A decade ago it would have been scandalous for a pastor to share his lifelong struggle with sex addiction, and it would have destroyed any future he may have had in ministry. Nowadays it is almost commonplace to hear such stories. In Ashamed No More: A Pastor’s Journey Through Sex Addiction, T. C. Ryan shares his personal struggle and its impact on his life and ministry. It provides an honest (and borderline graphic) account of how easy it is for many men—pastors no less than others—to slide into the numerous traps of our hypersexualized culture.
We follow Ryan from his descent into compulsive sexual behaviors up through his ongoing recovery and subsequent ministry. The first few chapters recount a tale of self-discovery and understanding of addiction, sexuality, brokenness, and spiritual warfare. His tales cut to the chase and include details that are occasionally cringe-worthy. Reflecting on the origins of his emotional wounds and the lies he had absorbed into his identity, Ryan makes generous references to pop culture influences, which will be especially recognizable to men in their 30s and up.
I find it refreshing that Ryan does not shy away from the spiritual aspects of his struggle; however, at times this fuses rather awkwardly with the more therapeutic and psychological frameworks that he attempts to integrate, and he is somewhat susceptible to over-spiritualizing the issue. But one section that is particularly helpful—and that is in line with a more developed contemporary understanding of recovery—is the section on mindfulness near the middle of the book. It is encouraging to see clergy actively employing the findings of researchers in communicating their stories, and mindfulness is one of the more relevant and important practices employed in recovery programs today. Fitting squarely within a Christian framework, mindfulness emphasizes the practice of becoming aware of intellectual, emotional, and spiritual states and is helpful in developing maturity in these areas.
The second half of the book focuses on the role of community and how sexuality fits into the broader context of healthy human living. Ryan offers a solid chapter on the biblical ethics of sexual behavior that provides more practical points. Towards the end, he reflects on the nature of being a broken leader and on the need for care for clergy and church leaders, especially in the area of sexual brokenness. He proposes seven principles that should govern the process of recovery among leadership. In my opinion these principles are not necessarily specific to leadership positions but would be equally important regardless of one’s place in the church.
The book also contains an appendix detailing a group meeting protocol for men struggling with compulsive sexual behaviors. This protocol is designed for a church setting and is modeled after the 12-step programs commonly seen in recovery ministries. It utilizes Patrick Carnes’ framework for sexual compulsivity, which is the standard in this area.
Overall the book is well written and easy to follow. While personal recovery books can sometimes come across as cathartic or narcissistic endeavors through which the author attempts to work out his own healing, this text did not feel self-congratulatory, nor did it minimize the author’s personal experience or story of transformation.
William M. Struthers is an associate professor of psychology at Wheaton College and the author of Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain (InterVarsity Press, 2009).