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One of the major elements that have helped generate this situation is the good minister’s power. And it’s precisely because he draws people to him (including the vulnerable) that he is both dangerous and in danger.
I don’t doubt for a moment the existence of plotting, hypocritical and evil men who prey on wounded and vulnerable women and children. Nor do I doubt that there are predatory women who go after vulnerable people (including children). But personally speaking, I’ve never met one from either gender. I do know very many, personally, who live with endless remorse and shame because they’ve been in a number of sinful intimacies and fear they’ll be in more. Not one of them is a predator! Idiots, sinners, failures, wicked, weaklings—but not predators! Destructive but not predators!
It’s a mistake to think of the minister only in terms of how dangerous he is. We need also to see him as someone in danger. It’s right to make the point that people of power—men or women—are in a position to impose themselves on others and that they have the equipment to draw and even seduce others. This is so! And it’s especially distressing that a man or woman finally gets to the position where they can really help someone and instead, they do them a terrible injury. It’s an abuse of power as well as a betrayal of trust!
We’re not to minimize any of that but there’s something else to be said. Those who have compassion, warmth, charisma and confidence draw to themselves so much more temptation than those who lack these qualities do! Anyone can hit a home run once in a blue moon, it’s someone well gifted who can do it game after game after game. Most of us can resist a trial that comes along now and then, but if we meet them week after week we have to be vigilant week after week, have to be strong week after week. This week I’m happy and contented so the trial isn’t severe but other weeks see me down and lonely and vulnerable and the temptation is still there. It’s not only still there, it’s stronger now because my situation is different. A full stomach is less tempted to gluttony and hoarding than an empty one. A cold and self-sufficient person is less likely to be tempted by forbidden intimacies than the insecure and warm person is.
A minister is under great pressure. He’s in danger as well as dangerous. He must be dealt with when he behaves improperly but he mustn’t be left alone to wrestle alone. He must be protected as well as watched. He mustn’t be made to bear all the guilt alone. If he’s half the man we think he is then he’s no predator.
It might give us a real sense of our uprightness that we’re “tough on sin” but it might be more to our credit if we understood more about sins, if we worked without arrogance for the prevention and cure of sins rather than simply holding people “accountable” for their crasser sins. Instead of watching the trouble develop without stepping in early to nip it in the bud we often let it grow to full bloom and then come down on it like a ton of bricks. Everybody loses in that case. What we call our attempts to “keep the church pure” are more like “benevolent bungling” than anything else. And often it isn’t even “benevolent” bungling.
And wouldn’t it be terrible if in our awful eagerness to “deal with sin” we ourselves are sinning? Sending the signal to the younger people who are struggling with sexual temptation, “Here’s the kind of harsh treatment you can expect from us when you’re discovered!”
Eugene Peterson renders Galatians 6:1 this way: “Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day’s out.”
Somewhere in the middle of all this we’re going to have to have a heart and a policy worked out to work with this. In the long term it doesn’t help for people to shout at each other, “You’re merciless” or “You’re soft on sin”. There’s got to be a way that we can lament the sin in our believing community without making full-blown lepers out of the sinners. There’s got to be a way for the congregation to come together in sadness in the face of the fall of brothers and sisters without isolating them and seeing them as second-class citizens.
And of course I’ve been writing as though ministers of the Word were the only people who wrestle with impurity and sexual misconduct—far from it! And I’ve been talking as though it’s only women who have a tough time with cold husbands or some such hardship that leads to trouble. This isn’t the case.
Sometimes boredom accounts for the kind of sin we’re talking about (though it’s never merely boredom). Men and women with too much time on their hands and too little on their minds find themselves drawn into something “more adventurous”. Maybe there’s a gospel somewhere that if we heard it, would draw us into so much glorious adventure that we wouldn’t have time for the shabby and shameful.