DEAR ABBY: Being a pastor of a church, I had to respond to the letter from "Hates Hypocrites in Washington." She's the woman who discovered that the new associate pastor's wife, "Millie," is the same woman who broke up her marriage, in addition to having had a "history," so to speak.
The senior pastor is probably aware of at least some of what she wrote about -- that Millie has had two previous marriages, countless affairs and did time in prison for drugs. However, on the off chance that he doesn't, "Hates Hypocrites" should say something.
As you suggested, she needs to introduce herself to the woman in question: Millie's reaction will give her a pretty good idea of whether she has had a change of heart in recent years. If Millie hasn't, then the writer needs to go quietly to the pastor, approaching it from the standpoint of, "I hope Millie has turned over a new leaf since all of this, but you need to know that ..."
I have seen firsthand what can happen when not enough questions are asked when a staff person comes into a church. While I hope and pray that Millie has learned from her mistakes, that may not be the case. -- REV. CHET THOMAS, DAWSON, GA.
DEAR REV. THOMAS: Although I am reluctant to see anyone "carry tales" that could ruin a career -- specifically the associate pastor's -- I bow to your expertise. You are not the only clergyperson who weighed in on this one. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: I am an ordained minister and pastoral counselor. While it's traditional in many churches, simply being a pastor's spouse in no way qualifies someone to teach marriage classes any more than being a doctor's wife qualifies her to teach CPR. That she knows firsthand where the pitfalls are does not make one an expert on how others might form healthy relationships and avoid adultery, drugs, prison, etc.
Whether or not this pastor's wife, "Millie," may have repented of her sin and amended her life, she is still responsible for her past behavior, and one of its consequences is that her credibility as an expert on marriage may rightfully be questioned. Nor should one assume that all pastors' marriages are exemplary. Since clergy families live highly public lives, whatever flaws this marriage has are on public display, and given Millie's past, one would assume there might be many that come to light.
The woman's real value to a marriage class could be as an example of one who has acknowledged her failing and changed her ways, and shows openness to learn from others who have had longer, more healthy relationships -- but not if she hides her past and pretends to be something she's not. -- MARY KRAHN, BEMUS POINT, N.Y.
DEAR ABBY: If it is true that the new associate pastor's wife broke up the writer's marriage, and has a history of similarly disruptive behavior elsewhere, then the woman represents a potentially destructive force in that congregation. As a parish minister of nearly 30 years, I can see the red flags flying high on this one.
"Hates Hypocrites" should notify the appropriate denominational officials of whatever larger body this church is affiliated with and let them take whatever action they feel may be warranted. This is not about "Hates Hypocrites" getting revenge; it is about protecting the stability and well-being of the congregation. -- REV. STEPHEN EDINGTON, NASHUA, N.H.