When a pastor commits adultery, most of their fellow pastors believe they should withdraw from public ministry for at least some time.
A new survey of U.S. Protestant pastors by Nashville-based Lifeway Research finds 2% of pastors believe a fellow pastor who has an affair does not need to take any time away.
“Scripture doesn’t mince words about adultery,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research. “From the Ten Commandments, to the Apostle Paul’s lists of wicked things, to the qualifications for elders listed in 1 Timothy, adultery is not appropriate for a follower of Christ nor a leader of a local church.”
Few believe less than a year is a sufficient period of withdrawal from public ministry: 3% say for at least three months, and another 3% say at least six months.
Around 1 in 6 pastors (16%) believe an offending pastor should stay gone for at least a year.
Other pastors want them to be away from public ministry for a longer period of time: 10% say at least two years, 7% say at least five years, and 1% say at least 10 years.
For more than a quarter of pastors (27%), a pastor who commits adultery should withdraw from public ministry permanently.
Three in 10 pastors (31%) say they aren’t sure what the appropriate time frame would be.
“While the Bible is clear that this behavior does not fit a pastor or elder of a church,” said McConnell, “there is much debate over how long this act would disqualify someone from pastoral ministry.”
Changes Since 2016
Pastors’ responses are similar to though not unchanged from a 2016 Lifeway Research survey.
Pastors today are less likely than those four years ago to say shorter time frames are appropriate periods of withdrawal from public ministry.
Compared to 2016, pastors now are less likely to say less than a year (6% to 10%) or at least a year (16% to 21%) is the right amount of time away.
“There has been much attention given to calling American leaders to account for sexual misconduct since 2016,” said McConnell. “It is not surprising that fewer pastors believe public ministry should be restored in a year.”
Overall, there is more uncertainty among pastors now. Current pastors are more likely to say they are not sure of the appropriate time away from public ministry today (31%) than in 2016 (25%).
Differences Among Pastors
The ethnicity, education and denomination of a pastor influenced the likelihood of their response.
African American pastors are the least likely to say one who commits adultery should withdraw from the ministry permanently (8%).