A few weeks ago, we posted an article here on 7 women inside the church which pastors should be wary of. With the scandal in the news involving a couple of prominent generals and a Florida socialite, we recently followed that up with an article saying “if it can happen there, it can happen to you.”
Here is what will probably be the third and final segment on this trilogy in which we are cautioning pastors–of all ages, but particularly young ones who could be blind-sided–to watch out for certain types of women. I am very aware of the sexist nature of these writings. And, as we have noted, sometimes the predator is the man in the pulpit and the victim the unsuspecting one who comes to him seeking pastoral counsel and guidance.
That said, here is my list of seven “types” of women outside the pastor’s own immediate congregation of whom he must be careful.
1) The Facebook fantasy. These are not called “social networks” for no reason. People meet, they connect, they find themselves attracted (as well as repelled), and once in a while, they develop fantasies about one person in particular. I have known of marriages ending because two parties met on Facebook, decided to meet in some distant city, and soon two homes were in shambles.
2) The old classmate. You go to a class reunion without your spouse, and you see her. She looks great–even better than she did in high school–and this time she shows interest in you. You eat it up.
3) Your first girlfriend. You get reconnected in some way and old feelings bob to the surface and you quickly get stupid. You begin to wonder how life would have turned out had you and she stayed together. It all goes downhill from there.
4) A church member from an earlier pastorate. You are back in that town for some occasion and bump into her. You and she have a history of sorts, since you have known her family for years. Careful now. If either of you is going through a difficult time and the other is vulnerable, you have all the ingredients for a disaster.
5) An admirer who appears in your life. She watches your church’s telecast or she heard you speak on some occasion, and “you are simply amazing.” You gobble up the adoration.
6) A grieving widow. A pastor once called my attention to how vulnerable young widows can be to an amorous comforter. I suspect he knew all too well what he was talking about since eventually he had to resign his church over comforting women other than his wife in ways other than how he should.
7) The counselee who comes to you from another church. She didn’t want to confide in her pastor, so she came to you. She knows no one else in your church. She opens up to you.
After the Petraeus scandal, USA Today asked readers “Why are spouses unfaithful?” The nine responses they published from Facebook were uniformly unhelpful: “because they can,” “everyone does it,” “it doesn’t matter why,” “they lack integrity,” etc.
The Twitter responses were slightly more insightful: “They have a skewed perception of reality and can’t fathom getting caught,” “bored with their spouse,” “disconnected from their spouses,” and “they like living on the edge.”
Why do pastors cheat on their wives?
The simple answer is that they are men and all men are vulnerable to sexual attraction. Women are also, but we’re addressing this to pastors, which in our Southern Baptist Convention means males.
There is no difference. Pastors commit sexual sin for the same reason non-pastors do. And what is that? Answer: A multiplicity of reasons and influences and temptations and needs and weaknesses.
1) Sometimes they are bored with their wives and vulnerable to “something different.” But some cheaters have great wives and are not bored. So, this is no answer.
2) Sometimes they feel they are in love with the sexual partner and justify it as “what I’ve been searching for all my life.” But they are just as likely to know going in that this is temporary, shallow, one-dimensional, and trouble, and still do it. This is no answer.
3) Sometimes they are serial adulterers. But sometimes the cheating pastor is a godly, sincere, humble man of great integrity who used to pray, “Lord, before I violate my marriage vows, I want you to take my life.” And here they are violating their marriage vows. There seems to be no pattern here.
4) Sometimes they are grasping, needy pastors who, like bottomless pits, need endless adoration and constant affirmation and justify the affair because their spouse is not (ahem) “meeting my needs.” But at other times the cheater is a solid, whole, well-adjusted pastor without any visible missing parts.
When we say “everyone does it,” we do not mean that every one does it. Only that anyone can, regardless of doctrine, denomination, spiritual depth, or any other determination.
The point is there is no pattern, there are no formulaic answers on “why pastors cheat.”
Well, except for one.
They are sinners, too. Like everyone in the pew, the man in the pulpit may have a thousand aspects of his life in order, but he still walks on clay feet. He has needs and weaknesses, vulnerabilities and unprotected sides.
I’ve heard it said that the lower nature of everyone is unfaithful. And I believe it.
“Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:12). That word from the Apostle Paul applies to every disciple of the Lord Jesus. We are all sinners, even if forgiven. And we still live as flawed humans in a fallen world.
The prayer of a flawed pastor…
“Lord, give me a heart of iron toward myself,
a heart of flesh toward others,
and a heart of fire toward Thee.
For Jesus’ sake. Amen.”
Let us be tough with ourselves, compassionate toward others–even if they have fallen–and living in a deep devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. And that means day by day by day. Because temptation will arrive on one of those days when you least expect it. And if you are unprepared, if you have dropped your defenses, if you are unguarded, you are in trouble.
Be strong in the Lord, my friend. And guard yourselves (Acts 20:28).