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Why Do Pastors Cheat?

Posted by fallenpastor | Posted in adultery, affair, pastoring, pastors, temptation | Posted on 10-12-2013


People discover my site because of all types of searches. But one of the most common search phrases is “Why do pastors commit adultery?”adultery

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 bridgesshe 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.temptation

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.

If you are a fallen pastor who needs to talk or you are someone who has been affected by a fallen pastor and would like to contact me privately, please click here. You are the main reason this ministry exists. I’m here to help you.

If you are a church, men’s group, association, conference, or news outlet and would like more information about this ministry, please click here.


Comments (4)

I really take offense with your article. Adultery is wrong. Your article sounds like you are trying to justify your/their actions and in my opinion, there is no justification.
First, I personally hated the movie “Bridges of Madison County”. A woman has an affair while her husband and son are gone. Are they gone to go play, no, they are working. The man (it takes two to have an affair) knows she is married. Is he in a ‘bad relation’, has a conflict with church, or has overly high expectations. No, he is a photographer and just a cheater.
Your idea that garbage in, garbage out is ridiculous. Millions of people watched the movie ‘Rocky’ and never punched anyone. Millions watched ‘The Godfather’ and never killed anyone. And no, we as a nation are not overly sexually charged. You/some may be, but that does not mean everyone is.
Everyone sins. And lots of people have affairs. But, again in my opinion, when a pastor, who is supposed to be trained, supposed to be in touch with his God, and has the trust of this congregation, does it, it is worse. To me, it is like a policeman committing a robbery, or a fireman setting a fire or a doctor poisoning a patient.
You’re right, a pastor is a human being and cheats for the same reasons as anyone else, but it is still wrong.

(And yes, my ex-wife had an affair with her married pastor. She left me and my two young boys (4/6) and the pastor a year later gets re-assigned and is still working.)


I’m sorry you were hurt by the actions of other people. Their actions were wrong. If it sounded to you like I was attempting to justify sin, I hope you will reread the post and other blog posts. Sin is wrong.

At times, all of us may become weakened to a point where we are more susceptible to sin, but it is our choice to cross the line. We own the sin and are responsible for it before God.

I also wasn’t making the point that watching a TV show or movie creates a certain behavior in people. The point is that our culture has become more and more sexually desensitized. I don’t think that’s arguable. Sex in film, television, advertisements, socially acceptable conversation, etc. is more abundant and more intense than ever. It does have an effect on the people. It is more accessible and does change the way we think and act. However, is media responsible for our behavior? No, we are all ultimately responsible for the actions we take. But as Christians, we need to be aware of the sin that lurks around us.

It is also terrible when a Christian leader falls. He/she should be more accountable than others within the church. God holds teachers/ministers to a higher standard. In the same vein, when a pastor/minister falls, we must remember that grace abounds for any sinner who is willing to repent. When any of us falls, whether we are a farmer, policeman, writer, garbageman, social worker, pilot, etc., there is a need for repentance to God. But when that repentance is true, God is always ready and willing to love and forgive.

It is hard for people to be as quick to forgive. We get hurt by the actions of others and it takes time. But as long as it takes, we are to do the same as Christ did – forgive. The process takes time, but it is worth it. Again, I’m terribly sorry for the pain you and your family have been caused. I don’t believe any pastor who sins should be allowed back so quickly into the pulpit, if ever.

I hope you experience all peace and grace that can be known in Christ.

I appreciate what you have said. I have been in a realionship with a married pastor for 2 yrs. We didnt plan this at all. We live about 10 hours apart from one another but I hear from him 5 days out of the week day and night,when he’s at homw with his family,at church no matter the place. We have the same feeling for each other.I know this is not right but I also know that when you are in love you will not step out on your mate but if you just love you will. So before anyone throw a stone they should check self first because sin is sin. I also know we will pay for this sin and i believe that we will be together as one .

[…] There is something inherently wrong in the heart of a pastor when he looks at his situation and his marriage and believes that infidelity is a viable option. […]

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