Adultery comes in various forms. It has also become a problem in the modern church.
As a counselor, I am never surprised when a client comes in complaining that their spouse committed adultery. The times which there comes some form of surprise is when a pastor’s wife comes complaining of the same. Pastors are for the most part seen as men (and women) who hold themselves accountable to their spouses, church, and, of course, God. This accountability is not normally seen as something light by church members and other Christians, nor is it taken as something less than serious by the vast majority of pastors. As a pastor myself, I know that we, pastors, tend to accept that along with being held to a higher responsibility than other Christians (and rightly so), we are also judged and critiqued more than they (again, rightly so).
Therefore, when a pastor and his wife end up in my counseling office I am saddened. It is bad enough that those who are not Christian already tend to criticize pastors for little to no valid reasons, it becomes even worse when we give them fodder for the fire. In the last ten years (of my over thirty years of counseling), I have had almost 15 pastors and their wives end up in my counseling office. Sadly, the biggest complaint from the majority of those wives was that there had been some form of adultery on their husband’s part.
Adultery comes in several forms, all of which are adultery without question.
1. A situation in which a married person has a sexual relationship with someone to whom they are not married, especially without their spouse’s knowledge.
2. A situation in which a married person has an intimate (even if sexual intercourse has not occurred) relationship with someone to whom they are not married without their spouse’s knowledge, and with whom the spouse would not approve.
3. A situation in which a married person has an emotional relationship with someone to whom they are not married, which they hide from their spouse, and with whom the spouse would not approve.
4. A situation in which a married person has any type of relationship (including online, such as on Facebook, etc.) with someone to whom they are not married, which they hide from their spouse, and with whom the spouse would not approve.
Adultery does not have to include sex, the actual problem with adultery is the deception. In my 30 years of counseling, I have yet to have someone come to my office to complain against an adulterous relationship because the sexual activity between the two adulterers changed their bodies somehow, or that their bodies are now useless for the sex act. Their only real concern is that they have been betrayed by the deception of their spouse’s adultery. In the Bible, God refers to the people of that day as “adulterous” against Him. God was not saying or implying that those believers had engaged in sexual misconduct with the enemy. The point the Lord was making is that those people intended to deceive Him (though they could obviously not). The behavior of those believers was such that they made a conscious decision which clearly showed they were intending to deceive God by living in a manner which was intentionally contrary to their commitment to their relationship with Him. When a husband (or wife) chooses to have a relationship with a person, which their spouses have no knowledge or would not approve, they are doing so intentionally. And, they are also choosing to deceive and betray their spouse. The emphasis is on the deception and betrayal.
So, when it is a pastor who has chosen to engage in deception and betrayal, the fallout from this heinous act will damage and practically destroy their marriage, their reputations, their families, their churches, and in some cases, will damage their relationship with God in a manner from which they may never recover. Even worse, they give the enemy more ammunition against the church and may affect the decision of many non-believers as to whether they might accept Christ as their savior.
A pastor who makes the decision to commit adultery has practically abdicated his position in the church and his responsibilities to his wife. He loses the respect of his peers, as well as many other persons in his life. His word will always be questionable, and he will struggle with much difficulty to regain the trust of people in his life. The one thing which all people will know about that pastor is that he is willing to lie to God, and if that is true, how much easier would it be for him to lie to everyone else.
Before you start defending these pastors’ actions or making excuses for them, from a Christian perspective it is fair that they be judged and held accountable, not judged about their “sin” (that is a right which only God has), but judged according to their fruit (Luke 6:43-45), which is something fair for anyone to do about a person who accepts that level of accountability. All pastors know that they are accountable to their wives, their church members, to God, and to the general public as persons who interact with all people to promote the knowledge of Jesus Christ. The church is under attack.
As a person who is quite obviously not perfect, and who has sinned more than once in my life, I tend to look at these adulterers with compassion and mercy. I acknowledge the harm and damage which these people have purposefully imposed on those whom they supposedly “love,” and I agree that they must suffer the consequences of their choices. I just wonder what has to happen to avoid this in the future with other pastors and their spouses where there are already issues which are eroding the sanctity of the marriage. My prayer is that they choose to reach outside the secrecy of their marriage, and seek help.