Over 30 million men were actively looking to commit adultery. Hackers recently published online the client list of the adultery website Ashley Madison. Included in the list of names were famous people, several pastors and ministry leaders. Sadly, this did not surprise me. Sexual sin is all to common. As I reflected on the Ashley Madison story, and of the recent moral failures of a national ministry leader I know, I was again reminded of how terrible adultery is. In light of these events in seemed appropriate to share my thoughts on sexual indiscretion and how to avoid it. What follows is excerpted from the chapter on adultery in my book, Life Medicine.
In nearly two decades of practice as a family physician I have seen multiple cases of adultery and immorality. As with cancer, heart disease, and asthma, it is a condition constantly on the increase. It is a sad truth that when pondering the introduction to this essay the challenge wasn’t coming up with an example, it was deciding which story to use.
I have seen adultery rear its head in many different families, in many different circumstances. I have seen infidelity in people married a short while and I have seen it in people married for over twenty years. I have seen it in religious people and in atheists. I have seen husbands who were unfaithful within a few weeks of the birth of a first child. I have even had a couple who simultaneously discovered their mutual infidelity. They came to me to treat the anxiety they felt when they had caught each other cheating!
Of all the cases I have seen, the most troubling occurred when I had been in private practice for only a few years. The husband was a pastor of a new church in the same town as my office. It was a young and “hip” church, and he was a young and “hip” pastor, complete with flip-flops and surfer lingo. His wife was the perfect wife. She was pretty, friendly, outgoing, and devout. She headed the women’s ministry for the church and was widely respected and loved by the congregation.
I first met the couple when she was pregnant with their third child. She had come to me for medical care in the pregnancy. Her seemingly devoted husband was with her at every visit. We talked regularly about issues of faith, and he spoke frequently about what was happening in the church. He never missed an opportunity to demonstrate his faith. When their daughter was born he prayed a dramatic prayer of thanksgiving in the delivery room.
Before long I found myself providing care for many more families in the same church. Once word got out that I was a Christian doctor a veritable stream of church members came my way. I was particularly thrilled that other women came to me for their obstetrical care as I had always loved delivering babies and caring for entire families. Caring for young Christian families was a special added bonus.
Two of the women from the church who came to me for pregnancy care were particularly involved in the church. One was a church administrative assistant who worked in the church office, the other a woman who was actively involved in children’s ministry. They were both young, pretty, and outwardly committed Christians. I had no reason to doubt their faith.
Shortly after the two women gave birth to their children, I learned my confidence in them was misplaced. An epidemic of stress struck their church and several members came to see me, distraught and struggling to deal with terrible news they had recently heard. I was told that the pastor of the church had been forced to resign, accused of having affairs with these two women whose babies I had recently delivered. I heard that one of the women had confessed to her sin, while the other adamantly denied it. The confessor, partly out of shame and partly out of a desire to start over, soon moved out of the area. The woman who maintained her innocence left the church and left my practice, angry at all of those who doubted her integrity. I never saw either one of them as a patient again.
I saw the disgraced pastor soon after the scandal broke and he was remarkably unrepentant. He remained a patient for a while, and continued to talk about future ministry and what he believed God had in store. It was awkward for me, as I desperately wanted to challenge him about what he had done but could not find a way to appropriately work my thoughts and feelings into the context of the medical visit. The opportunity never did present itself. He left my practice a few years later.
The pastor’s wife divorced him, and eventually found a man who loved and cherished her and her children. I have seen her off and on over the years and she seems to have rebuilt her life. The children seem to be doing well but must struggle with the daily reality of divorce and with the residual anger between their mom and dad. The church body recovered much more slowly. Disillusioned, a number of families left the church. Many who stayed struggled with trust and wondered how something so awful could have happened. It took several years for the new pastor to overcome the damage that had been done and for healing to occur.
As the doctor for the pastor, the pastor’s family, the women involved, many church members, and eventually the new pastor and his family, I saw firsthand the magnitude of the damage and harm that occurred. It is one of the greatest tragedies I have seen in all of my years of practice. This case and the others I have witnessed have convinced me that few sins are as damaging as adultery. The impact of the sin reaches far beyond the immoral person or couple. It extends to children, extended family, friends, and colleagues. It is truly a grievous sin.
As painfully obvious as the consequences of adultery are, there are still many people who do not think they need to do anything special to prevent it. I can only surmise that they do not truly understand the damage done by adultery. God considered adultery significant enough to include its prohibition in His Ten Commandments; important enough to write a prescription against it on tablets of stone.
This post is the first in a multi-part series on adultery. You can have future posts delivered to your inbox by subscribing to the blog. Comments and questions are welcomed. I am currently teaching through my book , videos are posted on my vimeo site, www.vimeo.com/bartbarrett If you are interested in having me speak to your church or community group I can be reached through the contact page on this site. If you find this or any post valuable please consider sharing it with your friends. it only takes a click!