While I am not interested in shaming anyone or any denomination as I see such actions as detrimental to building the Church, I am interested in learning from difficult situations. Today, I am examining a public statement about two pastors caught in infidelity with each other. Chump Lady passed along this situation to me via one of her blog readers. I raise it to point out what we can learn about how the evangelical Christian community responds to adultery and how to handle such situations better. Consider this a case study.
To be clear, I do not know these individuals and am not at all interested in tearing down the church or denomination with whom they are associated. However, I do think it is important to learn from these situations. If no one talks about such things, then how can we learn as a followers of Christ?
On Tuesday, September 2, Pastor Pete Hise and Pastor Sharon Clements met with the leadership teams of Quest Community Church and confessed to an unhealthy emotional attachment that led to the crossing of physical boundaries while stopping short of sexual intercourse. This was inappropriate to their walk with God, their marriages, and their roles as pastoral leaders. This sin pattern repeated itself over an extended period of time and was concealed from their spouses, friends and church leadership. Upon discovery, QCC leadership took immediate action to care for all parties involved. In their confession, both expressed extreme sorrow and repentance for the impact of their choices to their families, friends, colleagues and church members, and also reaffirmed their commitments to their marriages.
As additional background, the Chump Lady blog reader wrote via email:
The Pastor and Co-Pastor (probably not their titles but the top 2 pastors) at Quest Community Church (5,000 attendees) admitted to a “long term unhealthy emotional attachment that crossed physical boundaries but stopped short of sexual intercourse….Rumors have circulated about this for SIX years. The two families built $400,000 houses next door to each other, a few years back. You know, so it would be easier to do the Lord’s work.
Personally and pastorally, I am torn on this situation. I see both good and bad in the leadership’s response.
On one hand, I applaud the QCC leadership in taking swift action and calling this sin. This is more than some churches do in light of infidelity as some here and elsewhere have attested. So, I give the leadership credit for taking the sin seriously enough to force a leave of absence for these pastors.
On the other hand, the official statement strikes me as naive.
The statement admits this pattern of sinful behavior took place over a long period of time, and it was hidden from the closest people in these pastors’ lives–both personally and professionally. The Chump Lady reader suggests this relationship may have existed for six YEARS! That means a successful front was put in place for a long time, which is a nice way to say that these pastors are accomplished liars and deceivers.
Why believe these pastors now? Why believe that it did not go all the way to sexual intercourse? Because they look convincing in their sorrow? They already admitted to playing the leadership and their families. If ever it was the time to assume untruthfulness from individuals until proven otherwise, this is such a time.
Also, such admitted major moral failure and character deficit (as demonstrated by a “sin pattern repeated … over an extended period of time”) strikes me as not compatible with Biblical instructions for church leaders:
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach … He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. -I Timothy 3:1-2, 7, NIV
According to the official statement from the leadership, we can say a few things with certainty. Neither pastors are above reproach. Neither pastor were faithful to their spouses. Neither pastor now has a good reputation with outsiders now. And both now have fallen into disgrace. According to Scripture, they are not qualified to be pastors anymore. Perhaps in the future this will not be the case. However, it takes significant time to rebuild a reputation and demonstrate actual change in character. A removal from the pastorate (for now) as opposed to just a removal from “public ministry” seems more in line with Scripture.
Moving on to the close of the official statement:
Our goal in issuing this statement is to call our church to prayer, as well as to remind us that the name of Jesus Christ and the reputation of His church will be evident in how we handle this matter. We urge all Questers to reject the temptations of gossip, rumors and judgment, choosing instead to display mercy, love and compassion. Despite the hurt they have caused, two people that we love and care deeply about have never been more in need of our prayers and grace.
What about their faithful spouses? Their kids? Why not issue a statement protecting them? Why not instruct the church NOT to judge the faithful spouses? The lack of such an explicit protective statement strikes me as a pastoral failure.
These pastors created this mess by their sinful choices (to cheat and lie), and while I applaud forgiveness and mercy, I think we ought to consider the most vulnerable in these scenarios–i.e. the faithful spouses and their families. A statement to the effect that these pastors’ choices to cheat on their spouses and families is not at all the fault of their respective spouses or families is in order. Without that explicitly stated, the call to not judge comes across as not to judge the pastors as having sinned and failed in a morally significant fashion. This is not healthy and is inconsistent. Judgment has already been passed by the leadership on these pastors in this letter!
Are they back tracking on that judgement calling it sin? Are they saying such a pattern of sin can be justified? Are they suggesting that faithful spouses may have driven their spouses to cheat on them and lie to everyone? It’s confusing to say the least.
Yes, we all need grace. We all are called to refrain from gossip. And we all need compassion and forgiveness.
That said, church leadership is called to a higher level of moral accountability as church leaders are moral leaders. Moral failure and demonstrated character deficiencies are out of place for leaders in God’s Church.
I am glad to see some steps are being taken to address these problems here, yet more ought to be done in my opinion to be consistent with Biblical teachings on such matters. It is a start, though. That said, my hope is the evangelical community grows to consistently apply Scripture in these situations and learns to protect the vulnerable better.