ACQUITTED SINNER: Former Sen. John Edwards and family last month outside the federal courthouse in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he was found not guilty on one of six counts of campaign corruption. The judge ruled a mistrial on the other five. (Photo: Chucky Liddy/Newscom)
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.
On February 10, 2012, rapper Too $hort posted a video on XXLMag.com, a hip-hop website, where he gave “Fatherly Advice” to middle-school and high-school boys on sexuality. The disgusting, misogynistic, dehumanizing, and graphic nature of his comments do not bear repeating here, but his comments made me wonder about the consequences of reducing sexuality to merely a physical concept in the absence of virtue. Thankfully, the video was removed and Too $hort offered an apology for offending people. The rapper, however, offered no apology for the way in which he advised young men to touch the bodies of young girls.
The whole episode reminded me that I am not convinced that Christians do a good job of telling young people what to do with their bodies other than say “no” to them. As a result, I am beginning to wonder if abstinence programs are even helpful for developing moral maturity. While abstinence rightly places sexual intercourse within its proper context — marriage — it fails to construct a moral theology of the body. Perhaps this is a good opportunity for Christians to return to teaching chastity.
Some of the early teachings on chastity date back to church Fathers like Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 225 A.D.) who made a serious case for bodily self-control (some argue he went too far). The teaching has faded, but some contemporary authors continue to make a case for chastity. For example, Duke Divinity School scholar Lauren Winner sought to reintroduce the ancient subject for a postmodern generation in her 2006 book, Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity and Bible teacher Paul Tripp offers a challenging perspective on the reality of sex and commitment in his 2010 book, What Did You Expect?: Redeeming the Realities of Marriage.
For the sake of brevity, the Roman Catholic Catechism provides a useful and succinct introduction to chastity that is helpful even if one does not agree with Catholic doctrine (I will adapt the teaching in this article). The Catholic teaching begins with the recognition that we are sexual beings whose “physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life.” That is, the mutual support between the sexes is lived out as we recognized are complimentary need for mutuality.
The vocation of chastity, then, is defined as “the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being. Sexuality, in which man’s belonging to the bodily and biological world is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong mutual gift of a man and a woman.” Chastity as a vocation does not require that one divorce one’s body from one’s passions but that one strive for maturity in the virtue of self-control — a skill needed before and after marriage (Prov. 25:28; 1 Cor. 7:5; Gal. 5:23; Titus 2:6; 1 Pet. 5:8). In fact, “the chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and love placed in him. … Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy.” What develops and matures young people in their moral reasoning and virtue is the conscious and free choice to use one’s body for the good. Not simply to say “no” to sin but “yes” to holiness (Deut. 7:6). Moreover, we are not to be mastered by any sin but are called to intentionally pursue holiness (1 Cor. 6:12). Abstinence does not teach this virtue.
For Christian young people, the knowledge of one’s union with Christ, a commitment to obedience to God’s commandments, exercise of the moral virtues, fidelity to prayer, and a daily requesting and reliance on the Holy Spirit, and so on, gives one what is needed to inaugurate one into the vocation of chastity. The active work of the Holy Spirit enables us to permeate the passions and appetites with mature moral reasoning that is consistent with what the Bible teaches.
“Self-mastery is a long and exacting work,” says the Catechism. “One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life. The effort required can be more intense in certain periods, such as when the personality is being formed during childhood and adolescence.” Self-mastery is ordered to the gift of freedom. Our union with Christ in the pursuit of chastity enables us, then, to be fully human. Chastity leads those who practice it to become witnesses to their neighbors of God’s fidelity, loving kindness, and the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). The call to chastity is simply a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).
Chastity is for everyone.
All baptized men and women, single or married, are called to the vocation of chastity. Sexual wholeness is living according to God’s articulated design for human beings and applies to married couples and singles in the same way. Abstinence does not teach this. As a man who can relate to sexual temptation (Heb. 4:15), but who never sinned against His call to a chaste life, Jesus Christ is the perfect example of living out the vocation of chastity.
Growth in chastity includes the reality of failure, repentance, and renewal. This is why the gospel and work of the Holy Spirit is so central to the sustaining of such a vocation and why it is unsustainable in the best possible way outside of one’s union with Christ. Chastity is violated with things like adultery, pornography, rape, sex outside of marriage, sexual abuse, and so on.
In the end, if chastity were a dominant teaching in urban America, it would not only address sex before marriage but would create a culture of sexual virtue that honors God, best fits with how God designed human beings to live, and would serve as a powerful example of what is means to live knowing God’s Word is true. Abstinence education is well intentioned but fails to develop young people into morally mature followers of Christ. True love does not wait. True love loves God and neighbor by saying “yes” to God’s better way (Matt. 22:36-40).
MORE QUESTIONS: Though GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain denies the latest allegations of sexual impropriety, he's "reassessing" his campaign in light of the scandal. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)
Although the Republican Party has unofficially branded itself as the party of family values, I’m wondering if this party and all political parties should reassess how we choose our candidates. Should we leave the personal affairs of candidates, married or not, out of politics? After all, the candidates are not running to be pastors or deacons or even husbands or wives of the year, they are running to be president.
Clearly, New Hampshire’s largest newspaper, the New Hampshire Union Leader, managed to look past Republican nominee Newt Gingrich’s personal failures in its recent endorsement of him.
“Newt Gingrich is by no means the perfect candidate. But Republican primary voters too often make the mistake of preferring an unattainable ideal to the best candidate who is actually running. In this incredibly important election, that candidate is Newt Gingrich. He has the experience, the leadership qualities and the vision to lead this country in these trying times. He is worthy of your support on January 10,” wrote Joseph W. McQuaid, New Hampshire Union Leader publisher, in his editorial on Sunday.
ANOTHER OTHER WOMAN: Ginger White claims she and Herman Cain were more than friends.
Even ultraconservative 700 Club host and former presidential hopeful Pat Robertson, who is famous for having extreme views, is taking a more pragmatic approach to campaigning. “Those people in the Republican primary have got to lay off of this stuff. They’re forcing their leaders, the front-runners, into positions that will mean they lose the general election,” Robertson said. “You appeal to the narrow base and they applaud the daylights out of what you’re saying, and then you hit the general election and they’ll say no way.”
CNN contributor Anne-Marie Slaughter considered this issue in her blog post “Why Anthony Weiner Should Not Resign” when former Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner was lambasted after his sexting scandal earlier this year. (Weiner, however, ultimately did resign.) Slaughter points to former President Bill Clinton as an example of a political leader whose failures in his personal life did not negate his effective governing. She writes:
I for one am deeply glad that Bill Clinton did not resign; he was one of the best presidents of my lifetime and left the country in far better shape than he found it. His wife and daughter chose to forgive him and to preserve their family, which is their business, not ours. He also breached the public trust by lying, but in my view not to an extent that it affected his ability to govern successfully.
And there is even precedent for this stance in the Bible. In spite of King David’s flagrant cheating with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband, he was not removed from the throne. Read 2 Samuel 11 and 12 if you don’t believe me.
But, of course, Cain hasn’t been elected to anything yet, and our perception of a candidate’s integrity and commitment to family are two important ways for us to gauge how much we like him. If he lies and cheats on his wife, will he lie and cheat the American people? This is a fair question.
If Ginger White’s story is to be believed, Cain ended his alleged affair with her prior to jumping into the presidential race. So, again assuming White’s story is true, at least Cain doesn’t have the hubris to believe he can juggle an adulterous relationship while persuading the American people that he’s the man to lead the nation. His 9-9-9 plan? Well, that’s another story.
Although as Christians we do not condone this kind of behavior, many powerful men down through the ages have struggled in their personal lives. And in today’s political scene, sex scandals seem to be a common denominator. If we subtract every candidate that has failed personally from the race, we may be left with very little to work with.
In fact, when you consider all the male politicians who we eventually discovered were unfaithful to their wives (think: John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Ensign, Mark Sanford, Rudy Giuliani, Gary Hart, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and the list goes on), one might begin to wonder if having the gumption to run for office predisposes one to philandering.
Abraham Lincoln, another male politician, once said: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
Among other things, power provides a person with greater opportunities — opportunities to do good or to act selfishly. Whenever we pull the lever or mark the oval for our candidate on Election Day, we’re putting faith in that person to choose the former.
May God help us to do the same.
Nicole Cleveland always thought her marriage would be over if her husband were unfaithful. But then it happened. In her new book, So He Cheated, Now What?, she examines the reasons for infidelity and advises women that there’s still hope for their marriages, even if he cheats.
What do celebrities Fantasia Barrino and Alicia Keys, who have been in the news recently for having affairs with married men, have in common with author Nicole Cleveland? Nothing. Cleveland does share a bond with actress Sandra Bullock, who recently divorced Jesse James because he was unfaithful. The difference is Cleveland chose to stay with her husband, Jerry, even after his affair produced a baby. She writes about it in her book, So He Cheated, Now What?
Cleveland (left), a development manager with the public broadcasting station in Norfolk, Virginia, has turned the experience into a ministry that helps women heal. She launched BreatheAgainMagazine.com in 2006, where others who have overcome major obstacles encourage women. To Christians, marriage represents not only a lifetime commitment to one’s mate but a foreshadowing of the relationship between Jesus and His church. However, several published reports estimate divorce among Christians in the U.S. is higher than the 50 percent national average. Infidelity is often the main reason. Published reports indicate an estimated 60 percent of men and 40 percent of women have been unfaithful. I talked with Cleveland about her book and message, which is also instructive to us men who have been unfaithful or are considering it.
URBAN FAITH: When you see news stories about infidelity what’s your reaction?
NICOLE CLEVELAND: I tell everyone that it’s never going to stop. When it’s high profile celebrities, like in the case of Sandra Bullock, it’s unfortunate because they don’t have a chance to heal. I wasn’t in the public eye like that.
Could dealing with it privately be worse?
In public it’s worse because you can’t really grieve. Everyone, even people you don’t know, is telling you what you should do. The one who was cheated on doesn’t have time and space to do what they need to do to heal. But on the flip side, when you’re suffering privately by yourself, it’s particularly hurtful because you don’t have anyone to talk to. You don’t want others to know and you can feel ashamed.
Why is So He Cheated, Now What? more of a workbook than a narrative about what happened with you and your husband?
I wanted to give actionable steps. I wanted to speak to the person who is going through it and tell them what to do. I wanted to let them know that they are not alone. I really wanted to hone in on that person who is hurt now. I wanted less drama. People want to talk about whether the other woman or the man is wrong, but what about the person who is hurting right now? The focus is off of that hurting person and it’s on revenge instead.
How does it affect you to hear of others wounded by infidelity?
I hear from women everyday through my website. They email me and tell me they don’t have any idea what they’re going to do. People call me at 10, 11 o’clock at night because they’re having an episode or flash back. I sometimes laugh because it takes me back to the same state. I can tell them what stage they’re in and what they’re going to feel or do next. Sometimes I cry with them. They say, “You think I’m stupid, you think I’m dumb.” Absolutely not. I’ve been there. My heart goes out to them.
Do you ever feel locked into talking and writing about infidelity only?
I do feel like that sometimes because it is reliving it again over and over. But when I tell my story I get healing from it each time. I believe it’s because mine is centered on faith and God and what He’s done for me. I have a mandate to tell the story. I don’t do it for me I do it for others. The bible says we overcome by the power of our testimony so someone needs to hear the story.
How can couples prevent infidelity?
You have to keep the communication tight. You can’t put things before your marriage. We were really busy in the church. Church is supposed to bring you together, but sometimes it can be that thing that helps pull you apart. We allowed the enemy to sneak in. I don’t condone what my husband has done, but we need to move forward. Our relationship is better now. We’re friends. We were like roommates before. We were like robots doing what we needed to do. We now take out time for ourselves. We laugh together.
I bet you’ve had women roll their eyes when you say that.
Oh yeah, but I say you never know what you would do until you’re in the situation. I was that woman who rolled her neck and rolled her eyes and said I would never do that. Then I had to eat my words.
Why did you stay with your husband?
I wanted my marriage to work. I love him. I love my family.
Why do people feel infidelity is the unpardonable sin?
We are so caught up with what others think about us. It comes from arrogance and what you would put up with. It’s also betrayal. I couldn’t have done it on my own. God took me through it. As women, we sit around and talk about stuff like that. “If he cheated, I would bust him upside the head.” Look at all the movies. There is such a big focus on adultery.
Why do you think?
It’s drama and people can relate to it. We like other people’s misery. Look at the Tiger Woods situation. Whose business is their marriage? I did a lot of interviews around that. I felt for his wife (Elin Nordegren) because she had no time to do privately what she needed to do for herself. A lot of times the people who say they wouldn’t do something are the ones that would.
That goes for people who say they would never cheat too?
That’s true, very true.
Why do people cheat?
I know my situation, but each is different. It goes back to that “make believe” aspect of it. You have to be who you really are at home. You have to come correct. The other person is allowing you to be king of whatever you feel you need to be king of. You don’t have to deal with laundry or picking up kids. Maybe you’re not hearing from your spouse that you look good or smell good. This goes both ways, by the way. Then there’s the conversation about the bills. At home it’s all about what you didn’t do right. My husband and I always go back to the movie John Q to the scene where the wife tells the husband “Do something!” He makes a very drastic decision that goes bad and he ends up saying, “Well, you told me to do something.” We don’t realize we’re doing that as women. We’re so focused on what we’re supposed to be doing – family and work and extra activities for the kids. Very few men marry their mistresses.
What’s next for you?
My goal is for the book to reach the people that it’s reaching. I want women to know that the pain will go away and someone else has been where you’ve been; they’ve cried the same tears and they’ve made it. So can you.
Photo by Keith Allison
The Tiger Woods scandal is just one more example of how the media use irrelevant gossip and slanted opinion to distract us from what really matters.