jasonbwatson

July 1, 2015

Truth Matters

I want to talk to you about truth. If I were to say that this was not influenced by recent events in Washington, DC I would be less than honest, and you would know I was. You may be very disturbed by the recent Supreme Court decisions -— and we should all be —- but the reality is that these decisions are but the latest in a long line of events in our country and decisions by our leaders that frustrate, sadden and even anger us. As I reflected on what has happened recently my mind flashed back to a message that I preached in the late 1990s in the midst of Bill Clinton’s impeachment. I went back through my files and I found that message and I found that it is entirely relevant today, as well.

Here is what I found in looking back at those notes: I did not set out to prepare a message which would deal with or even relate to current political events and the message I prepared was not going to deal specifically with that event. In fact, based on my notes for that message I had been working on something else entirely and in the process of looking up a cross reference to a verse I was dealing with this passage in Isaiah grabbed me. Have you ever heard someone say, or maybe seen in a book advertisement, “a gripping read”? Well, this was a gripping read. I turned to it and started reading and literally it was as if I had been grabbed by the collar and told, “read this!” It was a gripping read. In this instance I sought this out, but it is just as gripping and just as relevant today. This is not going to be specifically about the recent decisions, but it will relate to them clearly. We are going to talk about truth and why truth matters.

Look at Isaiah 59:1-15. This is what grabbed me all those years ago when I was reading. I am sure I had read this before, I imagine many of you have read this before as well, but never had it grabbed me like this—and that’s the thing about God’s Word, isn’t it? It never gets old, it is always new. This passage screamed to me then that it needed to be preached, because it is so much like the current situation in this country.

Look at verse 4. I read from the ESV, but I like the NKJV here better, and it reads like this: “No one calls for justice, Nor does any plead for truth.” Does that not sound like America today? We could give many examples of people in the United States, of all walks of life but particularly among our leaders, who have dismissed calls for the truth. “What difference does it make?” they may ask. The truth is not desirable for most people, they do not want justice. They would rather, as verse 4 says, “conceive mischief and give birth to iniquity”. Why is that? It is because truth and justice necessitate right and wrong, and right and wrong necessitate an unchanging, unalterable definition or determination. In other words, truth and justice, right and wrong require an almighty, sovereign God and humanity does not like that because truth and justice, right and wrong get in the way of us doing what we want to do, what seems expedient at the time, what we feel like doing, what makes us happy and brings us pleasure.

The skill in devising mischievous schemes – as the spider weaves its web, the comparison is made – will not save them. They shall not, verse 6 says, cover themselves with their works of iniquity. Why? Because no schemes of self-wrought salvation can avail in the light of God’s truth!

Still, we see in verse 7, their feet run to evil, they shed innocent blood, they think evil thoughts. I don’t know about you, but this reminds me of how we see the world described before the flood in Genesis 6:5, where we read, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” It reminds me of the description of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18.

Now look at verse 8 – “the way of peace they do not know.” You could certainly argue that we have not been in a time of peace since the 9/11 attacks, though we do live in a time of greater peace now than we have at some other times in our nation’s history in terms of day to day armed conflict on the international stage. But are we at peace within our own country? No. Far from it. Look at the chaos that has erupted around the country in recent months, of which Ferguson and Baltimore are but two examples among many. We have, as verse 9 says, shut our eyes to the truth. We have shut our eyes to the light of truth to the point where we stumble around at the brightest of day, groping for a wall like a blind man, because we have closed our eyes to the light. We wait for brightness yet we walk in darkness. When we have turned so much from God is it not just for God to hide from us the things which belong to peace? Why would we have peace when we have ignored the truth? How could we?

Verse 12 says that the transgressions of the people had been multiplied before God. He sees every single one, and they are multiplying—they are piling up before Him. “And our sins testify against us,” the verse says. Not only before God, by the way, but before man. Our sins testify against us around the world. The sins of those who profess to be God’s people are worse than the sins of others, and, like it or not, we still claim to be a Christian nation—though that is certainly diminishing and that claim is certainly becoming more difficult for anyone to make with any degree if sincerity. The sins of a nation are public and they will bring public judgement—especially when they are not restrained by public justice! How tragic it is when those individuals charged with overseeing public justice are the very ones committing the most heinous sins.

Verses 14-15 describe our country exactly. Justice is turned away backward. Righteousness stands far off. Truth has fallen in the streets. Equity, justice, uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lying dead in the streets of America. And, the second part of verse 15 says, “the Lord saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no justice.” God is displeased. There is no way around that, no other way to imagine it; God is displeased when we make a mockery of what He has created—and marriage, mind you, was created by God, to be between one man and one woman. And man and woman, mind you, were created by God as well, not as concepts or identities which we can choose for ourselves.

There are three things about truth and the wicked that we can see in Scripture that are important for us to note. First, the wicked do not ask for truth. In Isaiah 59:4 we see that none plead for truth. In 2 Timothy 4:4 we see that the wicked “turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” The wicked turn away from the truth, they do not ask for truth, because they do not want to hear it.

Second, the wicked do not defend truth. In Jeremiah 9:3, in the KJV, we read this: “And they bend their tongues like their bow for lies: but they are not valiant for the truth upon the earth; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they know not me, saith the LORD.” The wicked do not stand up for the truth, they do not fight for truth.

Third, the wicked do not speak the truth. Jeremiah 9:5 says, “Everyone deceives his neighbor, and no one speaks the truth; they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity.” Quite simply, the wicked lie.

I could provide you with abundant examples of lies coming from the mouths of our elected officials, from our unelected judges, from celebrities and supposed role models, from preachers and professors and religious leaders, from common everyday people like you and me. I could, but I am not going to, because you have no doubt seen and heard them yourself and you do not need me to provide examples of something you already are aware of. I will tell you this, though: God does not like the lack of truth. Isaiah 59:15 tells us that God is displeased. In Hosea 4:1 we read these words: “Hear the word of the LORD, O children of Israel, for the LORD has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land.” God had a controversy with the people of Israel because there was no truth in the land. Yes, these passages are talking about the people of Israel, but the principles are the same. God is no less intolerant of wickedness and lies today than He was then. I will tell you, the last thing I would want is to have a controversy with God, but I believe our nation does…because there is no truth. We have turned our backs on truth.

Let me remind you that I would be the first one to stand up and point out that we have a biblical responsibility to pray for our leaders, and to respect them, because they are ordained by God. Scripture makes it abundantly clear, in a number of passages, that the powers and authorities over us are ordained by God and we are to respect them, to pray for them and to obey them—unless and until they instruct us to disobey God. So we must respect Barack Obama, we must respect the five justices of the Supreme Court who ruled in favor of homosexual marriage, because they hold offices that God has ordained. At the same time, we must also realize that God made us a people of free will and we elect who we wish. The very fact that we have turned so far from God and from truth is both a contribution to, and a result of, the fact that we have not elected for ourselves great leaders, godly leaders who desire to do what is right regardless of what is popular.
Do not doubt—the wicked will be punished. In Jeremiah 5:29 we read this: “Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the LORD, and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?” Jeremiah 9:9 says the exact same thing. God will visit this nation, I believe, just as He visited the nation of Israel, and He will be avenged. Why? Because there is no truth.
So what are our responsibilities, as those who follow Christ? As those who are to be lovers of truth?

First, Look at Jeremiah 9:1. “Oh that my head were waters, and my eyes a fountain of tears, that I might weep day and night for the slain of the daughter of my people!” We should be crying for our country. When was the last time you did that? When was the last time you wept in prayer because of the state of our union? I confess, I do not know the answer for myself. It is easy to become hardened and cynical and callous toward the sin around us, but we need to be praying for this nation. Some of us are faithful to pray for our nation regularly and consistently, and that is good. But we need to do it not just because we recognize our biblical obligation to do so but because we really think about and care about what is going on in our nation. If we think about it, really think about it, and care about it, it will bring tears. It will bring anger, too, by the way, and that can be good if it motivates us to do the right thing.

Second, we see from Isaiah 58:1 that we have a responsibility to identify the transgressions of our nation—to call them out. “Cry aloud; do not hold back; lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins” it says. We who know the truth have a responsibility to point out the problems that exist. We should be able, figuratively speaking, to hear people yelling about the problems in this country, lifting up their voices like trumpets to call to repentance a nation that is all too content to pursue its own purposes and desires. We have to recognize the transgressions and point them out. Why? Because the national mindset is formed by one of two dynamics—propaganda or truth. Today it is being molded by propaganda. The church needs to respond to her responsibility in the formation of the national mindset. Churches must assume their responsibility for shaping the biblical mind and confronting the national mind. We must find ways to assert biblical values in the public square. If the secular mass media inundate the nation with propaganda, the church must counter with the truth.

Third, look at Psalm 51. This is a well-known psalm in which David cries out to the Lord after the prophet Nathan confronts him on his sin with Bathsheba. We need, as a nation as well as individually, to acknowledge our sin. We do not need to apologize for it; an apology is a verbal defense, and it does not bring forgiveness. Nowhere does Scripture say that we are to apologize for our sin. Rather, we need to acknowledge it, confess it, repent of it and turn around. 2 Chronicles 7:14 contains this instruction as well. That verse tells us that if God’s people call on Him, humble themselves and turn from their wicked ways, then He will hear, forgive and heal their land.

Finally, look at Malachi 3:5-7. The punishment will come. It most definitely will. That is not up for debate. But it is not too late to return to God. I believe it is still possible for a revival to sweep through this land. Look back to Isaiah 59, where we started. Verses 1-2 tell us that God’s hand is not shortened that He cannot save. God is not tired or weary of hearing our prayers. We as a nation, however, grown tired of praying. We have separated ourselves from God with iniquities and sin has hid our face from His. Truth is lying dead in the streets. It is not too late to turn back; God is ready to hear and He will forgive. No matter how disappointed, how frustrated, how saddened, how angered we may become, we must not give up our responsibility to stand for the truth. This is what we are called to do, no matter the cost, no matter the popularity, no matter the penalty that may result.

Keith Getty and Stuart Townend have written a hymn entitled “O Church Arise,” and the first verse reads like this:

O church, arise and put your armor on;
Hear the call of Christ our captain;
For now the weak can say that they are strong
In the strength that God has given.
With shield of faith and belt of truth
We’ll stand against the devil’s lies;
An army bold whose battle cry is “Love!”
Reaching out to those in darkness.

That is what we are to do; to go in the strength and armor of the Lord, standing against the lies of the devil. We may be spitting mad about the SCOTUS decision, the five justices or the people who pushed and fought for this decision. But Jesus died for them, too, and they are in darkness, and we are to reach out to them with God’s love.
The second verse of that hymn says this:

Our call to war, to love the captive soul,
But to rage against the captor;
And with the sword that makes the wounded whole
We will fight with faith and valor.
When faced with trials on ev’ry side,
We know the outcome is secure,
And Christ will have the prize for which He died—
An inheritance of nations.

We are called to war. Make no mistake about that; we are in the thick of a very real, very intense spiritual war! Our enemy, though, is the captor—Satan—not the captive souls who have fallen under his lies. We must fight on, faithfully and confidently, because even when we seem to be making no ground, even when we seem to be losing, we know, “the outcome is secure.” No decision by any number of human beings will ever change that, and we are on the side of victory.

June 25, 2014

“God’s foundation for the soul of every nation”

A couple of days ago I received a letter from Dennis Rainey, President of FamilyLife. In it he described his shock at seeing a billboard in Little Rock, Arkansas this past February for the web site AshleyMadison.com that included pictures of Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton. The headline on the billboard read, “Who said cheaters never prosper?”

If you do not already know this, AshleyMadison is a company, based in Canada, that exists solely to encourage and facilitate adultery. The company operates a web site that functions much like most dating sites would, I assume, by allowing users to create profiles that other uses can then peruse in order to select possible matches. The twist, of course, is that many of the users of this site are married, setting out with the specific goal of having an affair. The company’s registered trademark tag line is this: “Life is short. Have an affair.” It touts itself as “the world’s leading married dating service for discreet encounters.” The company also operates its own “Infidelity Press Room” (“proudly powered by WordPress,” it says–the same platform that hosts this blog). At the bottom of the site’s homepage it claims, “Thousands of cheating wives and cheating husbands signup everyday looking for an affair.” The site claims to have nearly 27 million members. It even offers an “affair guarantee package” through which the company guarantees users will find the perfect affair partner.

I find all of that to be pretty pathetic…and pretty sad…but not terribly surprising (other than perhaps the “affair guarantee”). The billboard Rainey was referring to, of course, was highlighting three well-known philanderers who were also presidents of the United States. The headline clearly suggested that cheating on your spouse need not be an obstacle to professional success. And therein lies the problem — the implication is that if you can commit adultery and still enjoy professional success, what difference does it make? Whether or not the behavior interferes with ones success becomes the only barometer for determining whether or not something is worth it. There is no mention of right and wrong. But then that is because there is no longer any recognition of right and wrong. Nothing is “wrong” if someone feels it is right. Everything is relative and situational…nothing is absolute. This billboard and this company are perfect evidence of the moral state of our nation.

Rainey’s point was that “the attacks on marriage and the family in America are growing bolder by the day.” I could not agree more. Rainey went on, though, to highlight why this attack is so persistent and prevalent: Satan wants to destroy the family as God designed it. We see it with the push to redefine marriage (which God designed to be between a man and a woman) and we see it with the push to destroy the boundaries of marriage (which God designed to include sexual activity between a husband and wife only). “The family is God’s foundation for the soul of every nation. Destroy it, and nations topple,” Rainey writes.

The AshleyMadison.com concept is perhaps more aggressive and in-your-face about promoting and encouraging adultery but the idea is nothing new. The internet can do wonderful things (it’s enabling you to read this blog after all!) but it can also facilitate evil. Those of us who believe in God’s design for marriage and the family must be willing to stand strong for God’s Truth. We must speak out in defense of marriage and fidelity. We must recognize Satan’s attacks for what they are and understand that we are absolutely engaged in a spiritual war each and every day. Thankfully, God has also provided His children with spiritual armor to stand against the fiery darts of the devil.

Stand firm!

June 26, 2013

News From the North

I have written in this space on numerous occasions about the inevitable result of legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States (or anywhere, for that matter) and the fact that if marriage is going to be redefined no one will be able to stop that redefinition at men marrying men and women marrying women. Once what has always been (marriage being between one man and one woman) is no more, there is no longer any legitimate way to prevent further redefinition. I have specifically warned about the potential for polygamous marriages seeking legal recognition, or what some have now started calling “polyamory.” Well, just across our border to the north our Canadian cousins are now seeking just that.

My Christian Daily includes a report today entitled “Polyamorists want legal recognition in Canada,” a report that begins with this statement: “A group of polyamorists say they want the same legal status as other relationships, following the group’s first national convention in Canada.” According to the report, “The group defines polyamory as having ‘more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved,'” and “[t]he group say they ‘live all gender combinations’, and are ‘queer-friendly’.”

This is incredibly relevant given that the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule today on two cases involving homosexual marriage. According to the Chicago Tribune, “The court was due to rule on the constitutionality of a federal law that denies benefits to same-sex married couples and a California state law that bans gay marriage. Those cases, argued in March, could shape the debate over whether gay men and women should have the right to marry.” As just described above, though, the decision will have ramifications beyond just that–if they rule that homosexual marriage is acceptable, they will throw the door wide open for an unlimited number of possible redefinitions of marriage. The Tribune reports that most experts believe it unlikely that the Court will issue “a broad decision proclaiming a fundamental right for gays to marry.” And while I agree that it is unlikely, I am afraid that I have found it difficult at best to predict what SCOTUS will decide on most cases, so I am not at all celebrating right now.

Then-president Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) into law in 1996 after it passed Congress with overwhelming support. Earlier this year he notably called for DOMA to be overturned because, he said, times have changed since he signed the law, and homosexuals should now have the right to marry. Times have changed in that homosexuality is much more openly portrayed and accepted in American culture, particularly in Hollywood, but at the same time times have not changed in that human beings, in their sin natures, will always seek to ignore, manipulate, redefine and avoid God’s Word, which has not changed, and will not change, and clearly states that homosexuality is a sin.

The justices are expected to meet just minutes from now as I am writing in order to announce their rulings. We need to be in prayer now and continue to be in prayer after the rulings are announced, whatever those rulings may be, because even if the biblical definition of marriage is retained today, it will continue to be under attack tomorrow.

March 16, 2013

A sad, unfortunate and poorly timed reversal

If you follow the news you have probably already heard that Ohio Senator Rob Portman has very publicly changed his position regarding gay marriage in recent days. Portman has always been a staunch opponent of gay marriage; in 1996, as a member of the House of Representatives, he was a cosponsor of the Defense of Marriage Act; in 1999 he voted for a measure that would have prohibited same-sex couples in Washington state from adopting children; in 2011 hundreds of students at the University of Michigan protested having Portman speak at the school’s graduation ceremony because of his position on gay marriage. In response to that protest, Portman’s spokesman said, “Rob believes marriage is a sacred bond between one man and one woman.”

So what changed? Well, two things. One, Portman’s son “came out,” informing his parents in 2011 that he is gay. Two, this revelation caused Portman to “think of this issue from a new perspective,” he told Ohio reporters.

Senator’s Portman’s son’s sexuality is none of my business; it is a private matter–or at least it was, until his father brought it into the public square to explain his own sad, unfortunate and poorly timed reversal on the issue of gay marriage. And I do not choose those descriptors lightly. Allow me to explain….

The reversal is sad because, based on his own explanations, Portman has allowed the circumstances of his life to cause him to reinterpret Scripture, and to do so inaccurately. Here’s how it worked: Portman believed the Bible was clear in its opposition to homosexuality and its teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman (he was right on both counts); Portman’s son informed his parents he is gay; Portman loves his son; Portman faces moral dilemma; Portman solves moral dilemma by deciding Scripture means something different than what it does, and what he had previously believed it did.

The reversal is sad because Portman decided that it was easier to embrace a false understanding of the very Word of God than it would be to stand firm in his convictions. It is easier to say God is love, and must surely want people to be happy than it is for Portman to tell his son that he loves him, but he hates his sin.

Yesterday Portman wrote a commentary in The Columbus Dispatch. In it he states that his son’s announcement has caused him to think about this issue in “a much deeper way.” Translation: I was opposed to gay marriage until I found out my son is gay, but my love for my son trumps my adherence to the Word of God. Portman writes that his son told him that “his sexual orientation wasn’t something he chose; it is simply a part of who he is.” I am sure Portman’s son may believe that, and Portman may believe it, too. I have written here before about the issue of “homosexual orientation,” and I am not going to rehash that now. (Desire and Deceit, an excellent book on the subject by Albert Mohler addresses this issue, too). According to Portman, “At the time, my position on marriage for same-sex couples was rooted in my faith tradition that marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman. Knowing that my son is gay prompted me to consider the issue from another perspective: that of a dad who wants all three of his kids to lead happy, meaningful lives with the people they love, a blessing Jane and I have shared for 26 years.”

Every parent wants–or at least should want–their children to love “happy, meaningful lives.” But part of tough love–in other words, part of being a parent–means standing firm when the way in which a child wants to live that life is contrary to what is God-honoring. Portman’s reasoning is exactly the same as that that I have challenged here repeatedly regarding the slippery slope that is the issue of gay marriage. Portman wants his son to be happy, Portman’s son is gay, so gay marriage should be okay? That’s absurd. What do we do when someone’s else’s son claims that what makes him happy is having sex with children? What do we do when someone’s daughter says that what makes her happy is the challenge of stealing and exploiting someone’s identity? What do we do when someone’s child says that what makes him or her happy is taking the lives of other humans whom they find to be unattractive, undesirable, or just plain irritating? Yes, yes, I know…those are not the same things, many will say. They are not the same actions, true–but they are all choices people make.

Portman continues, “I wrestled with how to reconcile my Christian faith with my desire for Will to have the same opportunities to pursue happiness and fulfillment as his brother and sister. Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.” There’s nothing wrong with such a wrestling match. What is wrong is realizing that the two cannot be reconciled and so deciding that the “Christian faith” should be reinterpreted in order to make it work out alright in the end. Does the Bible have an overarching theme of love and compassion? Yes. But only because the Bible also has an overarching theme of justice and holiness. We cannot accurately understand the love of God without accurately understanding the justice and holiness of God. Because He is a God of holiness, He cannot tolerate sin or have it in His presence. Because He is a God of justice, sin has a penalty that must be paid. Once we understand that, we can understand God’s love–His incredible, indescribable, truly awesome love that caused Him to send His only Son to pay the price for the sins of humanity because none of us can pay it ourselves. What the Bible clearly does not teach, Senator Portman, is that God’s love and compassion means God wants us to do whatever makes us happy. Are we all the children of God? In so far as He made us all, yes. In so far as we will all go to heaven? Not even close.

As far as I know all three of Portman’s children are grown, but can you imagine sitting down to tell them that what they had been taught and raised to believe was God’s Truth was actually wrong? “Well kids, your mom and I made a mistake. So did the pastor, and the Sunday school teacher, and, well, most of the Bible teachers we have respected over the years. Remember what we taught you about homosexuality? Turns out we were wrong. See, your brother is gay. Yes…that’s right. Your brother…our son. And he surely did not choose to be that way. It is just the way he is. It is the way God made Him, apparently. So, we have been wrong. Now that we know your brother is gay we can see it all clearly. We just never understood before. But gay people really love each other, and they deserve to happy just like everyone else. Just because your brother is attracted to men does not mean that he should be denied the right to marry when he finally finds the man he wants to spend the rest of his life with…..” You get the idea. Do you see it, though? Portman is saying that because his son is gay, God must surely think it’s okay.

Portman goes on to make one of the more idiotic statements on gay marriage I have ever heard: “One way to look at it is that gay couples’ desire to marry doesn’t amount to a threat but rather a tribute to marriage, and a potential source of renewed strength for the institution.” Uh, yeah…that’s one way to look at it alright. One very wrong, misguided, and–sorry, Senator–stupid way to look at it.

Portman’s lack of conviction (lack of spine?) is further evidenced in the following paragraph of his commentary, when he writes this: “Around the country, family members, friends, neighbors and coworkers have discussed and debated this issue, with the result that today twice as many people support marriage for same-sex couples as when the Defense of Marriage Act was signed into law 17 years ago by President Bill Clinton, who now opposes it. With the overwhelming majority of young people in support of allowing gay couples to marry, in some respects the issue has become more generational than partisan.” So, since most people think the idea is okay, it must be okay then. Sure. Another ridiculous argument. God’s Word does not fluctuate with the opinions of the people in America (or anywhere else). God’s Word is the same yesterday, today and forever, and it is absolutely clear on the fact that homosexuality is sin, it is an abomination. Of course, we do live in a representative democracy in the U.S., so the opinions of the people can change the law. If that does happen it will not make it right, though, and Bible-believers need to do everything we can to oppose such a change.

And herein is why Portman’s reversal is so poorly timed: the Supreme Court will soon be hearing arguments on the Defense of Marriage Act, and Portman joins the rising throng of people advocating it being overturned. The only thing Portman gets right in his commentary is his suggestion that the courts, and right now the Supreme Court in particular, should not decide this issue. “I believe change should come about through the democratic process in the states. Judicial intervention from Washington would circumvent that process as it’s moving in the direction of recognizing marriage for same-sex couples. An expansive court ruling would run the risk of deepening divisions rather than resolving them.” I agree with that statement. The Supreme Court needs to find only that the Defense of Marriage Act was passed lawfully and is constitutional, and leave the rest up to “we the people.” The Supreme Court must not legislate from the bench and declare gay marriage to be constitutional.

November 16, 2012

Cause and Effect

Unless you live under the proverbial rock, you have surely heard about the David Petraeus’ resignation as director of the CIA. In his resignation letter Petraeus gave the main reason for his decision as “poor judgment.” There are accusations, rumors, speculations…the internet, newspapers and television talking heads are all staying plenty busy these days with this topic. I am not by any means suggesting that it is not a serious issue, especially if there was classified information that was compromised, but it also seems to me that there is an unusual amount of “shock and awe” being directed toward this situation when compared with similar stories in U.S. history.

Apparently, Cal Thomas agrees. In an editorial entitled “Changing standards?” posted yesterday on worldmag.com, Thomas asks why Petraeus had to resign. He (correctly) points out that Bill Clinton did not resign after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and Ted Kennedy never resigned despite a well-known reputation for philandering. After asking why Petraeus should have resigned, Thomas comments, “I am always amused when journalists use the words ‘sex scandal’ when writing about such things. Having abandoned most standards for what used to be called ‘upright behavior,’ culture now ‘tsk-tsks’ when someone is caught in a compromising position.”

A case-in-point would seem to be the statement made by HLN’s Kyra Phillips. As a reporter, she says she has had a good professional relationship with General Petraeus over the years, and that Petraeus and Phillips have had great mutual respect for each other. Then she said, “Needless to say, I’m shocked by his behavior.”

The Huffington Post ran an article on November 12 entitled, “David Petraeus Affair Causes Media Soul-Searching.” What were some of the details of this article, published by this definitely-left-leaning internet news site? Spencer Ackerman, a reporter for Wired, said that he had been drawn into “the cult of David Petraeus” and wrote,
“I played a role in the creation of the legend around David Petraeus.” He went on to say that, looking back now in light of the affair revelation, “he had given Petraeus a pass too many times.” The HP article said that the news of the affair was “greeted with an almost grief-stricken tone by many in the press.”

Now, again, I am absolutely not making light of the affair. I believe such behavior is a sin, and it violates the marriage vows that Petraeus took with his wife. But I think that Thomas raises legitimate questions, and I think the reaction of the media to this story is almost odd given the way other such stories are handled, and given the sexually-saturated society in which we live. Howard Kurtz ended his opinion piece on cnn.com on Monday like this: “News flash: Even top officials are human. They succumb to temptation. And they get a lot more sympathy in times of trouble from journalists they have befriended.” Totally true. Top officials are certainly just as human as everyone else, and while we often hold them a higher standard, the temptations that they face are perhaps stronger, and the opportunities for succumbing are perhaps greater, than those for “the rest of us.” But Kurtz is also right about favorable coverage–or it would make sense for him to be right. But is he? After all, the statements made by Phillips and Ackerman and others seem to suggest that they are judging Petraeus more harshly because of their relationship with him.

Later in his piece, Cal Thomas writes, “Culture promotes all sorts of pre- and extramarital activity as exciting, even commonplace. So how is a high-profile public official to know what is tolerable and what is an offense that can lead to resignation, firing, or impeachment? Divorce is another matter, as most spouses don’t tolerate adultery well.”

Valid points, all. Our culture glamorizes sexual relationships of all kinds, from premarital to extramarital to polygamous to open. There is a even an internet dating service targeted at married individuals; its motto is “Life is short. Have an affair.” The site has even offered a guarantee that its members will have an affair.

At the end of the day, this issue is about much more than David Petraeus (or Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy or any other well-known adulterer). The issue is really about our culture. Why do we think we can advertise, promote, display and glamorize certain behaviors and simultaneously express outrage when people actually live their lives that way? What could be more hypocritical? The answer is not to become more accepting of adultery or other behaviors we have celebrated. No, the answer is to return to teaching, modeling and encouraging personal integrity and values and consistency…and to show the real consequences of personal choices rather than those so often depicted by Hollywood, Madison Avenue and others. And ultimately, of course, the answer is a heart change…a recognition of our depravity, a recognition that we all mess up, and a recognition that we simply cannot fix that by ourselves.

Blog at WordPress.com.