Discussion Starter: As the 2012 presidential race gathers steam, probes into candidates' personal histories have raised questions about how much a candidate's marital life should influence the decision of Christian voters.
"If a candidate lacks the moral fiber to honor such a profoundly meaningful vow to his own spouse, children, and extended family, what makes us think he or she has what it takes to keep the promises of their office? Such a person is demonstrating their untrustworthiness. Divorce, of course, can tragically happen to far too many marriages, for far too many serious reasons: abandonment and abuse, among them. A compassionate society must consider such circumstances carefully before automatically 'writing off' one who seeks public office. Key questions should be: 'Was this a person who did all they could to honor their marriage? If they have engaged in infidelity, have they demonstrated evidence of genuine remorse and repentance?' Extra-marital affairs never just happen. The adulterer always searches for a key, unlocks the door, and walks through it with forethought. Adulterers tend to be people driven more by their appetites than an appreciation for consequences. Votes for such people are ill-advised."
Glenn Stanton, director of family formation studies, Focus on the Family
"I don't think I can improve upon Harry Truman's statement that he would never knowingly hire a person that had cheated on their wife. When he was asked why, he said, 'You know, if a man will lie to his wife, he'll lie to me. And if he'll break his oath of marriage, he'll break his oath of office.' It's hard to argue with President Truman's logic. Can you trust a man who lies to his wife or breaks his marital oath? I don't think so. Public officers take an oath to uphold the Constitution, to uphold the law of the land. Well, when you get married, you take an oath to be faithful in sickness and in health, in poverty and wealth, till death do us part; in adultery, you've broken that oath."
Richard Land, president, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
"Absolutely. Character matters. How people—especially those in positions of power and influence—treat their spouses says a lot about who they are. Marital infidelity knows no party lines. Beyond marital faithfulness, I believe Christian voters should consider how male candidates treat and think about women more generally. Unfortunately, it is hardly a new phenomenon for those in power to ignore issues of their own character. And how men of power think they are somehow entitled to break the rules of decent conduct and not be subject to any human limitations. King David was reproached by the prophet Nathan for sending Uriah the Hittite to his death and then stealing his wife. But, in the past 20 years, it seems like every month brings out new stories of leaders who use and abuse women—in politics, business, sports, and even the church. While there are many things to take into account when casting a ballot, I believe marital faithfulness, and more broadly, the treatment of women, should definitely be considered. While sometimes it seems hard to find a candidate who fulfills everything I'm looking for, I want to vote for someone I could tell my children to look up to. Those who use and abuse women, or cheat on their spouse, just don't make the cut. They are not the kind of men I ever want my boys to be."
Jim Wallis, president, Sojourners
"Marital infidelity is a tragic example of broken trust and worthy of voter scrutiny. Should evidence of past infidelity automatically disqualify a person from elected office? No. Should it raise significant voter concerns that need to be addressed with candor and humility? Absolutely. I would view a candidate whose infidelity was clearly in the past, has admitted the gravity of the sin, and appears genuinely repentant very differently than one whose actions suggest a pattern of deceit and inability to take responsibility for his or her actions. We are all sinners and break promises. No voter, marriage, or candidate is perfect. But the office of President of the United States is a high calling worthy only of our finest and most trustworthy public servants."
Amy Black, professor, Wheaton College
"Individuals who hold a public trust must be able to keep promises. Marriage is similar; in learning to live together, we make compromises based on the promises we have made to attend to one's another well-being and needs. It is our promises made in marriage that guide our abilities to compromise, especially in difficult times. Marriage, like politics, also requires the virtue and practice of perseverance. While marriage requires keeping promises made to one another, marriage itself never promises there won't be difficult times. Difficult times need people who are willing to press on and work through the inevitable conflicts so that the goods of our most fundamental relationships can be realized and humans can flourish within these relationships. All human relationships, whether they are our most intimate ones in marriage or with members of our larger communities, need people who will stay the course in the most difficult of times because of the fundamental commitments we have made to the good of other people. I offer two final caveats as an evangelical ethicist concerned with our public life and questions that are raised during elections about the character of candidates. Infidelity certainly concerns me as a voter. But we ought not to reduce a person's identity to past infidelities and immediately conclude they are 'unfit' for public service. This reflects an assumption that just because someone is a Christian and faithful in marriage, they are qualified for public office. Simply being a Christian does not qualify someone for public office."
Wyndy Corbin Reuschling, author, Reviving Evangelical Ethics
"Christians should consider at least three aspects in electing public officials: commitments on issues, competence, and character. I must ask not only if they share my views and can make the promised difference, but whether I can trust them to stick to their principles after they get into office. Marital infidelity is a character issue—if their spouse cannot trust them, how can their constituents trust them? One's personal life cannot be separated from one's professional life—we have the same character in both."
Joel Hunter, pastor, Northland: A Church Distributed
"Generally, the longer ago the incident and the fuller the reconciliation between parties, the less the issue should matter to voters; repeated and unapologetic marital infidelity would be just cause for more concern. It is risky to trust a serial vow-breaker with such an important office. At the least, the serial violator has, rightly so, a far higher hurdle of public doubt to overcome."
Douglas Koopman, professor, Calvin College
"It's one thing if a candidate committed adultery once long ago and has since led an exemplary life. It's another if infidelity is rampant and recent. Were the acts of adultery accompanied by unusual cruelty or abuse of power? Were the powers and prerogatives of public office used to facilitate the affair? Is there reason to believe it's a manifestation of a broader recklessness and compulsiveness? It's also important not to hyper-focus on sexual indiscretions. The Scriptures warn about the dangers of pride and self-righteousness more often than they do about infidelity. Nor does every sin listed in the Bible have public and political implications. It's a complicated matter to sort through, and to simply hold up adultery as the only disqualifying sin is selective and wrong."
Peter Wehner, senior fellow, Ethics and Public Policy Center
Copyright © 2011 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Previous topics for discussion included if faith healing should be legally protected, if Congress should change pastors' housing allowances, if Christians should share sacred spaces, if Christians are stingy, if Christians should resist the TSA, if Christians should ban Christmas carols with questionable theology, when life begins, if Christians should denounce believers who vilify others, if Christians must pray in public forums using Jesus' name, if they have a responsibility to have children, if churches should increase their 2011 operating budgets, a Protestant-less Supreme Court, Mother's Day worship, incorporating churches, if evangelicals are doing a good job at racial integration, if Christians should leave the American Medical Association, the most significant change in Christianity over the past decade, if the Supreme Court should rule that memorial crosses are secular, multisite campuses vs. church plants, and if Christians should fast during Ramadan with Muslims.
Find hope and historical insight. For a limited time, explore 60+ years of CT archives for free!
- Daily devotions from Timothy Dalrymple during this pandemic.
- Hundreds of theology and spiritual formation classics from Philip Yancey, Elisabeth Elliot, John Stott, and more.
- Home delivery of new issues in print with access to all past issues online.
- View the complete archive.
- Join now and get print issues access to archive PDFs.