I promised I’d write out my testimony. It’ll take more than one post.
I fell from the pastorate in October of 2009 after pastoring a church for eight years. The following March, I started blogging under a pseudonym at blogger.com. I had to write. Writing helped me clear a lot of the depression, the ideas, and the feelings that were flowing around in my head. Recently, I had to drop the pseudonym of Arthur Dimmesdale, so I deleted a lot of the story and transferred everything here to WordPress.
The pseudonym of Arthur Dimmesdale, of course, is the name of the minister in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous novel, The Scarlet Letter, who committed adultery. I was writing to answer a question his character asked in that novel that I posted at the top of that blog – “What can a ruined soul, like mine, effect towards the redemption of other souls?—or a polluted soul, towards their purification?”
I changed my name, locations, and a lot of details. Strangely, in the beginning, a lot of people thought I was making the whole story up. They thought it sounded too fantastic. I wish. But unfortunately, I was living it.
I also got accused of trying to justify my sin. I want to be clear on this. Don’t ever hear me trying to justify what I did. I’m responsible for my adultery. I did it. I’m the sinner. No one forced me to do it. No set of circumstances made me do it. All of the blame rests upon me. So, if you ever read this blog and think I’m trying to shuffle off my sin on someone else or something that happened – you’re reading it wrong.
Also, don’t expect a lot of details. It’s really not about the story. I’m not writing to provide a provocative novel. I hurt a lot of people. I broke the heart of my ex-wife, I harmed my children, and I hurt an entire church. I hurt my extended family and a lot of friends. I disappointed a lot of people.
One other thing. I don’t write to garner pity or compassion. This isn’t a blog to get you to say, “Well, he did sin, but now I’m supposed to feel sorry for the adulterer.” Nope. That’s not the point either. I sinned and the consequences of that sin will follow me for the rest of my life.
First, I’ve learned that despite my sin, God still loves me. He still loves sinners. I don’t know why He does, but He does. On the list of people who get looked down in society, pastors who commit adultery are close to the top. Why? Because we knew better. We’re the ones who preached week after week about morality, holiness and God’s truth. Then we showed the greatest hypocrisy by forfeiting it all and in front of God and everyone, we broke His law.
In the wake of that sin, people get hurt. Then they get angry. And that is very, very understandable. They tend to stay angry and hurt for a long time.
According to The Barna Group, 1,500 pastors leave the ministry every month due to moral failure or burnout. What are those fallen pastors supposed to do? I get emails and messages from fallen pastors frequently. Despite what the world thinks of them, they’re hurting and need help. There is hope and God still loves them. They need to repent and humble themselves. It took me almost a year to humble myself.
Before I humbled myself, I was angry. I was prideful, made a lot of angry remarks to people, wrote some angry letters, and acted like Balaam’s donkey, if you know what I mean.
But God was patient. So what can God do with us? I think part of the answer is in Psalm 51 when David prays for restoration after his sin with Bathsheba. In verse 12, he asks God to restore to him the joy of his salvation, then in verse 13, he promises that he will teach sinners to return to God. In other words, David will teach others to learn from his mistakes. I hope that I can do that.
Secondly, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to fallen pastors across the country. For the most part, it seems that most fallen pastors find no reconciliation with their former churches. I’m not talking about them returning to the pastorate. I’m just talking about forgiveness. Even 20 or 30 years down the road, it doesn’t seem to happen. I would love to see it happen. I don’t know how, but I know that our God is great enough to make it happen. But a change has to happen in both the fallen pastor and the church.
Finally, (and there are more reasons, but I’ll stop here for now), I don’t want this to happen to other pastors. Let me be careful here. I have honestly had people come up to me and say, “Ray, I’m really unhappy in my marriage and am thinking about committing adultery. What do you think.” I say, “Uh, no. It’s a sin.” They say, “Well, you did it and you seem so happy.” I say, “Just because I did it doesn’t make it right, friend.”
Pastors are weak people, whether they admit it or not. They face a lot of problems, crises, and conflicts. The same problems you face. There are preventative measures that can be put in place to safeguard their marriages and keep them strong for their churches. I get emails from pastors who say, “I’m thinking about committing adultery, what should I do?” Don’t do it. Get help.
The whole issue of my life now, God’s sovereignty, my happiness, and my ability to help people because of what I’ve been through is a whole other post. But for now, know that I don’t want to see anyone commit adultery. Ever. What I went through after violating God’s law was an awful time.
That being said, the blessings I am experiencing now are nothing but the result of God’s grace. I don’t deserve them. I don’t deserve Him. In spite of my sin, He has blessed me. My heart soars because of His forgiveness. Do I still experience consequences? Yes. But He has covered all of my sin and I do not stand before Him guilty anymore.
That’s a message, no longer a mess.