I’m entitled to talk about adultery. H1 found himself an adoring Other in his Bishop’s office while supposedly counselling her and then announced to me one Christmas eve that our marriage was over. A few weeks later he and she were playing happy families and showing up at church together as pleased as can be. To tell you the truth it was a bit brutalizing. But still, I’m happy. Nathan is my most favorite husband so far!! In a certain stake I know of (which shall remain unidentified) you have a 50% chance of committing adultery if you are called to be the Stake President and an equal chance if called to be a Bishop of a certain ward which shall (most tactfully of me) remain nameless.
Crude statistics aside this doesn’t make for pleasant reading, but should give us some food for thought. Nathan and I have discussed the dilemma of adultery in the church on and off over the years. We’ve watched the fall-out for wards, the alarm and drama created in the stake, the confusion of children, and the outrage and grief of abandoned spouses. But mostly we’ve waited for something to change, for a word said from the pulpit, for a special fireside for couples, for some discussion to be initiated from somewhere about how to shore up our marriages and properly support those who are suffering. We’ve also waited for a supportive process for the aggrieved spouse to be established so that we don’t see her languishing alone without support and care. But we’ve waited in vain. While living in Wellington we met a disgruntled ex-Bishop who regaled us with stories of illicit sex in the church from other regions, so we know the problem isn’t necessarily unique to our city (although it does seem quite pronounced) and of course it isn’t unique to our church. Only a couple of weeks ago my childhood friend Rita came by, who is a devoted Pentecostal told me about her pastor who similarly made off with a young mother in their congregation, and an anglican vicar told me about a similar situation in a local congregation.
However, for a church which sets such store by chastity and sexual purity one wonders what is going awry. I can only guess from my intimate experience. Perhaps there was a lack of spiritual and emotional maturity in the marriage. Hasty marriages at young ages don’t make for great relationships. I was duped into believing that I was qualified to marry by the much touted aphorism: ‘Two people who love the Lord can make a marriage work.” That’s all very well but you have to like each other as well. And as my sister would say, “It helps if your bones have set”.
The other problem that I’ve noticed in my limited experience of only one adulterous husband is the unimaginative, regulatory and punitive style of mormon marriages. It seems that everything that has been said about marriage and family at church beds down with the couple in an unwieldily pastiche of does and do nots. It becomes so prescriptive that the couple forgets to create their own unique relationship in a frenzy of trying to do the right thing. They forget to give themselves time to just be, and rush into marriage, rush into children, accept the church positions that the more jaded of us creep away from, try and finish school, hold down part time jobs, and cope with poverty all at the same time. Perhaps this was an acceptable format for marriage post-war but I’m not convinced its relevant today. There needs to be breathing space for couples young and old where we don’t feel the need to see each other through the prism of the church. Couples need to negotiate and enjoy the rhythms of gospel living rather than trying to inflict standards upon each other. I’m tired of seeing flat, haggard and dull marriages with no life or energy or uniqueness, where it seems too obvious that the couple haven’t really looked at or seen each other for years because all of their other responsibilities seem to be standing in the way.
But frankly, I don’t really know why church leaders in particular are vulnerable to sexual infidelity because when I’ve asked them why they did it (and I’ve asked a few of them) they have replied with answers such: “I never really loved her”, “I’m doing the most honest thing I’ve ever done”, “This is hard for me as well”, “Well, you get that”, “I didn’t see how I could stay in that marriage” … blah, blah, blah. So is still begs the question.
Back when H1 was doing Miss Daisy I thought I was pretty hot so its not necessarily because they aren’t getting any. But upon reflection, I wonder if it was because of a lack of joy and, for some of these men, the spontaneity and pleasure of an unencumbered, fresh, rule-less relationship was too enticing. With so many have-tos sometimes our want-tos get lost in the ether, and what I’ve come to appreciate after 20 years of unadulterous marriage is the healthiness of letting each other want each other. Of course there will be relationships that will be held together by a mutual obsession with being the perfect mormons and they are welcome to it if it works (but leave the rest of us alone is my only request). Children are whiney, demanding, and a bit over-rated, church callings can be time consuming and if we add to that a responsible church position, and a dose of emotional and spiritual immaturity the cocktail is dynamite.
Perhaps the problem could be the youngness and immaturity of the church in certain places. Up until recently the General Handbook of Instructions appears to be an ‘optional extra’ and ignoring it has placed unnecessary stress on the blokes by requiring all kinds of time-wasting innovations that tend to go nowhere. I know this because I’ve had two husbands in responsible church positions who have both expressed frustration with local revelation which contradicts General Instructions.
Or perhaps the problem is our disavowal of a problem area. We have found a very robust language for talking to adolescents about sexual promiscuity and abstinence but very little for talking to married couples about how to be sexually healthy, happy and how to manage the sex when you’re actually allowed to do it.
Or on a more basic level, perhaps local leaders should preferably be considered from the ranks of those who have served missions. There is something grounding and settling about having served a mission which can only support what can be an extraordinarily difficult task. And with so many church leaders around here habitually missing Sunday School and Priesthood is it any wonder that some of them are running the spiritual gas tanks a bit dry? Ooops did I just say that?