Thursday, November 15, 2012

The power of temptation

It has been obvious for a long time that Pat Robertson ought to retire into obscurity. He is repeatedly embarrassing, the most recent example being:
.... Commenting on the affair of General David Petraeus and biographer Paula Broadwell, Robertson said it was “[a]mazing . . . that the affairs of the heart seem to catch these guys.” But then he set up a string of mitigators: Petraeus was away, Broadwell was hot, so what can we expect?

“I mean, who knows?” he said. “The man’s off in a foreign land and he’s lonely and here’s a good-looking lady throwing herself at him. I mean, he’s a man.”

So are half of us, but that’s hardly an excuse for us either. ....
I found these reflections by Bromleigh McCleneghan far wiser:
.... One clergy friend asked, “Why are we always surprised when people ruin their lives?” We pastors have all seen people mess up their professional and personal lives. It doesn’t surprise us—but it does disappoint us.

I have no personal interest in the rise and fall of Petraeus or Paula Broadwell or any member of this story’s growing cast of characters. I’m disappointed because my line of work is staked on a claim that people can learn to resist temptation, to turn away from sin—that they can and often do manage to live with integrity and fidelity. But when public figures lauded for their wisdom fail to do this, commentators often shrug their shoulders and say that this is the way of things. ....

For all that conservative Christian culture gets wrong about sexuality, one thing it’s managed to understand well is the power of temptation. Sometimes we meet people, attractive people who flatter us and are interesting and interested in a way our spouses haven’t been for a while. Sometimes we’re far from home. Sometimes we’re avoiding the bigger, underlying issues in our marriages and lives. Sometimes we flirt, which can be innocent and friendly and fun but can also cross lines. Sometimes we come dangerously close to breaking our vows. Sometimes we just fantasize about breaking them.

It may be that conservatives don’t always do enough to empower people to resist temptation. But we mainliners tend to simply downplay its power.

.... My moralistic faith tradition is predicated on the notion that people can change. Repentance has power; suffering can transform; grace is even more powerful than sin. At rock bottom, Petraeus could perhaps see what’s at stake. That’s why some marriages can recover even from a humiliating affair.

But does Petraeus’s world have space for an anthropology of sin and redemption? “The retired general is devastated by the incident,” his former spokesman reports. “He sees this as a failure, and this is a man who has never failed at anything."
Pat Robertson, Petraeus, and sexual infidelity, The Petraeus affair and why it disappoints me | The Christian Century