Methodist Sees Clinton's Lack of Repentance of Sexual Addiction as
a Cause for Grief and Call for Help
Reactions Re: Bill Clinton's Speech
by Don Joy, Asbury Theological Seminary
Mark Kennedy and others have asked how I am processing the Bill Clinton 5- minute
speech Monday night, August 17. So I'll grieve with you again.
In January I wrote a litany of grief - about how all of us are losers because of his
tragedy. I also commented that a childhood of abuse and "compensatory" survival
strategies had put him into multiple addictions. The "piling on" and bashing
continues - and with obvious justice for his blatant lies now proved.
But there is no clear repentance.
Ruth Shipps, octogenarian friend of ours in Wilmore's Wesley Village said, "I
watched that speech, and something was wrong. I don't know what it was, but something was
wrong." Orin Hatch of the judicial committee of Congress said: "The attack on
the investigation was pitiful." Larry King, Jewish talk show host pushed his guests,
"Isn't the bottom line of Christianity forgiveness?
"I have repeatedly cautioned that "all addictions are driven by shame."
The addictive behavior alters reasoning and pulls people into high risk, unthinkable
behavior leaving friends and family baffled that they can't just "stop it." Each
"high" compensates for the personal feelings of emptiness or worthlessness.
Eventually the high risk adrenaline seems "normal" and without risk and its
subsequent "high," life is too dull to live. We tend to attack the symptoms, not
the roots of shame, and only succeed in driving our friends and family members deeper into
shame - which triggers yet another addiction and more and more efforts to compensate for
feeling rotten and worthless.
William Jefferson Clinton gave just under five minutes of classic, tragic, case
material to document how a "shame driven" person attempts to self-protect from
public shame by shaming and blaming other people. For more than 20 years I have urged
students of ministry to be alert to people trapped in shame and to stick with them until
they can transform shame into healthy guilt.
I have reported that no confession which is "shame driven" can lead to true
repentance, so forgiveness is meaningless and not on their agendas. Such people are so
fragile that they simply fear collapsing if they ever did tell the whole truth and
apologize to specific persons who have been damaged by their behavior. Only a sense of
healthy "guilt" owned with sorrow, full disclosure, and reconciliation leads to
repentance, restitution, and integrity. I havecautioned everyone even that tears from a
person "caught" must not be confused with a good confession, and that anyone
trapped by law or facts cannot move toward genuine sorrow and repentance until the shame
is faced and healed. Remember Esau who "was a fornicator" and sought his way
back with tears, but to no avail"? [See Heb. 12:14-17.]
Here are the definitions I've read since the late 70s when Thomas Lickona's Moral
Development and Behavior came along: "By shame I mean the feelings of inferiority,
humiliation, embarrassment, inadequacy, incompetence, weakness, dishonor,
disgrace,"loss of face"; the feeling of being vulnerable to, or actually
experiencing, ridicule, contempt, insult, derision, scorn, rejection, or other
James Gilligan, the contributor to Lickona's book goes on, "By guilt, I mean the
feeling of having committed a sin, a crime, an evil, or an injustice; the feeling of
culpability; the feeling of obligation, the feeling of being dangerous or harmful to
others, and the feeling of needing expiation and deserving punishment."
Clinton' s childhood, scarred by abandonment, divorce, abuse by a step-father, and
caring and covering for a mother with multiple addictions no doubt devastated him and set
him searching for something to compensate for his losses and deficits and to make him feel
loved. Competitive ambition and getting sex from women evidently were two
"compensatory" fixes that worked for him then and now. It is not uncommon with
CEOs that their workaholism and competitive climbing in the workplace are their
compensation for an empty spot - a hole in the soul.
In his "Out of the Shadows: Understanding Sexual Addiction," Patrick Carnes
reports that addictions tend to come in multiples. On one of his tapes he quips that 80%
of people with one addiction have two; 60% of people with one addiction have three. They
tend to ride one addiction to a "high" and when they crash from deeper shame,
they turn to a second, then a third to lift them to a sequence of adrenaline highs.
I worked on these symptoms in my book, "Men Under Construction" in two
chapters on "Surviving: Toughness That Protects" and "Meltdown: Recovering
Security." Call Evangel Publishing at 800-253-9315 if you want to look at my diagram
of shame-driven compulsive behavior, and the only strategy I've ever seen that tames and
heals the shame.
John Bradshaw's book "Healing the Shame That Binds You" offers alternative
strategies for managing toxic shame. Health Communications in Florida handles it at
So join me in grieving for Bill Clinton, and all the more because he is trapped in an
office from which he is unlikely to "go for help." Where are Bill Hybels and
Tony Campolo - whom he evidently trusted in confidential prayer retreats over several
years in the White House?
Bill Clinton has clones by the millions in the culture [yes, indeed!], and many of them
see his compulsive life as a mirror of their own. He is "one of us" to many of
them, and is a parable for all of us, since all of us bear the marks of Original Shame
with its sensations of worthlessness.
Anybody ready to walk Bill Clinton through this dark valley and see him through to
integrity and godly sorrow that leads to repentance and transformation?
Donald M. Joy, Director
Center for the Study of the Family
600 North Lexington Avenue
Wilmore, KY 40390