Frequently religious people, especially those in ultra-orthodox or fundamentalist groups, rely on their church leaders to interpret the word of God and define right and wrong.
I was recently reading about a cult called The Way that was prevalent in the the 70’s and 80’s. I believe they still exist in some form, and have some relationship to a group called The Prevailing Word. These religious cults are always fracturing and splintering, with the various factions ebbing and flowing in power and influence, it’s very difficult to track.
These particular groups believe in biblical inerrancy, the idea that the Bible is the literal written word of God. The Way took this mission very seriously, sponsoring studies of Aramaic and other ancient languages and 1st century customs, comparing various versions of the Bible in an attempt to resolve what they felt were inconsistencies in the various translations.
Much as a Constitutional scholar might study the phrasing and language of the Constitution in order to determine the intent of the framers, these “scholars” were attempting to determine the intent of God by analyzing Biblical language and phrasing in the context of 1st century customs.
One of the unique interpretations they came up with had to do with adultery. The church leaders were intent on proving that the prohibition against “adultery” in the Bible did not refer to physical adultery, but spiritual adultery, allowing unclean and blasphemous thoughts to sully the purity of the mind. In their version of Christianity, the Bible did not prohibit physical adultery as long as the participants were in the proper spiritual state of mind.
As you might guess, this twist on the word of God was awfully convenient for the cult leaders, who used it as an excuse to sexually abuse cult members - not only in the obvious way… telling them that screwing the leader was God’s will, but by selectively restricting members from intimacy with their married partners (strong interpersonal relationships threaten cult dominancy) by telling them they were not in the correct spiritual mindset to have non-adulterous sex.
And the cult members believed them. This is the danger involved in transferring your moral agency to your God or your church.