Why Members of the Clergy Cheat

Hillsong church in crisis? Wall of silence points to a brewing scandal
Courtesy Crikey.

in the wake of the collapse of The Hillsong USA Church leadership over confessions of sexual dalliances, there’s been a significant degree of tsk-tsking as usual. We’re seeing this often in the church today, but very few people actually talk about it. Perhaps it’s because we think of it as powerful men falling due to their own egos or character failings. It’s so simple, therefore, that it doesn’t require deeper types of thinking.

In my view, it’s the role of minister/leader that is a set-up for these men. So, let’s take a look.

Many who read this will think I’ve generated an asinine rationalization for males’ risky adventure with sex outside their own marriages, but I think there’s something else here to be considered. Surely, there’s more to it, as we examine the continual failures of leaders, church or otherwise, in having affairs or sexual liaisons with those under their charge. These cases are all lopped into the bins of failed character, narcissism, or some other pathological weakness of “the flesh.” So, we properly vilify them publicly, and we move on in search of the next perfect man to sit under and then later crush when they turn out to be human.

But I think there’s something else going on here — that could be prevented — if we only could speak honestly.

To set the stage, let’s begin with this wonderful quote by John R. W. Stott:

“And they who fain would serve Thee best are conscious most of wrong within.”

Honestly now, who can argue with this? Does it not stand to reason that ministers of the gospel — a.k.a. those doing the Lord’s work — would be the most conscious of their own sin and nature? This removes all doubt from the truth that these leaders are fully aware of the sin they are committing, which means they also know about the consequences with the God they serve. Therefore, we ask again, what is so compelling about this that these men are willing to throw away everything just to pursue it?

It’s not about the sex, the physical act. It’s about intimacy and how that influences a man’s ability to create. Let me repeat that. It’s about intimacy and how that influences a man’s ability to create. In this sense, it’s much worse than a simple slapping of two bodies; it’s about what happens with the man’s desperate need for intimacy. And, this ought to influence all wives of creative people, for intimacy is easily lost to feelings of rejection with these sensitive souls. This is the point at which our culture needs to invest, in ministry, in therapy, and in psychology in general.

There is one thing that most of these men can claim: they are sensitive creatively and need (yes, need) to be intimately in love in order to tap into the source that feeds their imaginations. This is called the artist’s muse and is accomplished through the one-way flow of love from the source of all love, through each of us, towards another. It is an inbound flow that the man has felt before, and to him, it’s absolutely sacred and holy. He must give away what he receives, or the flow will stagnate, and he will be fully lost. It is a crushing experience for one’s creativity to stagnate, and it comes from shutting down the flow through any one of a number of emotions the man might be feeling. He must reactivate the flow through the giving of love, for then, the ultimate giver of love will replace that which he gives away, and in that refreshment comes more from the source. This is why being in love is such a phenomenal feel-good experience. The entire fruit of the spirit travels with that flow, so it “feels” marvelous.

I can hear the gasps even now. “C’mon, Terry, what about sensitive and creative women? Don’t they require this intimacy, too?” I’m not smart enough to figure all that out, but I’ll say this. Throughout history, the idea of an artist’s muse is always feminine. Besides, I’m speaking about men here, so just bear with me, because I believe there are great differences between the two sexes. Please. There will be others who’ll read this as a rationalization for my own dalliances, for I was once a chronic womanizer. There may be truth to that, but I’ll argue that it doesn’t change the reasoning presented here.

Culture says to creative people, “conform,” but they simply cannot. Can. Not. It’s always cannot; never will not. Creators value their sensitive source, not that which ignores the voices from beyond. Hence, society’s rules and regulations are actually designed to move away from the source. After all, chaos is the mother of pain to those who demand order. The problem with this is that creativity flows from chaos, not order.

He feels bad that his behavior has hurt others, but he’s not making decisions with the full weight of consciousness, and this is so important to understand. He knows what he’s doing is wrong. He knows the inevitable consequences. He is driven by a profound need to get to a place where he can receive. It overrides all decision-making filters, because it comes from beyond. When the prolific songwriter Bill Monroe told me in an interview that he never wrote a single song but simply “heard them first”, he was speaking of this flow. Richard Adams, in the forward to his little book “The Unbroken Web,” describes a moving web of creativity that encircles the earth constantly. It contains all of the creative efforts of humanity and explains how people from different continents told the same ancient stories prior to intercontinental travel of any sort. I hope this is well-known in the artistic community, because it is more real to artists than their own logic and attitudes towards process.

This is why the draw is intimacy, not sex. These men generally don’t do this just to get off; there’s something much more sinister going on, and we’re never going to fix the problem without this understanding. Our egos (a.k.a. the devil) are just waiting with the ammunition to corrupt this beautiful experience in order to take over. Most cannot put their finger on what’s actually happening (as stated above), so they go along with the ego’s prompting, which, as it always does, leads to devastation of the self.

If a minister’s wife isn’t also his muse, then trouble is on the horizon. This is a super important area to discuss with each other and perhaps a therapist, and it’s even more important for those in the counseling business to wrap their arms around. A creative man needs words of affirmation more than anybody could possibly imagine, and these come through the avenue of love. While it’s very true that preachers wives have their own set of responsibilities and duties to the ministry, she must NEVER drift far from the muse role she has held since they first fell in love. I simply cannot overstate the value of this in ministry relationships.

At sometime, somewhere, and somehow he has lost true intimacy with his significant other, and the creative blockage is palpable. He feels suffocated. He knows he needs intimacy as much as oxygen, but he cannot find it until he randomly encounters another searching soul. He thinks he sees it in her eyes, and her first encounter with him likely includes words of affirmation he is on the lookout for. “I love the way your personality shines through your messages,” or something similar. Suddenly, he is confronted with confusion and guilt, so he decides simply to dismiss what he’s feeling as chance. It’s at that point, however, that his ego has already begun the process of justification, and he is most likely a goner.

So, what do we do about these troubled souls? Do we not at least owe them for their revelatory inspirations that have blessed us? Yes, but does that, however, mean we must look the other way? God forbid. But let us always remember that this is a church, not some other form of institution.

Ministers know that forgiveness awaits their confession, and this adds to the problem of rationalizing infidelity. After all, why not proceed, if you know you’ll be forgiven up front? It is a very delicate and difficult manifestation of human nature.

Surely, they must face disciplinary proceedings and be given a leave of absence or be terminated. This is where it gets sticky, however, because he’s left with only one choice and that is to move along and start over in some other place. We see this all the time, but one session of chasing the wind easily flows into another, and the real matter is never addressed.

Let me repeat the basics. Creative men need feminine inspiration, even if its homosexual. It’s as important as air to breathe for these people. Therefore, their spouse must, above all, function as a muse to the preacher, and this is often expressed as sexual intimacy. This is why marital problems involving such servants can be so destructive for the ministry itself, and this needs positive, non-judgmental discussion between the ministers and their spouses. The remarkable thing here is that these men are naturally drawn to this feminine energy and often end up with a person who functions unknowingly as their muse.

Would that all such men would be so lucky.

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