After Christianity Today’s “Leadership Journal” published an article from an anonymous youth pastor claiming to have an extramarital affair with one of his students the twitter and blogosphere have exploded with responses such as the Twitter hashtag #HowOldWereYou and call to #TakeDownThatPost.
Ed Stetzer also wrote an important article that highlighted the weakness of the anonymous author’s confession – namely, that it doesn’t go far enough. The anonymous youth pastor doesn’t actually acknowledge that he is not just involved in a run-of-the-mill act of marital infidelity, but he’s actually participating in child abuse.
Stetzer rightly calls the youth pastor to acknowledge that It’s Abuse, Not an Affair:
This was not an “extramarital relationship.” This was abuse and statutory rape. The anonymous youth pastor is serving time in prison and will be a registered sex offender for the rest of his life because he is guilty of being a sexual predator.
Children, including teenagers, don’t commit adultery with adults. There is no “consent.” Our courts have rightly determined that teens are incapable of consenting to sex with an adult.
In full praise of Stetzer’s prophetic voice, especially concerning the fact that we Evangelicals are missing opportunities to acknowledge the full extent of this problem, I want to add a bit to it.
Yes, when clergy rape children, it is abuse of the worst kind, even when those minors are “willing.”
But what we also fail to realize and consistently communicate is that anytime a clergy member has sex with a parishioner who is not their spouse, it is abuse.
The fact is, clergy members hold positions of power in society. We can lament all we want the church’s loss of position and privilege in American society, but the fact remains, the position of pastor is a position of power and privilege.
When a pastor has willful sexual relations with a parishioner, they are never on equal footing, even if the parishioner is “willing.”
We need to stop referring to clergy sexual misconduct as “affairs” or “cheating,” which assumes there is an equality in the relationship. We need to use language, like that with the story of above, that reflects the genuine imbalance of power that exists between the clergy and the parishioner.
The emotional, spiritual, and even societal power granted to a pastor is intertwined and inseparable from all their relations within the church. We cannot, therefore, pretend that infidelity between pastors and their parishioners is anything less than an abuse of that power, and therefore, an abuse of the parishioner.