How Would You Respond If Your Pastor Was On the Ashley Madison List?
After posting an article related to the Ashley Madison hack last week, I had the opportunity to engage in conversation with a family member, a long-time friend, and a pastor-friend regarding, essentially, whether or not pastors caught in the scandal should be restored to pastoral ministry. It was an occasion for learning as it helped to clarify thoughts on forgiveness and consequences.
There is two sides that have voiced thoughts on how a pastor caught using Ashley Madison should be handled.
The first voice says that the pastor should resign or be fired. This side believes in forgiveness and encourages the church to forgive the pastor if he is repentant and seeks forgiveness. This side also emphasizes the critical need for the pastor to seek counseling to restore his marriage and family. But ultimately, this side does not believe the pastor should stay in his role at the church and should move on. Indeed, this voice isn’t sure the pastor is even qualified to be a pastor anymore.
The other side says the church should consider not just forgiving the pastor but becoming his biggest support in seeking reconciliation with his wife and healing for his family. This side says that since Christians have a bad reputation for shooting their wounded that perhaps allowing the pastor to continue at the church would be a powerful witness. This side does not believe the church should allow the pastor to be in leadership or even preach for a season; but that he can stay on staff through the healing process and, in due time, when the leaders believe it is appropriate, be restored to his position.
There is a lot more to each side of this discussion. But this gives the general overview of the two sides I have encountered during my discussions.
In truth I can see validity in each argument. A pastor that fails morally brings a lot of hurt, not just to his family but to the church and even the community. Sometimes it can be best if he packs up and moves away. This is a double sided sword though, as by moving away the pastor removes himself and his family from their network, their support system. The family creates an isolated situation that is compounded by financial burden. That does not seem like the best scenario for a family needing to heal and be restored.
Maybe I’m being too practical about the whole matter. I tend to see things from a very practical point of view.
In a recent article for Christianity Today, the “remove the pastor from his position” voices made this comment:
“The church is not to punish the repenting man who has fallen. But refusing to return him to the role of pastoral ministry is not punishment. To remove a fallen minister is to honor Christ’s holy standards; it is to follow the wise counsel and pattern of leaders over the centuries; it is to protect the man himself and his family; and it is to guard the church body, loved so dearly by the Chief Shepherd.”
Those saying these pastors should be fired are primarily leaning on the “husband of one wife” criteria for any man to hold the office of elder (pastor). The problem with this position is that there is nothing in Scripture that indicates that having a sexual relationship with a woman makes her a man’s wife. Consider that the Bible records that Solomon had “700 wives and 300 concubines.” (I Kings 11:3) Scripture itself clearly distinguishes the spousal relationship from that of the sexual relationship. This means that just because someone has sex with another person it does mean they are married. If that were true, I wonder how many pastors would immediately be disqualified based on indiscretions in their past?
The article goes on to say:
“As has been established, the office requires the minister to be “blameless.” There can be no doubt that 1 Timothy 3:1-7 requires, among other qualities, that the episkopos (or overseer of the church) be a “one-woman man,” that is, a man of moral purity whose wife is his only sexual partner. He is required to be a man who keeps the covenant of God and keeps his “marriage bed pure” (Heb. 13:4). Paul stressed to the church in Ephesus, where sexual sin was common among pagan unbelievers, there should not be “even a hint of sexual immorality” in the church (Eph. 5:3).”
The understanding of “one-woman man” has been in questions for a very long time. Some believe it means, as this author states, that a pastor may have just one sexual partner: his wife. Others believe that it simply means the pastor cannot be polygamous. This understanding is favored by many scholars because Paul, writing to Timothy, was surrounded by a culture that endorsed polygamy. It is believed that Paul wanted to make it clear that polygamy was not God’s design and the pastor needed to be monogamous. But, once again, suppose the “one sexual partner” understanding is true. How many men are immediately disqualified as pastor because of their past.
The above statement is suspect also because it misuses verses in Hebrews and Ephesians. It seeks to apply these verses to pastoral qualifications when they are describing general characteristics for Christians. That sort of misapplication is confusing and doesn’t help our understanding of this critical issue.
I think about many men who have engaged in sexual activity before being saved. Now born again they desire to be a pastor. Are they disqualified? Someone might say, “Well, that was their life before Christ, that sin is forgiven.” Does this same forgiveness not apply to all?
This position also states that a pastor must be “blameless,” a characteristic found in the description of an elder (pastor) given in the Bible. They understand this to mean:
“‘Straightforward explanations of what it is that qualifies one for pastoral ministry are given in several places in the Pastoral Epistles. 1 Timothy 4:12 provides a summary statement: ‘… set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.’ Titus 1:6 further adds, ‘An elder must be blameless…’ The Greek word here means ‘not to be laid hold of,’ or unassailable. William Hendriksen says of this blamelessness, ‘Enemies may bring all manner of accusations, but these charges are proved to be empty whenever fair methods of investigations are applied.’”
This too seems problematic because, if any accusation against a pastor needs to be proven false for him to be qualified, who is qualified? Are pastors not sinful? Is it possible for any person to be perfect, without sin, without any faults or failures in this life? Are we really saying that the only qualified person to be a pastor is the one that not a single accusation of weakness or sin can be brought against? Couldn’t the accusation of gluttony be brought against the obese pastor?
The truth is, I’m wrestling through this. This issue is far more serious than many people understand. The guilt and shame that is felt by the pastors that have been exposed has led some to resign, and some have committed suicide. So our thoughts on this issue need to be grace-filled, tender, and Gospel-centric. How can we help our brothers and their families be restored? After all, that is our responsibility, to “restore such a one” when we see a brother or sister fall in sin (Gal. 6:1).
I’m not claiming to have the answer here. I’m trying to figure out how to respond in the most biblical, Christ-centered way. Both sides are claiming to do just that and yet the responses look very different to me. Maybe you can help, what would your response be if it was your pastor caught in the Ashley Madison hack?