When a pastor has an affair and nobody’s talking

When a pastor has an affair and nobody’s talking June 6, 2013

A megachurch pastor resigns after admitting an affair.

That sounds like a news story, right?

Only problem: Outside of an official church statement, nobody seems to be talking. Not the pastor. Not the congregation’s leaders. Not anybody close to the situation, really.

What’s a reporter to do?

Well, a creative journalist could do worse than to follow the lead of Orlando Sentinel writer Jeff Kunerth, who recently turned the above lemon of a scenario into not one but two pitchers of enterprising newspaper lemonade.

A GetReligion colleague shared this headline with our team this week, although the story is a couple weeks old:

Disgraced pastors who repent face long road back, experts say

The lede:

In a letter read to the congregation at Discovery Church, Pastor David Loveless admitted adultery, deceit, sinfulness, selfishness, broken trust and a violation of “everything I knew to be true and right.”

“I am broken beyond description,” he wrote.

Loveless resigned last month from the Orlando church he founded 29 years ago and, like many fallen preachers before him, now begins a restoration process. It won’t be easy, say experts.

Do you see what Kunerth did there?

He took the limited public facts available and used them as a peg for a larger story: It won’t be easy, say experts.

Keep reading, and the Sentinel story provides insight from four experts, including this one:

Pastor Ron Johnson, who has counseled more than 20 ministers in crisis, said restoration takes at least two years. But many fallen ministers are unable or unwilling to do the work necessary to achieve true spiritual restoration.

“There’s a lack of humility,” said Johnson, senior pastor of One Church in Longwood. “Most of these guys get into sexual sin not because they have runaway lust. Most have runaway pride.”

One of the major problems is that many cannot humble themselves in a three-stage process that involves repentance, reconciliation and restoration, Johnson said. The process takes them back to where they began, before they built their congregations into megachurches, wrote books, spoke at conferences. Before all the love and adoration of those who filled the pews and the collection plates.

The pride issue is one that has gained notoriety among pastors on a national level, not just in Florida. So it’s certainly an important angle for a religion story.

Earlier — again, with the pastor and church at the center not talking — Kunerth produced a meaty story with this headline:

Discovery Church illustrates how power of pulpit can lead pastors to affairs

A bit of that story:

It has nothing to do with anything in the water and all to do with the pressures, adorations and temptations that come from being a high-profile pastor in a large church, say experts and fellow pastors.

“You’re a brilliant preacher, you are a wonderful pastoral person in times of crisis, you can raise money, you can administer a staff, you have a vast array of gifts,” said David Swanson, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Orlando. “That’s a lot for one person to carry.”

That high position of respect and responsibility can elevate a pastor to the point of isolation, Swanson said. Without trusted confidants who can listen to the pastor’s own doubts and burdens — and steer him back in line when he wavers — the megachurch pastor can be susceptible to his own impulses.

Alas, both stories would be better if the actual pastor and church — and the “other woman” — involved were talking. The wide-angle view of such a scenario would be more compelling with some tight, up-close pictures of this specific situation.

But given the lemon the reporter was dealt, these pitchers of lemonade end up tasting pretty sweet anyway.

Image via Shutterstock

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4 responses to “When a pastor has an affair and nobody’s talking”

  1. Bobby, I noticed that your piece from a couple of years ago had Proverbs 16:18 but the two other stories did not. The “lemonade” would have been a touch sweeter with a Biblical reference.

  2. when a pastor resigns, he is no longer a public figure
    if you want to delve into everyone’s private life, you should be a neighborhood snoop, not a reporter

      • Bobby, that question raises an essential question: is the Church a “public” or “private” organization? That’s at heart a theological question, but one that has to be answered if you want to write about sexual sin in the Church. If the Church is a voluntary association of individuals (theologically problematic, but bear with me), then it’s doings are essentially private and not necessarily fair game for journalism.

        But I am not hard and fast about that. First, I would exclude any sexual abuse from being “private”. Ministerial malpractice with adults and certainly sexual abuse of minors should (in my opinion) be fully covered. Then, take an example in my own experience.

        The Southside Church of Christ is several blocks from my house. As a Catholic (or Methodist, Baptist, or atheist), I am not immediately connected to that congregation. My wont is to look away from (non-abusive) sexual sin in general, but I specifically don’t want to know about the pastor and elders of a congregation to which I have no connection.

        Except, I do have a connection. It’s a great congregation with significant outreach to this community, particularly in my area of professional interest. SO, does that give me the right to know about sexual sin in that congregation? In the South Freeway Church of Christ, Travis Avenue Baptist Church, First Methodist Church, and so on. Where is the line between “private” and “public” when reporting on the Church?