“And it came to pass after these things that his master's wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, ‘Lie with me.’ But he refused …So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her. But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me.’ But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside” (Genesis 39:7-12).
Scripture describes Joseph as a handsome man to whom Potiphar’s wife was attracted. It is a reminder that leadership is attractive. There will always be those, especially of the opposite sex, who admire the one who leads. Leadership makes a person more appealing. It provides an image of charisma, confidence, and decisiveness. Often the more ignoble aspects of a person, their lesser qualities are obscured by the spotlight and people are easily enamored by the image they see in the pulpit.
Wise leaders, however, will realize the snare of the spotlight, and will employ measures to deliver them from sexual sin. Like Joseph, they will run; they will avoid those situations that will ensnare and cause them to fall on their sword.
Avoid being alone with the opposite sex. Joseph got into trouble because he was alone with another man’s wife, even though his intentions were innocent. Romans 13:14 instructs us to “Make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” 1 Thessalonians 5:22 further warns us to “Avoid every appearance of evil.” This means that leaders must demonstrate due diligence in avoiding situations that present temptation or have the appearance of impropriety, even if intentions are innocent.
Foremost is the danger of being alone with the opposite sex. In a car, having a meeting, sharing a lunch, holding a counseling session—it may seem innocent to you but it has the potential of sending the wrong signal. It says, “I’m interested in you, I don’t mind being alone with you,” or even worse, “I enjoy being alone with you.”
Furthermore, having “alone time” with the opposite sex causes others to question your integrity. If someone sees you alone with that person in a restaurant, in a car, or behind closed doors, more than likely, they will be suspicious and inherently sense something inappropriate. This means men who are spiritual leaders should not have private prayer meetings with women. They shouldn't have one-on-one counseling sessions with women or drive in the car alone with them and never, never, never have lunch or dinner alone with the opposite sex—even in a crowded restaurant.
If I must meet with the opposite sex—I will not meet in a place where we are alone. I always try to meet with others present in the room. If that is not possible or practical, then I will always leave the door open or at least ajar. This sends the message, “We are not really alone” or “I am uncomfortable being alone with you” or more importantly, “I don’t want to be alone with you.”
In fact, I have instructed my staff on several occasions, “Never leave me alone in the building when there is a woman in my office.” And “If you see me in my office with a woman, never pull the door shut, always leave it ajar.” As a result, on more than one occasion, someone on my staff has remained late in the office so as to avoid leaving me in a compromising situation.
Another solution may be to install a window in your office or to replace your door with one that has a widow in it. Of course, be sure that curtains or blinds are not covering these windows when counseling someone.
Some may feel these measures are too extreme or somewhat paranoid. However, I don’t believe one can be too careful in the area of sexual purity. I have served three pastors in my over twenty-four years of ministry. Of those three men, two of them have fallen prey to adultery, have divorced their wives and been removed from pastoral ministry. I have personally witnessed how a casual, relaxed attitude toward the opposite sex can expose good men to subtle and destructive snares.
Avoid excessive physical contact with opposite-sex parishioners. In the book, Does Touching Patients Lead to Sexual Intercourse?, published research reveals that physical exchanges such as hugs, touches, pats, and putting one’s arms around the shoulders correlates to a high risk for later sexual encounters. The studies also reveal that such contact is not as innocent or indiscriminate as one may insist, but is often directed toward those that one is physically attracted to.
Some pastors say, “I just love everybody and want to give everyone a big hug.” That may sound fatherly and pastoral—but it is also naive and foolish. These leaders are ignoring the fact that many people have been impaired by a sexually obsessed culture and could be confused by our good intentions. In fact, those who have suffered sexual mistreatment often cannot distinguish between erotic and non-erotic hugs and any touch at all might cause them fear, pain, sexual arousal, and flashbacks.
Add to this the reality that such physical contact often awakens the leader to temptation, especially when physical attraction exists. A recent Leadership survey of nearly a thousand pastors revealed that 12 percent admitted to extramarital intercourse. Among those with whom pastors were involved sexually, 69 percent came from within their own congregations, including 17 percent who were in a counseling relationship with the pastor. The primary reason for the sexual encounter was physical and emotional attraction as noted by 78 percent of the pastors, while marital dissatisfaction was reasoned by 41 percent. Clearly, ministers and church leaders who are physically attracted to the opposite sex are vulnerable to sexual temptation and it would be wise not to exacerbate it with unnecessary physical contact.
This is not to say that any physical contact is always wrong. There may be times when one is reunited with old friends or when special events engender a congratulatory hug. However, these kinds of exchanges should be the exception, not the norm. Leaders who wish to express affection through frequent use of hugs, kisses, and tight embraces should reserve them for his or her own spouse. Giving regular physical affection to others of the opposite sex is simply inappropriate.
Avoid discussing inappropriate issues with the opposite sex. Spiritual leaders must use extreme caution when discussing sexual issues, especially with a person of the opposite sex. Dr. Wayne Goodall makes this point when he writes, “Do you share about your own sex life? Do you initiate conversation about sexual problems, preferences, or fantasies for the purposes of sexual gratification? Do you make comments on sexual or physical characteristics or imagined sexual performance? Counselor licensing boards consider this sexual exploitation, and it may be punishable as a felony criminal offense.”
Such discussions are dangerous because they cross thresholds that should be reserved for counselors of the same sex—or husbands and their wives. When church leaders broach these subjects with the opposite sex, it connects them on an emotionally intimate level. Even worse, sensual ties will develop that leave both parties open to temptation. Sometimes, that temptation is too great when one or both of those parties are in an emotionally weakened condition, lonely, in need of affirmation, or physically attracted to one another.
Never take advantage of the power differential you hold over a parishioner. People often put their pastors on pedestals. They give spiritual leaders a great deal of trust while affording them unusual access to and influence over their lives. Sadly, some leaders have leveraged this authority to gratify their own needs.
I received a phone call from one unfortunate woman who was disturbed about a pastor who told her she needed “deliverance.” He used his “spiritual expertise” to diagnose her condition, invite himself into her home—alone—and conduct numerous exorcisms. The woman was troubled, not only by this pastor’s diagnosis of her spiritual condition, but the “techniques” used to deliver her. They involved placing his hands on her and pressing his body against hers in a very intimate way. This pastor was taking advantage of his spiritual clout and the trust this woman had placed in him to gratify his own urges.
“How terrible!” one might exclaim. Indeed. Yet how often are these scenarios replayed in churches today—but with less extreme methods? What about church leaders who offer friendly hugs and kisses to the young, attractive ladies in the church? Or the deacon who meets privately to console the distressed divorcee? And then there is the elder who takes advantage of those he knows are needy and emotionally weakened, to flirt with them or gratify himself in some way emotionally or physically. Unfortunately, it happens all too often.
Dr. Gary Collins, in his book, Excellence and Ethics in Counseling, indicates that so many people have been emotionally damaged by the sexual advances of counselors, ministers, and those in authority over them that Masters and Johnson asserted such behavior should be labeled and prosecuted as a form of rape. The presence of so many men holding positions of authority over women—especially in the church—obligates these men to be especially cautious and discreet when dealing with women. Even if some of these leaders are unpaid volunteers, they are in authority and leverage a certain amount of power. They must apply the same standards of professionalism and restraint as do the pastors who are being paid to act professionally.