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Across the country, denominations and congregations are dealing with the sexual misdeeds of trusted church leaders. Those who work in spiritual realms can also get caught up in the physical. The reasons for this paradox are as complicated, and as simple, as human nature.

When you are constantly in a position of articulating what is spiritually acceptable and unacceptable, the temptation exists to write a separate set of rules for yourself. The closeness of spiritual leaders to God and his work allows them to believe they have become favored children or the teacher’s pet—in other words someone who is allowed to operate outside the normal rules. In this favored state, all they have to do is relay the rules, not obey by them. It is a devious pitfall a pastor can slide into while feeling faithful and successful in ministry.

Through years of study, spiritual leaders become increasingly familiar with the Bible, God’s rulebook. One axiom warns us that familiarity breeds contempt. Could this be true for some who are most familiar with God’s laws? Somewhere, over the course of time, God’s rules become their rules. God’s authority becomes their authority. As leaders in the church, they focus more on their authority over others and less on their submission to God. They function like spiritual grounding wires. God’s spiritual directives flow out through them, but they are somehow untouched by them.

They not only interpret what the Bible said at the time it was written, but they also translate those rules into contemporary directives. In order to do this, they must use all of their knowledge and spiritual insights to assess the contemporary situation and respond with an appropriate biblical prohibition or principle. The danger comes when this interpretive skill is used not to direct others, but to let themselves off the hook. They wind up using their ability to interpret and articular God’s word to develop two set of criteria—one for themselves and one for everyone else.

At some point, of course, this dichotomy is uncovered. The duplicity of their words versus their actions becomes increasingly noticeable. Two of the most glaring examples of this type of behavior are the former televangelists Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. Both men reigned over vast spiritual empires, gaining thousands of converts and brining in millions of dollars. Both were known to preach hard-line, convicting sermons. Both failed, spectacularly, to practice what they preached.

When constantly engaged in doing “the Lord’s work,” a pastor may be tempted to rationalize personal, sinful behavior by balancing out the bad with all of the good. People who use this scheme to rationalize misbehavior can hide from the real evil of their sins. As long as the good side of the scale is heavier than the bad side, they sense no spiritual jeopardy.

The pitfall has ensnared many spiritual leaders, not just pastors. Anyone who spends a lot of time in the work of the church is susceptible to thinking they are building up spiritual credits that can be spent to redeem personal sin. They may acknowledge the behavior is sinful but argue that sin is inevitable. God knows and takes it into account, they say. Instead of blaming them, God is looking at their true motives, which they say are shown through the evidence of the majority of their actions.

Under this rationale, even an inappropriately sexualized relationship can be spiritually atoned for through doing the “work of the church.” Often the need to counterbalance the sin in their lives directly motivates these sinners to work even harder for the Lord. When these individuals are discovered, the overwhelming response of the leader’s hard work for the church can blind their followers to the light of the truth. In turn, the loyalty of their fellow-believers adds weight to the good side of the scale, making it harder for such leaders to accept the truth about their sin.

Spiritual abuse negatively alters one of the most sacred aspects of a human being—their relationship with God. This can negatively impact many aspects of a person’s life. If you have suffered from spiritual abuse, we encourage you to seek help. The Center • A Place of HOPE specializes in holistic care, taking special consideration for a person’s spiritual well being. We also understand that one trauma can ripple into other areas of a person’s life, and therefore are highly specialized in depression, anxiety, eating disorders, PTSD, addition, and other types of abuse. Call 1-888-771-5166 / 425-771-5166 today to get the help you deserve.