Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at roger@preachitteachit.org.

Dear Roger,

I have been in an affair with the pastor of my church for 15 years. Now that it is ending, do I have any legal rights for damages?

 

-Name Withheld

Dear Name Withheld,

I read your questions with much pain and sorrow in my own heart. I have dealt with people trapped in affairs way too many times. The pain, hurt and misery are incredible. Fifteen years is a long time. Your relationship with your pastor has most likely overwhelmed your emotions, hopes, dreams and expectations (and hopefully a sense of guilt as well). I am so sorry for the pain and confusion that you are experiencing.

If parts of my answer appear to be rather harsh, I don't mean them to be so. I do hope that you find my thoughts and ideas to be helpful and Biblically based.

While there are many Bible verses that have a bearing on your situation, the most explicit is in 1 Corinthians 6:1-11. Please take some time to read this passage. It contains all the information you need to make the right decision.

"If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? 2Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!

4Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? 5I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers! ...

Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?  ...8Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters.

9Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men10nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And that is what some of you were.

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."

The answer to your question is simple. You have a legal right to sue your pastor. When a harm is perceived or actually occurs, people can sue just about anyone they want to for most anything.

I am not a lawyer so I am not giving any official legal advice; but I can give you some of my pastoral observations from dealing with others who had questions like yours.

Pastors have a responsibility to their parishioners to provide them with protection, security and care. If they violate this, pastors leave themselves open to lawsuits.

The reason military officers are forbidden to date enlisted persons has to do with the possibility of manipulation and abuse. From my experience, pastors can use their position to manipulate and/or hold sway over people who are unwise, ignorant or easily influenced by the actions and behaviors of those they look up to.