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Volume 14, Issue 1: Poimen

Pastor Traps: Sexual Infidelity

Joost Nixon

Now Eli was very old; and he heard all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting. . .

1 Sam. 2:22
If the world were to reason from practice to policy, it might be forced to conclude that one of the standard perks of pastoral office—duly noted in the contract—is sexual favors from the communion-lady.1
Sexual indiscretion by spiritual leaders has reached such a height that the Church has become a byword and an object of hissing among the nations. One survey of almost 300 pastors reveals that 23 percent of them admitted to sexually inappropriate behavior, and 12 percent to sexual intercourse with someone other than their wife. Almost 40 percent of this porneia occurred with ladies from church. The statistics are depressing, and one surmises that the reality is far worse. There is a glut of the sons of Eli in the Church, and seeing it the world chortles, blasphemes, and tells itself "there is no God" (Ps. 14:1).
"The mouth of an adulteress is a deep pit; He who is cursed of the Lord will fall into it" (Prov. 22:14). Sex is an alluring and deadly trap for men, and particularly for pastors. Proverbs tells us that the house of the adulteress is really a morgue stacked with "many" and "numerous" corpses (Prov. 7:26_27). If one were to read some of the tags dangling from their cold rigid toes, he would be shocked by names like David (the man after God's own heart) and Solomon (unsurpassed in wisdom). And many of our contemporaries lie there. Of course there are the likes of Bakker, Swaggert, and Jesse Jackson, but there are also men like MacDonald, Cocoris, and Hocking. You may not like their theology—certainly it may not be as staunch as yours—but David's theology was pretty fair, and yet he is among their number. And in any case, a sense of swaggering invulnerability is a sure sign that your toast is about to get burned: "Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor. 10:12).
Adultery begins with spiritual starvation. And though it may surprise the reader, pastors can be some of the most spiritually emaciated folks out there. Some pastors lay out a weekly feast from which they refuse to partake. When, in well-meaning rebellion, they neglect their own souls to care for the flock, they grow weak, drop their guard, and become a target. Defection from the honors of the marriage bed begins with a defection from God. And this defection occurs in the most normal of ways: neglect of the means of grace. Prayer slackens, and then abates entirely. Personal application of the Word gives way to the chug and clank of the machinery of sermon prep. And before long, the anorexic pastor gives up the charade entirely, and begins preaching exclusively out of his file cabinet. It is in this enfeebled state that he encounters the allure of the "foreign woman." Given her substantial arsenal—oily speech, brazen eyes, flaunted beauty, and a cunning heart—there is little doubt of the outcome. The shepherd has himself become a prey (Prov. 6:25).
Neglect of the means of grace is what begins marital defection. But there are other factors, and one of them is not pursuing your wife and being exhilarated with her love (Prov. 5:15_20). It is impossible to run in two directions at the same time. A man cannot pursue his wife and that of another man simultaneously. If one is tending one's garden, and its beauty is conspicuous, why would he be tempted to dwell amongst the bramble across the way?
Another factor is that some men are simply naïve about the avenues down which some temptations travel. Pastoral counseling is one area. A "weak woman weighed down with sins and led on by various impulses" meets caring, naïve, and touchy-feely pastor. They speak—necessarily—of her problems, sometimes probing deeply. He listens encouragingly. She senses his concern and reciprocates with effusive thanks and praise. Naïve pastor feels respected, begins comparing counselee favorably against wife (who is more apprised of his shortcomings), and the rest follows an established pattern: increased contact, personal sharing, small deceptions, excuses to meet together, "innocent" touching, larger deceptions, clandestine meetings, heavy petting, and then—we saw it coming—outright adultery. This road to Sheol begins so innocuously that by the time you realize you are on it, it is extremely difficult to arrest progress. As Charles Bridges says, "Dread the first step, and dream not that you can stop yourself at pleasure in her course."
In the spirit of "dreading the first step," pastors should establish firewalls to protect themselves. The first precaution is guarding the heart, for "from it flow the springs of life" (Prov. 4:23). We must train ourselves to love the good and abhor the evil (Rom. 12:9). Applied to our topic, this means recognizing that, though our culture glorifies the adulteress, the Bible looks upon her as a monster. In addition to guarding the heart, there are the usual precautions: the glass door to the study, the cultivated emotional distance with women not your wife, and the blue-hair rule. The latter precaution is the policy that you will never be alone with any woman (other then a close blood relative), who is not sporting blue hair. This effectively excludes everyone but women old enough to be your grandmother.

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