I did. Four years ago. I wasn’t looking to commit adultery – and I don’t believe most pastors who cross the line are looking for it. I wrote a book about my fall and the stories of eleven other men who fell. I learned a lot about the circumstances that can make a pastor weak. Pastors are responsible for their sin. There are emotional, marriage, church and other issues that I outline in my book that can make the pastor weak.
So how is it that those who are the most respected people in our communities can commit a sin that most everyone sees as the greatest example of betrayal? Even in Scripture, God uses the language of adultery to describe Israel as a people who have abandoned Him spiritually.
Let’s back up for a moment. Without sounding cynical, I have always found it interesting how most people watch television and movie dramas. My favorite example is the movie, “Bridges of Madison County.” If you’re not aware of the plot, after a woman dies in her old age, her children discover she had a brief affair with a photographer a long time ago. The movie basically justifies her adultery by showing how much the woman needed attention, was neglected by her husband and how the photographer filled a void in her life. If you watch the movie, you will probably find yourself justifying her actions.
But this is not a one time occurrence. Soap operas, movies, television, reality television (those are all very interesting links, by the way) are all set up to create sexual tension. Not to mention the 50 Shades drama over two years ago. We discovered that one of the main reading audiences was Christian women. We have a sexually charged society. We find ourselves rooting for characters to cheat on their spouses, but it’s okay, because they’re only characters in a fictional story.
But when adultery happens in our social circles or in our family, we find it appalling. And we should. Because it is.
But hold on for a second. When we see sex on the big screen, it is sensationalized and made to look like it has no consequences. Just like most violence. The first movie I can remember that ever showed the consequences of violence was “Unforgiven.” (Lots of Clint Eastwood in this blog.)
So where am I going with all of this?
I’m not justifying pastoral adultery. Don’t hear me saying that culture has made us weak and so any of us are prone to commit sin. No, that’s not it. But we do have an interesting social standard. We often think we are immune from television, the songs we hear, or the movies we watch. But we aren’t. How many of us tell our children, “Garbage in, garbage out“?
In my book, I note several things that lead a pastor to weakness: poor relationship with spouse, isolation, conflict with church, and overly high expectations.
Uncontrolled and not getting help, any of us can be weakened to a point where we will commit sin. But adultery is one of the sins that most Americans seems to hate the most. Despite that statistics show that 25% of Americans have cheated on their spouse but not been caught.
Should pastors or any other person cheat? No. It’s a sin. Are there factors that make people weak? Yes. When we commit sin, it’s ours. We own it. Temptation may lead us to a sin, but we don’t have to commit it.
When someone is caught in an affair, there is obviously something that is fulfilling a desire for them. And it’s happening on several fronts. There is a need that they feel their spouse isn’t fulfilling. There is an escape from stress or conflict. Guilt? Yes. But the risk is greater than the reward.
But nothing ever lasts like that. Affairs are temporary. Any way it goes, one of the people figures out that it’s a fairy tale or both figure out that they really want to be together. Everything falls apart. One of them wants everything or one of them realizes the risks and knows it’s not worth it. Maybe it’s guilt, maybe it’s true repentance. But most of the time the remorse comes after the physical sin has occurred.
I can’t tell you how many pastors have contacted me and said “Well, I’ve cheated, my wife doesn’t know, but I’ve stopped seeing the woman I was with. I’m just going to stop. I think I can go on like I was before.” No, you can’t. Scripture says that our sin will find us out.
One statistic in my book is that 33% of conservative clergy have crossed the line with a woman not their spouse but have not been caught.
Why do pastors commit adultery? The same reason anyone else does. Because we sin. Because we allow ourselves to get weak and don’t reach out for help. Because we think we are stronger than we are. But we are not. We all need help. We need a community of faith, mentors, friends, family and a net to fall into.
But we fall when we think we can manage our grief, our pain, our conflict, our pain all on our own. We decide to find comfort elsewhere. We never would have considered it before, but when our souls are in pain, we will be more susceptible than we have ever been. All of us. Not just pastors.
So pray for your leaders. The stress is great.
Ray Carroll is the author of “Fallen Pastor: Finding Restoration in a Broken World,” which answers many of the questions I get asked on a weekly basis.
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