Does the heady scent of burning incense, the glow of blazing candles, and the moan of a church organ cause some to fall from the high ground of propriety, fidelity, and chastity?
In 1927, novelist Sinclair Lewis published Elmer Gantry, which tells the story of a womanizing college athlete who “upon realizing the power and prestige that being a preacher can bring, pursues his ‘religious’ ambitions with relish, contributing to the downfall, even death, of key people around him as the years pass,” according to Wikipedia. “. . . The novel ends as the Rev. Gantry prays for the USA to be a ‘moral nation’ and simultaneously admires the legs of a new choir singer.”
While Lewis was ahead of his time, exposés of scandals involving illicit sex and clergy, particularly the identification of too many Catholic priests as pedophiles, have grown exponentially since evangelist Jimmy Swaggart got caught with a hooker in the late 1980s.
Colorado evangelical Paul Barnes, of the 2100-member Grace Church, was recently forced to step down after he confessed to taking part in the same gay sex that he railed against from the altar. Barnes’s controversy paled against the earlier resignation of Ted Haggard, of the 14,000-member New Life mega-church in the same state. Haggard, a married father of five, confessed that he was guilty of “sexual immorality” with a gay hooker and had bought meth from the man.
Sex seems to pervade religion. Muslims still strive for a 100 virgins: Mormons and others take wives by the dozen. Beneath the Magdalene Laundries of Ireland, where young “wild” girls were put away, the skeletal remains of babies many alleged to be the products of clerical rapes, were unearthed. The Internet is ripe with Web sites in which victims of sexual abuse by men of the cloth, from every possible creed, tell their sad stories. Why are such stories so pervasive?
Perhaps it is because in religious settings, rigid beyond tradition, the dark side of sex thrives. Men determined to control hold sway over subservient disciples eager to please. Secrecy, mystery, and prophecy — sexual fuel for centuries — are everywhere. The innocence of childhood and the blindness of acolytes make it difficult for some victims to deny their attackers any request. Abusers perpetuate the myth that the Almighty commands such acts.
There is just plain ignorance. In the Ozarks, a devastated congregation of about 100 people recently heard a dozen women members accuse two ministers of years of sexual misconduct. One of those clergymen is the son of a so-called “religious leader” who is said to have fathered children with his own daughters and daughters-in-law. This was called “taking care of the girls.”
Sexual crimes happen in God’s houses because we make it possible. Though people cannot be saved from their own gullibility or their need for “religion,” why should it be easier to declare oneself a “preacher” or to register a “church” in America than to get a license to cut hair or to open a restaurant?
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