Discover more from Steven Ing, MFT
Yes, Your Church IS Making This Sex Offender Counselor Rich
COVID-19 may have put a lot of people out of work and driven a lot of businesses into bankruptcy but for those of us in the sex offender counseling biz, business is a boomin'! As is the case with morticians, times of plague can be very profitable for sex offender counselors of whom I am one. In good times and in bad, death and sexual criminality continue unabated. And for the boom in my forensic practice, I wanted to give a big shout out to all, and I mean all, of the churches out there. I even feel, at times, a bit guilty for all the referrals as if I've gotten away with not paying what the used car dealers call "a bird dog fee" for all the new customers. Not to worry about the guilt, I find that if I lie down for a few minutes, like Scrooge McDuck, my guilt goes away and I become giddy in the company of all those benjamins.
How so? I have been working with sex offenders in my clinic for over 20 years. In that time, I've accumulated a lot of anecdotal stories but it's the ongoing rollout of demographic information that might help you understand why, at times, my cold businessman's heart ponders the ethical issue of actually paying churches that bird dog fee for indirectly referring yet another poor soul to our practice. Why would this be an ethical issue?
Sure, it may appear more than a bit cold and self-serving on my part, right? But, at the same time, I know that churches are really in need of money, especially in these times of plague when the passing of a collection plate can pose certain risks (I'm looking at you Liberty Baptist!). It would be just like the old proverb of, "you scratch my back and I give you money for helping people develop into sex offenders."
I know, I know. So many evangelicals and mainline preachers right now are thinking, "OK, OK, you had me at 'really in need of money,' so, how would it all work?" Here's the beauty of it: just keep doing what you're doing and everything will work out beautifully.
How so? First of all, of all the institutions (education, the military, and religion) in our society that claim to help people grow and become, well, better people, only religion promises to help them make better moral choices. In fact, building moral character is pretty much the exclusive franchise of religion. It's their brand you might say. Attendance of religious services is kind of like, say, an elective surgery, that is, like a nose job or a face-lift—not needed in terms of survival, but (oh!) the many intangible benefits of being a better person! Managing one's personal life is what most sermons are about these days, I mean, after discovering God has a wonderful plan for my life which definitely does NOT include burning in hell forever. One is regularly promised insight and guidance on moral decisions like how much our children should honor us or how a wife should be truly submissive. In fact, the whole deal is codified in Psalm 119:105 where it is written, "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a guide unto my path." Knowing how we should live (and telling us how we should live) is pretty much the brand's reason for being.
And it's the same with sex, right? Once we've heard all of the prohibitions about sex such as same gender partners, premarital sex, extramarital sex, and even thinking about an affair, we are then to be considered fully informed as to what not to do. In fact, we're fully informed about human sexuality, from a church point of view, once we have the list where every item starts with "Thou shalt not." As a mental health professional, I can appreciate this approach that simultaneously forbids certain behaviors and offers the strongest possible sanctions (grounds for divorce, public shaming, arrest, and yes hellfire), without ever giving the individuals any idea what to do with their sexuality—other than repress it. Thus, regular folk attending church are provided with both fear and guilt on the one hand while, on the other, they're given no guidance as to how to manage their sexuality. Of course (shhh!), mum's the word. No one openly admits to this and, really, shouldn't simply telling people what NOT to do be enough?
I particularly appreciate (from a purely business point of view, mind you) the idea of cultivating an audience of future sex offenders early. In my ongoing surveying of client demographic data, 56% of sex offenders report that they attended church "four or more times each month" throughout their childhood years.
Many clergy, who suspect that I'm trying to criticize rather than applaud, may sniff, "So what?" After all, it's all right there in the Word of God. They're doing and preaching just what they know is and has been the unchanging message from the Lord about sex: "When in doubt, don't do anything remotely sexual. It's dirty. Unless you're hetero and married, in which case, it's a beautiful thing."
What's different about religion compared to other institutions is that it implicitly and often explicitly makes the claim of having a protective effect over a life's outcome. That is, if the believer actually believes, attends services, and is taught to live by the precepts of the faith, then they will have a greater likelihood of a positive outcome in their lives. Don't believe me? Imagine the church who advertises, "Yes, bring your kids to Sunday School—they won't be helped a bit!" Not exactly a winning ad campaign. No, all churches implicitly imply that they will be a good influence on our children. The idea that attending weekly church services over a period of years does absolutely nothing different to protect children from growing up to become a sex offender is rather disturbing. In fact, the strong religious resistance to sex education has provided a boon for my business as well.
Consider just one example of what we're talking about: masturbation. Most readers of this may not remember Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders who served under President Clinton. Bottom line, she was forced to resign in December 1994. From Wikipedia,
"In 1994, she was invited to speak at a United Nations conference on AIDS. She was asked whether it would be appropriate to promote masturbation as a means of preventing young people from engaging in riskier forms of sexual activity, and she replied, "I think that it is part of human sexuality, and perhaps it should be taught". This remark caused great controversy and resulted in Elders losing the support of the White House. White House chief of staff Leon Panetta remarked, "There have been too many areas where the President does not agree with her views. This is just one too many".
The attentive reader will note that although her remark "caused great controversy," nowhere is it mentioned which social circles experienced this controversy. Well, where could that controversy have been? Churches, maybe? The liberal ones may have been more comfortable but they remained silent and did nothing, allowing Ms. Elders to twist in the wind. Please note that both responses, the conservative and the liberal ones, echoed loudly in this sex offender counselor's office as the clear "ka-ching!" of future referrals. I am really grateful to you all. Teaching kids masturbation is a sin is thus a sin of commission. Not teaching kids anything at all? A sin of omission.
How and why should this be so? The issue boils down to one question: Is sexuality the sort of phenomenon that can be successfully repressed indefinitely or is sexuality the sort of human behavior that cries out for intelligent management? (No cheating here, you fence sitters, it's one or the other.) By divine revelation, knowing full well what God thinks about sex and masturbation, churches have decided to repress sexuality in general and masturbation in particular. Indefinitely. As one pastor explained to a parishioner who later became my client as a sex offender, "No, the Bible doesn't say anything against masturbation," and then, as he turned to leave, he quickly turned back around (and, yes, with pointer finger outstretched) added, "Just make sure you don't think any unclean thoughts if you do it." My client just nodded. Sounds right, doesn't it? Who wants to leave unclean thoughts just laying around? Jeez. He'd already stopped having sex with his girlfriend because of the church's teaching and now, as he pondered the pastor's advice, he could see no daylight for any sort of action that would make sense. It's not as if he was going to masturbate while vigorously reciting the 23rd Psalm. "The Lord IS my...my shepherd." So he resolved to repress his sexual thoughts and feelings. He eventually decided to ease his thoughts of sexual sin with the help of his old standby, methamphetamine. But, hazard alert, taking meth affects clarity of thought, especially in sexual choices. The next month, in his confusion, repressed sexual behavior, and impaired thinking, he molested a young boy. The big win that we all have to keep in mind is that he didn't masturbate. And, of course, my office collected some big wins too in the form of fees for services.
Now for you Volvo-drivin', chardonnay sippin' liberals out there, don't think for a moment that I've forgotten you. I owe you a debt of gratitude, too. Liberal churches pretty much avoid the topic of masturbation altogether, neither condemning it like their more conservative brethren nor affirming it as a normal human behavior. This institutional silence on healthy sexual alternatives contributed greatly to Surgeon General Elders' dismissal and to a healthy increase in my business from liberal mainline denominations. (Yes, I see you Methodists, Lutherans, and Presbyterians!). A child who hears nothing affirming his sexuality is left to his own internal and immature understanding, as in, "If no one can even talk about it then I must be the only one doing this shameful thing. I'm sure my parents never did it." Let's keep on keeping this secret to ourselves, shall we? And, don't forget, ka-ching!
The unintended irony in the Wikipedia citation above is that President Clinton's then Surgeon General lost the support of the White House. And when chief of staff Leon Panetta remarked that Elders' calm, rational, and truthful approach to intelligent management of sexuality was just too much, he had no idea of the future sexual scandals awaiting his boss.
Regarding my business's bottom line, things only got better in the era of the "Grab 'em by the pussy" President. Some churches chose to ignore this and remain silent and continue to promote sexual repression to their congregants. Yes, it's true that once an offender gets to my office I have the dickens of a (profitable) time getting the client to see the truth in our program's dictum, "That which is repressed, will be expressed...inappropriately."
We even made it into a poster. Most of my clients end up memorizing the words and the images on that poster. They come to realize that if they don't want to self-promote to becoming two-time offenders they'd better do something different than what they were taught at church. Initially, they're often afraid of losing their faith and falling into the fiery grave of eternity that is sexual repression's open mouth. Eventually they come to see that faith is, get this, different from church affiliation. They begin looking for churches that affirm normative human sexuality, gay or straight or whatever. Generally, in finding no churches that do this, they realize that they can continue to manage their sexuality intelligently and keep their faith but that they'll have to reinvent the latter wheel on their own. I predict I'll lose a major referral source as young people continue to slip away from churches after discovering that churches have absolutely nothing helpful to say about the most intimate dimension of the human experience.
I don't want to bite the hand that feeds me so I continue to press my clients for spiritual answers that work for them. But mostly, it's a futile effort in regard to getting them back to church. And that's my ethical issue: having done so much (with children and adults) to deliver customers to my shop, shouldn't I be considering compensating your churches with a bird dog fee?
And, yes, thank you, I like the Porsche.