Through a glass darkly

"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." (1 Corinthians 13:12)KJV

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Find Another Dating Pool

It seems there has been an "outbreak" recently of young female teachers getting caught having sex with their male students. The most infamous case from a few years ago was the Mary Kay LeTourneau trial, a married mother and middle school teacher who had an "affair" with her 6th grade student, a coupling that produced two children and sent her to prison for several years. Upon her release, she married her former student and the two are raising their two girls. LeTourneau seemed truly puzzled as to why society would condemn her for her choice of who she would "fall in love with" and wondered why there would be any taboo against such a loving relationship.

In the latest case, a 25 year old former beauty queen and high school teacher was arrested for having sex with her 18 year old male student. What's the problem? -they're both consenting adults, some might say. However, in Texas where these events took place, it is against the law for a teacher to have sex with a student of any age. Susan Estrich writes in her column for FoxNews,
"Most teachers don't need a criminal law to tell us that it's wrong to have sex with our students no matter how old they are (mine are in their 20's and 30's, and it's still wrong). Teachers have power over students, which undercuts the notion that consent can be given freely; we control their lives, which means it's not fair to the individual student, or to the other students in the class; it's an abuse of the teacher's power, and compromises both the real and perceived fairness of that student's grades and of any overall curve in the class."

While I normally disagree with a lot of what the liberal Estrich believes, I think she is right on in this opinion. I will even go so far as to state that most of the "power relationships" are, or at least should be, off limits - teacher/student, doctor/patient, therapist/patient, boss/employee, counselor/counselee, lawyer/client, etc. Some of these are already prohibited by the canons of ethics of the licensing/sanctioning body of the professional organizations involved -to go against these canons could mean loss of license and livelihood. Often colleges and universities have codes of conduct forbidding the romantic involvement of professors and students. Companies, wanting to avoid sexual harassment lawsuits and charges of nepotism, are more and more restricting such extracurricular relationships, often forcing one of the pair out of the same chain of command (of course the military has always done this for the sake of "morale"). In all these examples, subverting the restriction by pursuing the forbidden romantic relationship is considered, at the least unethical and often worthy of losing one's job over. Except...

This brings me to my pet peeve - pastors dating people to whom they've been hired to minister. I have read the ABC ministers code of conduct and other than stating that the pastor will not "not seek personal favors of discounts on the basis of my professional status" and will "maintain a disciplined ministry in such ways as keeping hours of prayer and devotions, endeavoring to maintain wholesome family relationships, sexual integrity, financial responsibility, regularly engaging in educational and recreational activities for professional and personal development..." I don't see a direct prohibition against dating one's parishioners, BUT THERE SHOULD BE. How is that a secular group such as the Psychological Association sees the value in prohibiting a therapist from dating someone under their care but a church with a college or young adult pastor working 10-15 hours a week ministering to students is not barred from dating one of them?

Many years ago, I was aware of a youth pastor who counseled one of his 18 year old former students(she had been out of high school all of two months and was now working for him in his ministry) to break up with her boyfriend so that he could date her himself. This was followed by one of the other pastors doing the same thing (18 year old girl, 25+ pastor). Rather than rebuking these young men for inappropriate relationships, they were commended by the rest of the pastoral staff for their resourcefulness in finding brides. Both young men freely admitted to having their eye on these girls when they were minors. The students within the ministry were well aware of this and it created quite a bit of tension, particularly amongst the girl students.

In contrast to these two young men, I know of a youth leader who resigned his position so that he could date one of his former high school students. While I don't approve of his even considering that it was acceptable to date these much younger girls (he was at least 10 years older), I must admit that he acknowledged and sought to rectify the ethical problem his dating choice created for the ministry.

What are the problems with dating students, even former students? Well, besides creating tension and jealousy -the other students see this as being patently unfair that "Sally" has this "relationship" with "Pastor Rick", it interjects ideas of power and control into a dating relationship. Is "Pastor Rick" telling "Sally" to do X because he's her boyfriend or her pastor? One of the reasons therapists are barred from dating patients is that it compromises the integrity of the therapeutic relationship-how can one tell if the doctor is really offering advice that is in the best interest of the patient and not his/her own self interest? Also, if the couple breaks up, "Sally" is the one forced to leave the church because "this is his job". How is it that the world seems to have a higher ethical standard than the body of Christ?

I know I have many readers who perhaps could share their opinions on this subject...