the Hope of Survivors

The Subtlety of Satan & Pastors Who Prey—Samantha Nelson

(From the Winter 2004 edition of HopeSpeak)

We read in Isaiah 14:12-14 and in Revelation 12 the account of Lucifer in Heaven and how, because of his pride and his love of self, he became discontent and sought for greater honor. His devices were clever and cunning, subtle yet powerful, as he was able to win one-third of the angels in Heaven to his side. What was it about him that could gain such sympathy? How could one-third of the heavenly angels turn from God to Lucifer (Satan)?

Those are questions that victims of clergy sexual abuse often ask themselves. No, they are not asking about Lucifer, but about their pastor. How could I have allowed this to happen? How could I have turned from God? How could I have become intimately involved with a man who I wasn’t even attracted to in the first place?

There are a few simple, yet very profound principles to address here. One question we often ask is, Why didn’t God kick Lucifer out of Heaven sooner? Why didn’t He just get rid of him before he took one-third of the angels with him? God was certainly aware the moment that Lucifer’s heart changed and he began to harbor jealousy, pride and resentment toward Christ, God’s own Son. But had God destroyed Satan at that moment, would the remaining angels have served God out of love for Him, or fear of Him? I dare say their service from that point forward would have been partly for fear. That is not what God wants. God wants us to serve Him because we love Him, not because we fear Him. No, God must allow Lucifer to make his choice—God must give him time to fully manifest his character. There can be no doubt that Lucifer was greatly loved by all in Heaven. Yet, when he ever so subtly began to create doubts in the other angels’ minds as to God’s order, those doubts began to sink in and some of the angels began to sympathize with Lucifer, believing that he was, indeed, being treated unjustly. The problem here, in part at least, is sympathy. Not that sympathy in itself is bad, but we must carefully guard our sympathies.

I’m sure you’ve read or heard on the news the comments people make when they find out that this person was a mass murderer. He was such a nice man. He needs help, he’s sick. I wonder, could those sympathetic statements have been similar to those in heaven? Was it, Poor Lucifer, God doesn’t understand him. Poor Lucifer, he should be made equal to Christ. When we place our sympathies where they ought not to be, we are asking for trouble.

Lest you think I’m preparing a sermon or a discourse on doctrine here, I will move on to address what I see as the similarities between what happened in Heaven with Lucifer and what happens on earth when pastors prey on their flock. [Acknowledging, of course, that not all pastors prey. There are many godly pastors who deserve our respect, but there are a few (a few too many) who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. We must not ever look at the role of pastor as being a hateful or despised position. God has ordained many to stand as His representatives. The problem comes when there are those who are professing to be Christ’s representatives but who are, in actuality, representatives of Satan.]

One of the first similarities we find between pastors who prey and Satan is pride. The pastor, like Satan, often feels that he is not receiving enough recognition; he is not honored, as he would like to be. [Never mind the fact that we are all to be humble. See Isaiah 57:15.] Luke 14:11, as well as many other texts, gives a strong reproof to those who would seek to be exalted: “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Satan sought to be exalted above Christ in Heaven. The pastor seeks to be exalted within the church and community. It is the pastor’s pride that compels him to move forward in his quest to obtain another man’s wife. It is not love.

The second correlation we see is the subtle deceitfulness of the pastor. Just as Lucifer went about planting seeds of discontent and doubt without the angels being aware of what he was doing, the pastor goes about planting seeds of doubt. He plants doubts as to what God expects of His children. He plants doubts as to whether sin is really as bad as the Bible says. But worse, he moves stealthily throughout the congregation, deceiving them of his true character and playing upon their sympathies. I have heard countless times about the pastor who was so “powerful,” “loved,” and “godly.” Yet, this same pastor had ulterior motives.

Quite often, the pastor is a “lone ranger” type, one who likes to call all the shots and one who controls and manipulates others who serve under him. No one dare question the pastor. By doing so, he is able to control the church. He is also able to do things without question that he would never have been able to do otherwise. He plants doubts in a counselee’s mind as to whether she should remain in her marriage or “follow her heart.” By this time, of course, he has tried to convince her that “following her heart” means leaving her husband for him. So, in his subtlety, he cunningly convinces his victims that he loves them, that he has their best interests in mind, that God looks favorably upon their union, etc. But, what happens when the church finds out? Inevitably (in the majority of cases), the uninformed—or misinformed—church body align themselves with the pastor. They sympathize with him. They feel sorry that he has lost so much (if, indeed, he is terminated) due to this “temptress.” Honestly, is this sympathy appropriate? No! Could the church members be like the angels who followed Satan, rather than God, out of sympathy instead of right principles?

The pastor was in the role of authority, and not just any authority, but spiritual authority. He has accountability to God and to others that the average congregant does not. The pastor bears the weight of the responsibility. It is always his responsibility to keep the flock in his care safe from harm—even from himself. It is his duty to nurture them, to feed them the Word of God, to give godly counsel. He is never to use or abuse them to gratify his own selfish lusts. That behavior is deplorable and is not of God. Thus, we see how sympathy, wrongly placed, can cause great damage. Now the pastor, rather than being forced to examine himself and his motives, confess and repent, boldly goes forth believing he has done no wrong, and continues to enjoy the sympathy and fellowship of his congregants.

Where is the woman, the victim, in all of this? Left alone, on the outside, full of shame, guilt and remorse, without a hand to help her and without a hope to cling to. That is part of the third similarity between Satan and pastors who prey. Often the abusive pastor will seek to turn the congregation against the one whom he has abused, just as Satan seeks to turn God’s children away from Him, toward himself. So, why does the pastor so often seem to “get away” with this crime? One answer is that, just like Lucifer, God must allow the pastor’s character to be fully manifest so people will be able to see the truth—the fruits of the character. Matthew 7:20 reminds us that, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

As I reflected on the scenario in Heaven and compared it to what I’ve seen happening in so many clergy sexual abuse cases, I became more acutely aware of the verity of Solomon’s statement in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “…there is no new thing under the sun.” Satan has used the same tactics for millennia, and pastors who prey will follow his example.

May God help us to cling to Him in faith, pray for the purity of ourselves and our leaders, and seek our healing, comfort, love and wholeness in Him.

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