Risk factors for pastoral infidelity

Today, I listened to a CD of Dave Carder at last year’s AACC convention. He is the author of Torn Asunder, a book about affairs. I’ve not seen his newest book, just out in April, is entitled Close Calls. Both available on Amazon.

He presented a talk entitled, “Emerging Trends in Pastoral Infidelity.” He summarized data gleaned from 5 studies between 1987-1998. He continues to collect information that will be out this year.

Here’s some surprises in his data and risk factors:

1. suspected rate of sexual impropriety: about 40% (though this is perceived because of underreporting. Actual reporting number is 21%, though 15% admitted to lying on the surveys)
2. pastors affair partners are now more likely to be outside the church
3. 90% of pastors report being blindsided by the affair–they didn’t see it coming
4. The vast majority of improprieties are never discovered
5. Risk factors increase with:

  • History of sexual molestation, family history of infidelity, adolescent promiscuity, learning disabilities/ADHD, female friends with private conversations, conjoint ministry with opposite sex, lingering outside of ministry to share personal matters
  • Lower age in conversion to Christianity increases risks
  • Higher education increases risks as does increased bible education
  • both ministry exhausted and ministry connected pastors 

Any of these surprise you?


Filed under Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, Evangelicals, pastors and pastoring, Sex

15 responses to “Risk factors for pastoral infidelity

  1. Amy

    Lower age in conversion surprises me a bit. But I can also see how a man (or woman) who grew up in the church could stray, especially in fundie circles.

    Some of the folks who come to Christ later in life and then become pastors have already had a chance to sow their wild oats, so to speak. Therefore, they would prefer a total rejection of that lifestyle.

    Since the survey says that most of these guys have affairs with people outside the church (almost every pastoral affair I’ve heard of has been within the church), it would be interesting to know if the other individual involved in the affair knew his or her lover was a pastor.

    My guess is that the partners don’t know. Sleeping with a pastor is akin to thinking about your grandparents having sex–gross.

  2. Scott Knapp, MS

    Question: was this speaker asserting a causal relationship between lower age at conversion and vulnerability to temptation to have an affair? Or was he simply noting a correlation in the stats? I would have liked to hear something more about the factor that John Eldredge points out repeatedly in his body of work: the man of God (whether a pastor or not, but I would imagine particularly when he is a pastor) is under conspicuous lethal attack from demons to ruin credibility, bring him into idolatry, and ultimately mar the glory of God. I think other points of vulnerability are exploited to this end. Of course the world and the flesh are in on the attack as well, but I don’t think any of these men were simply weakened, vulnerable men wandering along, randomly encountering the temptation to have an affair.

  3. Scott, correlational relationships for sure. Amy may be right in regards to why that might be. Some friends I have who converted as adults struggle with a completely different set of temptations than those who were born into Christianity.

    No doubt Satan is prowling and looking to destroy christian leaders. Of course, that is not something that will show up in surveying pastors about their habits.

  4. Scott Knapp, MS

    Yeah, survey question: “What percentage distribution would you attribute to your marital infidelity over the following causal categories? a) Satan b) the World c) the Flesh”

  5. airhole

    isn’t option a), b), and c) the same?

  6. Scott Knapp, MS

    Interesting theological question, so here’s where my thinking is going on that subject these days. Satan was around prior to the existence of either the sarx (flesh) or the kosmos (world). The sarx came into existence in mankind after the Fall, and it was not created by Satan (as he is a created being himself, and has no creative powers), but it was vulnerable to be influenced by him. Mix vulnerable humans with active demons, and you come up with a massively sinful milieu that is both influenced by sin, and contributes to its perpetuation. I don’t believe they’re the same thing, and I don’t believe that Satan necessarily has absolute dominion over the other two; he’s a pawn amongst them in a larger story, under the sovereignty of God. What would happen if Satan were removed from the equation? Revelation 19 gives us some insight. After Christ returns and subdues the forces of war on the planet, He binds Satan for the duration of his wedding feast (1000 years). Many theologians presume that those who survived Armageddon, who are not welcome guests at the wedding feast, continue to live and carry on with life outside of the Kingdom and the feast for it’s duration. Under the rule of Christ on earth during this time, the “rod of iron” seems to keep the flesh and the world in relative control. It’s not until Satan is loosed once again at the end of the feast that the forces of the world are once again rallied to rebel against the rule of the Lamb and make war with Him. I find it interesting that the sarx and the kosmos were not wiped out during the Millennium, but simply not as severely provoked. I don’t believe that an unprovoked sarx/kosmos duo result in righteous living, but merely living somewhat less bent on continuous evil. So, no I don’t think they are all the same. I think they’re distinct elements which seem to work in harmony to mar the image of God in mankind, and blaspheme the glory of God in general.

  7. I’m a bit surprised by the numbers. I can’t see 40% of my fellow Presbyters having affairs. I know it happens. It just happened recently- and in this case the ‘partner’ was outside of the church.
    On the flip side, I’ve seen some cases where people know, including the spouse and leaders, but they choose to do nothing out of fear.
    When I think of the various guys I knew from seminary who’ve been tripped up by various sexual sins: 1. I’m saddened and shocked, 2. I know there are more yet to be discovered, 3. I know this temptation is common to all, so I’m not immune.
    Did these surveys take into account the types of churches they serve? Ron Sider lumped all Christians together in assessing sexual sin in the church. But the rate on incidence was lower for confessional churches.
    I would expect the rates to be higher for mainline/liberal denominations and fundamentalist churches. But that doesn’t mean confessional churches & Christians are immune.

  8. The 40% number is an impression. The actual number is lower. Oh, that 40% is for impropriety which is a larger category than adultery and affair. It could be inappropriate sexualized activities (talk about sexual matters in a flirtatious way, talking about sexual feelings under the guise of honesty, inappropriate hugging, etc) with another person.

  9. Kit

    Even amongst the minority reported, the details are covered over, so that most congregants don’t know what goes on in their own church. Why, when these transgressions occur, are they explained away as a pastor having become “weak in the flesh”, when pastors who have affairs tend to repeat this conduct over and over?

    In other words, the majority are not penitent, and do it, amongst other reasons, because they can keep getting away with it.

  10. Gwyn

    I am the “victim” of an affair with a Pastor. This “man” did not disclose his actual name, his actual occupation or the fact he was married until six months into our relationship. I am horrified, feel dirty and truly question the “church” as a whole now. How can one be expected to have faith in those who “lead” us when all the while they lead a double life?

    Sign me: Angry and disgusted in Alabama

    • Sorry to hear this Gwyn. Obviously, this supposed shepherd was not acting as he should have. The Bible describes these false shepherds as those who feed on sheep. Yes, the church has many in it who do not honor the name of Christ. But, I encourage you to remember that faith should not be placed in human leaders as they always fail us. Our faith, if it exists, is to be placed in Christ himself and none other. Not to diminish the great evil of leaders who lead double lives (there seems to be special “woe to you” curses levied on these leaders), but we all have duplicity in us. Only Christ did not–hence why I faith can remain intact in Him. Again, I am sad you had this experience. I do hope you have someone to walk through that sorrow and heartache and confusion with you.

  11. Eric

    At the church I attended for many years the Pastor had an affair for some 7 years. I was made aware of this from the distraught husband who’s wife the Pastor was involved with. I confronted the Pastor on it and eventually he admitted it. The rest of the congregation does not know. This is a non denominational church and though there is a man in another state he calls his Pastor, nobody can make him step down. Should this man still be Pastoring and should the congregation know about his affair?

    • 7 years. Takes a lot of planning and deception to do that. As shepherd of the sheep, he is not to be using the sheep for his pleasure–even if the sheep want to be used. I would say that this man needs help and it is unclear if he should pastor again. If he continues to hide the truth, is he really serving anything but his own agenda? You said he admitted it? Did he repent? True repentance requires a turning away, a making it right. Hiding it continues the original deception of the church. How do you know he stopped it? How do you know he doesn’t have another affair. Yes, the church should know. They can offer this man some opportunities for healing even if he isn’t allowed to return to the pulpit.

      May I say that you should be careful too. If you choose to reveal it, (though it would be far better if he did), there will likely be some negative consequences for you. Someone will see you as trying to harm, not purify the church. So, you should do this prayerfully and in such a way that your own character is absolutely unassailable. Satan would have the church divided and in turmoil.

  12. Survivor Girl007

    The term “affair” as it applies to a sexual relationship between a pastor and someone in his/her congregation is a misnomer. It is ABUSE – an abuse of power, position and fiduciary responsibility. Clergy sexual abuse (CSA) and clergy sexual misconduct (CSM) occur in staggering numbers across all faiths. According to a recent study conducted by Baylor University, 1 in 30 adult women who regularly attend church are victims. (www.baylor.edu/clergysexualmisconduct/) If you are a member of the clergy who is involved in CSA or a victim of CSA, there’s help at http://www.thehopeofsurvivors.com.

  13. Any idea why learning disabilities and higher education increase the risk?

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