Study: Infidelity, porn prevalent sex sins in church

OMRO, Wis. (BP) -- A great majority of Protestant pastors were approached by staff or members for help with marital infidelity, premarital sex, pornography and other sexual sins, according to new data released by Barna Group spanning a year.

But only a third of pastors said they felt "very qualified" to address the preponderance of issues staff and members broached, Barna said in the survey of 410 mainline and non-mainline senior and executive pastors.

Eighty percent of pastors including Southern Baptists were asked to help or counsel a staff or church member dealing with marital infidelity, the most prevalent problem in the study, Barna said.

On average, staff and members approached pastors regarding half of a list of 18 concerns Barna addressed, the study found. Issues brought to the attention of more than half of pastors were, in descending order of prevalence, marital infidelity, premarital sex, sexual problems within marriage, lust, pornography use by a husband, sexual abuse or assault, porn use by a teen, sex offender issues, sex education questions, and porn use by an unmarried adult.

The findings are the first in a projected series of reports from the Sexuality and the Church study commissioned by the Brushfires Foundation, a sexual integrity ministry in Omro, Wis. The collaborative research project is supported by 24 national and state groups including Focus on the Family, Enough is Enough (EIE), the American Family Association and the Louisiana Family Forum.

Southern Baptist pastors, considered non-mainline by Barna, were among respondents from 29 other denominations as well as non-denominational churches, Brushfires said in releasing its findings Nov. 15.

Brushfires president Daniel Wiess described the findings as concerning.

"It doesn't alarm us that pastors are encountering so much sexual brokenness over the course of a year. We know such issues exist," Weiss said in a study press release. "What concerns us is so few pastors feel very qualified to handle these difficult and painful issues.

"There is a great need for ministry leaders to be trained," he said, "and for outside caregiving ministries to work directly with local churches to handle these issues in a caring and professional way."

EIE, which works to make the Internet safe for children and families, said the findings evidence that the church is not immune to porn.

"The church body, men, women and children, are not immune from the gross consumption of pornography, contrary to what many believe," EIE President Donna Rice Hughes said in an EIE press release. "Internet pornography consumption is at [an] all-time high, fueling pornography addiction, sexual exploitation and the breakdown of marriage both in and out of the church.

"Pornographers understand the content they produce and distribute is highly addictive," Hughes said, "and they will likely have a consumer for life unless the addiction cycle is broken."

The Southern Baptist Convention has adopted numerous resolutions since the mid-1900s focusing on sexual behavior, pornography and marital fidelity, most recently a resolution "On The Holiness and Integrity of Ministry Leaders" at the 2018 annual meeting in Dallas. A 2015 resolution adopted at the annual meeting in Columbus, Ohio, focused "On Pornography and Sexual Purity." And in 2010 in Orlando, Fla., messengers promoted marital love and fidelity in a resolution "On The Scandal of Southern Baptist Divorce." Additionally, the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty has focused on sexual issues during annual conferences and events, and offers educational and spiritual resources at

Among top findings in the study conducted in October 2017 regarding the previous 12 months, according to Brushfires, are:

-- 77 percent of non-mainline pastors such as Southern Baptists said the church should address sexual brokenness, compared to 56 percent of mainline pastors. Overall, 68 percent of pastors strongly agree that the church should help people deal with issues of sexual brokenness.

-- Churches of fewer than 100 members and budgets under $150,000 encounter fewer sexual concerns, and are less likely to think the church should address such concerns.

-- 23 percent of pastors offer DVD or Bible studies on sexual topics, and 16 percent are hosting related support groups.

-- 19 percent of pastors are training lay leaders to assist with sexual concerns.

-- 86 percent of pastors offer pastoral counseling and 76 percent refer people to professionals when approached by someone with a sexual concern.

Among the sexual issues 47 percent or fewer pastors were approached regarding are, in descending order of prevalence, struggles with same-sex attraction, sexting, transgenderism/gender dysphoria, masturbation, same-sex parenting situations, porn use by a child under 12, erotica/written porn, and porn use by a wife.

Study results are available at

Diana Chandler is Baptist Press' general assignment writer/editor. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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