Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Living in a glass church – the divorced pastors club

For scores of Praise House Church followers, the heart-wrenching disappointment was like that of a child finally discovering that Father Christmas does not exist.

The church’s youthful founder, Pastor Brown Tsholofelo was the ultimate nuptial champion. When Botswana found itself snowed under an avalanche of decree absolute orders, he marshalled a spiritual crusade in defence of marriage and started a movement dubbed “Fight Against Divorce”.

Like a bolt from the blues, Pastor Tsholofelo last year announced that he was divorcing his wife of 13 years, sending shock waves throughout his congregation.

The congregation’s shock and disappointment did not come as a surprise. For discerning trend-spotters who have their fingers on the pulse of Botswana’s emerging socio-spiritual crisis, it was all part of a developing pattern.

The pastor’s shock divorce came only a few weeks after Pastor Thuso Tiego of the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) who host a Radio Botswana gospel show filed for divorce.

Divorce is an unspoken epidemic among believers. When the question of divorce concerns a man who has been called to preach, it is always controversial. With all the pressure their congregants put on them, it is no wonder ministers and their families become so skilled at projecting a “perfect” image that when they have marital problems, it’s easier to live a lie than to expose the truth. Usually the congregation doesn’t find out until it’s past the point of reconciliation.

Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University of Botswana says “Challenges might be a difficult time in marriage, life as a new parent, moving someplace new, a health scare etc. Many people take these struggles to their pastor. They lean on their spouses and family for support, but they also dial the church’s number and ask for a visit from the pastor. Most ministry family members suffer in isolation, loneliness and silence. Few professions scrutinize and criticize their leaders like the Church does its pastors. These realities alone complicate the marriages and family life of pastors. When their marriages are conflicted, their resources are also severely limited. When a church leader and his wife are about to fold under the weight of their own personal and marital issues and the ones imposed on them, few know of any resource which is readily available to them. Most pastors love their denominational leaders but disclosing the depth of their marital pain to their “boss” is counter intuitive. Few risk it.”

This is hardly surprising. When a church minister stands to speak as God does on the subject of marriage, most listeners assume he and his wife practice what he preaches in the privacy of their home. There is an expectation on pastors and their wives to have it all together. People look up to their pastor, so if they knew that the pastor’s marriage was struggling, what would they think. Whether this expectation is real or perceived, it is a barrier to many pastors seeking help for their marriage. Pastors are busy, they are often caring for other people’s needs and pouring out their time and energy to help their congregation. The problem is, this may leave them with little to no time to invest in their own marriage. They may feel they are too busy for marriage counselling, even if the other barriers are not there.

Picture the perfect pastor and his family: He is a great leader, wise and above reproach. His wife is pretty, modest and gentle. His children are well-groomed and well-behaved. That’s the stereotype. Often times this is a far cry from reality. But that’s the image ministers and their families feel a burden to project.

Kgomotso Jongman, psychologist and owner of Jo’Speaks says, “They are revered, People are harder on them as if they`re not supposed to be human. Divorce still is usually a major blow amongst the clergy. For many ministers, the job itself puts stress on their marriages. They`re often caught between the competing demands of what it means to be a good priest and what it means to be a good family member, just because pastors know the biblical picture of marriage and seek to fulfil it in their homes, that doesn’t mean they are perfect. Sin comes in and life overwhelms us, even in the pastor’s family. When a pastor’s wife sits and listens to the Word on Sunday morning, does she receive it from her pastor or her husband?”

Divorce is not only a divisive measure of the family, but also the church. Yet in today’s world, it’s a fair assumption that every congregation has experienced divorce within its family. Society has been increasingly accepting of divorce throughout the past several decades.  There are many divorced pastors today, in evangelical, Bible believing churches. In the previous generations, the possibility of a pastor who was divorced was rare. Societal expectations and ecclesiastical standards would exclude a divorced man from the gospel ministry. But not all Christians and churchgoers are comfortable with the devalued norm for the sacred office. Many sincere believers are asking serious questions such as, Should I attend a church that employs a divorced pastor?

What does 1 Timothy 3:2 actually mean? Pastors are to be “above reproach,” examples of godly men, and models of domestic spirituality. They are, therefore, prohibited from engaging in any sexual immorality or from violating their own marriages in any manner whatsoever. In other words, “a one-woman man” is a sexually pure man, a faithful husband, and a devoted lover of his wife. Pastors and people in ministry feel the burden to project a perfect image because we, the sheep, demand it. In subtle ways we affirm them for their “perfection.” In obvious ways we snipe at them for their imperfection. Their spirit may be willing, but like all mortals they also have to battle the weaknesses of the flesh. They fight with their spouses over money, sex, communication or lack thereof.


Read this week's paper