I believe that when a pastor commits adultery, it always carries with it an element of abuse. I have laid out my thoughts below.
When A Pastor Pursues a Congregant, He Abuses His Authority
A pastor is called to be the chief servant of a church. Christian leaders are given enormous power and authority so that they can serve their people. When a pastor pursues a congregant, he is misusing his authority to fulfill his sexual desires, rather than using his authority to serve the congregant.
Think about it like this:
Imagine you were a mid-level manager in a large corporation. A mailroom kid tells you, “You should change the numbers on the company’s tax information. It will help us make more money.” How much pressure are you feeling to do something immoral? Not much. The kid has no structural power.
Next, a fellow manager comes to you and says, “You should change our tax numbers.” How much pressure are you feeling now? A little bit more, I’d imagine.
Finally, the CEO calls you into his office and says, “You should change the tax numbers.” How much pressure are you feeling now? It is probably enormous. Will you lose your job if you refuse? How will you provide for your family if you lose your income? And even if you keep your job, how could you ever get a promotion after you refused?
There is a similar pressure on a congregant when a pastor pursues and pressures her for sex. She loves her church. She has built a network of friends and family. The pastor baptized her children. Maybe he baptized her! And he speaks for God every single week!
When a pastor or Christian leader pursues one of his flock for sex, he is abusing his authority for his own sinful gain.
When A Pastor Commits Adultery with a Person Pursuing Him, He Abuses His Office
I imagine most people understand and agree that the previous scenario is predatory.
The disagreement comes in a situation where a congregant, or non-congregant sexually pursues a pastor. One could argue: While it is still wrong for a pastor to commit adultery with a person who is sexually aggressive with him, there is no abuse involved.
Think about it like this:
Jimmy has a major addiction to painkillers. He goes to his neighbor and asks for money, so he can buy the painkillers. The neighbor knows he has a problem, but gives him some money. Is this wrong of the neighbor? Absolutely. The neighbor is enabling Jimmy to sin.
Next, Jimmy asks his friend to swipe some of his grandma’s prescribed pills. His friend does so and gives them to Jimmy. Is this wrong of the friend? Absolutely. The friend is stealing and enabling Jimmy to sin.
Finally, Jimmy makes an appointment with a medical doctor. Jimmy goes into the appointment and offers to pay the doctor $5,000.00 in cash for a year’s supply of pain medication. What should the doctor do? He should refuse, and offer a variety of options to help Jimmy break free from his addiction.
But what if the doctor agrees? The doctor takes the money and writes him a prescription. Is this wrong? Of course. Is this an abuse of the doctor’s role? Absolutely. Is the doctor’s sin more grievous than the sins committed by the neighbor and friend? Certainly.
Because the doctor is not just an average man. He is a man who was licensed by a state after earning a medical degree from an accredited university. He is a man who has taken an oath to “first do no harm.” He, better than most, understands the physiological harm Jimmy is causing to himself, and the social harm he is causing to those around him.
In the same way, a pastor is not just an average man. He has been ordained by a congregation, which is not a conferring of authority, but a recognition that God Himself has called this person to guard, lead, and feed the flock of Christ before the foundations of the earth.
Just as a doctor should not receive bribe money from an addict, neither should a pastor receive adulterous advances of anyone. His job… His calling requires him to recognize that such advances are symptoms of sin. And like a good doctor, he should refuse the advances and speak of healing, forgiveness, and fulfillment that can only be found in the Lord Jesus Christ.
If a pastor or Christian leader commits adultery with a person sexually pursuing him, he is abusing his office.
The Apostle Paul commanded young Timothy, “Don’t accept an accusation against an elder unless it is supported by two or three witnesses. Publicly rebuke those who sin, so that the rest will be afraid”
(1 Timothy 5:19-20 CSB).
Thinking my way through these issues has terrified me. I love the Lord, my wife, my children, and my church. I never want to bring shame to them by my actions. And, like all callings, I recognize that I am ill-equipped to do what Christ has called me to do. So, I fearfully pray that God the Holy Spirit will guard me, because I know I am not beyond the sin of adultery – which carries with it a greater violation for pastors.
So please pray for me and pray for your pastors.
Mostly, though, pray for those who have been abused by pastors – that they might still follow after Christ, find healing in him, and enjoy the fellowship of a church.