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Majority of Protestant Pastors Believe Sex Offenders Should Permanently Leave the Ministry

A significant majority of Protestant church leaders in the United States believe pastors who commit child or adult sexual abuse should permanently withdraw from public ministry.

A survey conducted by Lifeway Research found that 83% of Protestant pastors believe a pastor who commits child sexual abuse should never again serve as a minister. Two percent said the time away should be at least 10 years, 3% said at least five years, and another 3% said at least two years.

When asked about sexual abuse of adults, 74% supported requiring permanent withdrawal from public ministry while 5% supported an absence of at least five years and another 5% at least two years.

“Most current pastors believe the office of pastor is incompatible with having sexually abused or assaulted another,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “This does not convey that they believe these behaviors are beyond God’s forgiveness, but a large majority believe sexual abuse is a permanent disqualification from ministry leadership.”

Pentecostal pastors (60%), African American pastors (67%), pastors with no college degree (69%), and pastors 65 and older (76%) are less likely to support permanent banishment for child sexual abuse, the survey found.

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But Pentecostal pastors (44%) were the only demographic in which a majority do not support the exit of pastors who sexually assault adults.

2019 Lifeway Research study found that many Protestant churchgoers believe there are additional undisclosed instances of Protestant pastors sexually abusing children or teens (32%) or sexually assaulting adults (29%).

The same study found that 75% of churchgoers would want a careful investigation conducted if someone accused a pastor at their church of sexual misconduct. Just 14% said they would want to see their minister protected.

Anne Stych

Anne Stych is a writer in Charlotte, North Carolina.