Trigger Warning: This post discusses the issue of adultery, particularly in a Christian ministry context. It is not aimed at any particular persons, but rather addresses the alarming rate of clergy infedelity and reflects on why this might be. Please don’t read further if this is likely to upset you.
“Did you hear about Elaine’s husband, Alan?” Husband calls from the bathroom, mouth full of toothpaste.
“Oh about Holby? Yeah, good for him.”
“He’s doing quite well now,” he dries his mouth and makes towards the bed.
“Are you jealous?” I tease. He’d still quit the ministry if Doctor Who came up.
“Not yet.” He smirks, pulling back the covers and climbing into bed.
“Do you miss it?”
“Acting? Oh yeah.” He answers genuinely. “Do you?”
“Sometimes, I think. Though Alan did invite me to his Tuesday class in the city and I knew I’d never go.”
“Why?” He asks in genuine surprise. “The kids are at school, what’s stopping you?”
“You.” I laugh and he gawps.
“Me?! I’m not stopping you! You know if I had the time, I would.”
I believe him. However, I put my book down and try to find a way to word this, without sounding hurtful.
“You know Elaine was worried about the relationships Alan was developing with other women in his class? Just little stuff – nicknames, text messages, x’s on the end of texts, you know. And I had to explain to her that’s just how theatre people are.”
“Yeah, but I already know that.” He smirks. The last person he worked closely with in theatre was me, and here we are in bed together.
I return the smirk.
“I know you know that, dear. We had a big fight after you addressed another woman as ‘sexy’ at our engagement party, remember?”
He pulls a face and threatens me with a cushion. Fourteen years ago, get over it already!
“But you get my point.” I switch back to serious. “I love acting but I know what that world is like. Close personal relationships; shared passions; flirty banter… Love scenes! I just value our marriage too much to go back into it.”
“So, hang on,” he says, face straight, reeling in the awkward. “Are you saying that you wouldn’t go back to acting because you think you’ll have an affair?”
“I’m saying it’s dangerous, in that respect, yes.”
He looks at me again.
“But would you ever… Have an affair?”
I am about to say no to his crumpled little face, but think better of it.
“I am not saying that I intend to have an affair. Ever. What I am saying is that I’m not arrogant enough to think I’m immune to it either.”
He pauses for a beat, and then nods slowly in approval. “Never thought of it like that before. Fair play.”
“I just think it’s happening too often, especially in ministry, and it would be really dangerous and stupid to think that somehow we are above it. So no. At this point in life, I wouldn’t purposefully walk back into an environment that I know to be higher on the temptation scale. That’s all.”
He nods again, smiling. Respect. Then I add:
“But likewise, please don’t bang your Curate.”
* * * *
I don’t mean to insult anyone with this conversation; I am sure there are many theatre folks out there who manage to work their craft without committing adultery! However, it was a genuine conversation between my Husband and I a few months back, that came to mind again last night.
See, last night we realised we could count on one entire hand the number of ministry marriages (that we know of), that have suffered since Husband was ordained. Five in total, four because of infidelity.
That we know of.
I mean, maybe that doesn’t sound like much to you, but to us, that’s already one per year- and it’s only been five years! I don’t know what the stats are like for other professions, but that seems like a frighteningly high – and early– rate of crisis to me.
And I know, I know… we’re not meant to know about it, never mind talk about it. But, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that really, we should. Because, while I want to be sensitive, I also want to be real here. If ministers- and their spouses- are apparently more susceptible to stray than other people… I want to know why. I want to know what the pitfalls are. I want to be prepared; I want to get wise.
I mean maybe, after all, there are some similarities to the theatre? Close personal relationships… shared passion… hopefully no love scenes, but perhaps… overtime, admiration, commitment to a shared cause?
I spoke briefly about this to a non-church friend recently and she was shocked. “But surely Christians – and especially leaders- should be LESS likely to stray, not more?!”
You’d hope so. But the evidence suggests otherwise.
I wonder if this expectation actually plays a part? The arrogance that I spoke of above; the lack of humility in accepting our humanity; the belief that “I” would NEVER fall like that. Do we ever feel ourselves beyond boundaries?
Perhaps also, in ministry, our relationship with God gets a bit “all work and no play.” Maybe we forget that while man looks at the outward appearance – and we are busy looking the part – God is more concerned with our inward thoughts, and adultery starts in the heart?
Or perhaps it is the shame of accountability? The inability to admit that small things could lead to big things, when you have a God who redefines adultery down to a very look.
If I acknowledge this small thing, it could blow up into something more. Best just to crack on regardless … Best just to ignore.
I had a leader come to me recently, distraught, because she had made a sexually inappropriate joke in a ministry context, which she realised was bad enough; but then a male volunteer wouldn’t let it go and brought it up each time they spoke. She was in turmoil and her husband wasn’t impressed. He had challenged her, so she sought accountability; knocked on our door and confessed.
We prayed. We drafted some texts. We cleared the air with all involved, learned some stuff and progressed.
We nipped it in the bud.
I think, going forward, it’s important to be wise; to be prepared and know the signs. Because none of us is immune; no one is exempt. After all, Eve was just minding her own business when the snake began to tempt!
Know your own character: where you’re strong and where you’re weak.
And if something doesn’t feel right… nip it. Don’t zip it: speak.