The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everyone must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy.— Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
Haven for Sinners or Hideaway for the Pious
Is the Church Safe for Sex Addicts?
by Doug Boudinot
A sexually addicted friend of mine recently told me that his church is the last place he would ever seek help for his addiction. His comment left me wondering why he feels unsafe in his own church? Knowing addicts and addictions as I do, the obvious answer was that he is not in a small group where trust exists between members. Perhaps he is also a cautious man who has trouble trusting anyone. Or possibly he is so certain that he will be rejected he keeps his addiction to himself no matter where he goes.
My friend may or may not have trouble opening up to others, but a deeper problem remains: there is a deep-rooted belief among many who struggle with sexual sins that they must leave their burdens at home on Sunday morning. A question I repeatedly deal with is whether the church is a safe place where even sex addicts can find the love, grace, and healing of Jesus Christ or whether there are some sinners—sex addicts among them—who, after repentance and confession to Christ, still have no safe place in God’s church.
I often consider whether the old adage is true, that Christians are the only ones who shoot their wounded. But perhaps your church is not one of those “dog pound” types of environments. Maybe the problem lies not with what you do to your wounded but what you do not do for them. In some cases, apathy or “lukewarmness” may actually be worse than coldness.1
Allow me to make a bold but accurate statement: Sexual addiction is one of the Christian church’s greatest challenges. Sexuality resides at the heart of our humanity, and if that is broken, chances are the rest of us—including our spirits—will be too. Since all cultural indicators tell us that this problem will only get worse, each of us is faced with a dilemma. Will we become part of the problem or part of the solution?
Sadly, we often choose the easier way out and close our hearts to the addicted of our society. Whether it’s out of fear, lack of knowledge or reluctance to follow Jesus’ example, Christians in churches across America are making sex addicts the lepers of our day.
Scripture is clear, we have all sinned and the wages of this sin is death. Addicts know about death. In fact, death is one concept they understand very well—too well. Sexual sin has probably brought about the death of their marriage, their job, financial security, their hope, peace, and sense of self-worth. Rooted deeply in most addicts’ belief systems is the feeling that no matter how successful they may be on the outside, they are really worthless inside. Christian sex addicts are lonely, isolated, and fearful individuals loaded with shame. Adding to these already depressed persons, the trauma of sin breaks our relationship with God. Since only the cross of Christ can bridge this gap—and many addicts are fearful of or distrust the church—their spiritual death seems very near.
Whether it’s out of fear, lack of knowledge or reluctance to follow Jesus’ example, Christians in churches across America are making sex addicts the lepers of our day.
Healing for a sex addict follows the same path used by every sinner. They must find a place to begin telling and living the truth with others in a place where they experience safety and acceptance—something addicts have never known. Addiction recovery programs have a saying, “Truth your way out!” But it all starts with safety. Without safety there is no trust; without trust there is no truth; and without truth there is no hope for grace.
Without grace and compassion there is no comfort2; without comfort in the midst of trouble, there are no sanctuaries established for others to find safety3; without safety there is no movement away from trusting in ourselves toward trusting others4; without trust, there is no walking along the path of truth5; and without truth there is no hope for deliverance and restoration. Simply put, where there is no restorative, liberating power from “deadly perils,”6 there is no healing.
But we know this already, right? It’s what brings us back to church each week. Is there another place in the world more suited than the local Christian church to find the safety so desperately required for healing? Where else can anyone—you, me, the addicted—find true grace alongside accountability, love coupled with firmness, and safe people to tell the truth about who we are?
Correctly answering the question of who we are is the first step to making your church a safe place for addicts and every other kind of sinner. That starts with recognizing that God considers all of us His sheep—lost and stinky creatures that constantly depend on His rescuing hand.
Throughout the Scriptures, one of God’s primary actions is that of rescuing His people, and He doesn’t restrict it to a select few. All of us are in need and God—the Great Rescuer—is always there. In the Psalms, the word ‘rescue’ appears countless times as David, a prime example of an addicted man, is constantly in need of immediate rescue because of his sin. David certainly qualified as a sheep, but did God give up on him? Quite the contrary. He was a warrior and king who “served the purpose of God for his own generation”7 despite his many flaws.
Healing can only come through admitting our faults to God and to His people in community and through praying for one another.
Think also about the people who encountered Christ during His ministry on Earth. Jesus met a woman at the well and in turn she found a safe person to whom she could tell the truth. Similarly, the woman caught in adultery found safety and grace in Jesus as he rescued her from both physical and spiritual death.
As Christ’s disciples are we to do any less? Will we accept the challenge to provide safety for the broken and addicted of our society? James 5:16 reminds believers to “Admit your faults to one another and pray for each other, so that you may be healed.”
Healing can only come through admitting our faults to God and to His people in community and through praying for one another. What a radical concept! A Biblical concept! We are called to be Christ’s Body on Earth, a fellowship of safe people who can admit faults to one another and experience forgiveness and healing. We do this because the church is supposed to be where God’s grace is in place. That’s why we sing, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” We sing for the “wretches,” the broken and addicted of our day, you and me!
If you are still struggling with this concept, consider that the parable of the Prodigal Son applies to us not only in that we play the part of the son returning to our Heavenly Father, but that we are also called to play the part of the father through our churches to welcome back other lost sons and daughters.
Is your church a safe place to trust your true self, to pray for one another and in turn find the healing God wants to pour into your life? More importantly, are you a safe person for others, even for sex addicts? If not, consider what you are missing. God wraps His loving arms around his lost sheep, enveloping them in grace. He also challenges us to do the same, no matter how ‘stinky’ that next sheep may be!
Copyright © 2004 Doug Boudinot. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Doug Boudinot is the director of Ascent Resources, and the author of Ascent 180, a resource designed to help couples recover from sexual addiction and pornography.
1 Revelation 3:16
2 2 Corinthians 1:3
3 2 Corinthians 1:4-5
4 2 Corinthians 1:9
5 John 12:36
6 2 Corinthians 1:10
7 Acts 13:36
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