the Hope of Survivors

The Fleshly-Motivated Pastor as a Husband—Jackie Jeldwyn

Note: The content of this article springs from an actual letter sent at the request of the former wife of a domestically abusive Pastor. Names have been altered to preserve privacy.

Dear Church Leader:

Thank you for taking the time to prayerfully consider this collection of thoughts.

Please allow me to introduce myself as I begin. I am Jackie Jeldwyn, team leader of The Hope of Survivors Pastors’ Wives Division.

As you may know, the primary focus of The Hope of Survivors ministry is to support victims of clergy sexual abuse. However, our Pastors Wives’ Division was developed to serve the special need for spiritual support experienced by those wives whose pastor husbands are/have been living in a morally compromised state (of whatever sort).

I freely admit to being only marginally familiar with any specifics of the circumstances leading to the divorce of Pastor John and Jane Doe. I am not personally acquainted with either of them, which is perhaps to my advantage in writing objectively.

I found myself deeply touched by a quote which Jane shared from a letter which you had recently written to her, stating: "I still pray and hope that reconciliation will be possible. However, I’m aware that can only happen if both you and Pastor John will actively look for it and a lot of self-sacrifice and forgiveness is needed for that to happen." I greatly admire your shepherding outreach, and I likewise admire your sincere efforts at an equitable approach.

Similarly, I admire Jane’s request for a helpful article to share with you—not for the purpose of defending herself—but for the purpose of providing a resource that you might find useful in case you were to encounter a similar situation of alleged pastoral spousal abuse in the future.

With these admirations in my heart, I felt Spirit-led to ask Jane for the opportunity to share with you some highlights of what I have learned through research, as well as through my experience interacting with other Pastors’ wives over the years. Please forgive me if any of what I may include might perhaps duplicate what is already at the forefront of your thoughts.


(1) Fleshly motivation. As is similarly true with other teaching professions (such as school teaching), a meaningful minority of persons in pastoral ministry are wrongly motivated, not having a heart genuinely inclined toward Godly spiritual service. Some enter into ministry for fleshly reasons. Others may begin with sincere motives, but over time, allow themselves to become ensnared in fleshly motivation.

(2) Often a hidden problem. In some instances, the fleshly-motivated pastor quickly becomes apparent as a pastoral misfit and leaves (or is removed from) the ministry.

Yet often, the fleshly-motivated pastor carefully maintains an outward image of spiritual genuineness among his pastoral peers and among his congregants. Thus, depending upon his specific fleshly motives, his wife and perhaps his children may be the only human beings aware of his duplicitous fleshly motivation—for years, or even for decades! In cases of pornography addiction, clergy sexual abuse, or other forms of adultery, even the pastor’s wife may long remain unaware of the extent of her husband’s fleshly ensnarement.

(Of course, if his pastoral peer group is itself severely morally compromised, the fleshly-motivated pastor may feel comfortable exposing himself somewhat among those peers, within the corrupt setting of what is commonly termed “a good old boys club.” When this occurs, the situation reflects an even greater tragedy within the Church.)

(3) Warning signs. The otherwise-capable woman who marries the fleshly-motivated pastor has usually disregarded one or more warning signs of his fleshly motivations. Typically, his altruistic-appearing pursuit of (or his acceptance into) pastoral ministry initially confuses her into mistakenly reinterpreting whatever warning signs she may premaritally observe.

(4) Empathy and charm. The fleshly-motivated pastor may project an amazing array of apparently appropriate empathy toward his peers, toward his congregants, and in certain contexts, toward his own family. Some, or even much, of that empathy may be genuine. His outward projection of empathy can perpetuate his false image of genuineness to his peers and to his congregants.

However, the fleshly-motivated pastor is seriously lacking in a specific area of empathy. His deficiency in empathy pertains to those sufferings to which he personally has contributed.

Apart from real and meaningful growth in this very specific area of repentant empathy, the fleshly-motivated pastor will remain ensnared. He may very artfully convince others of his innocence or of his repentance. However, apart from deep and sincere, life-altering empathy for those who have suffered at his hand, he will never sustain lasting change. Secular domestic abuse specialist and author Lundy Bancroft relates the following valuable insights in his highly regarded 2002 book “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men”:

“Those abusive men who make lasting changes are the ones who do so because they realize how badly they are hurting their partners and children—in other words, because they learn to care about what is good for others in the family and develop empathy [for them], instead of caring only about themselves.” (p. 361. Underlining and bold emphasis added.)

“Most abusive men put on a charming face for their communities, creating a sharp split between their public image and their private treatment of women and children. He may be:

  • Enraged at home but calm and smiling outside
  • Selfish and self-centered with you [the wife] but generous and supportive with others
  • Domineering at home but willing to negotiate and compromise outside
  • Highly negative about females while on his own turf but a vocal supporter of equality when anyone else is listening
  • Assaultive toward his partner or children but nonviolent and nonthreatening with everyone else
  • Entitled at home but critical of other men who disrespect or assault women” (p. 68.)

“They are drawn to power and control, and part of how they get it is by looking good in public …One of the most important challenges facing a counselor of abusive men is to resist being drawn in by the men’s charming persona. As they sit chatting and joking in their group meeting, cruelty and selfishness seem faraway. I find myself wondering the same thing the neighbors do: Could this guy really get that mean? And even after he admits to what he does, it’s still hard to believe. This contrast is a key reason why abusers can get away with what they do …Among my clients I have had …clergypeople …One of my violent clients had spent every Thanksgiving for the past ten years volunteering at his local soup kitchen. Another was a publicly visible staff member of a major international human rights organization. The cruelty and destructiveness that these men were capable of would have stunned their communities had they known.” (pp. 69 -70.)

(5) Surprising reality. A commonly-held natural assumption is that, when any wife accuses her husband of abuse, and he denies perpetrating that abuse:

  •  either the truth “lies somewhere in the middle,”
  • or, in about half of the cases, the wife’s accusations against her husband must be false.

However, similar to researched statistics showing that false allegations of rape/sexual abuse occur in less than 10% of cases, Bancroft experientially reports from his years of practice: “The vast majority of women who say that they are being [domestically] abused are telling the truth. I know this to be true because the abusers let their guard down with me, belying their denial.” (ibid., p. 70. Emphasis added.)

(6) Sad Biblical facts. However earnestly we may wish for the Church to be exempt from problem pastors, God’s Word alerts us to expect to find wolves, self-motivated pastors, and hireling leaders within the Body of Christ. (See John 10:11-13; Acts 20:28-30; Revelation 2:20) We should not be caught off-guard or be in a state of denial.

The Church must be prepared to mount a robust, Biblically-based response to the discovery of any fleshly-motivated pastor within its midst, including any pastor who is an abuser of any sort.

For the Church’s response to honor the Lordship of Jesus Christ, that response must seriously and meaningfully account for the chief devotional responsibilities of the pastoral ministry:

“But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.” (Acts 6:4, emphasis added.)

Decadent modern culture may tempt us to overlook a pastor’s “private life” in evaluating his suitability for continuing pastoral service. Yet as we know, the Word of God speaks strongly to the contrary! (See 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9)

In Biblical fact, when a pastor continues ensnared by whatever fleshly thoughts or actions, he brings spiritual disability and death into his congregation:

“For fleshly thinking is death, but to be Spiritually minded is life and peace.”  (Romans 8:6)

Such a pastor is rejecting the power of, and grieving, the Holy Spirit:

“And we are witnesses of these things; as is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” (Acts 5:32, emphasis added.)

“This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk, in the uselessness of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart; who being beyond feeling, gave themselves up to lack of moral restraint, to work all sorts of moral uncleanness with covetousness. But you did not so learn Christ; if you heard Him, and were taught in Him, even as truth is in Jesus: that you put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, that becomes corrupted by the lusts of deceit; and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, which through God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.

“Therefore, putting away falsehood, each one should speak truth with his neighbor: for we are members one of another. Be angry, and do not sin: do not let the sun set on your wrath: nor give any place to the devil. Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands things which are good, so he can have substance to give to those who have need. Let no worthless speech proceed out of your mouth; instead share as is good for edifying as the need may be, that it may give grace to them that hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, whereby you are sealed to the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 5:17-32, emphasis added.)

One of his chief duties is prayer, yet any prayers he prays are ineffective:

“If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” (Psalm 66:18, emphasis added.)

“We know that God does not hear sinners; but if any man is a worshipper of God and does His will, God hears him.” (John 9:31, emphasis added; see also Proverbs 15:29 and Hebrews 5:7)

“Likewise, you husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7, emphasis added.)

No matter how magnificent a façade the fleshly-motivated pastor may manage to maintain – no matter how many of his congregants adore him – the Church must remain grounded in the Biblical reality:

The Body of Christ cannot be blessed by inflicting death-carrying, Spirit-squelching, spiritually disabled pastors upon the flock of Almighty God.

(7) Spousal reconciliation. As you are already painfully aware, this can be a monumental challenge, particularly in the case of the fleshly-motivated pastor and his despondent wife. The fleshly-motivated pastor must certainly fully acknowledge his transgressions and genuinely commit to repentant change. However, if he is to actually sustain change, he must also develop deep and sincere, life-altering empathy for those who have suffered at his hand.

In those situations where I have seen such marital reconciliations succeed, success—or even reconciliation—has not been instant. Rather, it has been an arduous process, drawn out over many months or years. The length of the process may be in part due to spousal insecurities and mistrust created by the fleshly-motivated pastor’s common tendency toward repeated episodes of short-term “repentance.”

On the other hand, it remains lamentably uncommon for the fleshly-motivated pastor to authentically repent—to actually put on the new man—thus rendering himself capable of having a new heart genuinely inclined toward Godly spiritual service, both in his home and in the Church.

In these heart-breaking situations where authentic repentance is absent, separation or divorce often results. Paul makes concession in Corinthians 7:10-11 for the Christian wife (however, not for the husband) to remain within the fellowship of the Church “if she does separate [from her Christian husband].” My conviction is that this concession reflects the apostle Paul’s compassionate understanding that there may indeed be circumstances where the (typically) more vulnerable wife may need to live apart from an abusive husband. Paul’s concession would seem to be in keeping with Jesus’ “When they persecute you in this city, flee into another.” And although Paul imposes conditions on the separated wife, I find it striking that the wife’s decision to separate, once executed, is accepted without any requirement for explanation.

(8) Forgiveness. All praise and thanks to our loving God for His gracious and sacrificial gift of forgiveness for our sins! Thanks and praise to Jesus for His astoundingly liberating gift of leading us to:

“Love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who spitefully use us, and persecute us; that we may be the children of our Father who is in heaven.” (Adapted from Matthew 5:44-45.)

“Forgive those who trespass against us, as our heavenly Father will also forgive us: being aware that if we refuse to forgive others their trespasses, then our Father will not forgive our trespasses.” (Adapted from Matthew 6:14-15)

Without diminishing any of the bounteous blessings of forgiveness, in cases of spousal abuse or destructive addictions, the crucial differentiation must be made between:

(a) having a heart of forgiveness and genuine concern, and
(b) putting oneself, or one’s children, back in harm’s way.

God’s Church must never misconstrue maintaining a safe distance from an abuser to be a lack of forgiveness.

NOTE: In this regard, some have understood 1 Peter 3 to require a wife to remain in an abusive home environment. However, a detailed examination of 1 Peter 3:1-6 reveals three vital facts:

The book of Genesis shows Sarah (apart from her misguided collusion with Abraham's deception) to have been very assertive toward her husband on important family matters. Further, Almighty God supported her in those situations! (See Genesis 16:3-9 and Genesis 21:9-12.)

Given the record in Genesis, taken together with the Greek wording of 1 Peter 3:1, it seems that the best translation of this verse would be to say: "In the same way, you wives, serve under your own husbands, so that even if any [husbands] are disobedient to the Word, they may be won, apart from the Word, by the conduct of their wives.”

There is no Biblical reason to take Peter's words to mandate remaining in any situation where there is domestic abuse, particularly given God's powerful support of even the slave who flees (perhaps due to abusive treatment):

“You shalt not deliver to his master a slave who is escaped from his master to you: he shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place which he shall choose within one of your cities, where it pleases him best: you shall not oppress him.” (Deuteronomy 23:15-16)

How can we as Christians offer any less support to a wife who flees or is abandoned in similar circumstances?

Again, thank you for your shepherding outreach and your caring heart of service for our Savior’s flock. I hope that at least some of this collection of thoughts may prove useful as you go forward in addressing similar future circumstances.

Warm regards,
Jackie Jeldwyn

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