Who executes justice for the oppressed,
Who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord gives freedom to the prisoners.
The Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
The Lord raises those who are bowed down;
The Lord loves the righteous.
-Psalm 146:7-8, NKJV
We are pastors.
Our area of training and focus deals with rightly handling Scripture.
We provide emotional and spiritual care to the flock under our care whether our title is pastor or chaplain.
Marriages rocked by infidelity are challenging for pastors. This is true–from what I’ve seen–whether the pastor is newly graduated from seminary or has served in the pastorate for decades.
Fear of being triangulated used for one party’s purposes.
Fear of getting sucked into a very emotionally intensive and time consuming situation.
Fear of doing further damage to an already critically damaged marriage.
Fear of appearing to “support” divorce, which “God hates.”
Fear of generally being in “way above one’s head.”
I could continue but you get the point.
The end result of such fear is to create an atmosphere of silence. A pastor or church leader might say that they will “pray for the marriage” or “I’ll pray for you,” but the care stops there. Such reminds me of John’s warning to love with deed not just word (see I John 3:18).
We need to do better.
And a start is addressing these fears head on.
When dealing with infidelity/adultery, we need to start using what God has given us as pastors. We are exhorted to rightly handle Scripture (see 2 Timothy 2:15). And Scripture is fairly clear when it comes to dealing with sin:
We comfort the victim of the sin–i.e. the faithful spouse.
And we exhort the sinner–i.e. the adulterous spouse–to repent.
We might not be marriage experts or therapists. However, we are supposed to be “experts” in grasping God’s Word and applying it to life.
Assuming the pastor is not caught up in actively “justifying” or excusing the adultery, I see two other problematic responses to adultery:
1) Send the faithful spouse off to another professional or to the divorce people group (e.g. Divorce Care group).
A faithful spouse is looking to you as God’s representative to act accordingly. God is in the camp of the oppressed. A faithful spouse has just been sucker-punched. They have experienced soul rape. While other professionals and a supportive group are likely needed, you are needed as well. You have a unique role to play. Please represent God well!
If you do not know how to be supportive, GET EDUCATED!!! Don’t just refer people to Divorce Care. Go as well. Attend or even lead/co-lead this group.
It is good to recognize your own limitations in what you can offer–e.g. you are not a marriage therapist or a divorce lawyer–but do not use that as an excuse to be lazy or outsource your pastoral role to non-pastors. A faithful spouse likely knows how to use the internet to find other professionals. They chose you for a reason. Pastoral care is what you have to offer uniquely. Please offer it.
The temptation to blame themselves for their faithless partners’ deeds is strong. Feeling rejected and worthless after such an intimate and humiliating betrayal needs addressing. Your silence allows this lies from Satan to take root in the heart of the faithful spouse.
Do NOT be silent.
A faithful spouse needs to be reminded of their incredible value and worth at this time. They need to know God has not rejected them even if their spouse has rejected them (see Psalm 27:10). They need to know God does not blame them for the sin done against them.
If you feel like you cannot offer this, then you need to get educated. Study the Scriptures. Talk with pastors or ministers who have sorted these things. Attend Divorce Care.
Neutrality is a myth in these sort of situations. Silence communicates an unwillingness to get involve. It suggests God is silent as well on the matter of adultery.
God is not silent on the matter of adultery. He has spoken consistently and unequivocally against it.
If you are afraid of facilitating divorce in such situations remember you can do somethings worse–i.e. facilitate ongoing adultery by doing nothing or encouraging continuing the marriage without repentance.
As far as the fear of “picking sides,” I point you back to Scripture on this one. Hebrews 13:4 makes it absolutely clear that God is opposed to adultery and the defiling of the marriage bed. Take that side, please!
We, pastors, may not be marriage therapists. But we are charged to shepherd His sheep. God has given us the Bible to help us in this task. Let’s at least be willing to offer the comfort and wisdom found there to the faithful spouses found crumpled at our doors.