Sex. Money. Power. Words that call to mind the recent debacles of Tiger Woods and David Letterman and a host of other celebrities before them. And now Iris Robinson—a self-described evangelical Christian and the wife of Northern Ireland's First Minister (featured in the video below)—has made the news.
First, Robinson admitted to an affair with a 19-year-old boy. Then financial improprieties came to light. Robinson had secured political favors to benefit her lover's business. The financial deals included kickbacks to line her own wallet. In the midst of it all, Robinson attempted suicide. And the fact that she has called homosexuals "an abomination" on public radio has not garnered her any public support or sympathy.
Robinson certainly does not stand alone as a prominent Christian caught in adultery. And the recent public events speak to a series of personal decisions that most likely started many years ago. It's a story that recalls that of King David, deciding to stay home instead of going to war with his men. Power had allowed him to neglect his responsibilities as king. He became lazy. He surrounded himself with "yes men" who approved of whatever decisions he made, who were willing to summon the beautiful married woman from across the way and turn a blind eye as he invited her into his bedroom. That first decision to stay home from battle led to adultery led to pregnancy led to murder.
But finally, the prophet Nathan spoke up. And David repented. And the Lord forgave him. This story is recorded for us in both 2 Samuel and Psalm 51; it's as if the Holy Spirit wanted to say, "Pay attention. This could happen to you. And here's what you need to do if it does."
Was there a Nathan in Iris Robinson's life? Who was asking her about her marriage? Who was asking about her friendship with a much younger man? It may be that someone spoke up and Iris Robinson didn't listen. But it also may be that no one spoke up at all.
In the Prologue to John's gospel, John writes that Jesus is "full of grace and truth" (1:14). It is easy to state the truth: An adulterous affair is wrong. And it is easy to state the gracious response: Peter Robinson said that his wife has asked for, and received, his forgiveness. It is harder to approach one another with grace and truth before the disastrous decision is made. Christian leaders who have avoided scandals have done so not by having stronger moral fiber, but by admitting their own propensity to weakness. Billy Graham, for instance, always traveled with a friend in order to protect himself against the temptations that inevitably come while alone in a hotel room, the temptations that inevitably come with success and power. Any one of us could be Iris Robinson. None of us is immune to temptation. But God has given us one another to guard against the devastation that the misuse of sex, money, and power can bring.
Forty-three years ago, Simon and Garfunkel wrote a song for The Graduate that featured another Mrs. Robinson in an affair with a teenage boy.
Well here's to you, Mrs. Robinson,
Jesus loves you more than you will know, whoa whoa whoa …
God bless you please, Mrs. Robinson,
Heaven holds a place for those who pray, hey hey hey …
The tune is catchy and inviting, but for those who listen to it and know the film's story, it holds a somber undercurrent. The last person whom Mrs. Robinson wants to acknowledge is Jesus. The last place she wants to go is to a house of prayer.
Yet amid the just charges of hypocrisy, amid the righteous indignation leveled against Peter and Iris Robinson for their participation in the sordid stuff of adulterous affairs and kickbacks and mental illness, Simon and Garfunkel's words ring true. Iris Robinson, Jesus loves you more than you will know.
Amy Julia Becker is a writer, a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, wife to Peter, and mother to Penny and William. She blogs at Thin Places.