Pastoral Infidelity: Problems and Solutions
- Monday, December 26, 2011
Unfaithful pastors I’ve counseled have said things like, “The affair was like a run-away-train,” or “It’s like I was temporarily insane.” Even the pastors who are restored to God and their families take a circuitous route, taking jobs as teachers, train engineers, taxi cab drivers, car salesmen, and many other kinds of valuable jobs. But these circuitous routes aren’t refreshing springs for these pastors whose giftings lie in different areas, and other careers are endured as God’s discipline.
We all reap what we sow, but pastors have an even greater accountability, as they are depended upon for inspiration and to model lives worthy of being imitated. Truly, as scripture says, “As dead flies give perfume a bad smell, so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor” (Ecclesiastes 10:1). When a pastor falls into sin, the ripple effect on the lives of others is often immeasurable.
We know that adultery was one of the sins for which God had Eli's sons killed. We know that King David paid serious “dues” for his immorality with Bathsheba. Other biblical characters were personally disciplined by God for the sin of adultery. Prophets have denounced adultery; and idolatry and sexual immorality were so intertwined in biblical times that each was a synonym for the other. And a ‘spiritual’ relationship with a member of the congregation that morphs into immorality is, perhaps, the grossest form of idolatry.
How common is adultery among clerics? About 15 years ago I read an interesting study that concluded the following: 10% of all psychologists have had an affair with a client; and 30% of all pastors have had an affair with a member of the congregation.
I think we can account for the difference between the 10% and the 30% in this way: Psychologists have to take a course in ethics, which includes teachings on how to draw boundaries with clients, how to seek counseling for themselves in order to understand their how to gain victory over personal flaws, how to avoid temptations in the office, how to make appropriate referrals, learning professional consequences of inappropriate behavior (losing one's license), grasping the importance of "doing no harm" to a client, learning about the requirement to report another psychologist that you hear about that's having an affair, and other important ethical and legal teachings.
I’ve had two years of seminary and three years of Bible College, and I never took such a course. If seminaries and Bible Colleges presently provide such a course, I'm not aware of this.
Also, pastors are frequently alone with women, alone in an office without a window, and sometimes even go to a woman's house alone. Pastors are also "targets" for some women who idealize them, some of whom are extremely needy and flirtatious and who are sometimes mentally ill and without treatment. My father, a Methodist minister, was plagued by a mentally ill woman who thought that he was the Messiah. My father was able to refer her to a psychiatrist friend at Butler University. Of course, this didn’t stop her from visiting my father’s church when we moved from Indianapolis to Columbus, Ohio. I don’t know what became of her, but I remember that my father well documented all interactions and stayed far away from even the appearance of evil.
Basically, many pastors are “sitting ducks.” Of course, their protection against immorality should be their deep and personal commitment to and relationship with Christ. How sad that this is not enough. Why isn’t it enough? Before answering these questions, let’s look at a few more statistics:
I just read of four recent surveys of pastors (source is cited below). 14-18% of pastors admitted to an affair and an additional 18% admitted to an emotional affair. But because 14% of the pastors admitted that they lied on the survey, we can assume the rate of either physical or emotional infidelity among pastors is at about 40%. This is probably shocking to some of you. It was to me!
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