“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”
– Matthew 5:23-24, NIV
A danger with a strong evangelical, Protestant theology is to over-emphasize our relationship with God to the exclusion of our relationship with others in Christian community. It’s that personal relationship with Jesus thing.
How this rears its ugly head in infidelity situations is when a spouse cheats and thinks he/she can just clean up the sin situation by confessing it to God (but never his/her partner). It is a theological error to believe this!
Jesus still insists we make things right with the person we wronged as we see above in Jesus’ own words in Matthew 5:23-24.
Making this theological error is especially grievous coming from a pastor or Christian counselor.
An unfaithful spouse needs to confess their sins to the faithful spouse in order for even a chance of forgiveness and true reconciliation to take place. How can one be forgiven if one never admits wrongdoing to the wronged party? The sin in such a situation just remains hidden allowing it time to fester and possibly become even more destructive to the marriage.
If a spouse confesses infidelity to a pastor in his/her office, it ought not to be a question of “if” but rather a “how” in encouraging the unfaithful spouse to confess this sin to the other spouse–i.e. the wronged party.
The faithful spouse deserves to know the truth.
Jesus tells us that the cheating spouse needs to do this confession of wrong doing before bringing his/her “offering” to the Lord in church. In other words, this needs to be done without delay.
The cheater needs to humbly seek reconciliation. And that is not optional for a true Christians who follows Christ’s own teaching on the matter.
Why keep silent about it?
Maybe the cheater is afraid this revelation will lead to the end of his/her marriage? This is likely the motivation behind a pastor/Christian leader discouraging disclosure. They are too invested in avoiding divorce. Regardless, something needs to be cleared up here. It is the cheating that may (legitimately) lead to the marriage ending–i.e. not the revealing of it. This is more obvious if we see the dynamics at play in another situation. For example, it is not the revealing of the embezzlement that cost the embezzler his job. It was the act of embezzling company funds that cost him his job. Likewise, it is the acts of cheating that might cost an adulterous spouse him/her his/her marriage and not the revealing of said sinful acts.
Maybe the cheater is fearful of his partner’s anger in reacting to such an inflammatory news? This could be a legitimate concern. However, it does not excuse the cheater from telling his/her spouse about the infidelity, though. The cheater may just need a third party–like a pastor or Christian counselor–present for the revelation.
Maybe the cheater isn’t really sorry about cheating and wants to keep the door open for future illicit relationship(s)? This is the least charitable reading of a cheating spouse’s decision not to tell. But it may very well be true. A cheating spouse may face serious consequences if he or she tells the faithful spouse about the infidelity. One of those consequences ought to include cutting off all contact–as far as possible–with the affair partner. Some cheaters would prefer not to have to deal with such a consequence. Plus, some may not want the faithful spouse alerted to their philandering ways because that might mean having to change or face divorce with all the financial losses associated with that.
Whatever the reasoning behind not telling a faithful spouse about the infidelity, I want to be crystal clear to pastors and Christian counselors/leaders:
God calls us to seek reconciliation with the one we have wronged and that includes confessing sin such as infidelity.
Keeping silent on such sin is NOT a godly option!
Of course, a cheating spouse may reject this course of action and remain silent about their infidelity. However, as spiritual counselors, we ought to make it clear to them that doing so is against God’s will on the matter. In other words, the silent cheater is defying God by that decision and lack of action.