Is There a Difference When a Pastor is Removed for Sexual Sin vs. Other Sins?
- J. Parker Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2016 5 Oct
I remember when I was attending a Christian university, one of the most popular college ministers from a local church had to resign from his position. It came out that he’d had an affair with a student. What struck me was not only that this man had broken his marriage vows, let down his congregation, and taken advantage of a young woman, but that his actions so deeply affected his students. Many of my friends and acquaintances began to question the church and their faith as well: If this pillar of faith could fall, how could we be good enough to follow Christ faithfully?
It’s always disappointing to discover a leader in the faith has fallen prey to sin. It gives the church itself a bad name, making some within and without our community understandably accuse us of hypocrisy. It causes upheaval in the congregation where it occurs, as leadership must shift. And it challenges or even wrecks the family in which it occurred: Not only are they faced with his sin and its consequences, they’ve lost a primary source of income.
Is it worse if that sin is sexual in nature?
Yes, and no.
On one hand, sin is sin (James 2:10-11). If the pastor’s been skimming off the church’s funds, he’s been stealing. If he’s doing drugs, he’s abusing his body. If he’s been caught in falsehoods, he’s been lying. And all of these will have consequences for him, his family, and the church. Regardless of the moral failure that causes dismissal, the minister has some serious soul work and healing to focus on.
But sexual sin does have a component different from others. First, it’s so personal, and second, so hard for a minister to seek help.
Imagine this: A pastor comes home and tells his wife he’s been stealing funds from the church. She might well be surprised and irritated. Now imagine that he comes home and says he cheated on her. What would her response be then? In almost all cases, she will be heartbroken and devastated. The future of her marriage will be at stake.
More likely these days, a pastor is a regular user of pornography. Which, though perhaps less devastating, is clearly adultery (Matthew 5:28). This is a violation of his body and his marriage vows (1 Corinthians 6:16-18). And it involves his most private parts (1 Corinthians 12:23-24). We’re far more likely to keep our sexual sins secret.
A recent Barna Group study reported: “Overall, 21 percent of youth pastors and 14 percent of pastors admit they currently struggle with using porn.” To whom do they confide? When asked whether a pastor using porn should admit their struggle to church leadership, only about a fifth of respondents said yes. If adultery or a porn habit becomes known, how likely are these ministers – so fearful of confessing their struggle to fellow shepherds – to seek and receive help?
And where can a wife turn in this circumstance? Confiding in church friends, whom she might trust with plenty of other issues, can reveal sensitive details about her personal life or affect how people treat her or her spouse. Certainly, any children involved would be far more embarrassed to have it publicly declared that Daddy’s a sexual sinner than Daddy told a big, fat lie.
Truth is, we don’t discuss sex much in church. As a result, congregants – and especially pastors – feel they don’t have a place to turn. Not when they’re experiencing challenges in their own lives, when a fellow Christian confides and needs wise counsel, or when a leader falls into sexual sin. We often don’t know what to do with someone who flubs it up in the sexual arena.
In that sense, being removed for sexual sin is a bit different. Because the answer might be not only to remove the minister from active service, but also to reach out to him, his marriage, and his family as the support system they need for healing. After all, the family of a fellow Christian is at stake.
Sexual sins can be overcome.* Just ask King David following his terrible choice of adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12). Thank goodness the prophet Nathan was there to speak honestly with David about his moral failure.
Perhaps by being more open about godly sex in our congregations – speaking out against sexual sin and for sexual intimacy in marriage – we could create a community where those struggling can turn. Isn’t this what God envisioned the church to be? A place of mercy, healing, and help – no matter the sin.
Let’s pray that fewer pastors will be ousted for sexual sin and that we will confront sin head-on wherever it rears its ugly head. Regardless, we should always remember the words of Psalm 146:3-5: “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.”
That’s the lesson I learned with our wayward college minister, whom I pray held onto his marriage: Whatever our pastor’s failings, it is God – not his messengers – in whom we place our hope.
*If the sexual sin involves pedophilia, this is an entirely different scenario that requires immediate removal, involvement of law enforcement, and care for the families of the victim and the minister.
J. Parker is the author of Hot, Holy, and Humorous: Sex in Marriage by God’s Design and blogs at Hot, Holy & Humorous, using a biblical perspective and a blunt sense of humor to foster godly sexuality. She has been married for 23 years and holds a master's degree in counseling, yet it's her personal story of redemption that fuels her passion for passion.
Publication date: October 5, 2016