When the Pastor has an affair

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David R. Brumbelow's picture

Concise, wise advice. 

And, if you are a preacher, make sure this will never have to apply to you. 

David R. Brumbelow

Jay's picture

The nightmare scenario for a church - sets a church back for years.

I don't know if I'd agree with that.  There's a couple of other examples I can think of:

  • a situation where abuse is covered up or covered over
  • a situation where false doctrine or gossip is ignored or treated as a non-serious matter
  • a situation where the leadership of the church itself goes awry (I'm thinking of Hyles / Schaap here).

Those are the kinds of things that I think have much more drastic results, usually because they aren't as obvious and visible to the congregation.

The older I get, the more emphasis I place on 'blamelessness' in a minister.  It just seems to cover everything that I could possibly think of that may not be specifically spelled out elsewhere in the pastoral qualifications.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Jim's picture

There's more than one nightmare

Real plurality of elders (not simply multiple pastors) is needed for stability in the church

Bert Perry's picture

...is the most important one for me.  Why did it happen, why didn't the warning signs get heeded, etc..?  I personally wonder if unrealistic expectations of pastors leads some--how many I don't know--to seek some kind of "escapist" release, and that for some it's an affair.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Bert Perry's picture

Jim wrote:

There's more than one nightmare

Real plurality of elders (not simply multiple pastors) is needed for stability in the church

It's worth noting that Coral Ridge Presbyterian theoretically had just that, no?   Somehow that didn't stop fellow elders from missing the signs that things were going wrong with the head elder--spending more time at the gym and tattoo parlor than with his wife, change in wardrobe to show those tats and guns, etc..  So getting people with the authority to rebuke, and who will do so, is quite frankly easier said than done.  

There is a reality that, though we are not wolves, we do seem to congregate around someone we designate as our "alpha male", and hence dealing with a wayward leader becomes incredibly difficult.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jim's picture

Problems Pastors face that others don't or may not:

  • They have a lot of unstructured time 
  • Some women idolize them

I am a retired pastor so I can speak to this (also retired from banking IT)

  • At the church very little (really no) oversight
  • Can come and go as one pleases
  • As crazy as this is, some women view the pastor as the "ideal" man
    • He listens
    • He cares
    • He is "spiritual"

As an aside, I never counseled a woman (or girl) alone (for the sake of my own testimony)

About structure (this was before smart phones): my wife always new where I was

Adulterers (of any stripe) get in trouble because of unstructured, unaccountable time (think salesman on the road), opportunity (could be one on one counseling with a woman), and lack of financial accountability.

I know of a failed missionary who paid for prostitutes (gets back to the lack of financial accountability)

My accountability structure (some might think I don't need it):

  • Still never alone with a woman
  • Wife always knows my whereabouts (Apple Find my Friend)
  • We share all finances

 

T Howard's picture

2 years ago, our senior pastor confessed to having a 4-year affair with a church member after he was caught.

  • Our church has multiple elders, and they handled the situation, the shock, and fallout as well as could be expected. A lof of people, including myself, felt hurt and betrayed because of the affair.
  • After his confession and repentance before the church, the elders asked the former pastor to begin personal and marital counseling, which he did.
  • We lost several families after details of the affair went public. Some believed the elders should have known about the affair earlier and did not exercise proper oversight over the pastor. Some accused the elders of covering up / misleading the congregation about the affair. Some left because the elders didn't immediately kick the former pastor out of the church.
  • The pastor was restored to his family and to church membership, but not to pastoral ministry.
  • The woman (and her husband) resigned their membership from the church and left the church before the affair went public. Neither her nor her husband were responsive to the elders' desire to meet with them and work through the issues of repentance and reconciliation.
  • A month of so after the the woman and her husband left the church, they began publicly positioning the affair as clergy abuse and stating she was not culpable for her actions. Their position was/is that no relationship between a pastor and a congregant can be consensual because of an imbalance of power in the relationship.
Jim's picture

A month of so after the the woman and her husband left the church, they began publicly positioning the affair as clergy abuse and stating she was not culpable for her actions. Their position was/is that no relationship between a pastor and a congregant can be consensual because of an imbalance of power in the relationship.

Ron Bean's picture

I've been watching this scenario repeated for many years and it continues to anger me as well as break my heart. The pattern is usually the same: the pastor has an affair, it gets discovered, the church reacts and has to do damage control.

One time, and only once,have I seen a pastor commit this sin, immediately contact his deacons the next day, confess, resign his position immediately, and submit to church discipline.

I pray for men to lead churches who are so sensitive to sin that they don't need to get caught before they repent.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

T Howard's picture

Ron Bean wrote:
One time, and only once,have I seen a pastor commit this sin, immediately contact his deacons the next day, confess, resign his position immediately, and submit to church discipline.

I pray for men to lead churches who are so sensitive to sin that they don't need to get caught before they repent.

Ron, from what we've learned, by the time a pastor crosses the line into an affair (emotional or physical), sin has so hardened his heart that he seeks to hide instead of repent (like Genesis 3).

Jay's picture

A month of so after the the woman and her husband left the church, they began publicly positioning the affair as clergy abuse and stating she was not culpable for her actions. Their position was/is that no relationship between a pastor and a congregant can be consensual because of an imbalance of power in the relationship.

The gist of this position is that the congregant is placed in a situation where they have no legitimate options to refuse their pastor's advances.  So in an extreme case, the 'pastor' may threaten them with slander or gossip, may remove them from their positions as SS leader or whatever, or may flat out threaten to discipline them out if they refuse.  It seems like this happened a lot with Jack Hyles and Jack Schaap.

Here's a summary from a CatholicSeventh Day Adventist website:

Most recipients of clergy sexual abuse are thought to be women, although children and men are also affected. They may be counselees, church volunteers or employees, seminarians or church interns. The violations range from verbal harassment to violent rape. Frequently, the individual responds to manipulative sexual advances of the clergy person. Individuals who have been retaliated against for reporting sexual abuse by clergy include people who did not experience sexualized contact but who affiliated themselves with survivors. Retaliation has included death threats. The common characteristic between abuse recipients is that they have fewer resources and therefore less power than the clergy person. Adult recipients of clergy sexual abuse are thought to experience the betrayal by God more strongly and to experience more severe adaptive consequences than others who experience sexual abuse during adulthood.

The power differential between clergy and abuse recipient is determined not only by personal characteristics but also by what is provided to each by the church community. The clergy person has considerable control of the church pulpit and newsletter and may maintain that control even after a report of sexual abuse is received by the church. Denial is a common response by the church community, which contributes its empathetic support to the person accused rather than the identified victim. Responses of churches have included directly contributing to the abuse process. Examples of church abuse include: shunning, victim-blaming for loss of the community leader, and public verbal and physical harassment. Church denial promotes the community esteem of the clergy person and allows a clergy perpetrator access to large numbers of potential victims.

It's not (really) all that much different from sexual harassment in a workplace - most organizations will automatically side with the manager (pastor in this case) over the employee unless the manager has given them room for doubt or the employee has some kind of evidence that they can present.

The bottom line is that if someone accuses the pastor / elder / leader of this kind of thing, it needs to be investigated very seriously and in depth. The consequences are hugely damaging regardless of whether or not the claim is true or false, and automatically assuming that the pastor is innocent could open the door for recurring abuse (and probably does, in many cases).  Besides, if the pastor is truly innocent, what do they have to fear?

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Bert Perry's picture

Jay wrote:

The nightmare scenario for a church - sets a church back for years.

I don't know if I'd agree with that.  There's a couple of other examples I can think of:

  • a situation where abuse is covered up or covered over
  • a situation where false doctrine or gossip is ignored or treated as a non-serious matter
  • a situation where the leadership of the church itself goes awry (I'm thinking of Hyles / Schaap here).

Those are the kinds of things that I think have much more drastic results, usually because they aren't as obvious and visible to the congregation.

The older I get, the more emphasis I place on 'blamelessness' in a minister.  It just seems to cover everything that I could possibly think of that may not be specifically spelled out elsewhere in the pastoral qualifications.

It's worth noting that in many cases of which I'm aware, the first responses to sexual abuse are a coverup, and there were previous concerns about the doctrine the pastor was teaching.  In the case of Tullian Tchividjian (sp?), all three were in play--it was elders who did the coverup.  I believe you'd find the same thing at 1st Baptist of Hammond, too.  Now it goes both ways--a former pastor of mine started one pastorate by receiving a love letter from a female congregant--but the simple fact of the matter is that it's much easier to deal with a congregant than with an elder this way.  You don't need to find a new congregant after one is disciplined or shown the door, for example.  

My guess here is that the female congregant spoken of by T. Howard has more or less the view that Jay explains in the comment above mine, and whether she's right or wrong, she's more or less expecting a blanket party from the elders if she talks with them.  I don't know exactly what they've done, but if they haven't already, a good letter of apology describing what the former pastor confessed would be a great place to start, along with a commitment to pay for her counseling for a period of time while they take a serious look at what they might have missed that might have led to things.

One thing I can repeat emphatically is that the tendency to "close ranks" around a leader can be incredibly strong, overshadowing a ton of evidence in many cases.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

Jim, I guess you won't be attending Perry Noble's next speaking gig at Elevation Church, then . . .

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Joeb's picture

I would not sit under Pastor with a moral failure in his background either.

 I never understood why any Pastor or Youth Pastor would counsel a women or young girl alone.  If I saw that going on I would be very suspicious right away.  As a parishioner or elder I would object to this practice by a Pastor period    

To interview a female witness alone was a big no no as a Criminal Investigator.  You always interviewed a female with another Investigator preferably a female Investigator.   You never know what could happen or  be said.