Most male pastors -- if not most men in general -- have a healthy paranoia about being alone with a woman in the workplace, lest there be misunderstanding by third parties, or outright deception by the woman, about what occurs behind closed doors. Accusations or rumors of sexual harassment or misconduct can destroy a church and its pastor.
Pastoral counseling, by its nature, requires privacy and discretion, further complicating efforts to avoid such accusations (or temptations to cross intimate boundaries). Some male pastors, I have heard, refer a female parishioner to a female counselor after the first session.
I raised this practice with my counseling professor today and asked what he thought. He said that he found such policies repugnant and a repudiation of pastoral duty to opposite-sex members.
Yet there are very real dangers to pastors, not only in false accusations, but in the temptation to sin adulterously. There must be a balance somewhere so that opposite-sex parishioners are not neglected.
How do you think pastors should address gender boundaries in counseling?
And although what I have written addresses the risk to male pastors, we should not neglect how these issues effect female clergy. I ask that female ministers and laypeople also share their thoughts on the subject.