the Hope of Survivors

Pastoral Immorality, Another Perspective—Steve & Samantha Nelson

(A Letter to the Editor of the Pacific Union Recorder, December 9, 2003)

We would like to commend you for opening up the topic of pastoral ministry and immorality. It was, indeed, a brave step. Having read the articles in the latest issue (December 2003), however, we are left with the mixed emotions of sadness, grief and anger. These emotions are typically experienced simultaneously when one loses a loved one or faces a serious trauma. Why these emotions in response to a couple of articles on pastoral immorality? Allow us to explain…

In Dr. Carr’s article he states that, “Yes, God can continue to use ministers who have fallen into sin.” Thankfully, he added, “Of course, this does not necessarily mean our Church should employ such persons as congregational pastors.” Do we see the significance of what he said? Pastors who have “fallen into sin,” especially sin of a sexual nature, cannot and should not remain employed by our Church. True, if they are sincere in their repentance and their fruits are of the Spirit, God can, and most likely will, use them to some capacity to further the Gospel, but not as pastors. Have we consulted the Spirit of Prophecy in regard to this sin? Do we want Satan disguised as an angel of light (as she says) in our pulpits? (See additional quotes here.) Surely not! The pastors who succumb to sexual temptation didn’t just “happen to fall” as some would make it seem. As with all who commit sin, there were defects of character in the pastor’s life already. There were troubles at home already. There were already sinful thoughts and feelings being indulged before the “act” ever happened.

This brings us to the next item of concern, Rosa Banks’s statement that, “In many cases it is the pastor who is seduced by a female in the congregation. But here again… he is the one on the payroll, he is the one who is expected to lead erring members to Christ…” Do we realize the impact of what is being said here? Do we purposefully blame victims of pastoral sexual abuse and misconduct? Do we really believe there is that many women out there who seek to seduce their pastors? Our ministry, The Hope of Survivors, is one of compassion. It is one of truth. In our experience of ministering to the women and their families who have been abused by pastors, we have found that less than one percent (1%) were the actual instigators of the adulterous relationship. In the other 99% of the cases, it has been the pastor who first befriended, then groomed, then counseled and ultimately seduced and abused the woman. The pastor has been the one to twist Scripture to suit his purposes in most cases. And we do mean most in this instance. We have discovered that the modus operandi is nearly identical in virtually all of the cases. It brings to mind Solomon’s statement, “there is no new thing under the sun.” (Eccl. 1:9) Satan continues to work in the same fashion he always has.

Why, with a “guesstimate” of 2 pastors each week, over 100 pastors a year (in our Church alone), being lost to sexual misconduct (Recorder, 9/03), do we not take this issue more seriously? And these are only the ones who have been found out! The reality is that there are many more pastors in our Church and in other denominations that are abusing women but just haven’t been exposed yet. Why do we not seek to help the victims of this terrible physical, mental and spiritual abuse, rather than condemning them as the “erring members”? Does the church realize what the victims want most is—not money, not revenge, not legal battles—but truth, sympathy, understanding and an apology? This form of abuse has devastated not a few of the women with whom we have worked. They have lost faith in God, faith in the church and even their own family and friends. The majority is no longer attending church anywhere. Some don’t even bother to pray any longer. Some have lost their families, their friends and their church family. The losses are devastating.

This is not to say that the pastor and his family don’t sustain loss, they surely do. However, it is saddening to us to see the pastor and his family most often portrayed as the “victims” when the real victim is being portrayed as the “erring, seducing church member.”

We would like to see the truth about the matter discussed more openly in our churches. We would like to see uniform policies on discipline throughout the organization. If a pastor who has lost his credentials is brought back into the ministry in any form, will the church at large (not just the board members) be informed of what has happened in the past, how the pastor has reformed and what his goals are now, so that they are not unsuspecting victims?

In most states, it is unlawful for a therapist, counselor, teacher, etc., (anyone in a position of power) to have a sexual relationship with their counselee, student, etc. There is a power differential that prohibits this type of relationship from ever being consensual. There are even laws in some states that make it a criminal offense for a pastor to have an adulterous relationship with a congregant. We use the term adulterous because it is adultery; it is not an affair. Surely, if the state can recognize the heinous crime of this type of behavior, shouldn’t the Church recognize it even more so? Do we remember that a pastor is not “just a man,” not “just like anybody else,” but that he is appointed by God to stand in Christ’s stead as Christ’s representative on this earth to His people (2 Corinthians 5:20)? Is that a stance to be taken lightly? Is the sin of sexual abuse or misconduct appropriate for a representative of Christ? We should think not!

Women (and men) who have suffered abuse at the hands of their beloved pastor don’t understand what is happening to them. They (along with their spouses, if married) have usually developed a friendship with the pastor. They may work for the local church in an official or unofficial capacity. They typically come to the pastor for counseling, usually to resolve issues of past sexual abuse or marital issues. They are vulnerable and they are hurting.

As the pastor takes advantage of his position to abuse these wounded sheep, the victims sin in not being resolutely guided by the Word of God (1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 12:0). They sin in committing adultery. They sin in listening to the pastor’s twisted Scripture rather than a, “Thus saith the Lord.” Through counseling, the pastor has access to one’s deepest fears and history of abuse and vulnerabilities. This is information that allows him to groom his target (and yes, sadly, some pastors do intentionally set targets), to set her up and to abuse her. Victims need to be understood and consoled. They need to know the truth. They need to know that the pastor, who stands in the pulpit as the shepherd of the flock Christ has lent to him, was the one who bore the greatest responsibility. They need to know the Church understands this and is sorry for the behavior of one of its employees. They need to know that they will not be treated as an outcast, but as a wounded soldier of Christ. They need to know God is still there, has never left them and will heal them (Hebrews 13:5 and 7:25).

At this point, the Church seems to be more interested in its liability and the protection of assets, rather than the protection of the souls whom Christ has entrusted to its care. That’s sad. That causes us grief and anger. It’s not about money. It’s about eternal life. One wrong act by a “man of God” can send a woman (or man, or child) into the depths of hell on this earth. Some may never recover from the devastating effects. They may never trust God again. They may lose eternal life. Can we trust a pastor who would cause someone to stumble and to lose out on eternal life? We can’t. We won’t. Matthew 18:6 says, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Let’s not treat this matter lightly. It’s a serious matter. It has eternal consequences. Let’s bring this topic into the light—truthfully—so that the darkness can be dispelled and hope, faith and encouragement can be restored to the victim and her family, the pastor and his family, as well as the church family.

And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.”—Isaiah 42:16

To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”—Luke 1:79

To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.”—Acts 26:18

For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”—2 Corinthians 4:6

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light;”—1 Peter 2:9

We realize this letter is too long to print in the “Letter to the Editor” section, but we hope you will consider printing it as a response or opinion article in the next available issue. It could be edited and entitled, “Pastoral Immorality, Another Perspective.”

To God alone be the glory,
Samantha & Steve Nelson

Footnote: Since writing this article, we have learned that Rosa Banks’ statement was taken out of context by the reporter, and that she, while having dealt with many cases of the woman seducing the pastor, recognizes and agrees that the majority of the time, it is the pastor who pursues the woman. Below are her comments from the March 2004 issue of the Recorder:

Rosa Banks Responds
“I was never at a seminar at La Sierra University [as implied in the article, “Sexual Ethics for Ministers Discussed,” December 2003, pg. 38]. A [reporter in Silver Spring] asked me to comment on sexual misconduct among ministers. This is a subject that I know much about as I deal with it almost on a daily basis. I had hit the pastor so hard [during the interview] that the question was asked, “Is there any time that the woman can be considered the initiator of the sexual abuse?” My response was that even if the woman does initiate the encounter, it is still the pastor’s fault. A woman might try to seduce a pastor (I know of several cases). I told him, however, that even if the woman is the seducer, it is still the pastor’s fault for the abuse. I see nothing wrong with this comment. I do agree that [in the article] it was not presented in the context of our conversation.”—Rosa Banks, North American Division

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart...Psalms 34:18