Devastated by an Affair

How churches heal after the pastor commits adultery.

When a pastor falls sexually, his church responds like a wife betrayed by her husband, experts say. The news of his pastor's infidelity slammed into Jim Brown, spurring "every issue that I've ever seen."

The pastor who baptized Brown's children, preached God's Word, and served Communion had deceived him. Months after the news, the Starkville, Mississippi, pca (Presbyterian Church in America) congregation that Brown attends stills holds late night counseling sessions to process the event, a must-do according to experts.

"People have to struggle with the fact that here was somebody who had been the mouthpiece of Christ, standing up in the pulpit as the representative of Christ," says Brown, a medical doctor. "Members keep saying, 'He did my marriage counseling,' or, 'He buried my brother.' He had been intimately involved with all the important aspects of my life."

Admissions of sexual immorality by megachurch pastor Ted Haggard, following allegations by a male prostitute, rocked his 14,000-member New Life Church, as well as the National Association of Evangelicals, which Haggard served as president. Many other churches have faced similar situations, though no comprehensive statistics exist. In the last 15 years, psychologist Mark Laaser, author of Healing the Wounds of Sexual Addiction, has seen "an escalating crisis in the church" so that "rarely a day goes by that I don't get a call about a 'fallen' pastor."

Churches can heal, experts say, but the process has obstacles that aren't easy to navigate.

Tearing the Fabric

"All trust has been broken," says former Bethel University professor Nils Friberg, a psychologist and pastor of care at Salem Baptist Church in New Brighton, Minnesota. "This person held a position that led members ...

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