When pastors divorce

IN THE good old days of religion, divorce, fornication, adultery, immorality and the promiscuous lifestyle among pastors and elders meant the instant demise of a pastoral career. But these days, reaction towards pastoral divorce seems to be softening.

We have read with disbelief stories of alleged fornication and divorce about charismatic leaders such as Rhema Bible Church Pastor Ray McCauley, Malibongwe Gcwabe, Jabu Hlongwana, Xola Nzo, Prophet Mboro, Benjamin Dube and Keke Phoofolo among others. And it is business as usual for them.

International televangelists who separated from their spouses include Benny Hinn, Paula White, John Hagee, Noel Jones and Clarence McClendon among others. Their ministries are still strong.

Has the church gone soft on sin?

Pastor Vusi Dube, senior founding pastor of the Ethekwini Community Church, says when a pastor or elder fornicates, they should step down from the pulpit.

He says marital infidelity and divorce among the clergy was growing at an alarming rate and pastors were getting away with sin.

He attributes this to the lack of accountability in churches and the public's softening stance on divorce.

"Unlike in the traditional churches where the clergy is accountable to a senate, charismatic church pastors are only accountable to themselves. In this kind of setup, pastors hand-pick elders and these elders usually do not have powers to discipline the pastor because the church is presumably his."

He says people have forgotten that the church belongs to God and pastors are just servants.

"The problem with this model is that elders are scared of challenging the pastor and fear losing their positions and power. In some cases, the elders are friends or relatives of the pastor so accountability is non-existent."

He says pastors must realise that people in their church are watching them.

"Pastors are supposed to set an example for families. You are supposed to set the example for your church members. You can't be like the parent who says, 'do as I say, not as I do'. You have to lead by example. As leaders, we must set examples for our flock.

"It is also important to realise that not just our church members are watching us. The outside world is watching too, and they are all too ready to point fingers."

Biblical scholars have for a long time disagreed about divorce, with each side pointing to conflicting scriptural passages that seem to forbid or show compassion towards divorce.

Most people, like Pastor Dube, agree that the Bible allows for divorce in cases of adultery or violence, but agreement seems to end there.

But a divorced pastor, who wished to remain anonymous, said some pastors were too judgmental and self-righteous about divorce. He blamed divorce on spiritual warfare and "the devil's temptation".

He said fornication and divorce was caused by the burdens loaded onto the backs of pastors, their wives and on poorly-allocated time and attention on them and their families.

"The higher your call, the more attacks the devil directs towards your direction. Pastors are not perfect; they are human beings like you. There was only one who was. His name is Jesus," said the pastor who has since remarried.

Could this be a sign of moral decay in our churches?

Andile Magwa, whose ex-wife allegedly had an affair with a well-known pastor, says the church has lost the principles if Jesus.

He said he had lost confidence in pastors and the church system.

"Church is supposed to be a place of high morals, but today's pastors can't even keep their pants up. Christians are hypocrites who can't follow the Word of God.

"Pastors are supposed to be the leaders in morality and character in their churches and behind closed doors. They are supposed to be the prime examples of holiness. But they misuse their office to confuse and destroy families."

According to Prophetess Nomvume Maphanga, a church marriage counsellor and ordained pastor, the number of divorced Christians mirrors the rate of non-Christian divorcees.

She says only 35% of unions survive an extramarital affair, while 65% of marriages break up because of adultery.

She says one in five unfaithful people end up marrying their lovers.

She says many couples who have extramarital affairs end up staying together for the sake of their children.

She says the real test begins after an affair ends.

"In my years of marriage counselling, I have learnt that men are less forgiving of affairs than women are."

Pastor Dube attributes this behaviour to the general make-up of a man.

"Men have large egos by nature and that is why it is difficult for them to forgive a spouse who had an affair.

"This is sad because it gets in the way of God's forgiveness, redeeming love, reconciliation and restoration, which should be the main focus, instead of divorce," Dube said.