(And because my pastor had told me not to tell anyone about the sexuality, I ended up having to discuss a “relationship” whose existence I was not allowed to acknowledge.) It stinks to keep secrets from the people you pray with, because then how on Earth can you pray in any meaningful way together, if you can’t talk about one of the most important things in your life?Alternately, you can not keep things secret, but then... Other parishioners are going to think that you’re getting special treatment from the pastor (and so might you).
(By the way, I keep on putting “relationship” in quotes because I don’t consider professional exploitation a relationship like we usually think of them. Certain professionals are given trust with no questions asked.“Dating” doesn’t describe it perfectly, either.) But I’ve heard of a number of cases in which parishioners got madly jealous and sometimes overtly hostile toward the one who was dating the minister. They, in turn, have heightened responsibilities toward their clients (students, parishioners).If they didn’t do like this, you wouldn’t be at their church.You could just go and pray with friends (which, by the way, is what Quakers do—they don’t have clergy, and their official name is “the Society of Friends).Jesus loves everyone equally, and so should a pastor. But in fact, in my case, my pastor’s nickname for me was “Belovedest”.
Now, our “relationship” was kept mostly a secret except from a sort of inner circle of clergy and lay leadership.But pastors can turn all that knowledge around very quickly to get you to feel you’re falling in love.They show compassion, worming their way deep into your inner life.When, almost two years ago, I reported the pastor at my church to Episcopal authorities for sexual misconduct after a turbulent “relationship” which led to me attempting suicide, a lot of my friends and family didn’t understand what she had done wrong. Many people (including me, until last year) have never considered the question of whether it’s OK for a pastor to date a parishioner in his or her church.They sometimes think it’s a relationship between two consenting adults.So I’m writing this document to explain to my friends and family -- and the general public— these rules are in place, and why, increasingly, observers of religion and sexual abuse awareness organizations say that pastor-parishioner relationships should be forbidden.