Thou shalt not commit adultery.
-from the Ten Commandments (e.g. Exodus 20:14, KJV)
Committing adultery is a sin.
In fact, one cannot commit adultery without sinning in other ways including coveting, lying, stealing, and idolatry–i.e. worshiping something or someone as more important than God. A pastor ought to be the professional best equipped to understand and address this moral reality; however, many here–present company included–have often discovered quite the opposite. Some pastors are woefully ignorant of infidelity dynamics or willfully promoting lies–e.g. claiming the adultery victim is partially responsible for being sinned against.
So, let me strip it down to some basics:
1) Adultery victims exist and are in no way responsible for being sinned against!
The Bible is abundantly clear that we are accountable for our own sins (e.g. Mark 7:21-23, 2 Corinthians 5:10, etc). A pastor who knows his Bible and grasps basic moral culpability ought to understand this most basic of principles regarding sin.
The person sinned against is the victim of said sin. Their role is simply one of being violated by the sinner. To suggest they “had it coming” by being “partially” responsible for the infidelity is to engage in spiritual abuse as the pastor–as identified with God’s voice–is suggesting God holds a victim responsible for his or her victimization. This is a lie. The adulterous spouse is alone responsible for his or her own sins.
2) A faithful spouse might come to you over coming to a marriage therapist precisely because you are a pastor.
Ministers, as representatives of God’s voice in matters of righteousness and morality, please do not punt these requests down the road to marriage therapists and psychologists. God’s clear voice in matters of adultery and infidelity needs to be heard. Condemning adultery and marital infidelity ought not to be a radical pastoral move but a given for God is clear in His condemnation of it (e.g. see Ten Commandments).
Marriage therapists and psychologists might have excellent tools to deal with the broken issues created by the infidelity; however, that is different than someone coming at this situation with clear eyes regarding how repentance is needed for godly restoration in the relationship. The nuts and bolts of rebuilding a marriage relationship is a different question than restoring the spiritual relationship that was damaged by sin. That is in the wheelhouse of pastors, not therapists. And it needs addressing!
3) Pastors, you ought to be the safest place for an adultery victim to come and feel supported after experiencing such an awful trauma!
A faithful spouse should not have to guess which side a pastor is going to take in matters of infidelity! And do not hide behind the excuse that you are “for the marriage” while refusing to take a firm stance against the infidelity. Being “for the marriage” actually means taking a firm stance against the infidelity, which happens to be an existential threat to the marriage.
Another part of being a safe place for faithful spouses is supporting them with a non-judgmental presence while they consider divorce in light of the adultery. God has already given them permission to divorce when adultery has taken place (e.g. Jer 3:8, Mt 19:9, etc). And this choice is theirs to make. Not yours. They certainly do not need to be morally guilted into staying in an abusive relationship!
4) Pastors, you have an opportunity to help the faithful spouse realize these sins are not theirs to own.
In my experience, it is a rare faithful spouse who isn’t thinking about he or she did to “cause” being cheated on and rejected. A pastor is uniquely positioned to help these individuals realized the biblical truth that we do not cause another to sin anymore than we cause someone to become a follower of Christ. That is beyond our human powers.
5) A crash course teaching that liars lie and STDs sometime come with infidelity is in order.
When it comes to testing an adultery victim for STDs, this is actually one referral–to proper medical professionals–that I do encourage a pastor to promote. This is one of the many ugly realities not usually shown in secular TV shows glorifying cheaters. It is a existential threat to the adultery victim and needs to be part of the pastoral conversation as one of the many potential consequences of the adulterous sin.
Second, the pastor needs to be the clear-eyed one as it comes to the cheating spouse. Their actions have demonstrated that they are comfortable with lying to their spouse by cheating and deceiving. This is not a person whose words ought to be taken as truthful on default. Helping the faithful spouse to get to this place of wise and healthy skepticism towards the cheating partner is an important part in teaching practical matters regarding character or the lack thereof.