Adultery, Romance and the Church
It’s ten o’clock, do you know where your husband is? Apparently many Americans are asking this question, judging by the sales and buzz generated by The Script: The 100% Predictable Things Men Do When They Cheat, a book by Elizabeth Landers and Vicky Mainzer.
The book aims to educate women on how to see the “warning signs” that their husband is, to use the parlance of my Deep South upbringing, “running around.” The authors give a list of possible clues: a sudden interest in the gym, buying expensive gifts for his wife, emotional distance.
Of particular interest is the authors’ observations about the mind of the adulterous man. He rarely will admit to an affair because he wanted to have sex with an attractive woman. Rather he will use such language as, “I found my soul-mate.” Moreover, he will prepare the way for the affair by letting others know how cold his wife is, often by telling the wife she needs to lose weight or even see a psychiatrist. The woman who laughs at his jokes and plays with his hair, however, now she understands what he’s all about.
While reading the book, I couldn’t help but have flashbacks to thousands of incidents in local congregational ministry to families in crisis. These women have the situation sized up perfectly. I wonder, though, how much more susceptible our own congregations are to adultery, precisely because of the ways in which we picture marriage.
The “soul-mate” language is self-justifying and self-deceiving, as the apostle Paul tells us sin always is. The promise of the thrilling new lover is vaporous and, in the end, deadly, just as Solomon warned us thousands of years ago (Prov 7). But have we contributed to this with our endless sermon series on “Putting the Sizzle Back in Your Spouse” and “Ten Tips for Couples for a Hotter, Holier Romance”? For years, evangelicals have produced sex manuals and have counseled young couples to maintain date nights and romantic evenings.
No doubt fulfilling sex, romantic getaways, and loving affection are necessary for a Christian marriage. Still, have we been neglecting to teach young men and women the self-sacrificial nature of fidelity? Several years ago, an evangelical celebrity told a broadcast television network about her struggle after meeting her “soul-mate,” while married to another man. This was presented as an authentic spiritual dilemma.
Perhaps in all our talk of romance and candlelight, we should re-emphasize that sometimes the romance is deferred, sometimes the fireworks are postponed. Perhaps rather than always pointing to the example of a sexy young married couple, we should point our older teenagers and young married couples to the eighty-seven year old man who has been wheeling his wife into the congregation every Sunday for thirty years, since she lost the use of her arms and legs in a stroke, or to the sixty year-old woman who faithfully shaves the face of her Alzheimer’s-riddled husband, even as he curses and swats at a woman he doesn’t remember.
Fidelity is sexier than adultery. We know that. And we should encourage every young man to rejoice in the wife of his youth, indeed be intoxicated with her breasts, as the Scriptures tell us (Prov 5:18-19).
But adultery always follows a script, as the book reminds us, and this script includes the thrill of romance, a romance that is newer and thus more hormonally sparked than long-lasting love. The adulteress persuades a man, as a butcher slaughters a cow (Prov 7:22).
A postponed feast in the Father’s kingdom doesn’t initially seem as appetizing as stones-into-bread to break a 40 day fast (Matt 4:3-4). But why does Jesus defer the joy of eating until after a wilderness temptation–indeed postponing the messianic feast until after a grisly crucifixion? Because he wishes to maintain fidelity to his Bride, with whom he will eat and drink at his Father’s table (Luke 22:14-18).
That kind of Christ love must be emphasized by pastors and teachers who emphasize fidelity and sacrifice, and, yes, romance and hot sex too. And this means pastors and church leaders who are willing to reiterate: “Looking for your soul-mate? Her picture’s in your wallet.”