Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Research On Pastors Who Are Sexually Unfaithful

by Loren Seibold
Editor, Best Practices for Adventist Ministry

I was talking to a psychologist awhile back who had done research on pastors who are sexually unfaithful (he was talking about male pastors - I'm unsure how this applies to female pastors). He said that pastors who are most likely to have an affair tend to sort into two general personality types.

One is the kind, deeply sympathetic pastor who loves to help people with their problems, who will drop everything to visit, counsel, or provide moral support. This pastor may find himself getting into close, confessional relationships with women in his church, women who he sincerely wants to help. He may feel insecure about himself and his ministry, and craves the feeling of being needed and appreciated. Women who are hurting, neglected or have low self-esteem respond to his kind attentions. But in these encounters the lines between pastoral care and personal intimacy blur, and he finds himself, not necessarily by design, in a sexual relationship.

The other is the pastor who is successful, talented and charismatic. He may pastor a large church or hold a high position, where he is used to being admired, listened to, and having people accede to his wishes. He may, said this psychologist, subconsciously begin to feel that he is a little above the rules that govern others. His ministry is so important, his leadership so vital to God's work, his circumstances so special, that he transcends normal expectations of moral behavior. He may be so used to successfully talking others into seeing things his way that even the risks in having an affair seem something he can navigate his way through. These kinds of pastors have a sense of entitlement and may, even after being caught, express puzzlement as to why they're not immediately forgiven and restored, because they have so much to give the church.

Such generalizations are a bit blunt, I know, and I'm sure you'll think of exceptions. Yet the situations I've seen tend to confirm this psychologist's premise. We notice, especially, the second kind, because they're people who are esteemed in the church, so their moral failures get played out publicly.

Yet the truth is that we're all vulnerable, all capable of falling into temptation in a whole variety of areas. A cliché by now, but still a profoundly true one: there, but for the grace of God, go I. As a pastor you have power, so a sexual relationship you get into with a church member has, by definition, a coercive element to it. We must remind ourselves that ministry is not just a calling, not just a vocation, but also a public trust.


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