He Said-She Said: Is This Behavior Inappropriate?
- Thursday, June 30, 2011
EDITOR'S NOTE: Each He Said-She Said column features a question from a Crosswalk.com reader with responses from a male and female point of view. If you've got a question about anything related to singleness or living the single life, please submit it to He Said-She Said (selected questions will be posted anonymously).
QUESTION: My fiancé has been attending a skid-row mission for the last twelve years. She is one of the leaders as well as a board member of that church. Due to circumstances in her childhood and youth, she has been seeing the senior pastor nearly every week for counseling and prayer during those twelve years. I have attended this church myself and have been a leader as well.
I feel that it is totally and completely inappropriate for the senior pastor, who is a married man, to call my fiancée on a daily basis. They see each other every Wednesday and every Sunday at church. He claims that he is concerned about her plus the fact that she is third in the hierarchy of command that he can call her every day. I see the senior pastor as someone who is a lord or king of his church and that everyone must bow to him. This is more than submitting to him as a parishioner to a pastor.
HE SAID: I understand your concern and can empathize with the reason for your uneasiness toward the growing relationship between your fiancé and her senior pastor.
In most mishaps, accidents or failings, there is rarely only one specific aspect of a situation that goes astray, but rather a series of missteps, lapses in judgment or oversights that cause ultimate demise. This can be seen in everything from airline disasters to financial scandals to relationships. Oftentimes, those closest to the circumstances are the last to recognize any signals which may seem obvious to those around them.
In this case, you have identified a couple of warning signs that are cause for concern.
Your fiancée has been in a counseling relationship for nearly twelve years with the same male authority. Most ministries prohibit male-female counseling for the protection of both parties, to alleviate the appearance of wrong-doing and to reduce the natural temptation for a vulnerable female to cleave to her male influence.
Consistent prayer between two people can easily develop into a deep spiritual intimacy which is the reason why a husband and wife are encouraged to participate in prayer together daily. On the other hand, when prayer is between two of the opposite sex while one or both are married to someone else, it can cause a spiritual bond that should not occur outside of their marriages.
Since your fiancée also answers to the senior pastor in a subordinate role in the church, there is some reason for him to be speaking to her on a regular basis; however, daily phone calls should not necessarily be a part of their communication. These days, there are so many other ways that instructions or lists of things needing to be accomplished can be communicated without having to make a personal call.
Whether anything is or had been “going on” between the senior pastor and your fiancée, or not, they are definitely placing themselves, from what you tell us, in a compromising situation and should be addressed in some way. However, if you truly love and care about your fiancée, it would be prudent and imperative for you to trust her completely until proven otherwise.
You may want to first share your feelings with the “second in command” at the church to see if he agrees there is some cause for alarm. When you speak with him, be careful to word your questions in a way that is unbiased and allows him to give you his honest opinion, not just confirm what you want to hear. You may also find out if the pastor is consistent in the method he communicates with him and with your fiancée.
I would also suggest you sit down with your fiancée to pray, discuss your feelings and share the concern you have for the appearance of her relationship with the pastor, not to accuse her of any wrongdoing nor bombard her with scriptures (that is why I decided not to reference any).
Take this time to disclose any insecurity or fear you may be dealing with, past or present. At the same time, ask her what difficulties or struggles she is facing that you can pray for. This is something that should occur regardless of the situation for any couple prior to getting married. Open heartfelt communication is oftentimes not comfortable or easy to do, but is so vital to the success of your relationship.
In your circumstance, this is one of “those” discussions that can bring you closer together or, if done accusatorily, drive a stake between the two of you. Nevertheless, since this is a serious concern of yours, it needs to be addressed at some point.
Finally, you may consider accompanying your fiancée to church on a more regular basis, if you’re not already doing so, to both support her and her work and being a visible presence in her life.
Relationships are built on trust. If you can’t trust the person you are marrying, why marry them?
SHE SAID: I’ll start my answer by doing what I do a lot of the time when addressing questions from readers: flipping the scenario.
If you were on the phone every day with a female pastor who was married and with whom you were receiving counseling and prayer support and whom you answered to as a church leader and/or board member, how would your fiancée feel?
I think she would wonder what in the world a married woman and an unmarried man needed to talk about every day. Just as you are wondering with what is happening with her.
And why is that?
Well, because it appears that there is extreme emotional dependency going on here—either the pastor being dependent on your fiancée or your fiancée being dependent on the pastor. And what’s inappropriate about that? For starters, since the pastor is your spiritual leader, he should not want to cause a fellow or weaker believer to stumble (Romans 14:19-21). Since he is married he needs to respect his wife, and her position of importance and honor in his life (Ephesians 5:25) as his mate, and to make sure that his actions are above reproach.
And how does one live above reproach?
By not doing or saying anything that would make someone else think that something very wrong is going on.
Avoid every kind of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22).
Well, what’s so evil about a pastor talking with one of his parishioners on the phone? Nothing in and of itself. But what could lead to something evil is frequent and private communication between a married man and an unmarried woman. It’s a potential recipe for disaster. Emotional affairs are easy to fall prey to, and their kissing cousin—a physical affair—is only one step away.
You say that the pastor is concerned about your fiancée (due to issues in her past) and for this reason he seeks frequent communication with her, in addition to discussion about her role as a leader and a board member. My question to that is this: Does he call everyone with whom he counsels or who is a leader or board member on a daily basis? If so, then that is probably a lengthy list and could hinder him getting the rest of his job done. If not, then why?
I know of no therapist or counselor who calls a person who he or she is counseling on a daily basis. And I know of no pastor who calls a person in church leadership or a board member on a daily basis.
Also, if the pastor is that concerned about your fiancée and her emotional needs and feels that she needs prayer or counseling or communication on a daily basis, then why has he not referred her to a therapist or psychiatric professional? That kind of frequency in attention could be headed toward the level of “clinical care” and would make me think that your fiancée needs to be seen by someone who is trained and schooled to deal with whatever issues for which the pastor seems to think she needs such frequent counseling and prayer.
Furthermore, if she is that fragile that she must be communicated with or monitored on a daily basis, then how has the pastor determined that is she able to handle the great responsibilities and objective decision making that come with church leadership and being a board member?
Do you see where I’m going with this? I’m just trying to unravel this ball of yarn that seems to have been winding and winding and growing larger and larger over the past twelve years. What is all this outward behavior wrapping itself around?
Have you consulted with your fiancée and asked her if she has feelings for the pastor that are beyond what one sister in Christ should feel for another brother in Christ? Have you confronted the pastor with the same type of question? Is the fact that you are upset and hurt by this frequency and privacy of their communication—and the fact that the trust in your relationship with your fiancée has been weakened—something that you have discussed with your fiancée or the pastor? If so, what are their responses?
As you will one day be the husband and your fiancée will be the wife, you will be the one who will be (and should be) your wife’s closest confidante. In fact, you should already be moving into that position now during your engagement. This is not to say there is never a need for counseling or prayer with a therapist or a pastor. But your wife should come to you first with her deepest needs and most intimate confessions.
One practical tip I would suggest to you (especially if your fiancée or the pastor are not seeing what you are seeing in regards to their relationship) is that you would ask to be on a 3-way phone call with them each time the pastor is counseling and praying with your fiancée. What would be the harm of you joining in the phone sessions so that you can grow closer to your fiancée and know her better and lovingly support her in her progress? If there is protest, then you should investigate further and perhaps even pause your engagement—or at the very least extend it—until the matter is resolved and your trust with your fiancée has been restored.
Love does no harm to its neighbor (Romans 13:10).
If your fiancée or the pastor know that seeds of distrust have been planted in your mind as a result of their daily communication, would they not make some changes so as to assure you that their communication and friendship/relationship is honorable and above reproach? I think so. If they are both seeking to love you as a brother in Christ, then they should want to make sure that their actions are not bringing harm to you or your relationship with your fiancée.
Whatever is hurting you or bothering you, should be carefully considered by your fiancée (and the pastor). You will soon be one with your fiancée (Genesis 2:24), and that means you will really bear each other’s burdens more than you are doing even now. Also, if she does not show respect for you or give high regard to your feelings now before you are married, does that mean she will after you are husband and wife?
I have no easy solution for you and no solid answers for your dilemma today, but I hope that I have at least helped you to consider the situation in a new light so that you may make the best possible decisions for your relationship—and your impending marriage—going forward.
HE is … Cliff Young, a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and a veteran single of many decades. He has traveled the world in search of fresh experiences, serving opportunities, and the perfect woman (for him) and has found that his investments in God, career and youth ministry have paid off in priceless dividends.
SHE is … Laura MacCorkle, Senior Editor at Crosswalk.com. She loves God, her family and her friends. Singleness has taught her patience, deepened her walk with the Lord and afforded her countless (who's counting anyway?) opportunities to whip up an amazing three-course meal for one.
DISCLAIMER: We are not trained psychologists or licensed professionals. We're just average folk who understand what it's like to live the solo life in the 21st century. We believe that the Bible is our go-to guide for answers to all of life's questions, and it's where we'll go for guidance when responding to your questions. Also, it's important to note that we write our answers separately (we think they sound eerily similar sometimes, too!).
GOT A QUESTION? If you've got a question about anything related to singleness or living the single life, please submit it to He Said-She Said (selected questions will be posted anonymously). While we are unable to answer every inquiry, we do hope that this column will be an encouragement to you.
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