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Sexual Ethics for Ministers Discussed Riverside, California, United States .... [Ansel Oliver/ANN]

A successful pastor had been at a church for five years. Thirty-five years old and married with two children, rumors went through the congregation that he had a sexual relationship with one of the church members. It was later confirmed.

“What to do at this point involves many questions,” says Nikolaus Satelmajer, associate ministerial secretary for the Seventh-day Adventist world church. “What does local church administration do? What about the pastor’s wife and children? What about the hurtful impact on the congregation and community? What about the sexual partner of the

“The damage caused by such sexual misconduct creates almost immeasurable pain in the lives of many people,” he says.

Some estimate that 10 percent of therapists have inappropriate relationships and that impropriety may be higher among male clergy, according to Stanley J. Grenz and Roy D. Bell in their book “Betrayal of Trust: Confronting and Preventing Clergy Sexual Misconduct.”

Seventh-day Adventist Church leaders gathered recently in a forum to discuss how ministers can better prepare to avoid sexual misconduct.

Some 70 Adventist pastors met at La Sierra University, an Adventist institution in Riverside, California, to address sexual ethics in pastors’ lives.

Keynote speaker Dr. Louis McBurney, and his wife Melissa, are founders of the Marble Retreat Center, an interdenominational counseling center, in Colorado. McBurney wants pastors to understand they are vulnerable and, “Not to ever, ever, ever, ever [think] it can’t happen to them.”

He says probably 100 percent of his guests at the retreat center thought it would never happen to them. McBurney says some pastors preach against adultery and can still be caught in an affair. “It’s really remarkable how a person can compartmentalize their behavior.”

McBurney says some things that can lead to impropriety are loneliness, burnout, marital tension and stress.

Dr. Rosa Banks, human relations director for the Adventist Church in North America, echoes McBurney’s views on those who believe themselves to be immune.

“Ministers who feel they cannot be tempted are most always the vulnerable ones.” She says it starts when ministers fail to take their wives along when they are counseling women, or who counsel women alone in clandestine places.

When it comes to dealing with the issue, there is variance in how it’s handled by church administration.

“Some pastoral abusers have been disciplined to the point of losing their credentials and licenses,” says Banks. “Some have been given a pat on the back, some have been transferred from one part of the country to another. I believe one problem is inconsistency in our application of disciplinary policies across the board.”

“She’s absolutely right,” says Satelmajer. “There’s an urgency for us to develop consistent application so that similar conduct will result in a similar outcome.”

Satelmajer says that often the same act does not bring the same consequences. A panel making recommendations would give a more unified approach to each case, he says. He hopes sexual misconduct in the church someday is handled in this manner.

Church officials in North America last week voted their sexual misconduct guidelines (North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists Policy 30 15) to apply not only to clergy and church employees, but also volunteers, taking into account the number of volunteers at Adventist schools. They also voted to report all violations to appropriate law enforcement officials.

“It’s important that we make it a priority,” says Roscoe J. Howard III, secretary for the church in North America. “We were very late in having guidelines adopted. The church has a responsibility to protect [children]. It’s also important that we don’t expose the church to litigation in not having guidelines prepared.”

The church’s administrative region in Southeastern California has a five-year reconciliation policy for pastors who have engaged in sexual misconduct. It’s recommended that the pastor switch to another church district, go through counseling requirements, and follow up with their administration.

“In many cases it is the pastor who is seduced by a female in the congregation,” Banks says. “But here again ... he is the one on the payroll, he is the one who is expected to lead erring members to Christ. If the female comes to him and begs him to go astray, as a representative of God, he is to do just as Joseph did—run if he has to.”

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