The campaign-corruption trial of former U.S. Sen. John Edwards is history now. His former mistress, Rielle Hunter, with whom he had a daughter, is now on tour promoting her memoir, What Really Happened: John Edwards, Our Daughter, and Me. She announced during a TV interview that she and Edwards are no longer a couple, but will continue raising their daughter together. Soon, both will be out of the news cycle, but their saga possibly offers a lasting lesson for many Christians concerning this question about sin and crime.
A jury found Edwards, an admitted sinner, not guilty on one count that he accepted illegal campaign contributions in order to hide his adulteress affair. The jury deadlocked on five other similar counts. The acquittal hasn’t totally exonerated Edwards of campaign finance crimes, but the U.S. State Department dropped the case anyway.
Edward’s sin with Hunter occurred while he was campaigning for the presidency of the United States and while his late wife, Elizabeth, was dying of cancer. Like many men (and women) caught in an immoral self-inflicted bind, Edwards lied and lied until the truth, as it always does, eventually came to light. Many people who paid attention to the case agree that Edwards was put on trial more so as punshment for being unfaithful to his dying wife and for his hubris to believe he could sneak his secret into the White House.
And so Edwards publicly confessed his sins (which the Bible, in 1 John 1:9, states will be forgiven) before God and the world. However, should the government criminalize a sin that basically affects only the imperfect consenting adults involved? Should the church get riled about certain sins, while giving a pass to others?
I’ve been wondering about this most recently since President Obama announced in a TV interview in May that he supports same-sex marriage. The president caused an uproar among many Christians that still simmers, including among many of his supporters in the black church. But should the government, under political pressure from the church, legislate against same-sex marriage, especially when in America two consenting heterosexual adults can marry and divorce without the church being involved? Should most Christians insist that same-sex marriage be illegal, when homosexuality is actually listed in the Bible equally among other sexual sins, including adultery, that are not federal crimes?
A sin is a transgression against divine law for which Christians believe the sinner will be accountable at the judgment seat. The sinner mainly puts him or herself at risk with God. A crime is an action against the people that injures the “public welfare.” Like a drunk driver who runs a stop sign, or an armed robber, committing a crime puts several innocent people potentially at great risk. The government, working on behalf of the people, therefore has a duty to prevent crimes and punish criminals. Does the same duty apply to non-felonious sins?
Obviously many sins are also crimes such as, for example, being a serial killer. But what injury does same-sex marriage between two consenting adults cause to the public welfare? Is it more severe than adultery? Is it more destructive than divorce, a sin that often tears families and wounds innocent children? God allows divorce (which should be a last resort when reconciliation fails) under certain circumstances. Neither adultery nor divorces are federal crimes. Thankfully America is a democracy — a nation of Christians, believers of other faiths, agnostics and atheists, who for the most part believe in preserving the separation of church and state, and not a theocracy, as in living under Sharia law.
A recent CNN/ORC poll indicates that the majority of Americans believe same-sex marriage should be legal. Perhaps they’re saying it should be treated like adultery or divorce; it may be wrong, but people deserve the free-will right to choose who they want to (or don’t want to) be in a committed personal relationship with.
During closing remarks, Edwards’ attorney Abbe Lowell reportedly told the jury, “This is a case that should define the difference between a wrong and a crime … between a sin and a felony. John Edwards has confessed his sins. He will serve a life sentence for those.”
Perhaps Christians who are adamantly against two consenting same-sex adults having the legal right to marry should adopt this reasoning, too.