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Spiritual Adultery

In my work as a counselor-of-clergy, one of the
most baffling questions is: why do so many clergy and people-helpers
commit adultery?

I’m writing a major paper on this issue, which will
be posted in due course: together with another article on ‘Sex
and Singles’…

Where do we start? Here’s one place: the need of
every human being for intimacy (Genesis 2:18), which people-helpers/clergy
are involved in every working day. God has created us with a deep
need to be loved when we are ‘known’. Spiritual and emotional
wholeness happens when the dynamic of confession/forgiveness occurs.
God’s unconditional love is incarnated when another human being
accepts us when they know the worst about us…

But in our world children and adults are not loved
unconditionally. Parents, teachers/authority figures and peers
‘loved’ us to the degree that we are ‘good’ or clever or conform
or satisfy other criteria for acceptance. And because most men
were not properly initiated into manhood by their fathers (mothers
can’t do that: ask for my article on that) and most women were
not nurtured adequately by their fathers (I have something on
that too), we have in our ‘bent world’ an increasing number of
adults living with a mild-to-severe love-deficit.

If I marry a wife to find a nurturing mother, or
a husband to find a nurturing father, all sorts of codependent
behaviours develop. I’m supposed to marry a _mate_, not someone
whose main function is to carry the baggage of unmet emotional
needs I’ve brought from my childhood.

Now people-helpers/clergy are very vulnerable at
this point. A client/parishioner may project their unmet ‘love-deficit’
needs into the counseling relationship. ‘No one has ever understood
me like you do’ is a common come-on. The counselor is burnt out,
tired, emotionally drained, frustrated in their marriage or whatever,
and gets hooked. They share with the client feelings which don’t
belong in this context and find comfort and refreshment in this
relationship. One thing leads to another, and as John Sandford
says in his quite brilliant book ‘Why Some Christians Commit Adultery’
(Tulsa, OK: Victory House, 1989), ‘the first and greatest cause
of _sexual_ adultery, among well-meaning Christians, is _spiritual_
adultery [which happens when] married persons share with someone
else what ought to have been shared first or only with their own
spouses’ (p.7).

The classical wisdom here:

1. Spiritual adultery is always (at first) unintentional.

2. When persisted in, it leads inevitably to full
physical adultery.

3. So: don’t become isolated, particularly from
your spouse; be careful when you keenly anticipate an appointment
with someone or invent even ‘innocent’ excuses to spend inappropriate
amounts of private time with that person; listen to the warnings
of others; confess to a spiritual director or supervisor; join
a small group where you can be accountable; be willing not to
see the person in question in private – ever again; and ask for
someone with spiritual discernment to pray for a ‘separation’
or ‘loosing’ of spirits – particularly if it led to sexual adultery
(see 1 Cor. 6:15-20). Finally: deal with the roots of your own


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