Pat Robertson, Petraeus, and sexual infidelity

Pat Robertson, Petraeus, and sexual infidelity November 14, 2012
Pat Robertson, CBN

Groan. So here we have an unfolding scandal involving infidelity in the highest reaches of the U.S. military and intelligence community, and what does Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson say about it?

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. Who knows what really happened, but Robertson’s comments essentially blame Broadwell and reduce Petraeus to so much putty in her hands, as if he gets a pass.

While CBN was quick to clarify that Pat Robertson does not condone sexual immorality, his comments nonetheless boggle the mind. For better or worse, Robertson is a spokesperson for the Christian faith. But as with so many recent comments, he seems increasingly unable to speak without attracting scorn — which naturally attaches to the faith he represents.

The thing to say was that this was tragic for both Petraeus and Broadwell personally, and perhaps even more so for their families. Petraeus is married and has two adult children. Broadwell is likewise married and has two young boys, a ages four and six. Like all infidelity, the sexual sin is only one part of the dynamic. Lies and betrayal corrupt the heart and bring harm to loved ones.

A lot of ‘propinquity’ going on

Petraeus and Broadwell came together while she worked on her book about him. “I think the word is ‘propinquity,'” said Robertson, then joked, “There was a lot of propinquity going on.”

It’s worth looking at that word. Propinquity — personal proximity that results in attraction — is hardly an excuse for infidelity. If anything the Christian tradition outright warns people about it. After being propositioned on several occasions, Joseph runs away from his temptress. Solomon warns his son to stay clear of the seductress. Paul tells us to make no provision for our fleshly lusts. And Jesus says to look on someone lustfully is the same as committing adultery.

Ever wonder how TMZ breaks celebrity news? They go where celebrities are making news. It’s the same with infidelity. If you want something, go where it happens. If you don’t want it, stay away.

Listen to the advice of Sirach:

Do not give yourself to a woman
so that she gains mastery over your strength.
Do not go to meet a loose woman,
lest you fall into her snares.
Do not associate with a woman singer,
lest you be caught in her intrigues.
Do not look intently at a virgin,
lest you stumble and incur penalties for her.
Do not give yourself to harlots,
lest you lose your inheritance.
Do not look around in the streets of a city,
nor wander about in its deserted sections.
Turn away your eyes from a shapely woman,
and do not look intently at beauty belonging to another;
many have been misled by a woman’s beauty,
and by it passion is kindled like a fire.
Never dine with another man’s wife,
nor revel with her at wine;
lest your heart turn aside to her,
and in blood you be plunged into destruction.

–Sirach 9.2-9

Stay close to where your heart should be

While directed at men, the warning works for either gender. Stay away from opportunities to fall. Like Paul said, don’t provide for them. There is a battle for our hearts. If we’re to win it, we can’t be distracted by our lusts and disordered desires.

When Nate Larkin started the Samson Society, an group designed to help men struggling with their various and sundry besetting sins, one piece of advice he gave was that men should stay close to home. Some people cannot because of their job, but the advice is directionally sound. If you can’t for whatever reason, set other boundaries.

Whether physically or emotionally, don’t roam. Stay close to where your heart should be.

Update: Here’s a cool article talking about the same issue from the Jewish perspective. Enjoy.

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  • sound advice joel. thanks for speaking out. this not only helps us but when you do such posts you serve as an ‘ombudsman’ for the faith. infidelity cannot be justified. setting boundaries (and failure) starts in the heart. thanks for highlighting the importance of a holistic approach both internally and practically.

    • Joel J. Miller

      Thank you. We can’t treat this stuff lightly. Holiness is won or lost in the heart.

  • Geoffrey Little

    Thanks, Joel.

    Except, don’t you work for Thomas Nelson, who publishes some of Robertson’s books? Here’s one I found from 2008

    Help me not to be cynical here.


    • Joel J. Miller

      I’m not sure I see the problem. I don’t have to agree with everything my employer publishes any more than every author we publish must agree with the others. We publish Rachel Held Evens and Mark Driscoll. There’s nothing wrong with disagreement. Hope that helps — though I should add that you’re welcome to feel as cynical as you need.

  • So glad you raised the story of Joseph. We so often blame our actions on our circumstances as if the Bible’s teachings are only valid in certain circumstances. If Petraeus knew he was developing those feelings he should have ended the close proximity with Broadwell immediately. Or better yet, he could have developed some personal rules about interacting with women in the vain of Billy Graham.

    • Joel J. Miller

      Exactly. It’s a good warning. In Lifted by Angels, I tell the story of Evagrius. He got in the same bind, falling for a married woman. And he wasn’t running away. Before he could make the situation worse, his guardian angel staged an intervention. It’s a great story. But we shouldn’t expect our angel to the work. We need to put distance between us an temptation while we work by the grace of the Holy Spirit to reorder our desires.

  • er

    Initially, I was angry with robertson for his stupid comment. I, too, am a woman who gets lonely at times and have married and single men throwing themselves on me. So, that would justify me having an affair?
    But, thankfully, I’ve calmed down. I remembered that if Petraeus & Broadwell can make a stupid mistake, so can Robertson. All’s forgiven.

  • Susan

    Does Robertson think he has information about the affair the other news agencies don’t have? According to all the reports I’ve read, the affair didn’t start in Afghanistan. It started in the US, sometime after the general became CIA Director. Reuters reported it on Sunday. (

    So Robertson’s excuse of “propinquity” (I guess that’s a new word all of us will remember from now on!) while the general was in a foreign land has nothing directly to do with the affair, as Robertson suggested. I’m surprised the bloggers haven’t picked up on this.

    • Joel J. Miller

      Good catch. Very intriguing. My interest here is only incidental, but someone should work out the timeline.

  • NOLA

    Pat Robertson is a spokesman for the Christian faith???? Even amongst Christians, Robertson is largely a joke – the off-balance uncle who says inappropriate things at holiday celebrations. If you’re looking for the person who, for better or worse, is THE spokesman for the Christian faith. He lives in the Vatican. He is the Bishop of Rome. He is the successor to Saint Peter. And he is, without any doubt, the world’s most recognized spokesperson on Christianity.

    • Joel J. Miller

      Robertson may be self-appointed, but he’s a spokesman nonetheless. That’s what makes him hard to take. It all reflects back on the faith in some form or fashion.

  • Robertson has also called for the murder of many people. He is a bad man.
    Venezuela’s President Chavez Just One Of Several People Robertson Has Said Should Be Murdered
    By John Lofton, Editor,

    John Lofton, Recovering Republican
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