Priests form bands of robbers,
waiting in ambush for their victims.
They murder travelers along the road to Shechem
and practice every kind of sin.
-Hosea 6:9, NLT
While writing this blog and receiving email, I have come across more than one scenario involving a married pastor having sex with his (or her) congregant. Then a question is raised about how responsible the pastor’s affair partner is regarding such situations.
I place the primary blame for such instances of adultery upon the cheating pastor.
One thing I was taught in professional ethics at Yale Divinity School is how a power dynamic exists between a pastor and his congregant. That dynamic complicates “consent” just as it would between a therapist and his client.
In other words, a pastor using this power dynamic is less an equal in the affair and more a predator preying on his congregant’s trust.
In other words, sex between a pastor and a congregant is–generally speaking–a case of ministerial misconduct and abuse.
The affair partner in such a situation is a victim as well as a participant in the affair. They are a victim of this pastor’s abuse of power. In so far as they had a choice and chose to engage in sex, the third party is responsible.
We are each responsible for our own choices and actions (e.g. 2 Corinthians 5:10). However, the person who exploits our weaknesses abusing a position of power–i.e. the pastor–bears responsibility for doing that as well (e.g. Mark 9:42).
To be clear: Married pastors have no excuse for such behavior, especially.
If they did not know better–as in were unaware of the Ten Commandments–then they had no business being a pastor in the first place.
As I have written elsewhere on this blog, I generally am harder on the married individual than the affair partner as it is the job of the married individual to keep outsiders OUT of the marriage.
Obviously, it should go without saying that having sex with a married person–whoever he or she may be–is wrong; it’s adultery.
That said, we generally understand that even adults can be victims of power dynamics:
A power difference can compromise even an adult’s ability to keep a third party out of the marriage. The task then is to get the victim free and away from the abuser.
For example, the therapist who uses the intimate knowledge of a client’s psychological vulnerabilities to engage her in sexual contact is a predator and the (adult) client is a victim. That therapist needs to be reported for an ethics violation, and the client needs a new therapist.
Same thing goes for pastors using their spiritual authority and access to congregants’ inner lives to exploit them sexually.
*A version of this post ran previously.