I'll admit it - I spent some formative years in the 70s. One of the songs that was popular in '72 was Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway's "Where is the love"? If you are dancing, it's one of those songs you are better off humming to your girlfriend instead of actually singing the words, because Roberta and Donny are two lovers who oh-so-smoothly hurl accusations at each other throughout the song.
In the last two weeks, as I've become aware of four extra-marital affairs among pastors in our near and distant community, I've thought of that song.
You read that right - four couples - all in vocational ministry and all in the span of two weeks. This seems to go way beyond the Tiger Woods headline du jour.
My reaction is complex - first, shock and disbelief. Then, sorrow, anger, confusion. Eventually I would like to get to - hope -, but honestly, I'm not there yet. I think of the spouses that have been left (both women and men). The kids that are now questioning. Their congregations, now wounded and grieved. I think of the time, courage and work it will take to recover.
Wouldn't this be a good time for cursing and railing in frustration at our brokenness?
In this kind of offense I am left pondering how this happens and, invariably, I think of myself. Perhaps because I've always been scared to death that this would happen to me - whether as offender or offendee, it doesn't matter.
For 28 years I've been known and loved by my wife, and I've prayed that I would never break my vow to her. But it seems to me, I've broken my vow over and over again by not loving her well, by being self-centered, by overworking and pouring myself into ministry; in short, by running from soul-intimacy with her and also by isolating myself from others. Because we've never suffered an outright "affair," it is easy to think we are somehow "better" than these other couples but we may not be - there is mystery here. I hear people pontificating about these couples: how the "signs were all there from the beginning," and "if only they had been confronted and received care earlier." To me, the words ring hollow; the solutions overly facile. I have known too many who DID have accountability and discipleship but they hid anyway. The temptations came upon them and they refused to stop hiding. Accountability, community, vulnerability can be a great gift, if you find Christ in it. But it doesn't change you on its own, and I propose that it's not enough to stop a soul that is moving toward a sexual partner outside of marriage.
May I suggest that, actually, infidelity has nothing to do with lack of discipleship, with sex or lust or the internet? In my experience, this issue revolves around a lack of intimacy, and also a loathing fear of it.
In the most atomized, individualistic society in world history, don't we long for true friendship - to be known, to belong, to know our place; even as that strikes fear in our deepest soul? Because "to be known" is to give another the power to see your shame and to despise you, just like you may despise yourself; or that intimacy can enable them to see the real you and walk with you toward the healing of shame and growth toward who God created you to be. Honestly, I know very few pastors who are engaging with others on this level.
Unfortunately, we complicate intimacy by always linking it with sex. This is apparent all the time in film, and I'm sure, you've observed this personally: someone in a crisis begins to open up to another. The other responds by becoming vulnerable as well. They share their real selves. Soon, they?re in each others' arms. Why? Well, we're told, isn't that what happens when souls touch? Sex is almost expected in that kind of situation, right? Not at all! That would make intimacy nothing more than foreplay. Intimacy itself is so much more.
Many guys that I know are longing for the "Band of Brothers" kind of connection; yet, they hold back, deathly afraid of same-sex intimacy, not to mention heterosexual intimacy. Why? You know why. When you read "same-sex intimacy," I bet you aren't thinking 'guy friendships' or "best friend" or "a significant, vulnerable relationship with my brother-in-Christ." It just sounds like a sexual relationship, right? We've been conditioned to think that intimacy demands a sexual expression.
Intimacy is what we're made for. (Seriously, how many times have you either said or heard that in a sermon?) We all say it, but how many of us recognize that a marriage is not big enough to bear the relational freight of our immortal souls? We don't need more sex. We need more beings with whom to be intimate friends. We need healthy vulnerability with people other than our marriage partner - with both our same gender and the opposite. "Doesn't that set you up for greater temptation?," you ask. "Aren't you just opening the door for a similar fall?" No. Actually I think you guard yourself against sexual temptation when you experience friendship-intimacy with the opposite sex outside of your marriage partner - with other men and women. If we were "made for intimacy" as we keep saying, doesn't it make sense that we would "act out" inappropriately when we that basic relational need isn't realized? With all the lonely and isolated pastors and spouses in the U.S., is it any wonder that we're seeing this problem?
As Christians begin to explore relational intimacy with people of both genders, as we learn to love others in more meaningful ways, and to separate that love from sexual expression, we will find that we experience stronger marriages, genuine loving intimacy among the non-married, and, as Francis Schaeffer used to insist, a more full expression of the "final apologetic" (love) of Christian faith to the world.