It was recently revealed that the pastor of the biggest church to exist in Ontario had an affair over ten years ago. This situation becomes a good opportunity to show how I, as a therapist, like to reflect on situations. You will notice I like to consider patterns I see to help those involved feel like they’re not crazy for this happening, which can to help make acceptance and forgiveness easier. Ultimately, my main goal is to demonstrate how not to be judgmental because judging others makes life worse for everyone including the judger – the more you judge others, the more you’ll judge yourself, and the more you judge yourself, the more you’ll judge others. Even worse, judging is very prideful and makes us mean as we look down on others. There’s a reason Jesus clearly said not to judge (Mat 7:1).
An affair on any level is a tragedy because of the hurt it causes, but when a leader like this falls to temptation, it’s even worse because of how many more people are affected. The reality is when someone is put on a pedestal there is farther to fall and the more potential fallout, which means for satan, people on pedestals become his greatest goal – the greater the threat you are to him, the greater the temptations satan will throw at you to make you fall. I’m sure satan was eyeing this pastor for quite awhile because of how much hurt it would cause. He might have even wanted the church to grow, so more people could be hurt. For the family, an affair is very damaging, but then throw in being in the public eye and it becomes all the worse because even people trying to be helpful can make it harder. For the pastor’s followers, his actions will likely be very disillusioning. On some level you know the leader you’re following isn’t perfect, but it’s hard not to have hope that they’re closer than you are. Fortunately, for anyone who is a Christ follower, we know that God can work all things for His good – good will come out of this… eventually. What can be encouraging is I’ve found the greater the pain, the greater the lessons we can learn and the inspiration we can become. If nothing else, this needs to be made a teaching opportunity for anyone in leadership because successful people regularly seem to screw up in colossal ways, especially pastors of bigger churches (e.g. Bill Hybels and Ted Haggard). The risk of these pastors screwing up is actually pretty high because people who become pastors tend to go into it for one of two reasons: I’m God’s chosen and I’m better than everyone else, which is why they should listen to me ramble every week and never question anything I do (very arrogant) or I struggle to have personal boundaries because I’m trying to earn love as I’m a huge people pleaser and workaholic (I know where I stood getting into ministry). Add in the fact that a lot of these well meaning pastors get sucked into the idea of “I’m too busy to take care of myself because I need to help others,” (a very dangerous mindset because it’s a lie – being at our best helps us help more people) and “If I burn out that must mean I’m not trusting God enough.” This thinking is clearly misguided as Jesus had very strong boundaries in place to take care of himself and to protect himself from being put into tempting situations. There’s a reason his inner circle was just guys.
To be upfront, I don’t know a lot of details about the situation, and honestly that’s what I prefer. As a therapist I actually do my best to avoid details because that’s how fights grow: (wife) “He said this.” (husband) “No I didn’t.” (wife) “Yes, you did. Don’t lie.” (husband) “I’m not lying. You’re exaggerating to make me sound bad.” Getting stuck on the details is also a path to over-complication as we lose the forest for the trees. Details can also increase the risk of us becoming judgemental, and people judging only makes things worse as it increases attacks and/or defensiveness. Of course, it’s good for people to vent out their feelings when the person they’re angry at isn’t there because venting includes exaggeration and spewing emotion, which means listeners need to be careful not to be too quick to assume the other person in question is evil. People are rarely evil – misguided and selfish yes, but rarely evil. The biggest problem with details is no matter who you talk to, there’ll be a different story and sometimes that story will be different each time it’s shared as things morph when we retell them. Plus, the listener can often mishear or misinterpret something (the Bible has certainly been misinterpreted over the years), which adds to more complications.
My number one rule when listening to stories is to let the person without sin be the first to cast a stone (thank you Jesus for that lesson). Since I’m not, I keep my stones locked away (in case that ever changes; I’ll be ready). The truth is we are all capable of all types of sin, so it’s important not to look down on others when they make a mistake. Instead of judging, we should be thankful God has protected us from being in that kind of situation and to continue to protect us and guide us as we try to make good decisions that prevent us from being in those positions. That being said, what needs to be considered is how do we keep someone accountable for their actions while also offering forgiveness? And that’s where this situation becomes complicated. Sure, this pastor should step down from his leadership position to work on healing himself and his family while giving the church a chance to recover, but ultimately, his family and his church (he’s accountable to both) will need to consider what kind of penance will bring the healthiest healing and the most good out of this.
What’s interesting in this situation is the man in question is one of the most gifted speakers of this generation. He helped grow a church (with an innovative leadership team) from 150 people to 1000s of members and many satellite churches that played a video or live stream of his speaking all around the globe. Unlike some pastors, he didn’t start out needing to grow a mega church; he just spoke well. I had the pleasure of interviewing him when I did my Masters of Theology almost twenty years ago and he was very down to earth. There was no hint of charm – I don’t trust charm. People who are charming are almost always hiding something or have a scheme going on (aka passive aggressive). This pastor didn’t. He just used his gift of teaching and where it led was up to God – the ideal mentality of a church leader.
What I do know is the affair happened and ended years ago. When my wife shared this with me she asked how he could preach when he had this sin going on or the weight of his mistake after it happened? As a writer/speaker, when I struggle, I’m at my best creatively. For instance, January was really rough for me, but then I ended up writing some of my favourite blogs. I even wrote more than usual. Arguably when this pastor was struggling with his guilt, he could’ve been at his most sincere and likeable. Of course, there’s also a chance he’d be at his worst because he could’ve been trying to distance himself from God, but that would’ve been suspicious. If that were the case, people would’ve wondered what was going on and probably led to him getting caught sooner.
What makes this situation worse is I was told it happened when he was 46 years old counselling a 23 year old female. I know people will be very angry at this, but again, we shouldn’t throw stones, especially before considering certain facts. First, when I was doing my Masters that focused on being a pastor, I wasn’t once told not to go for someone in my congregation. Sure, you might think that’s understood, but then why do we regularly tell people, “Don’t shake the baby”? It might seem obvious, but we need to hear obvious messages to solidify them in our heads for those times when temptations rise. That’s why in my psychotherapy school, “Don’t fall for clients” was repeated over and over because it is a huge risk, especially for male therapists. For instance, a male therapist can help a woman in a tough spot feel heard and good about herself, which can easily lead to her being attracted to him if the therapist isn’t careful. Meanwhile, when a woman starts being extra nice to you, as a guy, it’s easy to start being blinded, especially if the guy isn’t traditionally good with women – the same risk happens for male teachers; attention plus hormones can make men very dumb. My therapy school kept saying “Protect yourself and your clients,” because human nature is dumb and we have to be ready to fight that dumbness. As a therapist my role is very clear – I help you, you pay me (payment is a constant reminder of my role), and that’s it. As a pastor, however, your job is all consuming and it can be very difficult not to get blinded, especially when leadership roles tend to be very lonely. For instance, as a youth pastor, I sometimes felt like more of a slave who was constantly being criticized and attacked than being someone in a special position. Essentially, when you’re in leadership, you put a giant target on your back (and front sometimes). Even though this pastor was very successful growing a following, he also would’ve grown a lot of enemies like jealous pastors. Unfortunately, he just gave anyone who has questioned him ammunition, which makes this even worse.
Another detail I know is when this happened he had a young child at home. This is important to note because it’s very common for men to have affairs at this time. Why? Because they can feel forgotten and replaced by the child (warranted or not). Throw in being 46 and feeling ugly and old and then a young, attractive woman gives you attention – very risky. Over time this can really start to cloud your judgement, especially without the proper boundaries in place. As a pastor, you spend your life helping others, but what about you? And that question gets you hooked on thinking about something more than you should, which eventually gets you pushing a boundary here and there and suddenly you’re doing something you never thought possible. And that is why boundaries and taking care of ourselves is so important – we need as much emotional strength as we can find to fight temptation at our lowest times. When we feel down, we look for ways to cope and/or distract, and sometimes what we choose is very unhealthy like an affair.
Another important thing to remember is the woman involved was 23. She wasn’t 14. She’s at an age where others around her are making life decisions; they’re getting married, having kids, and starting careers. She may have been seeing him for counseling, but if she really needed help, she should’ve been seeing a real therapist and not a pastor (a mistake on both of them). Quite often in an affair, the finger gets pointed at the guy while the woman is considered an innocent victim, but women aren’t stupid. They know how to get out of speeding tickets before they can even drive. Overall, women are smarter than men in social situations and they have power over us – a woman can make or break a man. In the story of David and Bathsheba a teacher once told me Bathsheba knew exactly what she was doing. It wasn’t normal to bathe where the king could see you – women are smart. There’s a reason Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. Stephen Hawking, Bill Clinton and other very successful men had affairs and it’s not because they’re predators – it’s often the opposite as successful men get a target on them by certain types of women. In many ways, me being a nobody makes my life a lot easier because I don’t have the same temptations… that and I have zero game; that also helps protect me (my wife reminds me of that quite often).
So why do people have affairs? I have found three main reasons:
- They are coping with something (usually strong insecurity, loneliness, sense of rejection from wife).
- They are looking to trade in their partner (usually by a man who doesn’t have the guts to actually end the relationship and be single).
- I deserve this (I have only seen this with women who felt contempt to their husbands, but I imagine really successful men can have this “I can do what I want” attitude).
The last thing that needs to be considered is that when you’re married you are united as one with the other person, and we are meant to keep each other accountable and safe from temptations. That means the question we need to consider for ourselves is how can couples work at preventing each other from being tempted to have an affair? When our partner cheats, we were either blind to the fact they’re a cheater (once a cheater, always a cheater) or something was wrong in the relationship that opened the door. Again, this isn’t meant to blame anyone, but to remember it’s easy to judge, and it’s harder to have understanding, but understanding makes healing easier. Instead of throwing stones, we need to offer compassion because when good people screw up, they are already beating themselves up. They don’t need any help.
This week may you consider how you can protect yourself and your relationship. My suggestion of course is to read my new book, 52 Lessons for a Better Relationship, but I’m a little biased.
Rev Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)