24 January 2020  |

Dear Aunt Sevvy: 

Our pastor had romantic affairs with four of the female parishioners in our small church. We are in shock. What should we think, and what should we do?

Signed, Devastated

Dear Devastated,

I’ll assume “romantic affairs” is a euphemism for sexual relationships. But let’s be clear: there is nothing romantic about this. A pastor who would have intimate relationships with four women in his church is not just a weak man who happened to have a moral fall. He is a sexual predator.

A pastor is an authority figure, and when he has sex with a parishioner he is taking advantage of his power in the church setting. This is not just a sexual sin, not just a moral fall, but an abuse of power. Furthermore, Aunty would be surprised if all these women were willing participants. The Hope of Survivors, a support organization for victims of clergy sexual abuse, is replete with stories of women and girls taken advantage of by pastors, and nearly all of the victims say they felt forced into sex. 

The saddest part of this is that some church leaders are willing to overlook such behavior, to treat it as something of which one can repent and move on to another parish. Aunt Sevvy says no! The career of a sexually predatory pastor should be ended—not because he can’t be forgiven, but because there is a high probability of his repeating it. Unfortunately, as this story shows, that doesn’t always happen. The man in this account continues preaching in Adventist churches and addressing young people to this day. 

As for what you should do: you should insist on the conference removing that pastor from ministry, and if they don’t, then withdraw your family’s participation. A wise conference would also send in a counselor to help a congregation after such a tragedy—but that rarely happens, either. Usually the next pastor has to pick up the pieces.

How Aunt Sevvy wishes clergymen would realize the harm they do when they do this! Yes, everyone is subject to temptation. But it’s time we made clear that there is no excuse for pastors abusing church members sexually. At the level you describe, it is a kind of rape, and should be investigated and possibly reported to authorities.

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