Power Imbalance Can Facilitate Clerical Abuse

Accusations of sexual misconduct by a suburban Atlanta pastor are troubling, but all too familiar for many abuse victims. While the facts of the Atlanta case are still unknown, the abuse of congregation members by clergy, regardless of religion, is nothing new.

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JENNIFER LUDDEN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Jennifer Ludden in Washington. Neal Conan is away.

The accusations are both horrible and familiar. Bishop Eddie Long, pastor of an Atlanta church with a congregation 25,000 strong, faces allegations from four young men that he coerced them into sexual relationships.

We want to note here that no criminal charges have been filed, and the bishop says he will fight the civil complaints in court.

The leader of any religious community has the opportunity to be a powerful source of good, but we have long experience with the damage when that power is abused.

Today, power, misconduct and the pulpit. We'll look at what is unique about the abuse of power by religious leaders, what can be done to weed out predators and how well-meaning clergy and being trained to navigate the complicated relationship between a pastor and his flock.

If you're training to be a pastor, rabbi or priest of any religion, how are you preparing yourself to use the power of your position well? If you've led a congregation for many years, what helped you avoid abusing power, even inadvertently?

Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can just the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later, NPR's Frank Langfitt visits no man's land. We'll talk about his reporting trip to Mogadishu, Somalia.

But first, here to help us understand how and why religious leaders abuse their power and what's being done to teach new clergy to avoid the pitfalls is Youtha Hardman-Cromwell. She's assistant dean at Wesley Theological Seminary here in Washington, D.C., and professor of practice in ministry and mission.

At Wesley, Dean Cromwell teaches a course called Sexual Issues in Parish Ministry, and she joins us here in Studio 3A. Welcome to you.

Professor YOUTHA HARDMAN-CROMWELL (Assistant Dean, Professor of Practice in Ministry and Mission, Wesley Theological Seminary): Thank you.

LUDDEN: And from KQED, our member station in San Francisco. We're joined by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, the Emanu-El Scholar at Temple Emanu-El. He's also served for many years as an adjunct professor at Hebrew Union College and is the author of many books about Jewish spirituality. His latest is titled "I'm God, You're Not: Observations on Organized Religion and Other Disguises of the Ego." Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION, Rabbi.

Rabbi LAWRENCE KUSHNER (Emanu-El Scholar, Temple Emanu-El; Author, "I'm God, You're Not"): Good morning.

LUDDEN: So Ms. Hardman-Cromwell, let me ask you first: Anyone who has power and authority could abuse it. What is unique when it comes to the clergy?

Prof. HARDMAN-CROMWELL: Well, one of the things that I think is unique when it comes to the clergy is that clergy are regarded as representatives of God. And so people very often give more credence to what they do and say than they might to other people.

The other thing is that clergy have a kind of access that other people don't have. So as an ordinary person, you know, I can't just walk into your hospital room, for example, and start a conversation with you or so forth. And so that would not be acceptable. But a clergyperson can do that. A clergyperson can enter into places where other people have to be invited. The clergyperson can go uninvited. And so I think that that makes a difference.

LUDDEN: Right. Rabbi Kushner, what would you add to that?

Rabbi KUSHNER: I'm thinking of an image. Probably the holiest object in Jewish worship is a scroll of the Torah, a handwritten scroll of the five books of Moses. And during worship services, the rabbis routinely will carry that scroll around through the congregation. And everyone will want to reach out and either touch it or kiss it, perhaps with the fringes on their prayer shawl or their prayer book.

And it's very, very easy, if you do that week in and week out, to get mixed up and start thinking that the reason that all those people want to be close to you is not because of what you're carrying but because of you. And that can lead to some very dangerous psychological problems for a would-be religious leader.

LUDDEN: Professor Hardman-Cromwell, you're nodding your head.

Prof. HARDMAN-CROMWELL: Yes, I am because, you know, I tell my students who take the sexual issues class that, you know, that the worship services give people, if they're really good, a kind of a high experience. The Bible doesn't know the difference I mean, the body doesn't know the difference between the source of a high.

And so when you have people who are in your congregation who are single or single in relationship to that congregation because their mate does not participate, or you have people you know, I tell them sometimes when they haven't been hugged since the last week when you hugged them, that people live alone, and they live very isolated.

And so when you make them feel really good in the service, and they see you're the one that they attribute that I felt so good in worship today and have some kind of high experience, then they can attribute that to you, and it can cause some interesting dynamics.

So I tell them it's not about you, you know, the same thing that he was saying. It's not about the clergyperson.

LUDDEN: That is so interesting. But now, people do go to service, but you were talking about how the clergy can come into your lives uninvited outside the church, to your house, to a hospital bed. I mean, what do you mean, exactly?

Prof. HARDMAN-CROMWELL: Well, what I mean is that people have access into your lives. I use the hospital as an example. But, you know, if I see a person who's a part of my congregation, and I know that they're different from what they usually are, I mean, something's going on with them, you know, I would say, you know, how are you doing? What's going on with you?

And so I'm much more likely to know when people are vulnerable because of some crisis in their lives, which could be something that isn't so visible to the rest of the congregation, like an illness or a death might be more obvious to everybody. But in all of those circumstances, I can make an entree into that person's space, psychological and even physical space.

Rabbi KUSHNER: I served...

LUDDEN: Yes, Rabbi?

Rabbi KUSHNER: I served a congregation, my own pulpit in suburban Boston, actually not too far away from you, Dean Cromwell, for almost 30 years. And over all that time, people would start telling me things.

And you just - I once, after having been there for a long time, was sitting up on the pulpit, on the stage, you know, where everyone is looking at you and lots of ego problems can easily come from that, and I leaned over to the cantor, and I paraphrased the way an old TV show from when I was a little boy said, there are nine million stories in the naked city and tonight is one of them.

And I said to the cantor, I think I know one story about each person in this room. And it can do funny things to your head.

LUDDEN: That's a power in itself right there.

Rabbi KUSHNER: Yeah.

LUDDEN: Professor Hardman-Cromwell, it is just so interesting to me that there is a class that exists, this class that you teach, Sexual Issues in Parish Ministry. Tell me about it.

Prof. HARDMAN-CROMWELL: I thought of teaching it when I put it together when I was at Harvard Divinity School. I also got my M.Div. degree there. And I did because I was really interested in how the church wasn't dealing with sexual issues. So a lot of the things that I did in my classes, when I had some freedom to choose my topic or whatever, were around that. And I finally got the opportunity to put this class together. I had been asking the school, we need to do something, you know. And I got a chance to put that together.

And what I tried to do, I tell the students who come into the class, I'm not trying to change your attitudes about anything, but I want you to know about all kinds of sexual issues so that when you're out there, nobody comes - if I can help it, and of course, there are always new things that are coming up if I can help it that anyone will come into your class and say something that just knocks you right off your chair.

I want you to have as much information as you can to help people and to respond appropriately when people bring issues to you. So that's the way the class is supposed to....

LUDDEN: So seeing it coming is the first line of defense.

Prof. HARDMAN-CROMWELL: Yes.

LUDDEN: Right. We have several calls already. Let's hear from one now, Brian(ph) in how do you say the name of your town in Florida?

BRIAN (Caller): Ocala.

LUDDEN: Ocala. Welcome to TALK OF THE NATION.

BRIAN: Ocala, Florida.

LUDDEN: Go right ahead.

BRIAN: Okay. One of the things, I'm a second-generation pastor. My father was a pastor, and I'm a second-generation pastor. And one of the things that I found out is that pastors, and a lot of times the members within a church, they do this, the pastors allow it, they - pastors up on a pedestal. And the pastor becomes their father, becomes a big part of their life in so many ways.

And with me, with the many counseling sessions that I've done, and you deal with many type of people that come through your ministries, pastors need to always and this is what has kept me out of so much trouble always make sure that if they're going into private counseling sessions, they need to let someone know.

I'll say this quickly, and I'll listen from off the air. I remember on my way home one day, I was calling to check on one of my members that was she had a stillborn baby in her belly. And she had a (unintelligible), and I was checking on her, and she had three little children in the house.And I was going by to check on her kids her husband was at work. Before I went over there, I made sure that I (technical difficulties) with my wife, and I got in contact with one of the deacons in the church to let them know that I'm going by this house to check (technical difficulties) this member because of the issue that is at hand...

LUDDEN: Because you knew she was vulnerable, is that what you're saying?

BRIAN: Say that again?

LUDDEN: You knew she was vulnerable?

BRIAN: Not that she was vulnerable, but she was sick. She had a stillborn baby that she was waiting to pass. She was passing a baby that had died in her belly. And I needed to go by (technical difficulties) children that was at home because she could not move due to the illnesses that was at hand.

But I contact someone. I contact - I made sure that I got in contact with her husband. I got in contact with my wife. I got in contact with one of my deacons to let them know that I'm in the area, and I'm going by to check on this member. But this someone else knew where I was.

And this is what pastors need to do. They need to make sure that they put themselves in a position to where they are accountable to someone else and not just feel like they can handle everything on their own.

LUDDEN: I see. All right, well, Brian, thank you so very much for calling.

BRIAN: Okay.

LUDDEN: We are going to talk more about power, misconduct and the clergy, and we'll get more of your calls in a moment.

If you're a pastor, rabbi or priest, or if you're training to become one, how do you prepare? How do you avoid abusing your power, even inadvertently? Call us at 800-989-8255. You can also reach us by email. Our address is talk@npr.org. I'm Jennifer Ludden. It is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

LUDDEN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Jennifer Ludden.

Allegations of clergy abuse come in any number of forms: sexual, financial, psychological. One thing they all have in common: Misconduct challenges every faith in many different communities.

We're talking today about the complicated mix of power and spirituality and what's being done to prevent misuse of that power.

If you're training to be a pastor, rabbi or priest of any religion, how are you preparing yourself to use the power of your position well? And if you've led a congregation for many years, what helped you avoid abusing power, even inadvertently?

Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Our guests are Youtha Hardman-Cromwell, assistant dean from Wesley Theological Seminary here in Washington, D.C.; and Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, Emanu-El Scholar at Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco.

And we're going to start with an email we've got from Holly(ph) in Kansas. She says: I've been the pastor of the same church for 20 years. It has been a gracious, rich, delightful, challenging ministry. I am a woman pastor, and even in a healthy, functional congregation, it is tough to hold the boundaries you need to hold.

There are always folks who want to cross boundaries, who want to be too close, who want to give you gifts, etcetera. I hold firm but gracious boundaries with my church members by and through my ongoing work with my therapist.

I am as angry as anyone with clergy abuse, but, she writes, I also have to say wow. Dealing with 1,000 parishioners is not as easy as it looks. It is a relationship that is, as the speakers describe, like no other.

And we are going to go to another call. Peggy(ph) is in Wickford, Rhode Island. Go right ahead.

PEGGY (Caller): Hi. I'm so, so glad that you're using the term power abuse because and frankly, if these were women that Eddie Long had abused, we might still have a problem calling it power abuse, but I'm very glad because that's what it is. It's not an affair. Even if it's two adults, it's not an affair because of the differential in power.

I'm a clinical social worker. I've treated a number of people exploited and abused by clergy, as well as therapists, doctors, etcetera. And there is a great resource on the Web. It's called advocateweb.org.

And it is for people who have been abused by clergy, professionals, sports coaches, any of those power-differential relationships. And many people have said it saved their lives after they were exploited and abused.

LUDDEN: Well, thank you so much for the call. Rabbi Kushner, do you have you know, what do you have for rabbis in training?

Rabbi KUSHNER: Well, I think an important thing for everybody to remember, I first read it in the work of the great 20th-century philosopher Martin Buber, who's famous for talking about, probably many people have heard of it, the I-thou relationship in which two subjects meet one another and have a beautiful and a powerful sharing.

But Buber is quick to point out that in the helping relationships, of which I think a clergy-congregant relationship would be one of the paradigms, they are by definition asymmetrical.

One person has what the other person wants, and the dynamic of the relationship is is that the person who wants it is trying to get it, and the minute that they get it, then the relationship technically ends because they become equal. But the problem is is that the primary relationship is asymmetrical.

LUDDEN: So can there be a consensual relationship? I mean, can...

Rabbi KUSHNER: A conversation, a helping, but all relationships have to be consensual, of course.

LUDDEN: A consensual sexual relationship between a member of the clergy and a member of the...

Rabbi KUSHNER: No, I think that's, that would be terribly dangerous. And that would be especially because so much of the relationships between congregants and clergy are complicated by what the psychologists call transference, that is, in the case of a male rabbi, the congregant can easily confuse the male rabbi with his or her father and bring all that baggage that they have with their father onto the relationship with the clergyman. So it's very complicated.

And the need, therefore, as one of the callers mentioned, strict boundaries is critical, essential in maintaining a healthy and healing relationship.

LUDDEN: Okay. And we should say again that the allegations against Atlanta's bishop are allegations only at this point, and he has said he will fight them in court.

Let's take a call now from Ed(ph) in San Antonio, Texas. Go right ahead. Hi there.

ED (Caller): Hello. Hello? Hi, this is Ed. I can't hear you very well.

LUDDEN: Okay, we can hear you. Go right ahead.

ED: Well, my question is for congregations that are searching for a new clergyperson, they have search committees or things like that, couldn't it be a way to avoid the heartache of clergy power abuse to call a female clergyman? It seems to me that I've never heard a female clergy in these kind of sexual scandals like we have all heard with males.

Now, maybe I'm incorrect, but I just want to inquire: Is it a trait of female clergy that there is less frequent sexual scandal and the kind of aggressiveness that we see with male clergy?

LUDDEN: Let's put this to Professor Youtha Hardman-Cromwell, who's right here.

Prof. HARDMAN-CROMWELL: Well, one of the things that I think you need to consider also is that there are fewer female clergy than there are male clergy, even though that the numbers are increasing of female clergy.

And I do agree with you...

ED: What was that? I'm just asking is it only a matter of ratio of female-to-male clergy?

Prof. HARDMAN-CROMWELL: Well, I was going to say that I do not think that it is necessarily gender-specific, but I do want to make a distinction between two situations.

There are clergy who are predators, that is that they are seeking out to use people for their own gratification. There are also clergy who get into sexual misconduct situations because they're looking for a mate. And those are two very, very distinct things.

And so it would be very easy to have a male or a female person who didn't understand, if they weren't trained to do that, if they ignored the training, to look for a mate in their congregation and get into all kinds of difficulties in the congregation.

But if a person is a predator and, you know, in general, in our society, you don't hear about female predators to the extent you do male predators. So I don't see any reason it wouldn't be the same thing as far as clergy are concerned.

So I would say that just calling someone who is a female clergyperson wouldn't necessarily guarantee that you wouldn't end up with a predator, but I'd hope that you would call a female clergy on their own merits.

LUDDEN: All right, well, Ed, thanks for the call.

ED: Okay, thank you.

LUDDEN: Let's hear from Steve(ph) in Las Vegas, Nevada. Hi, Steve.

STEVE (Caller): Hi, how are you this morning?

LUDDEN: Good. Go right ahead.

STEVE: I'm listening to this. I'm very interested. I don't know if it's going to hit the nail on the head of what you're talking about, but the church that I grew up in, in California in the mid-'70s, it wasn't necessarily the clergy abuse but more like the hierarchy, the families, the higher-standing families in the church who did - as I think back, I witnessed certain things happening that I, you know, I was too young to put together at that time.

And as time passed, there was a split in the church where, say, the lesser, you know, whatever, however you want to categorize it, were left at the church, and the other people that were the hierarchy, including the minister, left, leaving us at the home church made to feel, because these things happened to us, less than human.

And I still have very, very strong Christian belief, but I do not like to participate in organized religions like this because I see things that I know might happen. And I don't know if this is following along the lines of what you're talking about...

LUDDEN: I'm not sure what kind of abuse you're talking about. I don't want to get too explicit on the air, but...

STEVE: Well, no, it was I - attempted, you know, attempted sexual abuse.

LUDDEN: Okay.

STEVE: Not on my part, but I saw these things.

LUDDEN: Let's put this to Rabbi Lawrence Kushner. Do, you know, when there are breaches of power like this, does it breed cynicism in the congregation? How can you avoid that?

Rabbi KUSHNER: Oh, it's devastating for a religious community, for the congregation to have to confront the fact that their religious leader is not only human but indeed perhaps a sexual predator. It's it can take congregations decades, generations to really heal from the pain that that causes.

LUDDEN: You actually came into a situation at your temple now. There had been a rabbi who left after allegations, just a short time before. Is that right? How has that played out?

Rabbi KUSHNER: I'm happy to say I came in long after that was gone and don't have much to say about it...

LUDDEN: Okay.

Rabbi KUSHNER: ...except that it was a great tragedy. And the congregation brought itself together and is, I think, by and large healed from that terrible chapter in its history.

I mean, the big problem, of course, is - and I think, perhaps many of your listeners might not realize this - is that for clergy people, certainly for rabbis, there is simply no time when a rabbi is out of role. The joke among rabbis is that going to the supermarket can be a work experience. The rabbi would say, you know, if you don't want to be a rabbi, you have to put on a disguise and go to a far away country, and even then, somebody is going to spot you on the beach and say, Rabbi Kushner.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rabbi KUSHNER: So the role and all of the holiness and all of the power that goes with it can easily be confused as being who you are, and, of course, that's not who you are. That's what you do. And any rabbi, any clergyman, clergyperson, has to be keenly aware of that bright line between what they do for a living and who they are. And it's complicated by the fact that they're never out of role.

LUDDEN: Okay. Thank you for calling, Steve(ph), and Professor Hardman-Cromwell wants to add something.

Prof. HARDMAN-CROMWELL: I want to say something to Steve, and I'm very sorry that he - is his name Steve?

LUDDEN: Yes.

Prof. HARDMAN-CROMWELL: That he's moved away from congregations in general because of that, because not all congregations are unhealthy. But that's one of the dangers in people misusing their power. They turn people off from the faith community, which is the place in which we can find nurturing support, and we should be able to find it there. But I want to say something about, you know, he didn't say specifically that it was sexual abuse. I wasn't clear about...

LUDDEN: I think he said attempted sexual abuse.

Prof. HARDMAN-CROMWELL: But what I do see is the problem is that clergy can abuse congregations in other ways that are not sexual and train them therefore to accept abuse.

LUDDEN: Like what? What do you mean?

Prof. HARDMAN-CROMWELL: Well, for example, I think that it's rather abusive when you encourage people to give beyond what is healthy for their family situation, so that you can have an elaborate lifestyle, for example.

LUDDEN: Hmm.

Prof. HARDMAN-CROMWELL: You know, that would be one thing that I would think of, or the abuse of power because we have as clergy the power - one of our bases of power is the power to reward or to punish. And so if you use that inappropriately, you can set people up to accept that this is what happens in church - abuse. And then you can rev it up to the sexual abuse at some point.

LUDDEN: All right, let me just remind people that you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And we have a call right on this topic from Lisa(ph) in Nevada City. Hi, there.

LISA (Caller): Hi. My issue was a power and prejudice issue with a pastor that I had been a member of the church for 16 years. And other women - I ran a singles group there - other women had come to me and told me that this is an issue, and I didn't believe them until it happened to me. My husband raped and beat me, and this particular pastor had done our premarital counseling. We moved away, and we lived away from the pastor for 12 years. And when this abuse became really bad and I separated from my husband, he went to that pastor and got counseling and came back and tried to force me to get back together with him. And when he tried to be abusive again, I slapped his face, and he went and got the pastor who had become our neighbor at that point, and I slapped the pastor's face because the pastor kept telling me that I was a bad wife.

LUDDEN: Oh, my.

LISA: And that Kevin(ph) did not abuse me - oh, he's - my husband did not abuse me, and I was a bad wife. And they had me put in jail for nine days for slapping their faces, and my husband was never prosecuted for rape and beating me, even though I had a doctor's report...

LUDDEN: Let me - that is so interesting. Let me get some - let's see if there's any reaction here from Rabbi Kushner.

Rabbi KUSHNER: I think the pastor committed a classic error, and that is not understanding that it takes two people to make a relationship.

LISA: Exactly.

Rabbi KUSHNER: And the moment he took sides, I think he violated one of the cardinal principles of pastoral counseling. So I'm very sorry for you, of course.

LUDDEN: All right, Lisa, thank...

Rabbi KUSHNER: I'm sorry for the pastor.

LISA: Thank you very much.

LUDDEN: Thank you for calling. Let's go to another caller now. Obi(ph) is Clearwater, Florida. Hi, there.

OBI (Caller): Yes, hi, there. Thank you so much for doing this show. It's an important and difficult subject, and I really appreciate the kind of information and clarity that your guests are bringing to share with us. My point, which actually goes back to one of your earlier callers regarding maintaining healthy boundaries, I just want to underscore that how something that has really helped me...

LUDDEN: And you're a Unitarian minister, is that right?

OBI: That's right. That's right. I've been serving a congregation in Clearwater, Florida for 12 years now, and have encountered situations where that line tends to get a little blurry. And it's not just about counseling members who are going through issues but also the issue of what is my role and what is the power that I carry, and how do I not only be attentive to that but also use it in a way that benefits the community that I serve, rather than support me and my own ego needs. And one of the things that I have found helpful is the code of professional ethics. That is a very important document that we who are members of our ministerial association are covenanted to uphold; both among each other as colleagues, but also with the congregations that we serve.

LUDDEN: All right, well, thank you for your call, Obi. Professor Hardman-Cromwell, are there different guidelines for different faiths? Where is, kind of, the regulatory overview here?

Prof. HARDMAN-CROMWELL: Well, in churches that are connected to each other in some kind of hierarchical way, and not just independent congregations or loosely associated with an association, most of them that I know anything about have guidelines or policies about sexual misconduct and are now training their clergy, you know, having they're require to come to training so that they understand.

It is getting a little more expansive that seminaries are dealing with the issues making you know, to make sure that their students are in some place or other in their curriculum, dealing with the issues, so that they come to it with an understanding that because of the power differential, they should never be in a erotic, sexual, romantic relationship with anyone that they're in ministry with.

LUDDEN: All right, and we're going to talk more about power and misconduct in the clergy in just a moment. Plus a rare glimpse inside what's been dubbed the most failed state. NPR's Frank Langfitt is just back from Mogadishu, Somalia.

Stay with us. I'm Jennifer Ludden. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

LUDDEN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Jennifer Ludden.

We're wrapping up our conversation about power, misconduct and the pulpit. Our guests are Youtha Hardman-Cromwell - she's assistant dean for Wesley Theological Seminary here in Washington and Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, Emanu-El scholar at Temple Emanu-El in San Francisco.

We have an interesting perspective here from a caller. Jan is in Newark(ph), New York. And I understand you are a pastor's wife, is that right?

JAN (Caller): Hi, yes I am. And I have two comments or issues that I'd be really interesting in hearing your guests' comment on.

LUDDEN: Go right ahead.

JAN: One, I'm excuse me one of my experiences as a pastor's wife has been in one particular congregation, where in the course of conversations over the years my husband was there, with various members - and in this case it was female members of the congregation - I would hear comments from them, from time to time, that made me realize that one of the things that seemed to be going on was that they were having what I would call a lot of fantasies about what would it be like to be married to a pastor?

LUDDEN: And they would say this in your presence, without realizing...

JEN: Well, yeah, actually.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LUDDEN: Wow.

JEN: You know, they'd say, well, what's it like to be married to a pastor?

LUDDEN: Pastor in general, not necessarily your husband.

JEN: Yes, they would say they would usually couch it in general terms. And I think the question was on a couple of different levels. One, what's it like to be in the role of a pastor's wife, to be in one way in a very public role. And the other sort of unspoken question underneath that was, you know, just uh, some sexual fantasizing about what's that like? So that's one issue.

The other that I would be interested in hearing...

LUDDEN: And if you could keep it just brief, we're coming up to the end of our talk here.

JEN: Okay. The other issue has to do with if your guest could comment on what they see the role of clergy spouse being in...

LUDDEN: Okay. Sure.

JEN: ...those situations.

LUDDEN: Rabbi Kushner, go right ahead. Thank you for calling, Jen.

Rabbi KUSHNER: Well, there's an old folk saying in Judaism that says, if some guy comes along and claims he's the Messiah, ask his wife.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Rabbi KUSHNER: I think that it's critically important for the spouse, the life partner of a clergy person, to practice his or her own unique way of saying like the following I love you, but remember, you're still a jerk.

LUDDEN: Keep them humble.

Rabbi KUSHNER: Well, it's very I mean, because after a while, rabbis can dangerously start believing their own PR.

LUDDEN: Right.

Rabbi KUSHNER: I'm reminded of a wonderful passage in the Talmud, which could come verbatim from an old Gary Cooper Western...

LUDDEN: Very quickly if you could.

Rabbi KUSHNER: ...in which God said, there's only room enough here in this world for your ego and me. You pick.

LUDDEN: All right, let's have we have time for one more very brief call. Aaron in Little Rock, if you could ask your question, briefly. Hi there.

AARON (Caller): Sure. Thanks for having me on. I just wanted to make one quick comment. I'm a youth pastor, and so not only do we have the ministerial power that you're talking about, but there's also kind of an age pastor that goes along with that, too. And in a conversation with a friend of mine, one of the things that we were discussing is - that's so important to avoid abuse, is to remember that at times, you need to preemptively confess; and say not that I necessarily am attracted or have any desire or want to create an abuse here, but that it's possible. Say, because we have, you know, these helping situations where we're coming alongside, you know, not just clergy members, but minors as well, and saying we recognize that this person is vulnerable.

LUDDEN: All right. Youtha Hardman-Cromwell, you're nodding your head here. The last word goes to you.

Prof. HARDMAN-CROMWELL: Oh, I was just going to say that I tried to tell my students that they need to know who they are, sexually. That's one of their best things. They need to know who they're attracted to, what kind of person, because we're attracted to a type. They need to know themselves. And one of the things their spouse, if they have one, can do for them, is they can help them spot the people that, you know, that they'd be vulnerable to. Because they know them. If they have and they need to marry for themselves and not for the church - so that their needs can get met outside of the congregation.

LUDDEN: All right. Youtha Hardman-Cromwell, assistant Dean at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. and professor of practicing ministry and mission, and Rabbi Lawrence Kushner joined us as well. He's Emanu-El scholar at Temple Emanu-El. His book is "I'm God, You're Not: Observations on Organized Religion and Other Disguises of the Ego." He joined us from member station KQED. Thank you so much to both of you.

Prof. HARDMAN-CROMWELL: Thank you.

Rabbi KUSHNER: Thank you.

LUDDEN: And also to the many personal stories that listeners shared with us, we do appreciate that.

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