I’ve noticed a trend in the past six years of doing this ministry. I often get emails from people who are committing adultery and are feeling guilty about it. The couple committing adultery are typically made up of a pastor and a woman he knows from his staff, a church member, or a family friend.
Overwhelmingly, when a member of this couple reaches out for help out of sorrow for their sin, it isn’t the pastor. It is the person we often refer to as “the other woman.” It begs the question, “are women more sensitive to sin?”
Maybe that’s the wrong question. Maybe pastors in positions of power feel guilty as well, but they have more to hide and to protect. These men (and I was one of them) spend their time justifying their actions to themselves, to the woman they are involved with, and even to God.
The women who have reached out to us for help often ask the same questions about the pastors they have become involved with: “Why doesn’t he recognize this as sin?” “Why is he comfortable with living two lives?” “Have I destroyed his life?” “Is this all my fault?”
Tragically, when adultery occurs, marriages will be changed forever. They don’t have to be destroyed, but they will be forever altered in some way. One of the things that makes adultery in ministry so hard to fathom for those on the outside is that pastors are supposed to know better. And when the person the pastor is involved with is more guilt-ridden than he is, there is a serious problem.
When people talk about the cost of pastoral adultery, they often talk about how churches and families are destroyed. That is absolutely true. And it should take up a lot of space when we warn pastors and men of the dangers of infidelity.
But I can tell you this – when pastors become involved with another woman, it destroys them too. Most often when their adultery is discovered, she is tossed aside by him, the church and the community. She is scorned by all who uphold righteousness. The consequences are often hers to bear alone.
Of the many “other women” I have talked to, they have gone through the same set of circumstances. When they were caught, they were kicked out of the church. They were told to never come back. Often, the pastor was forgiven. Sometimes, the pastor was told to never contact her again, but often reached out to her secretly. Many times, deacons and elders showed up at her door, warning her to stay away from the pastor, his family and the church, even though she had no desire to do any of those things.
I have heard these stories time and again. Do we all deserve consequences? Absolutely. But we all deserve grace and forgiveness as well. I marvel at how communities of faith treat these women when it was these women who felt more remorse than the pastor did. Often, the only reason the pastor felt remorse was because his sin was found out.
Are women more sensitive to sin? I don’t know. My experience is that they reach out for help more often because of guilt than men do. I know that the women I’m surrounded by in my life are sensitive to sin and desire repentance and grace more often than I do. They desire spiritual things more than I do. I don’t know if it’s a gender thing, but their hearts are often more sensitive to the deeper things of God. And I’m happy for that. I do know that the women I minister to and have in my life need love, grace, mercy and forgiveness just like anyone else.
If you’re a pastor who is even thinking about adultery, or you find yourself attracted to someone; just stop. If you won’t stop because it’s Scriptural, or for your family, or for your church, then think of the other person and their family.
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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