Crystal didn’t exactly plan on sleeping with the minister. But when she first met David at a church conference in Louisiana, the 34-year-old pastor made her feel safer than she’d ever felt in her life. “It was so easy to share my secrets with him,” recalls the 36-year-old marketing executive who lives in Miami. “I revealed that I had once been raped and that I wanted to heal so I could one day be a whole woman in marriage. I know it sounds crazy, but I thought God could use this minister to prepare me for my husband.”

At first, she dismissed any possibility of romance because David was married to his third wife and expecting his sixth child. He was also an associate minister at one of the largest Black churches in the country, a pastor who was being groomed to one day move into the pulpit’s top spot. But the conference ended and their conversations did not. Then David revealed that his marriage was on rocky terrain. “I knew it was wrong to get into an emotional exchange with him, but somehow I felt as if I were helping him,” Crystal says. Six months later, the two arranged to meet at another church conference, this one in Detroit. David’s wife stayed home.

Enter the push-up bra, that powerful piece of equipment used to lift a woman from mistress to Mrs. in a single hoist. “In retrospect, I can see that I purposely went after him,” Crystal now confesses. “I’m a cute girl, if I do say so myself: size 10, 36D, love the glamour, weaves and makeup. At the conference, I wore a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress, a Wonderbra and stiletto heels. If I wore a knit top, it was a size too small. And yes, I knew that men were looking at me.”

Make that one man in particular. At a hotel in Detroit, David and Crystal shared a top sheet and a pillow for the first time. The next thing Crystal knew, she was spinning in a scandalous love chase with David as the prize.

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The Allure of a Man of God
Crystal admits that she should have known better. As the daughter of a preacher, during her childhood she’d seen the minister-worship scenario played out again and again in her father’s church.

“I remember some women would get up in the front pews, singing and jumping with not-so-steady bras on,” she says of the 2,000-member congregation her father once led near Dallas. “Many of these women strutted into church with their lipstick smeared and still smelling like liquor from clubbing the night before. They wanted what my mom, the first lady, had—the Mercedes, jewelry, mink coats.”

Sunday after Sunday, wearing our best hats, heels and handbags, we gather to take in a message that will ease our woes. And whether we worship in a tiny neighborhood church or at the glittering edifice of a megachurch, that message is often being delivered by a Black man of God. Maybe he belts out his sermon in a rousing baritone, or maybe he hypnotizes us more subtly with his command of the Scriptures and thrilling cadences. Whatever his preaching style, and no matter the size of his flock, the Black minister occupies a vaunted place in our community. Whom do we call on when we’re sitting at the back of the bus? Or when we’re standing in the need of prayer? Our community’s most potent practitioner, the Black reverend.

Decades after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., galvanized thousands to look toward the promised land, the pulpit of the Black church has remained a bastion of male leadership. It is the one place in this country where the often demonized and disillusioned Black man can still reign supreme. Add to that the fact that the leader who occupies the Big Chair is usually charismatic, articulate, charming and emotive, and you have a presence that’s near-irresistible. For some sisters, the pastor is nothing short of a messenger sent by God to deliver the heavenly hope and healing that too often elude us in our earthly existence.

Johnny Parker, an ordained minister and relationship coach who’s been married for 17 years and is the father of three sons, understands this dynamic all too well. “It’s not unusual for women to become attracted to a pastor who is counseling them simply because they are receiving validation from him,” he observes. “That attention is something they wish they were getting from their husbands or the men in their lives.”

Read more in the July issue of Essence! On newsstands June 20, 2006.