Monday, May 01, 2006

RENDER UNTO CAESAR

In an article in the Fort Worth Star Telegram entitled “High court to decide if woman can sue pastor”, By Max B. Baker, it is reported that the Texas Supreme Court is reviewing a lower court decision that would allow a woman to sue her pastor for divulging details from marriage counseling to the congregation. The Court has already heard oral arguments.

The woman and her husband had counseled with the pastor about their marital problems. They also attended a group counseling the pastor set up. Despite the counseling, the wife decided to divorce. Oddly enough, given his later actions, the pastor recommended an attorney for her.

The wife then resigned as a member of the church. She evidently did this to avoid church discipline that was set out in the church bylaws. Despite her resignation and further despite the pastor’s referral of an attorney, the pastor discussed the matter with the elders of the church. He then wrote and sent a letter to church members about the divorce. The letter revealed the wife’s relationship with another man and accused the wife of failing to respond in repentance. The pastor went on to suggest “shunning” of the wife, even though she had resigned.

Although this case has quite a few church related folks concerned, there is an additional twist that complicates the matter. The pastor was also a licensed professional counselor and touted that fact. The wife originally sued the church and the elders, but dropped them from the suit to focus on the suit against the pastor as a licensed counselor.

Some church leaders say this creates a risk that pastors can be sued more freely if they are both pastors and licensed counselors. But, why should a pastor be exempt from the law regulating licensed counselors, yet be able to tout that they are licensed counselors? Pastors have to choose whom they will serve, as we all do.

They can be pastors and counsel and do their church work with relative immunity to suit. But, when they get the license, they are asking the State, not God, to give them extra credibility by declaring them a licensee. The price for this is obeying the rules of licensure, like everyone else has to do. Call it “rendering unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”.
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