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You automatically confide in these people with sensitive information for specific purposes, and in return, they do not use it for another goal—such as trying to develop sexual intimacy. The pastor can learn about your deepest values and fears and dreams at an alarmingly fast rate—and it’s nearly impossible for him or her not to use that for manipulative ends if the two of you get sexually involved.
The entire United States recognizes a fiduciary duty in the pastor-parishioner relationship. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Think about titles: “Reverend” (from “revere”), “Monsignor” (“my lord”), or, in the Episcopal Church, “Father” or “Mother” (do I need to explain that one? For a while I was dating someone whom convention would have me refer to as “Mother Strickland”.
Especially if that community is paying their salary, and holds them up as a model of moral behavior. But when someone in a congregation finds out that a pastor and a parishioner are dating, the news is wildfire, and the questions never stop.It was even harder for the people around me to understand why particular pastor’s behavior was improper, because the classic gender roles were reversed: I’m a man, and the minister is a woman.Nonetheless, she was trained in seminary not to make advances at parishioners, and denominational officials and various outside organizations all eventually said that she had violated the basic rules and ethics of ministry.Pastors very frequently begin their interactions with new parishioners by sitting down, maybe over dinner, or in their office, or in my case over email, and letting the parishioner talk about their deepest secrets. In my situation, from the beginning I told my pastor about my fears about death, family problems, and troubles with my studies.And she would put all these secrets in a Biblical and theological perspective, and then pray for me, because that’s what pastors do, right?
I wouldn’t have that conversation so quickly with just anyone.