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I enjoy watching television crime dramas and any type of intriguing psychological thriller. However, in the last year or so, I have observed a disturbing trend: the introduction and acceptance of a mindset into our culture. And, like it or not, these mindsets shape our culture. Our words shape our culture. A couple of television shows that used to pique my attention were Pretty Little Liars and the one-season kidnapping drama Crisis. Both shows contained a very troubling sub-plot: an adult teacher having sex with a student. What troubled me even more, though, was the terminology used to identify these scenarios: On Pretty Little Liars the common verbiage to describe what occurred, repeatedly, between one of the main high school characters and a teacher was that they were dating or were “in love.” On Crisis the words were “they (teacher and student) were intimate.”

Neither television show offered the words “pedophile,” “sexual abuse,” or “sexual predator.” Now, this is not just semantic hair-splitting. Rather, this gross assertion that any type of sexual interaction between a youth and a trusted adult can be, at all, equal or consensual is sickening. Let us be real here, the characters involved are not on a level playing field. That is why I resonated so much with the article, It's Abuse, Not an Affair, and It Appears We Need to be Reminded... Again..., posted in Christianity Today.

This article addresses the need for the church, in our effort to address sexual abuse against minors, even older teenage minors, not to relegate it to something in which both sides are equally complicit. According to Bonnie Nicholas, director of Safe Church Ministry, “Abuse is different than consensual sex; it is an issue of misuse of power and position. Consent implies an equal relationship, which is not the case in a youth leader, student relationship.” 

For more information, visit our Safe Church website. On the left sidebar, click “resources for abuse awareness.” Many of the resources speak to the power dynamic operating in abuse situations, including a bulletin insert entitled, "Is it Abuse?" 

What do you think?


Good article.   But it doesn't go far enough.   Sexual activity outside of marriage is fornication, and therefore immoral for christians.  So even if it was consensual and of a common age, it counters the leadership principles and ideals of all involved members of the youthgroup.   Yes involvement of minors with majors is inappropriate.  But casual sex is inappropriate regardless outside of marriage.

Actually, John, I think you have to be careful about a focus on the wrongness of sex outside of marriage - then the focus is on the guilt of both parties.  A sexual relationship, even one where the young person feels they are "in love", between a young person and an adult church leader is abuse -- a mis-use of power.  That leader has ABUSED their position of power and ABUSED the young person sexually.  A focus on the wrongness of extramarital sex in general leads to blaming the victim. 

Thank you for your wise comments Pam. A power imbalance in the relationship must always be considered in determining abuse. Consensual sex assumes an equal-power relationship. It is always the responsibility of the person with the most power in a relationship to maintain and to guard healthy relational boundaries. That is the responsibility of the pastor or church leader in the context of the church community. It's important to place the responsibility where it belongs and hold those with sacred power accountable for their actions.

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