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Karen A. McClintock
Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000
Review by:
Rev. Jade C. Angelica

With Sexual Shame, author, minister, and therapist Karen McClintock joins the fervent group of pioneering religious leaders intent on bringing the issue of sexuality to the attention of Christian congregations. Consistent with the pioneer spirit, McClintock proposes a place to begin rather than proclaiming an end point. Her book, like an encyclopedia, briefly touches many sexual subjects, including teen pregnancy, premarital sex, child sexual abuse, rape, adultery, dating after divorce, clergy sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, homosexuality, sexual pleasure in marriage, and sexual addiction. McClintock, however, does not explore any of these topics in depth. Rather than quenching the reader’s thirst, Sexual Shame whets the appetite, encouraging readers to begin here and seek additional information and deeper understanding elsewhere.

For example, in chapter 2, “Defining Sexual Shame,” the author devotes only one page to the definition of shame and one page to the difference between shame and guilt. A few sentences about sexuality and spirituality elsewhere in the book may disappoint readers who crave an integration of these powerful human drives. However, additional resources-some noted in the author’s bibliography-and well-established organizations such as SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States) are available to provide information and support to readers who seek more.

Like a pioneer, McClintock is bold. She directly challenges the church’s perpetration of sexual abuse by exposing the relationship of this abuse to the theological articulation of patriarchy. She is also courageous. Although some professionals in the sexuality field might disagree with her opinions and object to her methods, she dares to publicly state her position and begin the discussion. If Sexual Shame sparks passionate discourse of any kind, then McClintock has accomplished her goal of launching a conversation about sexuality and shame among religious adults.
In chapter 5, “Sexual Sin,” the author reminds us that our congregations, church leaders, and pastors have the potential to heal or further harm victims of sexual abuse or sexual shame. She encourages us to learn how to heal. This chapter also provides a guideline for developing our own sexual ethic based on the “Study on Human Sexuality” published by the United Church of Christ in 1977. If readers take only one suggestion from Sexual Shame, let this be it.

I found two gems in this book which will enrich my life evermore. In the preface (p. xi), McClintock uses the phrase “tender exchange” as a description of what sexual intercourse “should” be about. In a culture where seduction, performance, and orgasmic outcomes are emphasized, it was a relief to be reminded of the potential-no, the longing-for the expression of sexuality to be tender. The second gem came to me in chapter 15 in the section titled “Looking for Jesus.” The author cites John 8:4, in which a woman is to be stoned for adultery. McClintock proposes that Jesus’ words, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her,” released the woman from shame. But the author’s comment is what enriched me: “I wonder, too, what happened to the man she had been with. I seethe with the injustice of his escape from shame and persecution at the hands of an angry crowd. But I do know one thing more. The man who wasn’t brought before them never heard Jesus’ redemptive voice. He carried his shame onward . . .” (p. 143). With this perspective, McClintock shows us that one way to heal our shame is to humble ourselves before God and our peers, reveal our wounds and our wrongdoings, seek and receive forgiveness-and repent. McClintock does not stress repentance as a necessary ingredient for healing sexual shame, so I add that point to the discussion as my opinion.

In chapter 13, “Methods for Healing,” and chapter 14, “Ground Rules for Conversations,” McClintock admittedly moves into an area of potential danger and what the author herself termed wild ideas about healing sexual shame. I encourage religious leaders and congregations to receive these ideas with caution and to evaluate their potential effectiveness with the clear understanding that opening conversations about sexual shame in a congregation without appropriate knowledge, training, and facilitation will be like walking through a mine field.
The author suggests that the congregation might become like an Alcoholics Anonymous group where people have learned to safely reveal their shame and recover from it. As an initial step toward healing congregational sexual shame in safety, I recommend that interested individuals first begin this work on their own in therapy or in an already existing 12-step program, such as Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. Following that, they can return to the congregation and help religious leaders safely integrate the healing of sexual shame into the community. This is a worthy-albeit challenging-endeavor.

Rev. Jade C. Angelica
Director, The Child Abuse Ministry
Scarborough, Maine

Moving Beyond Shame by Maricris Briones of Science and Spirit Magazine

Christian leaders have long told the faithful to repress ‘those feelings’. Now many therapists and theologians are encouraging a holistic sexuality.

NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2001-A devout Catholic and daughter of a former nun, Veronica (not her real name) grew up in a household where even talking about sex was strictly taboo. So when Veronica’s mother walked in on her masturbating at age twelve, both froze in shock. “We never discussed it afterward, but my mom had expressed that God did not allow people to touch themselves in that way,” she says. “After that, [I believed], ‘This is a very dark, bad part of myself.'”

Fifteen years later, though she is part of a healthy marriage, Veronica carries vestiges of that early shame. “I can talk about [masturbation] with my friends and act like I’m totally open to the idea, but internally, it’s [still] a bad thing for me,” she says.

Veronica is not alone in her ambivalence. Traditional Christian teachings have long pitted sexual desire and activity against love of God, creating a divide between the sexual self and spiritual self that can be difficult to bridge. That duality can lead to a sense of sexual shame, says therapist and theologian Karen McClintock, author of Sexual Shame: An Urgent Call to Healing (Fortress Press, 2001). And whether it’s about masturbation, general arousal, or sexual orientation, sexual shame affects individuals, their families, and congregations.

“The church is torn apart over this issue,” says McClintock, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology and is an ordained United Methodist clergy member. “We think the conflict is over homosexuality, but really it’s over sexuality and sensuality. To make gays and lesbians the problem is to ignore the reality of the church’s unclear messages and unarticulated positions on sex during the last 2,000 years.” From a re-examination of the lessons of the Garden of Eden to citations from psychological shame theory, McClintock’s work echoes a larger movement to incorporate both science and modern biblical theory to promote healthy sexuality in religion.

“It’s not a question of persuading denominations to change their teachings-it’s a question of trying to encourage them to explore how sexual health is achieved,” says Julian Slowinski, senior clinical psychologist at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia and a former Benedictine monk. “Traditional religious teachings have been very oppressive about sexuality and contributed to a negative understanding.”

Such teachings have led not only to guilt, but shame, McClintock says. Unlike guilt, which can motivate change, sexual shame erodes the core sense of well-being, creating an “emotional experience of unworthiness” attached to past events, usually involving aspects of sexuality that are unchangeable. And if a family or church doles out heavy doses of shame without positive messages to counteract them, individuals within the environment can become debilitated by shame, or “shame-bound.”

To hide whatever it is they’re ashamed of-whether it be basic sexual urges or clinical sexual deviance-shame-bound people develop coping strategies to hide the source of their shame, inevitably affecting those around them, McClintock says. In a family, for example, feelings of shame function to keep secrets secret. A similar dynamic works in congregations, where the burden is magnified if it is clergy who carry the shame.

“[R]eligious leaders are laden with the burden of shame if they do not embody the congregation’s strictest moral codes,” McClintock writes, and the only way to heal the separation between this idealized self and the actual sexual self is for clergy and congregations to create a safe environment where sexual issues can be addressed openly.

Of course, it’s easier said than done. The sexuality-spirituality dualism at work in individuals like Veronica can be even stronger in traditional Christian congregations. “A generation ago, you couldn’t even say Mary was pregnant,” McClintock points out. “You had to say she was ‘graced with child.'”

To begin healing in the short term, McClintock suggests shame-bound congregations use a model based on clinical addiction recovery programs, which are grounded in creating safe but controlled situations for people to discuss issues openly. In the long term, McClintock and many others believe theological education needs to provide sex education and psychotherapy for clergy to prepare them for parish leadership.

The Wayne, Pennsylvania-based Center for Sexuality and Religion is promoting just that. Founded in 1988, the organization aims to strengthen the relationship between sexuality and spirituality by encouraging sexual and spiritual health among clergy and by providing them information, education, and training to foster the same in their parishioners.

“If you have very strong feelings about certain types of sexuality, that’s going to show up,” says the Rev. Canon Charles Cesaretti, the center’s executive director. “If a parishioner comes up to you and says they’re dealing with sexual issues, are you going to deal with [that person] as an individual, or are your own attitudes about sexuality going to get in the way?”

Like McClintock, leaders of the Center for Sexuality and Religion believe sexuality needs to be approached in a way that incorporates rather than excludes religion, and they are currently developing guidelines to help seminaries incorporate human sexuality into the curricula.

“If you move from a traditional acts-centered sexuality to a relationship-centered sexuality that is more holistic, it opens up a whole new way to approach it within an ethical context,” says psychologist Slowinski, who is also chair of the center’s board of directors.

Many theologians and ethicists are embracing this holistic approach, Slowinski says, because “it takes into account scripture, tradition; it takes into account human experience and reason as a way of dealing with a very important moral decision.”

According to McClintock, such an approach is key to retaining young adults, who-without a sexual decision-making framework that incorporates spirituality-may drift from Christianity just at the time they are discovering and exploring their sexuality.

“Young people are growing so tired of marketing messages about casual sex that again are separating our bodies from our spirit,” McClintock says. “The church is doing it on one side, and the marketing of sexual freedoms is doing it on the other. They’re both part of the same.

Fortress Press, 2001, 159 pages
Review by Wayne Copenhaver

This book is about healing, healing of a profound pain in human existence: shame, a sense of profound unworthiness of one’s very being due to situations of sexual violation. As with many large social issues, the problem of shame is not confined to the so-called “secular” realm. It is as prevalent and diverse within religious congregations as anywhere else.

With careful historical references the author traces many of the shaming elements in biblical interpretation and church history that have passed from generation to generation into the present Christian experience and our culture at large. McClintock is deeply concerned for the healing of the profound trauma of shame not just in individuals, but within group systems, such as marriages, families and congregations. Using seismological imagery, she sees long-unhealed shame as a dangerous “fault line” running through individual and congregational lives.

While this subject is a delicate one, often avoided or denied, the author forthrightly lays out the wide spectrum of such shaming both through careful scholarship and via glimpses into the lives of those suffering the problem and moving into healing. The author’s vulnerability in sharing some of her own experiences with being shamed, both interpersonally and in the corporate, congregational context, invites the reader into his/her personal engagement with this issue. Yet this sharing is restrained and appropriate to the books development, while providing an example of movement into healing.

The author emphasizes repeatedly the importance of congregational leaders’ becoming conscious of the workings of shame in their own lives and being intentional about doing what is necessary to heal themselves and their congregations. This book “provides the tools to identify the assumptions, behaviors, and structures that promote–while masking–sexual shame” and to begin the healing process both individually and corporately.

McClintock’s credentials for writing a book on this topic are impressive: She has a doctorate in clinical psychology, works as a therapist at Samaritan Counseling Center of Southern Oregon, and holds adjunct faculty status at Southern Oregon University. She is also a clergy member of the California/Nevada United Methodist Annual Conference, with several years’ experience as a working pastor who has become acutely observant of congregational dynamics. This book is theologically challenging while being quite accessible to the “lay” reader; it is rooted in an obvious awareness and experience of the deepest truths of biblical scriptures.

The book includes helpful chapter footnotes and an excellent bibliography of related resources. Questions for reflection and discussion are included at the end of each chapter, making this book useful for both group and individual use.

Wayne Copenhaver is Administrative Assistant at First Friends Meeting, Richmond, Indiana, and is a graduate of Earlham School of Religion. He enjoys gardening and hiking.

[ISBN Number 0-8006-3238-9]

Workshop Review Faith Break Archive
October Faith Break by Pastor Anthony Tang
From The Newsletter of Ocotillo Springs United Methodist Church
(Click here to visit the Ocotillo Springs United Methodist Church website.)


As you have read here in the last few issues, our resident Bishop Dew asked for participation from every church in “The Bishop’s Call to Study and Reflection on Sexuality and Ethics.” Several things happened at this workshop:

The workshop explained our Annual Conference’s policies and State laws.

It outlined which behaviors and conditions can put a congregation at greater risk for experiencing sexual misconduct incidents.

We discussed healthy counseling practices and procedures and appropriate boundaries.

What I found most fascinating, was the foundational belief/issue of the entire program as explained by our leader, Karen McClintock, PhD: the primary cause of sexual misconduct is: SHAME. Shame-based congregations have high rates of sexual misconduct. Shame-filled pastors are most likely to commit sexual misconduct. Shame-filled parishioners are most likely to get involved in inappropriate sexual relationships. For example, shame-based persons/congregations don’t talk about sex or sexuality; feel shunned or put down by others; blame others for problems; focus on mistakes; are defensive; refuse to talk openly about shameful, abusive, or compulsive behaviors; and deny when these symptoms exist.

For those of you who have participated in our membership classes or have caught particular sermons, you may also recognize that we have defined “shame” as the most unhealthy spiritual state of living which is furthest from spiritual growth. Interesting, no?!?! Shame is to live in the false beliefs that one is bad, that God hates, and that nothing good can ever come from oneself. The consequence of living shame is that one’s perception of self, others, God, and the world is entirely skewed and that often leads to inappropriate acts and desperate attempts at misguided salvation, like sexual misconduct.

If living in shame is the cause of horrible acts like clergy sexual abuse, then obviously shaming them would only worsen their state of despair. How, then, can we heal others from shame and/or heal ourselves from shame?

First, let us recognize that professional psychotherapy is an extremely effective form of help.

Second, secrets perpetuate shame and confessions of truth can help one to both reduce shame and commit to seeking help.

Third, refuse to endorse perfectionism (a major shame-affirming practice) and excuse-making by encouraging slow growth and learning positive lessons from mistakes.

Finally, one must forgive oneself and forgive others (not to pardon others or approve of negative behavior, but as a form of personal healing).

Though these activities may sound so easy to a healthy person, these can be monumental hurdles for a shame-filled life. Remember: it requires slow growth, daily practice, and total reliance on a loving God of grace and miracles.

If any of the above shame conditions sound too familiar, I hope that you may feel that our congregation is a place to heal and a place with people who will love and affirm you. Feel free to call if you have questions or desire further resources.

Coming up on our web site, be on the lookout for congregational resources and materials to maintain our church as a loving, shame-free zone and for State and denominational policies.

See you in church,
Pastor Anthony Tang