Sex & Power

I recently heard a tape of a discussion among several Christian writers and political thinkers, and one of the participants noted that it seems that some of our greatest leaders have not been sexually faithful men. Indeed, some have been profligate. Thus, the participant argued, it seems that private virtue does not clearly link to public virtue. In this essay, I wish to take issue with that notion.

First of all, we do not know now much greater these men might have been if they had been faithful to their wives.

Second of all, we do not know what other men, faithful men, might have been done far better if they had been in power rather than the “great men” who were.

But third, there is indeed a very strong relationship between marital faithfulness and public virtue, and that is what I wish to explore here.

To begin with, the Bible teaches that the leader(s) of a nation relate to the nation as a husband to a wife. The leader is married to the nation in some deep psychological sense. This is also true of the relationship between a pastor and a church. Thus, the corruption of a man’s marital relationship will inevitably affect his political actions. And vice versa: A pastor who betrays his ecclesiastical calling by attacking or betraying the Church may well find betrayal in his own marriage as a consequence.

Infidelity, polygamy, and divorce are all forbidden by implication in Genesis 2:24, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall cleave to his wife.” If a man cleaves or sticks to his wife, he will be unable to cleave to another.

Leviticus 18:18 specifies this prohibition to include the sister of one’s wife. Jacob had married sisters, though this involved a trick, because he was legally married to Rachel and then physically cleaved to Leah, thus becoming bound to both without planning to be. Israelites might have imagined, thus, that marrying two sisters was permissible. But God said, “And you shall not take a wife in addition to her sister as a rival while she is alive, to uncover her nakedness.” Any second wife is a rival, and any second wife “uncovers the nakedness” of the first, exposing her to shame and ridicule as inadequate. Thus, this law also forbids all polygamy.

We ask, then, why Moses (under Divine inspiration) adds in Deuteronomy 17:17 regarding the king, “neither shall he multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away.” It has already been established that polygamy is forbidden. Why add that kings, in particular, are forbidden to collect wives? Surely the reason has to do with the particular situation of the ruler. We notice that Paul says that Church rulers also must not be polygamous (1 Timothy 3:2 & 12). The principle would be the same in this case.

Part of the reason for forbidding extra wives for the king is that marriages are alliances. Solomon’s wives were taken as part of alliances with the heathen nations round about Israel, for instance. This opened the nation up to idolatry, and Solomon built idol shrines for his heathen wives.

A deeper reason, however, has to do with the relationship between sex and power. Why is a man unfaithful to his wife? After all, if all the man wanted was sex, he could have it with his wife, or at least with a prostitute. Beyond this, if the man actually fell in love with another woman, he might have a love affair with her, but this would not involve having sex with one woman after another. Engagement with prostitutes and extra-marital affairs are sinful, but do not involve the abuse of power. We can think of the American o_cers during World War II who spent three or so years in Europe away from their wives and wound up having love affairs with some female associate. This is understandable, though wrong, and is not an abuse of power.

Having sex with one willing woman after another, however, is an abuse of power. There is the thrill of titillation in possessing one woman after another, and often there is a very real addiction involved, but indulging in such activities is seldom possible apart from power (including the power wealth brings). Such women are readily available to men who have power, for they want to participate in the power. A John Kennedy, for instance, does not use such women for sex, for he has a wife, nor is he having a love affair with them; he barely knows their names. Rather, he is abusing power.

Such a man finds such women available and willing, and uses them. Uses them; that is the operative phrase here. Throughout history, men of power have used women one after another. Such behavior shows a great contempt for women.

The Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, who has a Christian background that is re_ected in his early works, deals with just this subject in his novel A Man of the People. This novel, which I commend to you, is in part a reflection on the parallels between sexual power and political power.

We can turn to David for a Biblical example. Though married to Michal, David began collecting more wives during his “wilderness sojourn” (Abigail and Ahinoam), and continued to collect more afterwards. His cavalier attitude toward women translated into a cavalier attitude toward his political responsibilities. Precisely when he should have been with the Ark leading Israel into battle, he stayed behind and sinned with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). His son Amnon imitated him and ravished Tamar, embittering Absalom, and leading to a civil war. Later, David abused power by numbering the people, trying to take Yahweh’s host as his own.

Today we (evidently) have a leader who regularly “Kennedyizes” with women. From the news, especially as recounted in several issues of the American Spectator, we gather that his preference is for the women to engage in fellatio (oral stimulation of the penis). Now, as far as a married couple is concerned, there is no Biblically forbidden caress, and whatever a couple chooses to do in the course of love-making is up to them. Where there is love and marriage and mutual consent, there is no degradation. In the context of one-night-stands, however, a man who uses women in this way is degrading them. He surely won’t remember their names. He gets them to do something that puts them in a position of humiliation before him. If these reports are true, this leader is certainly not in position to be faithful to his nation, and is a man who regularly abuses power.

The availability of women to the man of wealth and/or power is a great temptation. If he resists that temptation, he will develop character that will stand him well as he exercises power. Because the temptation is so much greater for such men, and because the consequences are so much more deadly, the Bible specially singles out men of power and forbids them to practise polygamy and profligacy. A faithful man may have other flaws that prevent his being a good leader, as was the case with Jimmy Carter, but marital faithfulness is one certain requirement for a good leader.

In conclusion, marital chastity and _delity are essential to the proper exercise of rule, in Church and state. The leader who abuses women will abuse the nation as well.

James Jordan is scholar-in-residence at Theopolis. This article originally appeared at Biblical Horizons