Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Wise and Intelligent

Years ago I was working with a woman on a church project. She was intelligent, attractive and charming. She and her husband were good friends with Angela and me. One Sunday afternoon I was talking to her on the phone about our project and Angela was in the room with me. She caught an extra little note of excitement in my voice, a tiny little bit of flirtatiousness, an added trace of affection. After I hung up Angela said, “You need to watch yourself. You two are getting too close.”

Angela was right. I had developed a crush on this woman, and possibly that was reciprocated. I backed off, things cooled off, we completed our project and the four of us remained friends. Now you might be thinking to yourself, “C’mon, Matt, a crush? At your age?” The answer is yes, and it happens all the time between men and women, married or not. Don’t be naïve. The question is, what to do about it?

Last week I talked about the litany of recent revelations of adultery and/or sexual immorality among powerful and visible men (Schwarznegger, Edwards, Weiner, et al.). I promised this week to write about how to guard against adultery and infidelity. Following are the plainest, clearest, strongest suggestions I can make.

1. Examine yourself. Regularly. All marriages go through dry periods characterized by monotony and predictability. An attractive and charming co-worker, neighbor, or fellow church member can easily begin to intrigue you so that you want to spend more time with them. Be very, very careful. This is the point where it is prudent to back off, long before anything “happens.” Heck, long before anything even gets close to happening. To use a fishing analogy, this is where the hook sets. That’s why you have to examine yourself and be honest about your feelings. If you are naïve (or in denial) you will keep nibbling on this bait while convincing yourself you won’t get hooked. The Bible calls this being a fool. (see Proverbs 5-6)

2. Related to this, and many people will disagree with me on the following but I stand by it, if you are married you should not have any close friendships with a person of the opposite sex. Period. It’s just too laden with possible temptations. If your spouse has a close friend then of course you will be friends with that person. But this should be a derivative friendship. As for meeting alone with another man (wives) or woman (husbands) for anything other than a brief, task-oriented reason, avoid it. This goes back to being self-aware and wise. The Bible tells us to flee temptation and resist the devil (I Corinthian 10:13; James 4:7). There’s a reason it’s not the opposite. If you stand in the presence of temptation too long you will fall. Don’t be so prideful and stupid. Why would you knowingly flirt with disaster? Do you need some thrills? Buy a dirt-bike or go bungee jumping or come mow my yard.

3. If you find yourself talking with a woman (men) or man (women) about your unhappy marriage, and he/she gets all sympathetic and supportive about your terrible predicament, RUN. This is the oldest story in the book. Empathy turns into support turns into intimacy turns into heartache and pain.

If all of this sounds harsh or draconian, well, it’s a question of guarding what’s important and protecting those close to you from betrayal and pain. Jesus tells us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Protecting yourself against infidelity involves both of these. Unless you just want to play with fire.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

An Opportunity for Men

The tawdry news that we have been subjected to this week of U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner’s twittered explicit photographs seems to be just the latest in a steady stream of high-profile men being exposed as philanderers and cheats. From Arnold Schwarzenegger’s and John Kerry’s mistresses and illegitimate children to IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Khan’s alleged sexual assault of a hotel maid, it has not been a good couple of weeks for men in the news. Time Magazine’s May 30 cover story was titled, “Sex, Lies, Arrogance: What Makes Powerful Men Act Like Pigs?” I was glad they added the modifying adjective “powerful.”

Following are some thoughts I have about all this:
1. Many, many married men practice monogamy and place a high value on marital faithfulness. It is easy to lose sight of that because it doesn’t make news or water-cooler conversations. As the old journalistic maxim goes, “Dog bites man” isn’t news. “Man bites dog” is news. The exceptions capture our attention, not the norms.

2. Power and fame almost inevitably cultivate in people a sense of entitlement. Tiger Woods acknowledged after his indiscretions, “I thought the rules didn’t apply to me.” The aforementioned Time magazine article cites a soon-to-be-published study in Psychological Science which found that the higher men – or women – rose in a business hierarchy, the more likely they were to consider or commit adultery. “With power comes both opportunity and confidence,” the authors argue, “and with confidence comes a sense of entitlement.” Be very careful about getting full of yourself. As the apostle Paul puts it, “Don't be so naive and self-confident. You're not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it's useless. Cultivate God-confidence.” (I Cor. 10:12, The Message)

3. Few males are raised to be gentlemen. By “gentlemen” I mean men who respect women and consider a disciplined and moral life to be a worthy goal. This must start in the home, from fathers. A good question for every father to ask himself is, “How do I speak about women and how do I treat women in my son’s presence?” Obviously, this should begin with how he treats and speaks about his son’s mother.

4. Christian men have a powerful opportunity to witness to our faith in Christ by our marital faithfulness and by how we speak about and treat women. In a culture that is increasingly crude and suggestive regarding women (and sadly many women accept this), a Christian gentleman will be the proverbial and scriptural “shining light.” He will be a lion among hyenas, a thoroughbred among donkeys.

Next week I will talk about ways to guard against adultery and infidelity. Alas, the news in my little circle lately has been full of ministers failing morally. At a recent conference, one noted church consultant said he is seeing it more than ever. Interestingly, he said he is seeing it in the churches of Christ among elders too, who in the last decade have begun spending more time counseling and visiting with church members. He said there is a fine line between confidentiality and intimacy, and many ministers and church leaders have not been coached on how to navigate it.

Adultery and moral failings leave a trail of pain, confusion and anger that spreads outward like a boat’s wake. The consequences are enormous. If there is one thing that we remember from these news stories, let that be it.