Being Pence-ive about Dinner with the Ladies
Adultery among any people group is a serious and dreadful act in this fallen world. In fact, in an increasingly fatherless culture where divorce is becoming more and more the rule rather than the exception, one would argue that this is empirically verifiable. When a pastor, who is supposed to be the undershepherd of the people of God commits the sin of adultery, however, it is especially egregious and brings deep shame upon the Gospel, ruins his local congregation, and is an assault on the purity of Christ's Church.
I was ordained to pastoral ministry last November. It was, at the same time, the one year anniversary of my own mentor's departure from the ministry. This man left ministry because of his serious, adulterous moral failings. That same year another prominent minister left his church in Florida for similar reasons. Earlier that year a flood of pastors (and laymen) suffered the consequences of having their families broken apart because their online marital infidelity was exposed in the sight of the world. If there is anything that I learned from that flood of nightmares that took place around me leading up to my ordination, it was that no one is above sin. No one is so strong as to be immune to falling into temptation.
Earlier this week Vice President Mike Pence made news when it was revealed that, as a rule, he doesn't dine alone with a woman who isn't his wife, nor does he attend events with alcohol unless she's by his side. This revelation was met roundly with ridicule, mockery, and in some quarters accusations of misogyny--sadly, even among quite a number of fellow believers on social media.
As soon as I saw the headlines, I realized that if the world thinks Pence is weird, to quote my favorite version of the Joker, "Wait til they get a load of me." The fact is, this sounds not only like my own life and practice, but also like many (if not most) of my friends in pastoral ministry. After all, we've watched innumerable ministers fall like dominoes, as their families fall apart and their decades long marriages come to an end. All I can think is, "Why would we not seek to be as careful as possible in order to preserve the honor of Christ, as well as our wives and families?"
Does this mean that a pastor who has a policy similar to this can't have godly and mature relationships with sisters in the Lord? Does it mean that we are not allowed to foster friendships with the opposite sex? Certainly not. Anyone who draws such a conclusion, I suspect, is working with more of a caricature than real life. There are many practical things that a pastor can put in place, generally exercising common sense (e.g. having windows in his office, keeping others nearby when he has meetings, letting his wife know when and where he is meeting with another woman, etc.).
Women are ultimately not the problem. Women are not de facto the enemies of married men. Rather, all men are easily seduced by their own hearts. James tells us that: "Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire" (James 1:14). When a man (like Mike Pence) does his level best to never be in isolation with another woman, he isn't necessarily saying something about the woman; he is saying something about his own heart. He is functionally saying, "I am not always strong. I am never self-sufficient. I don't want to give a place for sin to happen, or for others to even think that a sin has happened."
I recently preached a sermon in which I compared the sin of Judas (which was premeditated and extremely well thought out) to the sin of Peter (which was spontaneous and unexpected). In contrast to Judas, Peter was shocked by his own sin. Why did Peter swear over and over again that he would rather die than deny Jesus? Because at the moment, he wasn't planning to deny Jesus. Just because we aren't premeditating a sin doesn't mean that we aren't capable of or liable to commit it. Peter learned that lesson the hard way.
I am not suggesting that all men (or, even all pastors) must take the same steps as Vice President Pence. I am, however, insisting that men who make a similar course of action their policy not be accused of wrongdoing by those who do not. For some, what the Vice President does may be considered too careful. For some it may be seen to be above and beyond what they consider reasonable. Some may even mock such men and tell them that they are "scared" or "afraid" or "insecure." It's never possible to completely stop people from putting a nasty spin on your decisions to safeguard the church, your life, or your family. However, I've witnessed enough men, in my own life, who have become statistics--men who are still shattered by the sin in their own lives--that I refuse to treat anyone who exercises such care with disdain or disrespect.
Adam Parker is a Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America and Pastor of Pearl Presbyterian Church in Pearl, Mississippi. He has an Mdiv from Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, and is the Associate Editor of Reformation 21.