A recent news story that came out of the United State centred on a legal case where a former husband accessed his then wife's email account using her private password, this happened while they were still married. He now faces trial on felony computer misuse charge.
What interested me were the implications for confidentiality between Christian ministers and their partners. As a retired Baptist minister I wondered how a minister and his/her partner - whether a fellow minister or a spouse - retain confidentiality, and under what circumstances information might be shared.
This question is very complex from social, community and legal viewpoints. There are many occasions where the 'ministry spouse' or missionary or church partner needs to know vital information about a parishioner in order to protect each other; or even, in some instances, protect the person to whom they are ministering.
On many occasions there are situations in which the information is neither private or sacred and it becomes a regular conversation matter, but there are issues for which the sacred trust becomes paramount.
I recalls on one occasion, a conversation around a restaurant table, where a subject came up that related to one of the parties at that dinner. In that situation, permission was given freely and openly to discuss the matter.
I can also recall situations where two Ministers met in a fraternal situation, and discovered that a particular person who had been coming to both of them separately, was playing their counselling advice off against the other.
In another informal discussion between clergy, it was revealed through an incidental (otherwise innocent) comment that a 'set-up' was about to go down. Call it divine intervention or good luck, a dangerous situation was thus avoided but it proved illuminating as to what damage can be done to unwitting clergy who might be 'too trusting'.
But of course, I am the first to admit that there are situations where the sacred is sacred and the partner who is the minister should not reveal anything; nor should the other partner even ask.
But there is more to this. Oftentimes within a congregation where people get to know each other, information will come to a minister's spouse, with full expectation that this information to be passed on to the minister. This is rarely said of course, but the clear and undeniably expectation is there.
This is tricky, the situation could come back and bite, either because the minister and his/her spouse were set up to show that there is no confidentiality, or that their assumption that the information should be shared was not, in fact, a correct assumption.
Perhaps we have become so 'politically correct' that a minister, when given information that 'may' be confidential, needs to have his solicitor with him to determine whether the content of that information can be shared with his spouse.
This can burn and much wisdom is required.
Very often it is dependent on the circumstances. Ministers need to have their wits about them, and remember all their training and past experiences to determine when certain information, used wrongly, might cause harm, embarrassment or an injustice.
Yet they might know that by passing on that information, they could help solve a serious relationship issue, or bring to light a deviant intention or worse, prevent a serious injustice.
The Minister's lot is not an easy one. It is full of pitfalls and hidden traps. At the same time, with sensitivity to the human condition, and respect for true privacy if it is needed, the Minister can see wonderful outcomes and beautiful results in his everyday working (ministry) life. Indeed, the Holy Spirit is there to minister to the minister…
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 25 books, and enjoys writing. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand. Dr Mark Tronson’s Press Service International in 2019 was awarded ‘The Gutenberg’ - the Australasian Religious Press Association’s premier award. In September 2020 Summer Moore presented her commission portrait of Dr Mark Tronson holding the Gutenberg plaque. He and David Chang editor of Christian Today together bought the young writer ministry into fruition in 2009. In 2011 Mark established Laguna Quays Respite (Whitsundays) for missionary respite and replicated at Aldinga Beach 2016 (Adelaide) and Greens Beach Bass Straight (TAS). His ministry is honoured all these years by Christian philanthropist Mr Basil Sellers AM. He is married to Delma (44 years), with four adult married children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/dr-mark-t.html