This week the College of Bishops reported from their meeting in Melbourne FL Jan 6-10. You can read their full Communique here at the link below under headlines. As Special Counsel to the Archbishop and the College I was invited to sit in on some of the sessions, and to offer “canonical counsel” as needed. I was deeply encouraged, impressed and blessed by the hearts and minds of the bishops and their faithful engagement of the issues before them. In our Anglican way of doing church, Bishops play a key role in guarding the faith, order, doctrine and discipline of the Church as a whole. I saw our bishops do this with deep, thoughtful and prayerful engagement. They were doing what the Apostle Paul commends in Ephesians 4:25—literally truthing in love. We should encourage and continue to pray for our Bishops as they fulfill the sacred duty and responsibilities of their office, and pray for their families as well.
One of the issues the Bishops addressed was clergy health and wellness. This has been a primary focus of our mission here at the American Anglican Council through our Clergy Leadership Training Institutes [https://americananglican.org/programs/clti/] and Rectors Summits (see the article below under headlines). Recently, in our October 2019 “Foundations of Leadership” gathering for clergy in the Gulf-Atlantic Diocese, the American Anglican Council invited Jay Haug of Living without Lust ministries to address one of the most frequent addictions clergy fall into: internet pornography.
Here are some of the statistics Jay Haug shared with us at our “Foundations” gathering and with the College of Bishops in Melbourne FL, according to a survey conducted by the Barna Group in the US in 2014 (so, these statistics may already be out of date):
- The percentage of all men who say they view pornography at least once a month: 18-30 year olds, 79%; 31-49 year olds 67%; 50-68 year olds, 49%
- The percentage of all women who say they view pornography at least once a month: 18-30 year olds, 76%; 31-49 year olds, 16%; 50-68 year olds, 4%
- 41% of Christian men and 13% of Christian women between ages 13-24 admitted to using porn 1-2 times per month
- 14% of pastors and 21% of youth pastors surveyed admit to regular use of porn at least several times per month
- 33% of pastors and 56% of youth pastors who regularly use porn stated that they felt they were addicted
We invited Jay Haug to share those statistics with the clergy in our “Foundations” gathering—in the first five years of their ordained ministry– because we know that this has become an epidemic, driven by one of the largest industries in our culture. Clergy isolation, loneliness, and the stress of leading change in the local church are factors Haug noted as contributing to clergy use of pornography.
In truth, not only clergy but everyone is susceptible to such temptations. Whether it’s online pornography or overeating, many of us (perhaps more than we would like to admit!) “medicate” our loneliness, isolation, and stress wherever we may be serving. But for clergy especially, this temptation and addiction has devastating effects personally, on one’s family and on the people we are called to serve in Christ’s name. That’s why we try to get to the root of the problem—which is our hearts. As leaders, we take Proverbs 4:23 seriously:
Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
We continually ask the question both as leaders and as followers of Jesus Christ, “How can we keep our hearts so full of Christ and his life that we accept no other substitute?” It’s a challenging question isn’t it? You and I know that if we are going to resist sin, the world, and the devil—including lust—it’s not going to happen by self-help or sheer will power. We need Jesus! We need the power of the Holy Spirit and through the Holy Spirit the life of Jesus Christ living in us from the inside out.
But we need each other too! We believe the best way to address the isolation and loneliness that lead to addictive behavior among clergy is by bringing them together in supportive, caring, mutually transparent and honest “covenant care groups.” Through our Clergy Leadership Training Institutes, the American Anglican Council is launching these “covenant care groups” all across North America. We believe this is one of the best ways to prevent clergy burnout and moral failure. Our focus is to help clergy “guard their hearts” and make sure they know how to keep their hearts full and overflowing with the life of Jesus himself.
Will you join us in this great work? If you have any questions about CLTI or would like to know more about our “covenant care groups,” please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In His Service,
Canon Phil Ashey