Privacy and Abuse of the Public Ministry

WELS logoIf a man desires to be a pastor, he desires something that is noble, he also desires something that is public.  A pastor is a public representative of the Church.  The Scriptures declare that all public representatives of the Church (pastors) must be “respectable,” “well thought of by outsiders,” and “above reproach.”  (1 Timothy 3:2, 7, ESV).

Paul writes that those who seek to serve in the public ministry “must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve …”  (1 Timothy 3:10, NIV1978).  God’s word says that there must be “nothing against them,” they must be blameless, and above reproach.

If a pastor sins privately, then he can repent privately, and he can receive private absolution from his confessor.  Pastors are not expected to be sinless, nor should they expect their private sins to be exposed in a public manner.  Private lust is a sin that can remain between the pastor, his confessor, and God.

But what if a pastor takes his private lust, and makes it public?  For example, what if a pastor uses his position as a pastor to make sexually inappropriate comments to his employee?  To his parishioner?  To another man’s wife?  Those are not private sins.  They are public sins.  They are public sins, first, because they involve other people, and second, because they are an abuse of the public ministry.  When one abuses the authority and power of a public office, that abuse of power is in no way a private matter.

Nonetheless, when a pastor falls into disgrace for abusing his pastoral office and must resign from the public ministry, it is possible that under certain circumstances he could be allowed to do so privately.  This is because he would be leaving the public ministry, and would no longer be a public representative of the Church.  If he will no longer be a pastor, then he does not need to meet the Scriptural qualifications of a pastor.

However, what if this pastor did not start looking for a private vocation?  What if instead, he began to use the remaining power of his pastoral office (connections, colleagues, church staff, and a large audience) to attempt to falsely discredit the victim and/or her family?  That would be another abuse of the power of the pastoral office.  A pastor who did that instead of repenting, would be compounding his sin.  He would be demonstrating, that even if he had understood his sexual sins, he clearly did not understand his abuse of the pastoral office to commit those sins nor his abuse of the pastoral office to continue sinning against the victim and/or her family.

The pastoral office can wield tremendous social power.  That is why the men in that office should never abuse that power.  When it comes to abuse of the pastoral office, they must be blameless, or they cannot be a pastor.  If a WELS pastor has abused the pastoral office, then he has abused a public trust, and he should not be quietly transferred to another congregation.  The Church needs to be able to trust all her pastors.  And the Synod needs to be able to trust that certain leaders are not just covering up for their friends.  When it comes to conflicts of interest and covering for its friends, parts of the WELS leadership need a lot more transparency and honesty.

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