because my wife had filed papers for divorce and asked me to move out of our house, the pastors agreed I needed more than they could offer. Perhaps, the therapists and my sponsor were right. Maybe I needed rehab. I still remember my friend Tom saying to me, “Even David had to learn through the rods of the Philistines. Perhaps that is what needs to happen with you. I don’t know, Steve. I don’t know.” Finally, the Church was acknowledging that it was in over its head.

As I flew back to Philadelphia for rehab at Keystone, I listened to Mozart’s Requiem on my walkman. I put it on repeat. I checked into the facility —  a giant house in Chester. Across the street, all the people in drug and alcohol rehab looked down their noses at us. Sex addicts are the scum of the earth. That house in Chester was a cocoon for me, though. It was the safest place on the planet.

When I arrived, I was shown around the three-story house, given a room, and introduced to my housemates. There was a giant white board in the kitchen with all of the resident’s names. They wrote my name at the bottom. I moved up the board as people left and others arrived. Once at the top, a decision was made about when it was best to graduate. I stayed 35 days.

Sex addiction is not limited to pastors though there were two of us there during my stay. There was also a mobster (I kid you not), a nineteen-year-old kid who also struggled with heroin, a banker, and an artist. Most of us were educated and at some level had a level of success. There was a jew, a Wiccan, and assorted Christians, as well as an atheist and agnostic. There were gays and straights and even a couple of “tri-sexuals” (“We’ll try anything”). There were people in trouble with the law, with their partners, and with their workplaces. And though, while I was there everyone was male; that is not always true.

We had group and individual therapy sessions in Art therapy, psycho-dramas, family therapy (for those whose partners participated — mine did not), and talk therapy. We faced our predatory selves. It didn’t matter what we had done. Even my friend who never “acted out” with another human being, acknowledged that he was a predator — though most the world would not understand how. In the evenings, we attended 12-step 12-tradition meetings, and eventually we were all allowed to use and talk on the payphone when it was available.

Next week we’ll go further into the details…


Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7 / Part 8 / Part 9 / Part 10

*D.  Johnson & J. VanVonderen (1991) The subtle power of spiritual abuse. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers.

 

4
Apr

A Fallen Pastor’s Story, part 10: Feeling Anger & Acting Out

Whenever I showed anger growing up, my parents reminded me that they had beat the tantrums out of me when I was still a toddler; effectively bringing to an end to my “emotional terrorism.” Toddlers can be emotional terrorists; holding their parents hostage through angry outbursts, crying, screaming, and demanding their way. Apparently, I was no different, and according to my parents — worse. And so, after returning to our house on Peppercomb Rd in Eastbourne, Sussex, England; after weeks of staying in other peoples’ homes where Mom and Dad felt humiliated because of the ruckus my brother, and I made; they used a belt and “beat the tantrums out of me.”

Eastbourne's Beach (Looking East)

Eastbourne’s Beach (Looking East)

My brother and I quickly learned that it wasn’t OK to feel or demonstrate anger in our family unless you were a woman. They taught us by beating us until we didn’t feel anymore. And so I learned to stuff my anger. Later, through hard work with a counselor, I relearned how to feel it, To this day, it doesn’t come easily; my anger is constipated.

Many of my friends in recovery told stories of losing their tempers, throwing things, breaking things, yelling and screaming. I was so jealous and simultaneously felt so superior. I stuffed my anger down, denying its existence, not realizing that it always came out sideways in horrific and costly ways that didn’t resemble violence but did so much more damage.

My wife found Steven Delugach, Portland’s leading sex addiction therapist, and told me that I was going to see him. So I went. I saw him every week and joined one of his men’s small groups. He is damn good at what he does, and he knows what he is doing. His practical, no-nonsense approach rubs some people the wrong way, but his care for his clients is evident, and he gets results. His track record speaks for itself.

I was also going to at least one (and often two) sex addiction meetings each day. In these early days of recovery, I had fantasies of beating my addiction, writing a book, and hitting the national speaking circuit. I poured my heart into recovery for all the wrong reasons — but I poured it, nevertheless.

It didn’t take very long for the things that my sponsor and my therapist suggested or asked me to directly contradict things that the leadership in the church demanded of me. At one point, my Bishop’s wife and my wife demanded to see my therapist, because they thought I was lying to them about things he was teaching me. Since I wasn’t lying, they said I needed to find a new “Christian therapist” who would agree with them. (OK, the last bit was never stated. It was, however, made more than clear.)

A counselor who attended the pastors’ prayer group with me suggested that I find a therapist who trained other therapists. If I didn’t, he feared that I would walk on whoever tried to work with me. So I started seeing Dr. Richard Shaw, the head of the Marriage & Family Program at George Fox University. Ultimately, I credit him with saving my life.

It was bound to happen; I didn’t do my recovery work perfectly. Sometimes I screwed it up pretty badly, and in one instance — knowing that my actions could be considered flirtatious (and enjoying the accompanying fantasy) — I chose to be honest with one of my former students, letting her know that she had been one of the very few triggers for me at work. On one level, the conversation was wholly appropriate, and on another sinisterly manipulative. The conversation freaked out the young lady. She ended up expressing her discomfort to either my Bishop or his wife, and they, in turn, came to me and told me that I needed to talk to my wife and confess my actions.

Recovery taught me that it wasn’t safe for me to make any significant decisions. After all, my best thinking made me an addict. So, I talked to both my sponsor and my therapist. Both stated that I should not follow the church’s demands. Knowledge of my foolish conversation would unnecessarily rip scabs off my wife’s already significant wounds. When I repeatedly refused their demands to submit, my Bishop asked me to leave. I never went back.

About this time, I started cruising again. Dr. Shaw asked me to read Jeff Vanvonderen’s book, Tired of Trying to Measure Up. I devoured it, and I saw on the fly leaf that Van Vonderen, also wrote, The Subtletired of trying to measure up book cover Power of Spiritual Abuse. I was stuffing rapidly rising anger toward the church that was unaware of how unaware they were, and my wife, who was almost grateful for my sexual infidelity because it gave her the long wanted excuse she needed to divorce me. 

That is not a criticism. I would have wanted to divorce me too. It is simply a recognition of the lies not perpetrated by me that entered this narrative over time. 

As I read The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse, I was looking for weapons and ordinance to aim at church leadership for its blatant spiritual abuse of me. God had other plans subte power of spiritual abuse coverbecause the more I read, the more I realized, “I was the abuser.” Every time I raised my gaze, the fingers I wanted to point at the church pointed at me instead. The realization that I drove people away from Jesus, and his Kingdom, just about killed me. It came close because it sent me scuttling back to my addiction — to cruising and prostitutes. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I wouldn’t find any lasting freedom for nearly another year. The day America woke up to planes flying into the Twin Towers, I was too hung over and haunted from having acted out with two prostitutes the day before to care. For the next six months, I would act out once a month, every month. Those actions led me to decide that I had to get further help.

next week: “On becoming an Episcopal and heading to rehab”
Previous posts in this series: Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7 / Part 8  Part 9

 

28
Mar

A Fallen Pastor’s Story, part 9: Shock

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6 / Part 7 / Part 8 /

The story picks up during Easter, 2001.


The next weeks were a blur. Certain things stand out. Knowing what I know now about the physiology of the brain and the nature of God, it is easy to say that none of the events that I remember “should” have occurred. The reason is that in times of shock or severe trauma the brain and traumaprefrontal cortex of the brain shuts down, and the amygdala –sometimes called the “reptilian brain” takes over. Mine works very well. I am grateful for it even though it is incapable of understanding or making complex choices, only understanding three options: “fight, flight or freeze.” My amygdala took over the minute my wife asked me about infidelity and didn’t cede total control back until August.

All I wanted to do was survive. I had no capacity or ability to think. Had church leaders the slightest idea about the information above, I’d like to believe that they would have made better choices. What the leaders assigned to oversee my recovery passed off as expertise was, in fact a few ministerial experiences that had destroyed relationships and apparently taught them very little. There is nearly nothing as dangerous as an elder who thinks they know more than they do and believe that they act in the name of God. Narrow theological understanding, derived from a few Scriptural “proof texts,” controlled the events of the next few months. Pastors employed God vindictively as an abusive weapon to exact punitive rather than restorative measures. Church leaders who had virtually no training or understanding of sexual addiction or recovery from addiction made choices from ignorance. As a result, any hope that my marriage might survive was stolen. It took me hours of pray and years of work to be able to forgive them. Had I known then what I know now, I might have been able to forgive them more quickly. For I didn’t need to forgive them for what they did or didn’t do. I needed to forgive them for what I remembered that they did and didn’t do.

Because my prefrontal cortex virtually shut down from April to August 2001, my memory can in no way be trusted. I have Polaroid snap shots and fragments of memory that I remember. I swear that those memories are accurate. I remember them, and, if I’m honest, they may have happened differently than I remember. 

We all remember what we want to remember. Everyone does that. And while I am writing things that I remember, and that are real for me and my experience. They may not have happened that way. If I were on a jury, I would not trust my memory. The fact that I know my memory is not trustworthy makes it easier to forgive. I may have made up what I believe happened. I recognize that they too remember the story in the way that they choose to remember it. So while their memories are more reliable; they are not reliable. That is not a judgment on any of us, we all remember something other than what happened.

Last year, I met with my former Bishop to let him know that I forgave him. It was easier than I imagined because I’m not sure if they did what I remember them doing, I forgave them for what I remember them doing, and my memories may have very little to do with what they did. They alone are responsible for sorting through their actions and choices with their Creator.

Having said all that, here is a partial list of what I remember happened:

  • My bishop stated that he didn’t know that I had slept with prostitutes in 1997. He said that if he had, he would never have agreed to cover them up. He blamed me for not being clear in 1997.
  • I was told to go to LA, on a trip that was already scheduled, and explain to my Arrow Leadership friends what I had done.
  • I officially resigned my ministry.
  • I met with the pastor of my sending church (the one that had been so supportive). He told me that “as an elder I needed to be held to a higher standard” than ordinary folk. As a result, my church and another I was close to decided to read a list of my sins from the pulpit on a Sunday morning (Later, he gave me a cassette tape of the service. I never listened to it.)
  • At the direction of and under the supervision of church leadership, I wrote a letter to my ministry partners that detailed the exact nature of my wrongs and made phone calls to my largest financial supporters to let them know about my actions.
  • I told my staff what I had done, but church leaders blocked me from meeting with the students I discipled.

These are the clear memories that stand out. The church leadership in Portland had theologically correct reasons to do everything they did, and everything they did was not wrong or hurtful. These were good men. I was part of an influential pastors’ prayer meeting. That group appointed a small group of pastors to shepherd me through upcoming events. My bishop, who was also a part of that group and his wife were assigned to pastor us. He took me under his wing. She took my wife under her’s. They thought they knew what they were doing, and so they acted confidently, doing a lot of damage.

Together with my wife they chose the leading sex addiction therapist in Portland for me to see. I was “required” to give my wife and the bishop’s wife access to the therapist for consultations. Also, I began attending a 12-step group for sex addicts, found a sponsor, and developed new friends in recovery.

That summer I found a recovery job, working for a small contracting company that waterproofed decks. Toward the end of the summer, I walked off the job, never to return, tired of an abusive boss. Finding a new job was terrible. I wasn’t directly qualified to do anything. Eventually, after month’s of unemployment, and much to my wife’s dismay, I chose to employ Notus Career Management to help me get back on my feet. While the initial financial investment was high, they helped me discover transferable skills and strengths, along with jobs that wanted them. They taught me how to interview, and negotiate. Hiring them to help me was one of the first and best decisions I made for myself once things blew up and I eventually found the strength to make decisions for myself. My 12-step group helped me locate the courage to make such decisions.

I started 12-step recovery in April 2001. Doing so saved my life. I arrived in the fellowship with about ten months of “sexual sobriety” and maintained sobriety easily through the summer months. And then the shock began to wear off. I began to realize the harm perpetrated against me, and the role my wife played in the events. My anger grew. I was furious. Things were about to go from bad to worse.

21
Mar

A fallen pastor’s story, part 8: It all falls apart

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7

In the wake of the meeting with the pastors, life went on without much change, other than the fact I experienced my own personal “Ichabod.” The Holy Spirit left me, only returning for brief moments when I preached or taught. I refer to this period of my life as my “brown out.” God actively hid from me.

I was incapable of enduring the void and my behaviors escalated. Still hampered by my sometimes-unbiblical systematic theology that I used to interpret the Scriptures. It was so bad that I told one of my staff that I wasn’t one of God’s elect. I explained that there was no fruit of the Spirit in my life and that my prayers bounced off the ceiling; returning to me in utter silence. I related my current prayer to my friend and fellow staff member:

“God, I know I’m not one of your elect. There is no fruit in my life. My sin is continually before my face and has defeated me, grinding me into the dust; but for whatever reason, when I preach people renew or find a relationship with You. So, though you will damn me, I will keep proclaiming You until I die, so long as you promise to save my kids.”

And so, life went on without the Spirit’s presence. I went through the motions of ministry with an empty soul, having lost contact with my Creator, and out of touch with my wife and myself. But when I preached, there was still power. So, I kept preaching, and people kept responding, and I kept climbing the evangelical church’s ladder of success.

In 2000, along with 10,000 other evangelists from around the world, I traveled to the Amsterdam 2000 conference. I roomed with a friend. Amsterdam red lightAs he slept, I snuck out to visit prostitutes in the red light district. Toward the end of the ten-day conference, I even began skipping break-out sessions to try to find a girl who could save me. No one could. And, still no one knew my secret.

The shame of my actions overwhelmed me, and for an extended period, I stopped my behaviors. Then on Easter 2001, I returned home from doing a radio call-in show. I thought my performance deserved sex as a reward. She disagreed, and then, for whatever reason, four years after my confession to the pastors, she asked if I had been unfaithful to her. I answered honestly. She hit me in the face, and neither of us slept.

The next day, she went to our Bishop’s house, revisiting my guilt with him; and my life necessarily changed forever…

To Be Continued…
14
Mar

A Fallen Pastor’s Story Part 7: Initial Confessions

Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6

I thought, “Once I am married and can have sex, my sexual struggles will go away.” If you remember, I’d just lost the love of my life. Also, my two best friends moved away from Ann Arbor, and I felt incredibly isolated and alone.

I knew that staying in Ann Arbor was a mistake. It was time to move. Leaving IVCF and the Midwest wasn’t a sudden decision. I let my Area Director know a year in advance that I was leaving.

The previous year, I joined the pilot program of Arrow Leadership Ministries and made connections all over the country. It felt as if I had limitless opportunities. The summer before leaving, I traveled home to Oregon both to interview for ministry positions and strategize with my parents and sending church about the future.

At the beginning of that summer, I met my first wife. Initially, we didn’t like each other much. She couldn’t stand me, and I thought she was “the kind of woman you sat on a keg to keep it cold.”

She was part of a thriving singles group that my friend pastored. He and I spent much of the summer going on “corporate dates.”

A corporate date is where two or more guys ask two or more women to go out with them. Typically, they have no clear idea of who is asking out whom.
I had a blast. I needed positive new life experiences to resurrect hope. The “creative dates” that my friend and I orchestrated did just that. We joked that we were going to go out with all the women in the singles group. And we tried.

Late that summer, we asked the woman I was to marry (the same one that couldn’t stand me when we first met) and her roommate to go on a corporate date. After hearing me preach a month earlier, she made it clear that she had changed her mind and wanted to get to know me better. So asking the two of them out didn’t seem all that risky. It was a great date. One of the best and one of the last of the summer.

A  couple of weeks later, I returned to Ann Arbor. A letter from her was waiting for me. (This was well before email, cell phones, or text messages.) We began virtual-dating via the phone. We were both still dating other people, and sometimes we talked about our dates on the phone. But, once a week, we’d talk together for three to five hours. Both of our phone bills were huge but neither of us minded. Though I didn’t feel physically attracted to her, she became my best friend. When other, male friends asked me about the lack of attraction, I responded, “When I’m eighty and sitting in a rocking chair next to my wife, I want her to be my best friend, and she is that.”

My shame was so great, and my theology so shame-infused that I combined the two. I believed I had disqualified myself from “God’s best for my life.” I said, “I’m kinda like Israel, who sinned and wasn’t allowed to enter the promised-land.” And at one point, I sat with a circle of fifteen or so students around me and said, “Watch everything I do regarding relationships very carefully. Listen to everything I say about relationships, and then do the opposite and you’ll be OK.” My students knew my story and realized that I was serious.

Spiritualized shame and an unattractive and wholly unbiblical god, formed the root system of my belief that I had forfeited God’s “promised land” for me. I read the Scriptures through shame’s lenses. Shame infected every facet of my life and hope. I accepted the fact I was condemned to wander in the desert because of my sin. What I thought was God’s voice was shame’s neverending whisper.

At Christmas that year, I decided to date only the woman who became my first wife. I remember the almost-paralyzing-nervousness of sitting on her living room floor and reaching to kiss her for the first time. I remember her surprise at the kiss and joy when I told her that I wanted to be exclusive. I remember how she kissed me back and said it was what she wanted to. We celebrated by making an exquisite cracked crab salad.

During that season of my life, I cannot point to any specific “acting out” behaviors, yet, I know I was still “using.” My addiction was still my most carefully kept secret. But defiantly I hoped and still prayed; confident that once I was married, my addiction would fall away.

I was wrong. I left Michigan in May, and we got married in July. The sexual intimacy that I thought would save me instead proved only to add to my shame. We were broken from the beginning; barely being sexual at all. Everything in me screams, “Blame her!” But I can’t. How could my wife possibly feel desirable when I did not see her as beautiful? How could she have any desire for me at all sensing she wasn’t wanted? So, sex happened very infrequently and intimacy even less. We went months without affectionate touching or kissing. There was no sexual glue to hold us together. We were on our way to becoming roommates who occasionally had sex and rarely, if ever, made love.

I remained clean for over a year. Then one night, I cruised a red light district. Soon, I masturbated; and then, my wife walked in on me masturbating at our mission’s headquarters right after sex. Later, she caught me again while we were on vacation with our baby daughter. Shame reigned in our marriage. She realized that her first impression of me was correct. I realized that I made my first impression of her into reality. Contempt and shame slithered and flew through our home, caking the walls with inescapable filth.  This was not God’s intention for marriage.

Shame reigned in our marriage. My wife realized that her first impression of me was correct. I realized that I made my first impression of her into reality. Contempt and shame slithered and flew through our home, caking the walls with inescapable filth.  This was not God’s intention for marriage.

Half a year after the birth of our first child, I had sexual intercourse with two different prostitutes. Guilt and shame flooded me. There was no way to escape the fact that, by any definition, I was an adulterer. I called my best friend and co-pastor to confess to him. We took a long walk in a park, and I told him what I’d done; acknowledging that I didn’t know what to do, crying out for help.

My friend contacted our Bishop and arranged for two other pastors to meet with us. We gathered in my living room, and I told them what I had done, confessing again. They thanked me for my confession. And as we talked, I heard them say, “Thank you for acknowledging your sin. What you did was wrong. Don’t do it again. Make sure that if your wife asks any questions about this that you answer her truthfully…”

To be continued…

 

15
Feb

A Fallen Pastor’s story, Part 1: Beginnings — Holy Saturday is real

“I found the bottom and discovered it to be sound.”
–John Bunyon, Pilgrim’s Progress

I sat in a small upstairs classroom in an unfamiliar church, thinking, “I am all that I feared I was…”It was my first 12-step meeting for sex addicts. It was remarkably surreal — everything from the opening prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” — to the introductions.

“Hi, my name is _________ and I am a sexaholic”…

It was my first 12-step meeting for sex addicts. It was remarkably surreal — everything from the opening prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” — to the introductions.

“Hi, my name is _________ and I am a sexaholic”

”Hi _________,” the group answered in unison.

I didn’t know if I was dreaming or if this humiliating nightmare was my new reality. It seemed too unreal to be real. But it was very real.Just a few days earlier I confessed to my wife that I solicited prostitutes for sexual intercourse. I resigned all my responsibilities as director of

confessionJust a few days earlier I confessed to my wife that I solicited prostitutes for sexual intercourse. I resigned all my responsibilities as director of Cross Carrier Ministries, and dropped out of “life as I knew it.”

My identity was seeping away. How could I know that being crushed by the Church, and cast out into an unknown world was God’s way of letting me know he wanted a personal relationship with me. I also had no idea that my path was about losing more than sexual addiction, but about having to cut out all the “stuff” in my life that I considered, “a part” of me, but God saw “as harmful” to me. Little did I know that I was embarking on a journey through the deepest recesses of my soul. It traversed the gullies of my resentments, the canyons of my fears, the cavernous holes bored out by my secret life and the quicksand pits of selfish and prideful attitudes that touched every other aspect of my life. I merely used fantasy and sex to hide from all these things. They were symptoms of much deeper problems I didn’t want to have to face.I’m the son of an itinerant evangelist and missionary mother, I quickly slid into the family business. I started preaching at age sixteen. As a communicator, I prided myself on being open about my weaknesses. At times, I even admitted from pulpits that I was struggling with “sexual addiction”. I’d reveal much, but never my entire story. By doing this, I relieved some of the suffocating guilt I felt while appearing and sounding like a much better speaker. Looking back, by revealing some of my struggles I helped some people on their journeys.

In reality, my ministry—indeed my whole life – was a façade or a hologram. I was not really real. I was a “hollow man,” who perceived the world as his stage, and people as his opponent, or tool. Everything was about me. I was at the center of the universe. The world revolved around me. I was a narcissist. And though I knew something was wrong. I didn’t know what. Existential questions plagued me continually, and I found no respite. I was powerless, and my life became unmanageable, and I was incapable of recognizing that reality.

After my fall into grace, I listened to a tape of a seminar I taught at a singles convention on the topic of sexuality. As I listened to that distant memory, I was amazed at how right I was about so much. But I also realized that I offered no enduring, sure hope. How could I give away what I didn’t have myself? I had nothing to give. I was an addict with no recovery. Indeed, I was an addict that didn’t even fully know that I was an addict. I cognitively understood the lust trap and often expounded on it for hours. I knew every inch of the pit called addiction. I spent my life exploring its inner walls looking for a way out without any success. I read all the books, tried all the prayers. Nothing worked. I had nothing to offer but a tour of the prison I inhabited. It is a harsh reality that too many people live and are familiar with addiction without ever realizing that it holds them captive.

sisyphusSexual addiction (like every other addiction) does not discriminate. It doesn’t seem to matter who one is. Men and women from different faiths and classes of society whither and wilt inside, little by little, trapped and controlled by powers beyond their control. Many are physically dying from a seemingly endless list of diseases contracted through illicit sex. Or depression and anxiety that nearly always accompany sexual addiction. Some will take their own lives, hopeless and lost. Others simply wander with hollow eyes searching for their next “fix” trying to make it through another day.

I spent hours immersing myself in pornography, cruising bars, the red light districts, phone lines, or the Internet, looking for an adrenaline hit I only achieved while “hunting.”. Many addicts have no idea the amount of time we lost in a secret, shameful, fantasy world that sucked us in, refusing to let go. I lost weeks and months of my life to lust that I never will get back. I could get on my computer for a minute and snap out of one of my hypnotic-like state four to eight hours later.Looking back, that has changed.

Now I discover each day a new path to freedom. Like many in recovery, I am slowly finding the fullness of life I was promised (but never experienced) way back in Sunday school. Life is full of hope for recovering addicts. We discover that we have no choice to but to rely on God for our very breath.

For the first time in my life, I began to experience a real relationship with Jesus because I have no choice but to run into his outstretched arms every day if I want to live. I am not a disciplined person by any stretch of the imagination, but some simple disciplines have become a matter of life and death for me. Forgetting them, I consciously decide that I don’t want a relationship with Jesus that day or in that moment, and I isolate; alone in my addiction that, untreated will kill me. Today the Bible is not merely a book of theory. It is becoming a book of solace and connection.I cling to Jesus as my hope for salvation. His death and resurrection are my salvation. The twelve steps of which I here write are my path up Golgotha’s hill. They are the steps I take each day to kneel at my Saviour’s cross.

Three crosses

I cling to Jesus as my hope for salvation. His death and resurrection are my salvation. The twelve steps of which I here write are my path up Golgotha’s hill. They are the steps I take each day to kneel at my Saviour’s cross.There is nothing magical about them. They are merely a pathway – my pathway. They’ve allowed me to enter the transcendent spirit world and have fellowship with the Creator of all that is. After spending my whole life telling people about Jesus, these steps are finally allowing me to meet Him.

There is nothing magical about them. They are merely a pathway – my pathway. They’ve allowed me to enter the transcendent spirit world and have fellowship with the Creator of all that is. After spending my whole life telling people about Jesus, these steps are finally allowing me to meet Him.On my journey, I am discovering a lot about the Church and its approach to addicts (and other sinners) like me. I imagine that every rule has its exceptions. I have found some exceptions to my rule, but by in large, the 21st-century evangelical church is wholly inadequate to meet the needs of people struggling with sin or addictions in the 21st-century Western world.

On my journey, I am discovering a lot about the Church and its approach to addicts (and other sinners) like me. I imagine that every rule has its exceptions. I have found some exceptions to my rule, but by in large, the 21st-century evangelical church is wholly inadequate to meet the needs of people struggling with sin or addictions in the 21st-century Western world.

The church is haughty and has an excess of hurtful “truth” it wields all too freely. In the process lives are shattered, and people turn from Jesus to something more “loving.” The Church too often feels it has a monopoly on understanding God and His methods. We’ve boxed Him in and demanded that He limit Himself to our systematized categories of thought and action.

A mentor, known the world over, said to me, “Sadly, the church has no helpful concept of grace.” My experience agrees with him. And, I am aware that there are churches and people who do know and offer grace to the world — to me. The sad news is too many Christians haven’t and don’t, all the while thinking they have, and do.

Recovery is my journey. It maps the way I need to walk. Who knows, it might be your path too. There are a multitude of women and men who have earned chairs in sexual recovery 12 step fellowships without realizing that there is such a thing. They are unaware that there is a society of men and women who share their stories and experience and will walk with them no matter how far down into the pit they have traveled. For innumerable reasons, only a few will find their seat, begin to undo their wrongs, and discover real freedom. Don’t let anything stop you if you belong. Sex addiction (any addiction) is truly a matter of life and death. Often I write a gratitude list to God, and on that list I give thanks that I am a sex addict. For ironically, if I weren’t, I’d never have discovered him.

28
Aug

So you are worried that you are listed in the Ashley Madison Data Base

 

If you are reading this and you haven’t heard, Ashley Madison, the online dating site for singles and married people, guaranteeing you an affair if you are married was hacked. Every email ever used to sign up (AM never verified the email addresses) was released by the hackers. There were quite literally over 30 million emails in the released database, along with billing info, sexual preferences, etc… It is quite an embarrassment for way too many women and men.ashley Madison
There is something incredibly freeing about being a disgraced pastor who struggled in his recovery.  It feels to me as no one would be surprised to find  me in the Ashley Madison database. I have no fear of getting caught, and I don’t have to look over my shoulder. My name is expected to be in that database by anyone who knows my story. Even after the dissolution of my first marriage, my trip to rehab, and months and years in recovery I struggled with sexual sobriety. Not everyone is so “lucky.” Please remember, my current shalom cost my family, friends, students, church, supporters and me more than words can adequately convey.
I’ve purposely not posted anything about this to date. I wanted to wait. I wish I could have waited longer. I am only writing now because I think many are more concerned with “getting caught” than guilt over their actions. They are fearful of what might happen, rather than distressed over their choices. Additionally, I read two pieces urging Christ followers and Christian leaders to do things that I fear will do more harm than good.
Ed Stetzer wrote, in an article for Christianity Today, “Confess to your spouse….Confess to someone else…. If you are a pastor, confess to your church.” confession2Much of the article is right on, and yet the advice I quoted here is at best out of order and at worst, sadly mistaken. In an earlier post, I wrote about the danger of “blanket confessions.” If people, and particularly leaders follow his advice, I fear they will cause a lot of unnecessary pain and turmoil. I am not saying that confession will not have to be made. It might. But let me offer a different path..
If you are on that list:
  1. Talk to God about it (on your knees) Your physical posture is connected to your spiritual posture. Spend an extended time crying out to God. If you journal — then journal (honestly as if no one will ever have a chance to read it). Take time to tell God your fears, your guilt, your shame, your weakness and your failures.prayer-on-my-knees4
    • In the midst of this awareness, pray for your ability to accept the fact that you are not unique, that you are human and that you have limitations and weaknesses. List the weaknesses you see if you need to. If you need to bitch and moan to God about making you as screwed up as you currently feel yourself to be, then take the time to do it. This is a long process, but coming to a place of acceptance of our own limitations is really important if we are going to find healing.
    • Pray for those that, if they found out, you have damaged. Take time to consider how you have damaged them; and how you have violated relationship with them. Consider your spouse, your kids, your parents, your siblings, your church family, your supporters and prayer partners, and your friends who you’ve lied to.
    • AFTER you’ve done this work (sometimes it is while you are doing the work of acceptance) Confess to God your wrong doing — your attempts to be God (perfect), Your desire to be seen as something other than you are, the violation of relationships that you have committed (not loving as you ought).
  2. Take an inventory of what you actually did. Those of us that have been to the Ashley Madison site know that they lure you in with promises. You sign up and find out quickly that simply signing up does you no good. You have to pay to have any hope of having an affair, meeting someone, or even chatting with someone. At this point many people simply realize the scam and duck out. Some like me, pay to go further down into the muck. Once you are in you can chat with people on the internal email link. You can cruise all the data on others that are in the system and try to make connections. None of this means that you will. I never got that far on this site. Others may have. Once you meet, you have to decide if you are going to follow through. The person may not, and often isn’t who they portray themselves to be and so you back out then. Others go further and physically commit adultery. All of us that went to the site are clearly adulterers are still adulterers. But then again, most people are. This is not permission to minimize. Please don’t do that. If you are going to the Ashley Madison site something is really, really wrong, and you need help. Something is broken inside. By not getting help you will only increase the problem
  3. Get help:There are 12 step groups across America to help people controlled by their lust and their libido: Sexaholics Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous, Sexual Compulsives Anonymous to name a few. The Church has tried to copy many of these: Pure Desire, For Men Only, Prodigals International, and Celebrate Recovery. If you are a pastor, I strongly recommend  going to one of the big ones on the first list rather than the Church copycats. The reasons for this will have to be given in another post. For a full list and the idiosyncrasies of each program see Gracefall’s Resource Page.
  4. Look for a sex addiction therapist. Then go see them. Or call us.
  5. It is possible that you are not an addict. You may simply have abused sex much like some non-alcoholics abuse alcohol. It is not likely, however. The group you choose, and your therapist can help you make this determination. Remember that the only one that can say you are an addict is you.
  6. Recovery tells us that the keys to recovery are Honesty, openness, and willingness. Listen to your sponsor and your peer group. Quit running your own show. Only then can you begin to move forward. They will guide you to the whens, hows, and wheres of confession.
  7. Once you have completed the above, prayerfully consider what and when to tell your spouse. If necessary get guidance to help you tell your Church leadership and empowerment to tell the congregation. (Please note, that it is rare that a congregational announcement ever be given. Normally this only happens healthily if there are victims in the Church body.)
  8. Remember you are not alone. There are countless thousands of us that are walking a recovery path with you and before you. We go to meetings to find out that we are not alone and find experience, walk togetherstrength and hope. Please don’t give up. Please don’t add to your stupid, impulsive actions and exponentially add to the damage you have already done. You have not tried and will not try anything that many of us have already tried. You can learn from our mistakes. Please do so. Know that people like me will love you no matter what, not for who you want to be seen as, but for who you really are.