warnings-affair

The conversation is always sad, always tragic. The pastor who left his church after a two-year affair with another church member. The student pastor who has been out of vocational ministry since he had a brief sexual encounter with his assistant.

I have spoken with countless numbers of these men and women. And each time I am reminded of how much I need to love God with all my heart, and to be totally devoted to my wife.

Though the conversations are both sad and tragic, I do learn from them. And after dozens, perhaps a few hundred, of these conversations, I see patterns. These patterns become warning signs for any of us, lest we be so naïve to think we have no vulnerabilities.

Because the conversations were informal, I cannot say for certain which among them were the most frequent warning signs. So I provide them in no particular order.

  1. “I neglected my family.” Church work can become a deceitful mistress (I struggle to find the male equivalent of the word). We become so consumed with our ministry that we neglect our families. But 1 Timothy 3:5 is clear that our families are our first ministries.
  2.  “I had no system of accountability.” Unfortunately, most churches do not have clear guidelines for accountability. That does not excuse any of us from making sure that we have such self-imposed guidelines, and that our spouses know about them as well.
  3. “It began in counseling.” Sometimes the word “transference” is used to describe what can happen in counseling. The counselor or counselee becomes the object of attraction instead of one’s spouse. One or both of the parties see the other as something his or her spouse should be.
  4. “My co-worker and I began to confide in one another on a deep level.”  The conversations between two people who work together become ones that should be restricted to the marital relationship. At this point, an emotional affair has already begun. Physical intimacy is usually not far away.
  5. “I began neglecting my time in prayer and daily Bible reading.” I am reticent to make a blanket statement, but I have never met a person who was praying and reading his or her Bible daily that became involved in an affair. Prayer and time in the Word are intimacy with God that precludes inappropriate intimacy with someone of the opposite gender.
  6. “He or she made me feel so good about myself.” In marriage, neither party thinks the spouse is perfect; at least it is rare. The danger happens when one becomes a hero to someone of the opposite gender. The good feelings that come with accolades or even adulation can become sexual attractions and traps that end in an affair.
  7. “It began on a trip together.” When a man and woman travel to the same destination for a work event, conference, or a convention, safeguards need to be established at the onset. A system of accountability, whether informal or formal, can break down when a man and woman are out of town together. Call me old fashioned, but I won’t ever travel in the car alone with a woman other than my wife (even at my old age). 

The conversation is always sad, always tragic. And do you know what the most common theme I’ve heard in all of these conversations?

“I never thought this would happen to me.”

Sobering indeed.

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Comments

  1. says

    Thank you for posting this. I’ve been in two ministries where either a staff member or lead volunteer had affairs. They were devastating for the families, the church and the community. Praying EVERY church leader reads this and takes it seriously.

  2. steve pryor says

    Once again, Thom, you have written an excellent blog aimed @ pastors, but applies perfectly to non-clergy roles.

    As lustful creatures ( some more than otners) we must take steps to guard our emotions, to protect our marriage, and to uphold God’s law.
    Thank You.

  3. steve pryor says

    One more thought…”it could never happen to me” I heard a pastor say that when he hears that, he becomes concerned because the speaker is likeky not taking steps to guard himself.

  4. says

    I’ll never forget how I felt when I learned that my father was having an affair. The pain was intense and deep. I hope that all who read this take it to heart. The last words of this are very important, it seems that people who believe they wouldn’t do it are the most likely to fall. I know that I’ve always been of the opinion that if my dad could do it, so could I.

    We need to all be asking God for help daily on this issue. Thanks for the work, Dr. Rainer.

    • Libby says

      The ripple effect is profound as well…extremely so with folks in ministry but also true in the secular world. The hurt continues for years to come even if there is reconciliation and forgiveness. I’m speaking this from a personal level. It’s like losing your virginity…you can never get that innocence back. With forgiven/reconciled relationships after infidelity…even if the wound is healed there is still a scar to remind folks. Makes me sad when I hear about people having affairs! They’ll always be found out!

      • Nancy says

        It does have a far reaching ripple effect. Usually those in an affair think it is just about them and no one else’s business. But so many lives are affected and suffer from their choices. And though healing can occur through repentance, the scars of the consequence remain. It is a path better not taken. Keep the hedges up.

  5. Anonymous says

    Excellent article that needs to plastered/emailed/taught to anyone working in ministry, not just pastors and staff. I’ve seen this happen time and time, again, and prayer and strength are needed, daily, for this issue.

  6. says

    The male equivalent to mistress is manstress. It is important to refer to the male equivalent, in my opinion, because it takes two for a relationship, good or bad. The mistress is no more deceptive than the manstress. The man is the priest of the local assembly, the angel of that house or place of worship, the under shepherd hopefully assigned by God. He is the authority figure to dismiss, distract the seducing woman and defend his marriage and family. Men, we women need you to demand our respect by respecting God’s Word and yourself.

    Not riding alone with any woman (who is questionable) other than your wife is a respectful and God honoring thing to do. Never met you but you have my respect!

    • ann says

      Keep in mind that there are also many women pastors these days who are also “the priests of the local assembly”. And men are just as likely to seduce, often because it stems from an abuse of power, and to prey on women in times of stress,. I dislike your characterization of women at the seducers and men as the defenders. It goes both ways.

      I cannot say enough about how important it is to establish clear standards for safety in relationships between staff members and between staff and church members. For example, no long-term counseling unless the person doing the counseling is licensed and under supervision. Don’t have schedule counseling sessions when you are alone in the building or at a remote location. I know there is a struggle to preserve confidentiality, but this is a safety issue, both to protect your relationships and your physical being from assault.

  7. Susan says

    There again sometimes churches do things that are ill advised in this area. The new minister was in the process of selling his house and needed somewhere to stay until it was all sorted. His wife was packing up at one end and he was working at the other. It took 2 months to complete the sale due to some paperwork tangles. In the meantime he was horrified to be offered the possibility of staying with a single woman. He would never dream of visiting a woman on her own without a chaperone so the thought of temporarily living at the home of a single woman appalled him. He could not believe the church would put him in that kind of situation.

    On the other hand In another situation the warning sign was that the father (an ordained evangelist) and daughter in law were very friendly. Next thing I know both couples disappear then after 2 or 3 weeks we are being told to be very gentle to a devastated young man who comes back to the church. He does not stay a member for very long. Too many memories I presume. A few years later I visit another church and bump into the father again with his new wife (i.e. his son’s ex-wife) and their son. A changed man who knew his mistakes had hurt a lot of people.

  8. Jim says

    “It could never happen to me”? The temptation is always there and we often embrace it. Realize that falling in love; and falling out of love happens. Describe ‘love’ however you like. We need relationships because relationships build our faith. Yet, sometimes relationships undermine our faith – never does a relationship remain neutral. Though culture pushes us away from God; God uses relationships to complete the miraculous. Where we help ourselves is in asking the questions, “How can my current relationships honor God”? And, “What harm can I expect if my relationships dishonor God”? Proverbs 13:20. We must create the potential for providential relationships. And, we must safeguard our present relationships awarded to us by God. However, when we reach the “falling in love” point in any relationship, we should ask God for wisdom to remain within His spiritual guidelines. If we fall in love in an unfavorable relationship, identify the fact, disconnect from the relationship, and decide favorably to give our heart to God. On down the line, we will fall in love again; and, hopefully we will decide to give your heart to God again. jd

    • Susan says

      I was surprised to read recently about the orthodox Jewish idea that couples should not even touch each other before marriage. That includes no holding hands, which many Christians would see as acceptable behaviour for an engaged couple in church.

      There again I should not be. I know when I was struggling to cope with a husband whose illness meant he felt he was too dirty to be touched that I was became like a dry cracked sponge. I would borrow someone else’s husband in a controlled environment to meet that need of being touched. I mean in a way that many of us would find acceptable within a church like an arm round the shoulder of a friend.

      It is only now that I realise how dangerous I was to others. There again I had already learnt the dangers of talking or being with other people’s husbands without a chaperone and had broken some friendships as a result. I was determined not to make the same mistake again but when you are in a difficult situation you end up depending on others being strong to protect you from them.

      In the end it was my now ex who decided to replace me before ending our marriage. Not having because you have been denied because someone is unable to be kind is quite different from not having because you have no one.

      • Melody says

        Susan
        I have been divorced for years. If I need to feel human by physical contact I hold a baby in the nursery; I get a hug from one of my friends(female) or from one of my kids. It’s absolutely not appropriate to get it anywhere else. You have to imagine yourself 14 again or younger. If it isn’t appropriate for a 14 year old girl to be hugging or brushing up against some man then it isn’t for us either. Being lonely is no excuse. It doesn’t matter what the reason for the loneliness. I don’t want a nonchalant arm thrown around my shoulders and I don’t want uninterrupted eye contact with someone of the opposite sex either.

        I see in your post your acknowledgement of your behavior but I also see excuses and some shifting by expecting others to help you protect you from yourself or them, I’m not clear on what you mean. I’m sorry if I seem harsh but the only way we can be safe is if we take 100% responsibility for our own purity and not pull an Adam and Eve of blaming other people.

    • Ken says

      I firmly believe the most dangerous words any Christian can say are, “It will never happen to me.” When you start thinking like that, chances are the devil has you right where he wants you.

  9. Lance Wright says

    This is a very helpful article and I can certainly agree with the statement about understanding and knowing that we are never above setting up healthy boundaries that assure our integrity in walking with God. I was helped in seeing the humility behind the heart of this share. Thanks for the wisdom and insight.

  10. Alicia says

    Great post, Dr. Rainer! My dad has been in ministry for over 35 years and is the definition of “careful” when it comes to this issue. I think if a senior pastor has a good handle on this, he sets the tone for the rest of the staff to be aware and accountable. My dad added windows to all classroom and office doors at one church he pastored at – including his own office. I ended up working in ministry recently and because of my dad’s voice in the back of my head, I avoided circumstances that would even look inappropriate. I’m female and my boss – the children’s minister- was male. We would often drive separately to go to Sam’s Club to buy camp supplies (for example) even though we were leaving from church and coming back to church. We would have working lunches on the premises, in view of others instead of going to a restaurant. Sometimes the appropriate and right thing to do is inconvenient – but marriages and reputations are worth the extra hassle.

  11. says

    The biggest worry I’ve had about preparing to enter ministry is the fear of messing up morally as a Pastor of a church. This article is a very useful reminder to always be on guard, no matter what. Thanks for sharing.

    I remember being in the church service on a Sunday night when it was announced our youth pastor had failed morally. It devastated us teenagers. Looking back, I know of many of them that decided to “give up on God & church” because of that situation.

  12. says

    I personally believe there is no sin I wouldn’t be able to commit under the right set of circumstances. I never want to believe I’m invulnerable. Great post!

  13. Jason Silver says

    This is an area that there is no such thing as being “too careful”. A leader should NEVER be alone with the opposite sex without the proper checks and balances in place. If you love and value your spouse, family, local Church, and relationship with God, then no meeting that is without accoutability factors is worth having period.

  14. Michael Edwards says

    In 2014, risks also include inappropriate communication, photos and even cyber-harassment. Any or all equally devastating, and just as potentially emotionally-involving. And damaging to “the Body”, it seems to me.

  15. Tim P says

    In the blog you misuse the term “transference.” Transference does not mean an attraction, necessarily. Transference is the redirection of feelings and desires and especially of those unconsciously retained from childhood toward a new object. Transference also only applies from the client to the counselor. Counter-transference speaks to the redirection of feelings from the counselor to the client. Please do some basic research next time.

    • Thom Rainer says

      You are correct in its usage in psychotherapy. It is a word also used in general vernacular to mean a redirection of feelings from one person to another.

  16. says

    Dr. Rainer,

    Spot on. Well written. Enjoyed this.

    For 12 years, I’ve had the same “accountability partner.” This constant accountability has blessed my marriage, family, and ministry. Accountability involves tough talks almost daily. A few weeks ago, I was at Southeastern Baptist theological seminary for a week of doctoral seminars. Each night, my accountability partner called and asked me what I did hour by hour in my spare time. It was refreshing each night knowing I would get that call.

    Ministers need accountability. The absence of it can produce dangerous outcomes in any ministry.

    Thanks for this.

  17. says

    Why blame it on demons? The real responsibility falls on a brutally exploitive system that turns clergymen into rock stars and superhumans, strips them of all possible coping mechanisms, demonizes them as showing “weakness” when they try to reach out for help, then blames them when their inevitable human needs finally roar out of their suppressed little holes.

    I don’t honestly know how I could write a script for drama, scandals, and heartbreaking burnout that’d do a better job than 90% of the Christian churches in America. I don’t know why so many of these men are shocked when they fall like this. They’re just people, and that’s what happens to people who deny their needs and don’t have good coping mechanisms and support networks in place. The whole system could use a major overhaul–but I don’t think most Christians would let that happen. They need their leaders to be superhuman rock stars. I saw that myself when I was in the religion, married to a minister who was not, let us just say, one of the good ones. The predators among Christians find this system very useful, while the good folks in it get chewed up and spit out.

    • Melody says

      There is no such thing as good folk. We are all sinners. No good guys or bad guys like the movies tell you. Only those that are redeemed and those that are still lost. As soon as we forget that then Satan has struck another blow to slow us down. He can’t take us down but he certainly can steal your joy. Both Jesus and Paul tell us to look at ourselves first before we point fingers. And any time we let bitterness take root the one that suffers the most is ourselves. Though I’m sure there are people around us that will be relieved when we die to get a break from it.

  18. says

    Very sobering lists, a pastor should check this list regularly to see if any of the items are currently true and see to it that there’s serious change. Thank you for this Thom.

  19. Kimberly says

    Clergy sexual abuse and misconduct (including spiritual abuse) is wrong. It is the pastor’s (or any other person in the role of authority) responsibility to maintain appropriate boundaries.
    http://www.thehopeofsurvivors.com/
    A ministry of compassion providing support, hope and encouragement for victims of clergy sexual abuse and misconduct.
    Facts vs. Lies
    Lie 1: Sexual abuse (in this form) is rare and almost unheard of in the U.S.
    Fact 1: Sexual abuse and abuse of power in these types of situations is all too common, even epidemic in our country and around the world. Unfortunately, most of the men who violate the appropriate boundaries are “repeat” offenders who continually exploit woman after woman.

  20. Kimberly says

    Words like “adultery,” “affair,” “relationship,” etc., typically take the forefront when an adult is abused. Let’s be clear: You are not having an affair with your pastor. These are improper words to describe what happens in this type of situation. The “relationship” between a pastor and his congregant (or counselor/counselee, etc.) is NOT an “affair”—it is ABUSE. Due to the imbalance of power in the relationship between Pastor/Congregant (Teacher/Student, Counselor/Counselee, etc.), there can be no mutual consent to any type of intimate behavior or sexual activity. In fact, a woman who has been victimized in the past (either during her childhood or in other ways) may find that she is, in effect, virtually UNABLE to WITHHOLD consent. She may feel, due to circumstances, that she is not free to refuse any unwanted sexual advances. In reality, she may be subconsciously re-enacting her earlier abuse (by someone else) in the situation with the pastor, especially if the pastor is much older than she is and if he is not someone she would ever be attracted to if it were not for his power, age and authority over her. Pastoral sexual abuse doesn’t always occur due to transference. Sometimes it happens simply because the pastor is a sexual predator. The abuse is more than just a physical or emotional abuse. When a pastor (or elder or anyone seen as a spiritual leader in the church) betrays his sacred trust, it is spiritual abuse as well, spiritual adultery, if you will.

    • Ken says

      I agree that a pastor who indulges in sexual immorality breaks a sacred trust, but to call it “abuse” is a stretch. In the first place, if the pastor’s wish is your command, then I’d say you’re involved in a cult and not a church (the only person in the church that has absolute authority is Jesus). Second, the pastor is not always the aggressor. Many women are taken in by the pastor’s supposed godliness and fancy themselves as ideal mates for him. Before I was married, I had a woman in my church that set her sights on me. I didn’t have the slightest interest in her, and I started keeping a healthy distance from her just to be safe, so nothing happened. Don’t tell me the pastor bears sole responsibility in a situation like that.

      • says

        Ken, I salute you for keeping a healthy distance from the woman in your church who wanted to date you. Unfortunately, some pastors don’t have your integrity or self-discipline. If you had been a lesser man, you might have taken advantage, and it would have been an abuse of power — so Kimberly is right to use that word. Even if the congregant makes the first move, the pastor is responsible for holding the line. If a congregant offers himself or herself sexually, a good pastor will recognize this as a sign of woundedness and vulnerability, rather than as a legitimate invitation. A good pastor will try to help the congregant, not by offering long-term counseling (this could be harmful for both parties) but by connecting the congregant with other resources for healing.
        Again — thank you for doing the right thing.

        • Ken says

          “If a congregant offers himself or herself sexually, a good pastor will recognize this as a sign of woundedness and vulnerability, rather than as a legitimate invitation.”

          Essentially you’re saying that the congregant should always be treated as a victim and the pastor should always be treated as the perpetrator. I’m sorry, but I can’t accept that kind of double standard.

          • James Mahoney says

            “Essentially you’re saying that the congregant should always be treated as a victim and the pastor should always be treated as the perpetrator.”

            That sort of double standard is pretty common in textbooks on the subject now (Grenz & Bell’s Betrayal of Trust, for example). Most of the focus is upon male-pastor-aggressor-victimizer and female-laity-passive-victim, which does play into enduring modern social roles. There is precious little thought given to other combinations of responsibility, such as male-laity-passive-victim and female-clergy-aggressor-victimizer.

            The thinking seems to be that the exact opposite of the social roles of single men and women. Whereas in traditional social roles, it was (and is) expected that the male will initiate sexual advances and the duty of the female is to resist; in a clergy-laity exchange, the expectation seems to be–at least some of the time, and definitely in most of the casebook examples–that the female laity will initiate sexual advances and it is the duty of the male clergy to resist.

            The implications in both situations are that the responsibility lies with the passive partner in the exchange.

  21. says

    Very important insight: pastors must nurture their primary relationships and guard their boundaries with congregants and staff members. But please remember that when a pastor becomes sexually involved with a congregant or staff member, it is not an affair — it is an abuse of power. Because of the power differential, it is impossible for the congregant or staffer to give meaningful consent. Pastors who violate boundaries may feel shame or may even lose their jobs — but their victims suffer far more. Victims of clergy sexual abuse can suffer depression, self-harm, eating disorders, PTSD, broken marriages, loss of faith, or even suicide.

    • Ken says

      You’re essentially saying it’s always the pastor’s fault. I can’t accept that. I don’t always agree with Dr. Phil McGraw, but he has a saying that I think is appropriate here: “No matter how thin you make a pancake, it still has two sides.”

        • Melody says

          Unless the woman is in a coma she bears the responsibility just as much. If she is actively pursuing a man when she knows that he is taken or even if he isn’t taken that isn’t the way she is supposed to be behaving. She doesn’t get to play victim. There is a reason for Proverbs 7 and I certainly wouldn’t want to be the woman that is spoken of in that way. God does not speak of her as a victim and men have been warned about her so they have no excuse.

          Now, my sons, listen to me, and pay attention to the words of my mouth.
          Don’t let your heart turn aside to her ways; don’t stray onto her paths.
          For she has brought many down to death; her victims are countless.
          Her house is the road to Sheol, descending to the chambers of death.

          • MJ says

            This does not hold true for pastoral/parishioner relationships. God will hold clergy responsible when they abuse their authority by engaging in a relationship with a person they were called to protect. This article is detrimental to the cause of clergy sexual abuse, undermining the grave sin caused by a spiritual leader when he/she chooses to feed themselves over the flock they are to care for.

        • Ken says

          I agree a pastor should hold the line, and should be held accountable if he does not. However, a woman who makes advances toward him is hardly an “innocent victim”.

          • MJ says

            Ken, those who are led or forced into a relationship with spiritual leaders rarely seduce. But, even if someone makes advances toward clergy, it is still the leaders responsibility to keep appropriate boundaries. A pastor should be strong, mature, and godly in order to withstand an advance made to them. There is a vulnerability factor along with an imbalance of power that must be understood. I pray the church realizes this truth and stops blaming victims, God’s Kingdom is suffering greatly as a result.

      • MJ says

        It is always the pastors responsibility to keep appropriate boundaries. They are in a position of authority and are fully responsible if a relationship forms with a member of their congregation.

        • Ken says

          I’m not denying the pastor’s responsibility in matters like this, but it still takes two to tango. A woman who makes advances toward the pastor is just as much to blame as he is. To argue otherwise is to advocate a double standard.

          • says

            I’m glad you acknowledge the pastor’s responsibility, Ken.
            Re the “double standard” you mention: it’s true, we do hold clergy to a higher standard. We expect clergy to model for us a godly life, morally and spiritually. We give clergy access into private spaces (our homes, our hospital rooms) that we would not give to ordinary laypeople. We trust clergy to guide us in difficult personal situations, and we trust them to lead our children and youth in their faith journeys. We make financial sacrifices to pay our clergy. We address clergy with titles of honor (Reverend, Pastor, etc).
            Because of the trust and respect that we give to clergy, we have a right to hold our pastors responsible to stand firm, uphold their vows, and not take advantage even when a congregant makes advances. So, yes, there is a double standard, and there should be. Any pastor who don’t want to be held to a higher standard (I am not talking about you; obviously you try to live up to what we expect of clergy) should not be in the profession.

          • Ken says

            “I’m glad you acknowledge the pastor’s responsibility, Ken.”

            Thank you, but it would be nice if you’d acknowledge the responsibility of the woman with whom he’s had the affair. Suppose the pastor was female and had an affair with a male congregant? Suppose the male congregant had initiated the encounter? Would you be as willing to absolve him from all guilt? Like it or not, adultery is a sin for both men and women, pastors and laity.

          • Ken says

            If I read my Bible correctly, sexual immorality is a sin for EVERYONE, not just clergy. If a woman makes advances toward her pastor, shouldn’t she also be held accountable or not? Why does no one want to answer that question?

        • Ken says

          “God will hold clergy responsible when they abuse their authority by engaging in a relationship with a person they were called to protect. ”

          It takes two to commit adultery. If my Bible is correct, God will hold them both responsible.

  22. MJ says

    Windows on doors do not protect a parishioner nor does reading the bible and praying. Godly character in a pastor is preventative that includes wisdom. Look at The Hope of Survivors for information on clergy sexual abuse. It is not an affair and until the church realizes this truth it will never be free from it happening over and over again.

  23. says

    I think the most important element in prevention is my maintenance of consistent daily prayer and study time.
    When I forget that a turkey named Chuck is in the middle of the ministry to the church, to bring the church into their ministry to the community, and they all act like turkeys-it is too possible to forget that Chuck is a turkey too.

  24. Hurt by Affair says

    My home church called a recently divorced man as pastor. He was very charming and a few years later I married him. We were together nearly 25 years but he was unfaithful to me for nearly all those years,. At times he flaunted his escapades before me, leaving receipts for motel bills and gifts he bought for his various women. Although I was crushed emotionally I stayed with him because I thought it was the right thing to do for my children who were very young at the time the affairs began. When they had both left the home I divorced him. He is married again (for the third time) and still preaches every Sunday. For him there were no consequences because he is able to make people believe that he was the victim. I have moved on but my children still deal with their pain. They are the real victims.

    • Ken says

      I’m sorry you and your children had to go through that. Any man who would do that to his wife, whether clergy or laity, is a reproach to the name of Jesus. Just remember, he cannot escape from God.

  25. Wendy says

    Thom, I am saddened to see the word “affair” used in this article. Please educate yourself on clergy sexual abuse. It is a criminal offense in various states, as it should be; Texas, Minnesota, Iowa … to name a few.
    Melody, The scripture you quoted is not referring to a parishioner who was sexually violated by their pastor.
    Ken, You are wrong. God will not hold a woman (or man) accountable for being sexually violated by their pastor, anymore then He would hold a rape survivor accountable for being raped…. and clergy sexual abuse is a form of rape and God views it as such.

    • Ken says

      Wendy, I advise you to read Proverbs 7 more carefully. The woman depicted in that passage is hardly a victim. An adult woman or man who has a consensual affair with the pastor is no rape victim (I’m not talking about teens or children). To equate such an affair with rape or sexual abuse is to trivialize both.

      • MJ says

        Ken, those who are led or forced into a relationship with spiritual leaders rarely seduce. But, even if someone makes advances toward clergy, it is still the leaders responsibility to keep appropriate boundaries. A pastor should be strong, mature, and godly in order to withstand an advance made to them. There is a vulnerability factor along with an imbalance of power that must be understood. I pray the church realizes this truth and stops blaming victims, God’s Kingdom is suffering greatly as a result.

      • says

        Ken, it is not consensual. There is a vulnerability factor along with an imbalance of power. Read more at http://www.thehopeofsurvivors.com/ if you want more information. The choice is yours to seek the truth or continue to ignore it. Those who have been pursued, used, and abused by clergy know the truth and God will not let it go unnoticed. I pray the church sees the truth of CSA.

        • Ken says

          Stop blaming the victim? How about stop blaming the pastor? I don’t know how it works in your denomination, but among Southern Baptists, the pastor is often blamed for everything that goes wrong in the church. Is church attendance down? Let’s not blame those lazy church members that never talk to their friends about Jesus or invite them to church; it’s the pastor’s fault! Is the church having trouble meeting its financial obligations? Let’s not blame those tightwads who think they’re too “spiritual” to tithe; it’ must be the pastor’s fault! Is the church having conflict? Let’s not blame those gossipy people that constantly sow seeds of division, or the people that throw a hissy fit every time they don’t get their way; it’s the pastor’s fault!

          Now you’re telling me a woman who makes sexual advances toward a pastor shares no responsibility in his guilt? I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that, and I never will.

          • Melody says

            AMEN! Ken

            I’m on the side of real victims of assault and coercion. The ones that participate in affairs, often even marrying the man after the marriage and church have been wrecked do NOT get to call themselves victims.

            Women that are manipulated by men know that it is happening but they are getting a sin payoff in emotional gratification. When we are honest with ourselves and heed the Holy Spirit we know we are picking immediate emotional gratification instead of having our hearts focused on God truly being the center of our lives.

          • BT says

            Ken, Melody,
            Give it up. While you have correctly assessed the situation and understand that ALL of us are responsible for our behavior you will never convince the crowd who like to be “victims.” While a pastor who lets a female church member seduce him is stupid and ungodly the bottom line is that he has acted, well, stupid and ungodly, but that is not abuse. It could be argued in a very real sense that he is a victim. Would he be responsible for his behavior? Of course. In fact, he has disqualified himself from the ministry. Neither should such an event be considered an “affair,” the biblical terms are fornication (sexual immorality) or adultery. No need to make it sound like something sweet since it is actually hellish. As Dr. Paige Patterson once said, “any pastor who counsels a woman alone is an idiot.” Agreed. A married woman needs her husband present to hear from me, a single woman will be counseled by my wife and me (or one of our deacons wives who is qualified to counsel someone). Single women who have asked me to give them an appointment (usually this happens in church before or after a service, or by a call to the church administrative assistants) are often surprised by my response. “Let me check and see when my wife is available.” Fully 50% of these requests become overcome by events! In other words they are no longer interested. I won’t deny they likely need some counsel but if they would actually pay attention to the preaching of the Word they would get what they need. Proverbs chapters 5 – 9 are pretty clear. Keep up the good work – God’s best to you. Ken, I’m prepared for the onslaught of the “I’m a victim” crowd but no response will come from me – here is your answer: 1 Cor. 6:18; Heb. 13:4; Jude 7.

          • Ken says

            BT, you’ve said nothing with which I disagree. I’ve already conceded that if a pastor has an affair with a woman for any reason, he is guilty of adultery. I also have great contempt for any pastor that would use manipulation to lure a woman into adultery. However, if you’ve been in ministry for any length of time, you know how manipulative church members can be. I’m sorry to keep harping on this, but to say that the parishioner is “always the victim” is to put the pastor in a no-win situation. I’ve known some women who are vindictive enough to make false accusations of adultery or abuse just because they want to get rid of the pastor. I find such people just as contemptible as adulterers and abusers, especially since the Bible says a false witness is an abomination.

            That being said, I agree 100% that a pastor should never be alone with a woman other than his wife or a close relative. In fact, Johnny Hunt takes it a step further: he doesn’t counsel women at all. I’ve heard him say he’ll counsel a woman exactly once, and if she needs more he’ll make a referral. To me, that’s a pretty wise approach. Of course, this won’t please some of the ax-grinders on this thread. They’ll grumble about the pastor “neglecting his duty”. See what I mean about a no-win situation? You’ve probably been in in the ministry long enough to understand that.

          • John W Carlton says

            I like what Johnny Hunt has to say. I was a youth minister in my early years. Any time a young lady came to my office to talk or confide I would move our place of talking to an open room. I followed this procedure when I became a pastor. Paul says “Avoid all appearance of evil.” Praying for you my friend.

    • Kimberly says

      KEN….
      cease and desist using the word AFFAIR.
      FEW if any of these are “affairs”!
      SERIOUSLY!
      STOP!

      find a different vocabulary.

      • Ken says

        Anyone who seduces a pastor into a sexual AFFAIR is no victim. I grant that doesn’t lessen the pastor’s guilt, but unless the woman is doing it against her will, she is just guilty as he is.

        You don’t like me using the word “affair”? Actually, I prefer to call it what the Bible calls it: ADULTERY.

      • MJ says

        Kimberly,
        While the ignorance in the comments here is clear, God knows the truth. I’m disheartened by the insensitivity shown by so-called pastors on here as well. In particular, the comment by BT above, talks about women like we are dogs, and whores out to seduce spiritual leaders. He feels women want to throw themselves at him and want to be alone with him, over 50% of those asking for counsel. He then states that if women would listen to his sermons, they would not have to see a counselor. I am so thankful he is not my pastor with such arrogance and ignorance. He also commented and said he will not reply back to the onslaught of victims he will hear from, revealing much presumption, insensitivity and pride. It is men such as him that God will take care of on behalf of all victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse; they have no understanding of its dynamics. Women are NOT seducing clergy. Clergy are abusing their authority and again are fully responsible to keep the boundaries in place. What kind of pastor has sex with a congregant? One who is not qualified to be a pastor. We know it is not an affair because affair implies consent and there can be no consent when someone has authority over you. Preying on the vulnerable population (yes, women going for counseling are vulnerable) will not go unnoticed by God! Praying for all survivors of CSA. Anyone who wants to hear more about the truth of CSA, see http://www.thehopeofsurvivors.com

        • Ken says

          If you will read my comments, I have never said pastors who have sexual relations with their congregants should be absolved from blame. I am saying the person with whom the pastor has sexual relations shares in the blame, provided said person is a consenting adult. The argument about “pastoral authority” simply doesn’t pan out, especially for Baptists and others in the free church tradition. It’s amazing how people will tell pastors that they don’t have the authority to run their lives (which is true enough), but if they engage in sexual immorality with the pastor, they’ll accuse him of “abusing his authority”. Who do they think they’re kidding?

          I grant that some pastors can be manipulative – I’ve known many of them personally – but I’ve been in the ministry long enough to know that parishioners can be equally manipulative. Don’t tell me that such people are “innocent victims”. I don’t buy it, and I never will.

  26. steve pryor says

    It seems the two of you are talking about two different scenarios.
    1) a female member intentionally setting out to pursue the preacher,
    2) a female member seeks guidance/counseling from the pastor, one thing leads to another……

    It seems the degree of culpability of each party would vary based on the scenario.

    • MJ says

      Steve, there is no difference in the two scenarios regarding the pastor’s responsibility. Any woman who appears to be making advances toward her pastor needs help and if her pastor is not godly enough to see that, he is completely at fault if he gives in, A pastor commits to lead, guide, and protect. When that commitment to protect is broken, it is abuse and he is fully responsible. “It takes two to tango” has no relevance when it comes to Clergy Sexual Abuse. See more information at http://www.thehopeofsurvivors.com/

    • Ken says

      Thank you, Steve, because that is PRECISELY my point. I’m glad you get it, but MJ seems determined to blame the pastor in all circumstances.

  27. Michael says

    Appreciate the comment about not traveling alone with a woman I’m not related to. I’ve gotten in trouble in secular jobs because I refused to do this and was one reason I probably lost a job. My relationship with my wife is more important than my career. Seems like some companies actually encourage traveling together to save money despite the fact there are other ways to reduce costs. Our “old-fashioned” values conflict with worldly people but ultimately, we must please God!

  28. Peter says

    Thanks for the article Thom. As I have counseled with church members and ministry friends who have fallen into adultery many have said the same thing. “When I wake up early and look at my wife when she is sleeping i think to myself, ‘How could I have done that to her?'” The road back to trust and harmony is possible and I have seen it many times but the devastation is real and heartbreaking.

  29. says

    Great article Thom. There is another take on that last highlighted phrase. It could also be “I would never do that.” The moment those words are stated is the moment we have set ourselves up for a fall. Whether morally or any other way, the enemy loves to hear those words.

  30. Pat Bowman says

    I belong to a church that wanted to hire a Music MINISTER who admittedly had more than one affair and broke up marriages, including his own. I was totally against this. Some argued that we should forgive him. Forgiveness can be given, but you don’t put yourself in a position for it to happen again. This really hurt our church, with many leaving. In Titus, it says leaders should be and are held to a higher standard.

    • Ken says

      I’m sorry that happened in your church, and I agree they’re playing with fire. My sister’s church once called a pastor, not knowing he’d had an affair in the past. They soon had to call for his resignation because he was hitting on one of the deacons’ wives. As Adrian Rogers used to say, “Forgiveness is instantaneous. Trust is earned.”

  31. John W Carlton says

    Except for the grace of God, I would have been a statistic. I saw several of the warning signs that I should have recognized. No accountability and confiding in a female coworker almost were my downfall. God was gracious and kept me from taking that fatal step of infidelity, and my ministry would have been over. Thanks for this article. I hope that it will keep some other staff member and/or pastor from falling.

  32. says

    Great post. I would think at least three if not all the seven warning signs are elements for all of the fallen in the battle field. Vulnerability and naivety are perhaps not on the mind of selection committee when thinking who is the next pastor. What I seemed to have missed in the following comments was a connection to the Matthew 18 passage that talks of showing a person their fault and seeking to restore. I know, in the case of a pastor that is a very difficult matter when trust is betrayed – either to show their fault and if there a good process, some level of restoration. However the point I make is that the whole church needs to be educated of the need to be vigilant and wise. It seems easy to blame the pastor, less easy to blame the co-offender and very difficult to blame all the others from the church and in other connected Christian circles that have keep silent when they could have said something to prevent a train wreck. Are not all believers priests? Accountability, transparency and honesty are all elements for pastors and believers – as the body of Christ.

  33. Tom Getman says

    I have read the comments. Thank you Brother Tom for cautioning the spiritual leader in these areas. Anyone who has had the oversight of pastors has likely had his or her heart broken over the careless actions of spiritual leaders (including lay leaders). I have worked as a chaplain in the criminal justice system for over two decades. This issue has (at least) two sides: the moral/spiritual side and the forensic side. Except in the cases of forcible rape, the likelyhood of consensual involvement is assumed in the Scriptures. On the forensic or legal side of the coin, a leader’s actions with a minor are always considered to be the fault of the leader! Leaders beware!!! In other cases where the other party is not a minor, the sole culpability of the leader is probably not assumed; but may be brought in as a factor.
    The discussion of culpability should not assume the moral/spiritual side of the argument any more than it assumes the forensic side.
    Churches should have windows in doors. Counselors should not assume the innocence of the counseled to the exclusion of safeguards.
    “Victims” may very well be predators in disguise.
    The leader’s vehicle should always have someone besides the leader and the minor passenger or the adult passenger of the opposite sex.

  34. Gary Hadley says

    How about this? In a case where a pastor has an “affair” or adultery, or whatever, with a congregant, two wrongs are committed. One is the fault of both participants. That would be the intimate behavior. The other would be the fault of the pastor, in that he or she has violated the trust of the Lord and the congregation in respect to his/her ministerial duties and call.

    • MJ says

      Putting aside the abuse issue for a moment. You made a great point, Gary, in talking about the betrayal of trust. The pastor betrayed the trust of the woman (he was still her pastor), her husband (he was his pastor), her children (he was their pastor) and the entire congregation. Who’s trust did the woman break? Not the church because she didn’t have a leadership/trust position; not the pastor (because he was the leader). She may have betrayed her husband and children (depending on the force of the relationship) but the pastor always holds responsibility in keeping appropriate boundaries. Not only did the pastor abuse his power, but he also took advantage of a vulnerable person. It’s a very complex issue which is why THOS works endlessly to educate the church, hoping awareness leads to prevention. The damage is extensive and THOS believes if the church realizes the abuse of power issue, it will lessen the impact.

    • Ken says

      Gary, I can agree with everything you said. I’ve repeatedly stated that the pastor should be held responsible for getting involved in any kind of adulterous relationship. He does indeed betray a serious trust. What I can’t accept is the argument that the congregant is always an innocent victim. I’ve been a Baptist pastor for almost 19 years, and I’ve known many congregants who openly despise the concept of “pastoral authority”, and boast about who they can “think for themselves”, Yet if one of these same church members has an adulterous affair with the pastor, they want to say it’s all his fault for “abusing his authority”? Who are they kidding? They can’t have it both ways.

      • MJ says

        Ken, you cannot dismiss a position of authority simply because someone refuses to submit. The Bible says to submit to all governing authorities yet if someone chooses to be a free thinker and not submit, that does not take away the position of authority of the government. If a student does not submit to a teacher, that does not dismiss the teacher’s authority. If an employee does not submit to her supervisor, that does not dismiss the boss’s authority. If a congregant doesn’t submit to the pastor’s authority, that does not dismiss the authority you inherently have in being a pastor. A pastor has more information, more responsibility, more authority, and more knowledge over a congregant, That makes a pastor a leader, and always responsible to keep appropriate boundaries. A big problem with this issue has been greatly affected by our President having ‘nonsexual’ relations with his intern. That was a total breach of trust and completely the responsibility of our president to keep boundaries. He was her boss and in a very powerful position. That incident caused people to become desensitized to the clear abuse of power found in leaders and trickled down to the church. A leader is always responsible to keep appropriate boundaries. I learned that in college in the area of social work. Counselors are taught that in college, over and over and over, that they are 100% responsible to keep healthy boundaries and when those boundaries are broken, it is the worker’s doing. How much more should a spiritual leader be held fully accountable, being a representative of Jesus Christ. Please understand that there is a grooming process that goes on behind the scenes that people do not see. Women are not coming on to pastors as much as people might believe. But again, even if they do, they need help from their representative of Jesus, not harmed. I continue praying for the church to realize the dynamics of CSA.

        • Kimberly Osment says

          Amen! amen!
          Grooming is an “art” few understand!
          My sons were groomed by a gay older male cousin. Their mom interfened!
          Grooming is sly & subtle& you really don t have a clue it is happening
          If you did, it would not be grooming

          • Melody says

            So you are saying all women are simpletons with minds like children that are incapable of being the groomer. Incapable of using a ruse of emotional vulnerability when they decide they deserve that man more. I have sat and listened to divorced women in church talk about how they deserve to have a marriage like the ones they are seeing around them. That is the first step to being a predator. As soon as you think you have a right to something that is the first step to sin. You don’t have to have any position or power to have that sin as Eve showed us.

          • MJ says

            Yes, grooming is a huge component of CSA that few understand. Melody, a woman can be the predator but she has to be in a position of authority as well. We’ve been talking about a man being the predator simply because those are the majority of cases. However, a woman can also use her position of authority to abuse someone under her care. It’s happened with women teachers, counselors, and spiritual leaders. Whatever the gender, abuse can and does happen by both men and women. The damage done today is due to the thoughts shown on this thread and I will continue to pray for the eyes of the church to be opened to the truths of CSA. Why not read the survivor stories on The Hope of Survivors site and see how the grooming process works and hear the voices of shattered hearts from those abused. You will also find men and women who survived and are working toward making a change for future victims which is a part of the healing process. Try not to blame those who were used in a most horrific way, by representatives of Jesus Christ. It will be better for that person to have a millstone tied to his/her neck and thrown into a lake than to cause a little one of His (little one includes vulnerable and wounded) to sin. If anyone wants more information on the truths of Clergy Sexual Abuse, see http://www.thehopeofsurvivors.com

        • Ken says

          The same Bible that commands us to submit to authority also says, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” and “Flee fornication.” Why is one command binding on the congregant and not the others? Remember when people brought a woman to Jesus and said they’d caught her in the act of adultery? People have rightly asked why they only brought the woman and not the man (I believe Jesus noticed that, too, and that’s why He was suspicious of their motives). You seem to be doing the exact same thing by laying all the blame on the pastor and absolving the congregant.

          You don’t have to convince me that the pastor is guilty in such cases. I’ve acknowledged that point many times already. I don’t accept your premise that the congregant is always a victim in such cases. Every time I raise that question, you just go back to the issue of the pastor’s responsibility. Why is the congregant not responsible? Is responsibility a one-way street? Quite frankly, you sound like you’re more interested in revenge than justice.

          • BT says

            Ken,
            You are not going to win this argument with these women because you are dealing with a “victim” mentality that likely comes from a root of bitterness. Women who have been abused or who take up the offense of others sometimes develop a hatred for men. While it is understandable, and I am certainly sympathetic toward anyone who has been abused, the reality is the bitterness won’t go away until they see it for what it is and repent. None of your comments, nor any of mine, deny the responsibility of the pastor. In fact, I said if he fails in this regard he has disqualified himself from the ministry, even if some woman threw herself at him. However, you can clearly see now that by the logic of the “victim” crowd any circumstance where the man has authority of some sort, he is entirely to blame. But godly men must know and be aware of the dangers because the Lord has plainly warned us in Proverbs 5 – 9. Ken, you know these verses, but here is a sampling: “the lips of an immoral woman, … Her feet go down to death, Her steps lay hold on hell, … remove your way far from her, … rejoice with the wife of your youth, … For why should you, my son, be enraptured by an immoral woman … a seductress? … And there a woman met him, with the attire of a … crafty harlot, she was loud and rebellious, Her feet would not stay home. … Her house is the way to hell. … A foolish woman is clamorous; She is simple, and knows nothing. … he does not know that the dead are there, That her guests are in the depths of hell.” I think it’s pretty clear that the woman in this case is culpable. You and I both know that abuse by clergy is an awful and despicable thing. I don’t have a percentage (no one does) of the number of pastors committing adultery who were the perpetrators but I would argue that is the case most of the time. But that doesn’t change the fact that there are some situations where the woman is as much or more to blame. When the woman is to blame it in no way absolves a pastor of his responsibility to do right no matter what. But it does take two to tango. It only takes one to rape or abuse, but it takes two to tango. The wisdom to know the difference and apply the grace of God to such circumstances is something all pastors need. It is found, at least in part, in the book of Proverbs. I have had the sad task of meeting with pastors and working toward reconciliation and restoration when they have failed. I have heard their stories and Thom’s warnings all too often ring true. You and I would be the first to hold such a man accountable. He can be reconciled to his wife, he can be restored to his walk with Christ – I do not believe he can be restored to his ministry, but that’s another subject altogether. But if the woman was one of the kind described in Proverbs she is guilty as sin and needs to be held accountable as well. Well, I’m preaching to the choir my friend. One last thought. A fellow pastor and I were counseling a man who was having some difficulty getting the victory over his urges. He said to us, “it’s the women in this county.” My pastor friend replied, “Son, the Devil has women like that in every county.” It is a spiritual warfare and we must remain on guard.

          • Ken says

            BT, once again, I agree with all you said about keeping on guard; believe me, I do! I really get put out with this constant “victim mentality” that we see all over society today. I can understand holding a pastor accountable for an affair, but I cannot understand absolving the congregant with whom he had the affair from all guilt. I’ve known pastors who’ve had affairs with women and try to put all the blame on them. I loathe such a shirking of responsibility for one’s actions, so why would I approve when it’s the other way around? It seems so obvious to you and me, but some people just refuse to understand. Incidentally, I also understand your point about not being able to talk sense to people with a victim mentality, but you can’t blame me for trying, huh?

            To Melody, all I can say is BRAVO! So many women (and men, for that matter) want to have it both ways. They claim they can think for themselves, and yet they always want to be the victim. They constantly remind the pastor of his biblical responsibilities, but they don’t want to talk about their own. As BT said, thanks for bringing some wisdom to this conversation!

          • MJ says

            Ken, if a woman has a relationship with another man who is married and they are equal in terms of levels of position, it is an affair. There is a difference when it involves a leader. God holds leaders to a higher standard, in His Word. All leaders, whether spiritual or not, are always responsible to keep boundaries. The adulteress spoken of in the Bible was not used by her pastor. However, in Ezekiel, God highly condemns any shepherd who uses the flock for his own satisfaction. A shepherd’s role is to care for, lead, and guide the flock, not use it for his own satisfaction. The adulteress woman does not apply to your scenario. If a woman has a relationship with another congregant, that would be considered an affair. A leader cannot have relations with someone under his or her care.

    • MJ says

      Kimberly, I was thinking about the unwillingness for pastors to understand the abuse of power and one reason may be due to their fear of falling themselves. They don’t want to take responsibility IF they happen to sin by abusing their authority. I spoke to 2 pastors at my church and both of them were open to hearing the dynamics of CSA and both of them understood the abuse of power but only because they were willing to hear me. They understand their roles as leaders and know the responsibility is totally in their hands. They are humble leaders which is what God desires. The article you posted has great information on CSA and reasons why it is not an affair. Thank you for sharing it here. Praying those who read it are open to hearing the truth and find understanding.

  35. Torn says

    My wife has had an affair with our pastor. She says it has only been an emotional one but who knows. Additionally she also works at our church. Do i expose them – we live in a small community and I fear for the turmoil my kids would go through. They love going to that church – youth group and all the activities. It is over for us and are headed towards a divorce – we have tried counseling but it has become clear that she is not in love with me and she blames all of her infidelity on me and not meeting her needs. I have worked hard trying to provide for my family and this is my reward. Unfortunately, she had an emotional affair with one of our musicians in our previous church 7 years ago – we seemed to have gotten past that – more forget then forgive – I should have left then. I stayed I think for our kids. Now once again – new church same result but worse in many aspects.

    I struggle daily with wanting to expose him, tell his wife, tell the elders and deacons but for what purpose.

    Just needed to get it out there

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