Should pastors who commit adultery be permanently barred from ministry? There's no consensus, according to new research from the Southern Baptist Convention's LifeWay Research reported by Baptist Press.
The researchers asked 1,000 senior pastors for their views on how to handle allegations of misconduct in general and adultery in particular. They were split over how long a pastor should be barred from public ministry if he or she had an affair. One in four (24 per cent) said withdrawal should be permanent, while a third (31 per cent) say it should be between three months and a year. A quarter aren't sure.
Older pastors (over 65) are more likely to want a permanent ban, while middle-aged pastors are more likely to want three months to a year.
African-American pastors (45 per cent) are more likely to say a pastor should leave for three months to a year than white pastors (30 per cent).
There's also a split along denominational lines, with nearly half of Lutherans saying an affair should bar someone permanently from ministry, while among Baptists it's only 30 per cent. Only 13 per cent of Methodists and Pentecostals think so and only 11 per cent of Presbyterian/Reformed pastors.
"The Scripture says pastors must be above reproach," said Ed Stetzer, LifeWay executive director. "So it's not surprising that some want to see fallen pastors banned from ministry. Still, pastors are also people who talk about forgiveness regularly and, by and large, they want to see those who fall have a chance at restoration."
The study also identifies issues around what action should be taken when allegations are made against a pastor and whether he or she should step aside while they are investigated. Nearly half say they should.