One of American literature’s most enduring characters is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne, the lead character in his novel “The Scarlet Letter”. In this book, Hester has an affair with the parish minister, Arthur Dimmesdale. She becomes pregnant with his child and bears a daughter, Pearl. Because she is a widow, the people of this Puritan community quickly surmise she has had an adulterous affair with someone in the town. They cannot convince Hester to name her accomplice, so, her church and community decide to shame her. Her sentence? She must wear a scarlet letter “A” (for Adultery) embroidered on all her clothes.
She wears this emblem designed to shame her for the rest of her life, choosing to place the needs of the community and her abuser above her own and protect the identity of her abuser. Hester allows her abuser to continue his life without shame since she will not reveal the father, Rev. Dimmesdale. I have read this book several times, and the final time I came to this conclusion:
Shattering the Lens. The Grooming Behavior of Pastor-Predators
Julia Dahl M.D.
This may be a difficult post for several reasons.
First, this post asks the reader to reflect on what the term “Pastor” means to them. Commonly, pastors are understood to be spiritual overseers. If what you believe about all pastors is dependent on the image, faith, or charisma of your own pastor, this post asks the reader lay aside the naive ideal that all pastors are divinely-called shepherds.
There are some narcissistic men who lead a church or ministry and use the flock for their own gratification. Often, this will manifest in sexual relations with church attenders. This behavior by some destroys many decent images of healthy pastors and other church/ministry leaders. I don’t blame anyone for struggling to confront and accept this conclusion.
Here is the reality we deal with:
Pastors can be roughly grouped in three categories:
Divinely called and faithful servants of God.
Divinely called servants, presently tempted, and struggling with personal sin. They deal with their own weaknesses but do not use others for their gratification.
Intentional usurpers of the pulpit and the congregation for the purposes of their own enjoyment and control.
This third category of pastor are those who most represent pastoral misconduct. In recent days, with the advent of the #metoo, #churchtoo and #silenceisnotspiritual movements, brave victims share their stories of pastors who practice abuse and mayhem. It will be impossible to ignore this third category of pastor with the growing body of reports of pastoral misconduct on the news and social media. To clearly understand the problem of sexual abuse by pastors, I encourage you to read the stories of victims in order to accept that some men seek the pulpit with the intention to serve themselves and not to serve God.
Joleen’s parents marched into my office with their daughter trailing behind. Dad’s hand wrangled her wrist so tightly I could already see the marks forming from his fingers. They flung her down into the chair in front of me.
“Tell Mr. Phillips what you did!” Her mother spat these words at her. Joleen never raised her head or spoke.
“I said tell him!”
Immediately, I got up and came around my desk and stood between the parents and their sixteen-year old daughter. From the intensity of their anger, I guessed she was either pregnant or they had discovered she was sexually active. As I came around to stand beside her, Dad said something under his breath. I realized he had just called her a name associated with shaming someone who is sexually active. I got angry. I asked her parents if they would leave my office and go into the waiting room so I could talk to her.
Hesitant at first, she admitted she and her boyfriend had sex the night before. She was frightened and angry about her experience, so she told her sister who promptly told her mother. Within an hour, they had come to my office.
I sat down beside her and asked her not to give me the details about the sexual experience, but how she felt about it and herself. She began by using the same disgusting label her dad had used. I asked her not to do that. Then, she explained how the sexual encounter happened. I didn’t allow her to give me explicit details, but even without them, I realized something awful.