After the Shock

When you discover your pastor-husband is ensnared by pornography

A little more than a year and a half ago, I stopped by my husband's office at the church and sat down to write a quick email while he was gone. My husband had been complaining about how slow his computer was getting, so I decided to take a few minutes to clean up his hard drive. What I discovered has lead to a "clean up" of catastrophic size — a problem much more severe than just too many files. The real problem was the trails I found to pornographic web sites.

What I discovered has lead to a "clean up" of catastrophic size.

I'm not sure I can characterize my initial reaction. It was somewhere between disbelief and anger. The anger vented itself first as I deleted almost everything on the hard drive in an attempt to punish him and, in a strange way, protect him. I knew that, if I could find this evidence, so could others. I could barely imagine what that would mean to my husband's job, our church, our home and reputation.

A growing number of pastors' wives find themselves with a hard choice to make. Do I confront my husband and trust him to stop, or do I go to someone for help and jeopardize everything I hold dear? And, if I seek help, where do I go?

It was an agonizing choice for me, but I confronted my husband, was overwhelmed by his sorrow. I decided to hold him accountable myself — just him and me, fighting this thing together. Maybe this would be the right choice for you, but I need to tell you that, although I believe that my husband is the most truthful, integrity-driven man I have ever met, it did not work for us. In spite of my checking his computer when he would least expect it, he did have a relapse. I learned that this is not a habit that is easily rooted out and rarely without outside accountability and help. It was a problem that was bigger than both of us.

Another option is going to a pastor or deacon in your church. I hope and pray that, if you choose this path, you will find the kind of help, compassion and assistance you deserve. My husband and I were at what I consider to be one of the most wonderful, supportive churches that can be imagined. The assistant pastor was the first to find out of my husband's addiction, and he, along with the head deacon, confronted my husband. Their initial meeting was one of grace and mercy. They set in motion a plan that would involve a leave of absence, professional counseling, software safe guards, accountability and evaluation. My husband felt such love and mercy from those two men. His repentance and remorse were wholly sincere. The very act of being held accountable for something he had fought alone for so long lifted a load of guilt. Finally, we were on the road to recovery, and we had help. Our hearts rejoiced with their grace and mercy for about three weeks.

The initial meeting was one of grace and mercy.

Unfortunately, the assistant pastor broke the confidence and shared our story with his wife, who, with very little biblical insight, formed her own theology of how things should be handled. As a result, a new meeting was called with my husband, the assistant pastor, his wife and the deacon. She demanded my husband's resignation and a public confession. What we had viewed as a hopeful road to recovery became an avalanche of despair and depression.

Let me say that I believe in public confession of sin — if that sin has become known or involves others or leads to the name of Christ or His church being dishonored. But I do not believe public confession is required or necessarily wise for sins that are private and which can be handled with integrity, confession and repentance.

One week later, at the insistence of this misguided lady, we stood before our dear congregation with a public confession and our resignation. Sadly, this may be a very real danger if you seek help from those who are in your church. Even those who should be the most godly are sometimes tempted by a desire for power or are poorly taught about how to deal appropriately with sexual sin.

At a time like this, there may be many thoughts and fears pulling you in different directions. "I can't handle this alone." "I must protect my husband." "I will be so embarrassed." "Others will assume I am a bad wife and lover." "If he knows I know, he won't dare do it again." Betrayal. Inadequacy. The list goes on.

You are not alone.

What I would most want to impress upon your heart is that you are not alone. This is a growing problem in the lives of pastors and their families. Many pastor's wives are walking this road with you. Christ grieves over this sin with you. He feels your betrayal by someone you love. He understands how you feel when you wish you had been enough to satisfy your husband. Christ stands beside you because He too hates this sin. He too has been betrayed by this servant He loves. He who is all sufficient was apparently not sufficient in the mind of your husband.

No, you are not alone, but I know how very alone you feel. During the weeks and months following the public confession, a few brave souls called to comfort and encourage me, but for the most part, I was engulfed by silence from those I thought were my friends. Even when it was announced at a business meeting that I was feeling abandoned by the church, I received only one call.

Secondly, you must have help. Walk this road very cautiously and with much prayer, but don't walk it alone. The church who should be our fortress may not be a safe place to run for a pastor's wife. If your church is in a fellowship or denomination, I would suggest talking to someone outside of the church who is in leadership. I can almost guarantee that they will have experience with this problem in the lives of other pastors. You may feel reluctant to go to a pastor from another church who is a peer of your husband, due to the embarrassment that it might cause him. But, if this is a person who loves your husband, someone you are sure you can trust, don't let embarrassment be the criteria of your choice.

Perhaps your best option would be to look to a godly professional counselor who works specifically with pastors. Contact Focus on the Family for a list of qualified people. No matter who you choose to trust, make sure that it involves qualified counseling and accountability for your husband. In our case, this was made more difficult due to the financial limitations of being a newly unemployed pastor. Never the less, counseling is a must — it is worth the investment and even the debt, if need be.

Lastly, don't stop with just seeking help for your husband. You are wounded and bleeding. Your heart has been broken and you need to know this "thing" is not your fault. You may not be perfect, but your husband is responsible for his own actions. Get counseling and encouragement for yourself. It will be the best investment you ever make.

Also, ask God to bring an encourager into your life who understands and can love you back to health. A few years before this all-consuming thing took over our lives, God graciously and providentially brought me a dear and wonderful friend. Upon hearing of our circumstances, she not only shared that she and her husband had faced and conquered this battle themselves, but she loved us with so much practicality that she found a job for my husband as we went through the recovery process.

You may feel all is lost, but keep walking. Trust that your mourning will one day become dancing. With true repentance, restoration can come to your dear one and you.

Article copyright © 2003, Focus on the Family.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Used by permission of the author.

An update from the author: "True to his character, our God is truly one who redeems and restores his children. After almost two years away from the ministry, my husband has been back in pastoral ministry since April of 2004. We are so blessed to be welcomed to the staff of an amazing, Christ-centered church — a body who believes in forgiveness, restoration and grace. They bless us each day through their appreciation of and encouragement to us. We praise God for his unbounded mercy and the change only He can bring."
— Oct. 11, 2004