“I don’t feel safe going to church anymore. The voices of the people in the lobby vibrate too loudly for my already rattled mind. The pressure to smile at familiar faces, encouraging them to believe my life is the perfect dream they want it to be, feels nauseating. Walking into the sanctuary causes my heart to beat frantically and I’m forced to silence the intrusive thoughts of you watching those women on your phone. I’m overwhelmed and want to creep out of the service, escaping to anywhere else. I feel more alone in church than I do in the isolation of our bedroom.”
This is a snippet from a letter a wife wrote her husband detailing how her life has changed since learning of his hidden problematic sexual behaviors. They were his secret their whole marriage.
Her view of the church is not unique. I’m finding a distressing trend among our community of the betrayed who love the Lord: their churches are not a refuge when they desperately need safety.
So, like she wrote a letter to her husband, I thought I would write a letter to our churches. But my letter is an “infomercial."
Dear Faith Leaders,
With Easter’s imminent arrival, I’m yearning to hear God’s voice of salvation in our churches. But I don’t. I’m unsettled every time I walk into a space preaching openness and forgiveness, and censoring honesty in their next breath.
I am observing our churches exhibit willful disobedience to scripture as it relates to pornography and problematic sexual behaviors in relationships. Here's the real truth: it’s not ok to lust. Period.
Faith communities quietly allow lust (Col 3:5- "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.") and sexual immoralities because the church, the leadership, the education tool GOD uses, chooses to disobey scripture through avoidance. Your abject ignorance gaslights the truth the betrayed intuit: lies, pornography, and shame based behaviors are wrong.
I’ll encourage you to remain with me if you are feeling uncomfortable as you read this. Your “cringe” detector is letting you know what the betrayed feel EVERY time they enter your sanctuary when you ignore their truth.
Wives/partners who have sought pastoral counsel shared with me the responses they received from the faith community in relation to pornography in their marriage:
It’s just an enhancement to the marital bed.
It’s not like he’s cheating.
Isn't it your duty to submit?
Why are you having so much trouble with it?
If you don’t like it, just ignore it.
Nothing in the Bible talks about pornography, really.
We all sin in some way. At least you know where he is.
Why do you care if he looks at other women? All men do.
Just get over it. He’ll stop soon.
Perhaps you need to spice it up yourself.
Maybe he’s bored.
Just lose the baby weight.
You can’t ask him to stop. He’s too fragile right now.
Have more faith.
God is the miracle maker.
Conversely, the faith community doesn’t know what to do with betrayers who compulsively continue to deceive their partners through problematic sexual behavior. In their well meaning insensitivity, here’s the response most churches have when a betrayer comes forward and says they believe they have been sinful by cheating in their relationship, or their wife is mad they can’t stop looking at pornography:
Uncomfortable silence because the pastor has the same problem.
Support the husband with no lifeline for the wife.
Tell the betrayer to “just stop.”
Read the Bible.
Isolate the offender and remove him from the church.
I’ve never heard the pastor say, “Looking at pornography is wrong and can lead to an uncontrollable addiction. IF YOU CAN’T STOP looking at it, we will support you, love YOUR FAMILY, and HELP you find a way to stop.”
Listen up leaders of faith: there is good news. You can properly support these families with my top 3 tips:
1. Stop recommending couple's therapy: couples can heal from sexual acting out but this type of betrayal is NOT a couple’s therapy issue.
The real truth is problematic sexual behavior is the betrayer’s issue but it violates the betrayed’s sense of safety, which leads to PTSD like symptoms. (See: Your Sexually Addicted Spouse) Both betrayer and the betrayed need individualized support AND highly trained betrayal trauma support for the couple so they can reconstruct a new relationship together.
2. Be honest: problematic sexual behavior relies on secrecy to flourish.
Last time I checked, the Bible tells us to live in truth. Why aren’t we, the supposed hands and feet of Jesus, living in truth when it comes to problematic sexual behavior? Pretending pornography, problematic and compulsive sexual behavior doesn’t exist in your churches is like pouring gas on the fire. Offer people a judgement free zone to speak openly either through groups with qualified leadership (APSATS is a great place to start) or trauma trained coaches or therapists. I'm sorry to say, this is not a place for a Stephen Minister.
3. Educate yourselves: Have the courage to find the right answers.
Have you incorporated the latest healing modalities? I looked in my church’s library and the void is blatant: zero books addressing what is probably the number 1 silent stalker in our faith community. Here are a couple of YouTube videos that explain partner trauma and what happens in the relationship. If you will take 16 minutes of your day to listen to these explanations by Dr. Jake Porter, you will never view problematic sexual behavior the same: How Does Betrayal Trauma Effect the Brain? and Are you on the Coaster?
I commend the few churches willing to speak out on this. However, my soul is inconsolable when I see our faith community dismiss the betrayed’s insatiable wails and the betrayers' silent shame.
Jesus wants more for His people. He wants us to feel:
adored, not abhorred,
embraced, not excluded, and
valued, not vile.
He touched the unclean, pulled them up, and encouraged them to hold their heads high because, not only does He forgive them, He wants more for them. Church families, what keeps you from doing the same?
Jesus wants you to provide REAL healing.
Praying shalom finds you- Kim