Clergy misconduct is not a new problem. It is, however, something that we have started to discuss more openly.

Val Hiebert is a program coordinator for abuse response and prevention with Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba. She is also a professor of sociology at Providence University College and Theological Seminary.

She says what's surprising to us is realizing that sexual misconduct is just as prolific within the Christian church as it is in the secular culture.

"I think we like to think that if we're Christians, that means we know how to be better at family. We know how to be better at marriage. We do a better job at conducting ourselves well morally," Hiebert explains. "I think part of what surprises us is that that is turning out not really to be true in the sense in which we've carried that."

One of the first things Val says we need to understand is the difference between sexual misconduct and sexual abuse.

"Language is important," said Val. "Misconduct could include something like an affair where there is mutual consent. When we use the word abuse, we are now talking about the exploitation of someone."

Val says clergy or other professional sexual misconduct is always a power issue.

"When one person holds power that the other person does not hold, then there is an unequal balance of power. When that is the case, the person with the greater power carries greater responsibility for the actions between those two people."
She says when a pastor engages in a sexual relationship with someone in the congregation or the community, there is a power imbalance that is potentially being taken advantage of, and that's what makes it abuse.

Val says one of the biggest things we can do to prevent situations like this is to provide education to those who need it. 

"Being a pastor is a very pressurized job because you're everything to everyone, and you never get to stop being the pastor," Val explains. "Pastors land up being not very good at self-care, and they burn out because pastors are expected to be everything to everyone, and they aren't given a lot of training about how to take good care of themselves. They are also vulnerable to stepping over the line into forms of power abuse as a way of meeting some needs."

Val and the others in abuse response and prevention with MCC MB have created some educational materials and resources to discuss clergy sexual misconduct. The information can be found on their website.

Today on Connections, Val helps us understand what clergy misconduct is and why it's happening. She'll also share with us why we are hearing about it more nowadays and how we as a church can prevent it.