Monday, July 20, 2015
Part 4: Must Infidelity be Confessed to a Spouse? A Rebuttal to Questionable Counsel from Russell Moore
My Observations and Considerations
My hope, here, is to more effectively qualify a response to this issue for my readers. I have no doubt that numerous believers face, to some degree, the dilemma of sexual sins of thought, word and/or deed and having read the kind of counsel offered by Dr. Russell Moore, they instinctively come away from his prescription knowing that something isn’t quite right but have not been able to identify and articulate their concerns.
However, permit me to add that I am certain Russell Moore is both earnest and genuine in his guidance. As well, I believe he demonstrates a seriousness in his desire to orient people toward what he believes is Godly thinking and acting, though I regularly find myself at odds with his theological products and certainly here. Hence, I do not want anyone thinking my objective is a caricaturization of Moore. Nevertheless, his advice on the matter reflects a commonly sloppy and overly pious approach which has inflicted needless collateral damage to the lives of faltering humans and particularly Christians.
God is absolute and clear in his Word. Marriage is intended to be that of a man and woman being faithful in every manner possible, to one another. This, especially, includes sexual fidelity. Adultery is shameful and sinful. Proverbs 6:29 states regarding the one that goes to his neighbors wife and commits adultery:
29 So is the one who goes in to his neighbor’s wife;
Whoever touches her will not go unpunished.
That passage has in view two kinds of suffering from this level of transgressing, both human and divine. Thus, it is clear that not only are there human consequences but divine ones as well. Of course not every single person and every single violation are equal and God deals with each one of us in particular (as do humans). But even so, we will be corrected and reproved by God, even if human disclosure does not occur. Proverbs 3:11-12 states:
11 My son, do not reject the discipline of the Lord
Or loathe His reproof,
12 For whom the Lord loves He reproves,
Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights.
Therefore, let me be clear. In no way am I minimizing deleterious effects of this sin and its violation before God. However, how it is resolved with respect to human relationships and to whom we own a confession has an extended Biblical consideration and is not left up to our rationalizations which seem sanctified and spiritual but which may be, in fact, creating further and gratuitous conflict and injury in a marriage.
First and foremost, when you commit marital infidelity where the other spouse does not share such knowledge, there is no absolute counsel from the Scriptures or practical Biblical wisdom which demands and treats as the highest order of conduct, the disclosure of such a sin. The book of Proverbs contains a very weighty principle regarding our sins. Proverbs 12:23 share this wisdom:
23 The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves, but a fool’s heart blurts out folly.
Now it is true that revealing an offense is not necessarily equal to blurting it out but the Proverb treats keeping knowledge of something to one’s self as “prudent”. Prudence is the practice of perspicacity regarding what we reveal to others and what we do not. We use forethought and consider how it will affect the person(s) with whom the information is revealed.
When we accept Dr. Moore’s prescription, that we are always obligated to confess infidelity, we do so in the absence of prudence. Prudence considers the damage to the relationship and the spouse, who at the moment may be very contented and who, through this knowledge, may receive an injury from which he or she cannot recover, which brings me to my next point.
Exacerbating the damage through confessing to a spouse
When someone is unfaithful they have damaged themselves. As well, their marriage will experience some by-products of unfaithfulness such as the offending spouse having created an appetite for intimacy with foreign parties. However, the faithful spouse has not received a personal offense. The integrity has failed on one end and needs resolved on that end.
So when a spouse has been unfaithful but repented and returned as a faithful party, while there may be by-product(s), the re-invested spouse will, as time increases, regain matrimonial momentum in their repentance and renewed faithfulness. Thus, the damage may be minor, if not noticeable at all to the innocent party.
Why, then, would there be a compelling interest in revealing the episode of infidelity to the innocent spouse, particularly if one has confessed their offense to God and returned to fidelity with the marriage developing positively as it should?
The truth is, we often are only furthering the damage of our offense when we confess it to the unknowing party. We are, in effect, generating a greater problem where one need not be. There is no default Biblical mandate to confess our sins of thought, word and/or deed to our spouses, even infidelity, only to God.
This is not to say disclosure is never necessary but it unquestionably should not be assumed as essential any time a Christian is unfaithful. What benefit comes from pulling a spouse into such a matter, particularly when there is no real threat of disclosure by other parties? You actually rend the marriage further and enlarge the bruise which I dare say may be a sin, in and of itself.
The Purpose of Confession and using your Spouse as your Personal Priest
While I may be pressing this point with multiple references, I believe it warrants emphasis. What is the ultimate purpose for confessing marital infidelity to a spouse who does not know about it and likely will not know about it? It surely cannot be for their sake, particularly if they are happily invested in the marriage. As Russell Moore suggests, it is to somehow restore integrity to the relationship (my paraphrase) and to complete one’s repentance. However, the truth is, the irreconciliation only failed one way and only needs corrected on the end where it failed. I believe that frequently, such a confession is a selfish act to relieve a person of guilt by using their spouse as a personal priest instead of turning to God for absolution.
Moore refers to the removal of the guilt which is present when one is unfaithful. His view is that this guilt cannot be relieved unless the innocent spouse is informed and offers forgiveness. Your spouse cannot forgive you unless they know about your infidelity and unless they know about it, they are not injured. In other words, until you disclose your infidelity your spouse is not offended, they are innocent. Only you are the injured party, injured by your own sin. Your remedy is repentance before God and a re-commitment to your marriage.
Bearing your own Burdens
As Christians we ought to learn to bear our own burdens. We should not draw others into our internal and private failures and demand absolution and unconditional love as if they are God. In my view, the selfishness of this kind of approach is understated.
It is the child who uses other people to assuage their guilt when disclosure of personal failures and a guilty conscience are not needed. It is the adult who accepts the conscience which comes when they commit offenses and it is the adult Christian who believes God’s promise of forgiveness (when they name their sins) and moves on in life.
Are you saying there never is a time to confess to others, particularly marital infidelity, to your spouse?
I am not suggesting that we never have to confess our sins to others; this would violate what I pointed to in James. However, context and its variables are part of the consideration and as we see in James, Matthew and in the passage in 1 Corinthians, these have to do with people denying sins of which they are being confronted by others. For a few specific cases, but not limited to these, I offer two concrete occasions where I believe it would be unprincipled to fail to disclose infidelity to your spouse.
First, in the case that the innocent party is very likely to have this information shared to them by a party outside of the marriage. This is when we should use wisdom and control the event of the disclosure to the innocent party and offer whatever information is necessary. This is a prudent confession and cares for the innocent party so that they are not blindsided by the information from transient parties and humiliated.
Secondly, we must confess our offenses if our actions produce consequences of which our spouse needs to know because it will directly affect the marriage such as getting another person pregnant, getting an STD or an affair which will cost the offender his or her employment and so on. Again, this keeps the innocent spouse from being blindsided, humiliated and even further injured.
In most cases of marital infidelity I believe there to be few absolutes which can be broadly prescribed when it comes to admitting unfaithfulness to a spouse. Some spouses can handle such admissions, forgive in a timely manner and move on to a renewed and healthy marriage. Others, however, would be crushed and permanently debilitated by such a discovery, even though it may have been a single and isolated event and many years ago.
Treating your spouse with the assumption that he or she can deal with this information, will be willing to forgive you and that your marriage will become stronger and healthier than before is an assumption no one, particularly a Christian, can afford to make. Every case has its own set of variables and everyone is different. This may seem like obvious advice but it appears to me that the obvious escaped Dr. Russell Moore in his broad and indiscriminate prescription of confessing infidelity to an unknowing spouse.
Qualifier - I do wish to be emphatic here. I have no desire to prescribe to anyone's conscience before God the idea that it is foolish and weak to offer such a disclosure to your spouse. It can be, in some of the instances I have pointed out, but if your conscience is inconsolably torn and you find yourself with no sufficient remedy to your betrayal other than confessing this to your spouse, forbid me from being the dictate of your conscience.
However, this is precisely why I have written this four-part response, because sometimes a person's conscience is fraught with guilt based on false concepts. My encouragement and instruction is a Biblically perspicacious handling of such failures and a conscience which is strengthened by truth, not weakened by errant absolutes.
Maybe you believe it is noble to make such confessions but you may do more damage than good and there is nothing noble about that. It may end up being a greater act of love to keep such indiscretions to yourself and bearing this privately, before God, as a failure but one in which God has forgiven you instead of dumping this onto your spouse to deal with. Keeping them innocent may be the greater virtue.
Friday, July 17, 2015
Part 3: Must Infidelity be Confessed to a Spouse? A Rebuttal to Questionable Counsel from Russell Moore
Part 3: Third Section of Moore’s Advice
Having said that, I want to say to you be prepared for the consequences of your sin. And I think that you need to make it very clear when you confess this to your wife that she is more important to you than the risk that may come along with your confessing this to her. And so you need to own your sin. You need to communicate this to her as a sin, and do not give any indication that you blame her at all.
And I would also say don’t take her first reaction to be necessarily her last reaction. She is going to feel betrayed. She is going to feel outraged…and let her express the grief and the anger that comes out of this. You have been carrying this sin with you now for several years. It could feel to you almost as a relief to get it out in the open in front of her. But this is the first time she is hearing about this, and so, you can’t expect her to forgive you immediately, reconcile with you immediately, move on. She has to grieve this, and she has to express the sort of anger that she has. Let her do that, and then wait patiently for her to forgive you. Don’t expect that she owes you some sort of immediate reconciliation. You are going to have to spend in many ways the rest of your life in your marriage rebuilding the trust that is there, even when she does forgive you.
This final portion of Russell Moore’s prescription for whether or not to disclose marital infidelity, contains some concerning idealizations regarding the process as well as a wrongly assigned consequence. He states that when one discloses their adultery to their spouse that person needs to, “be prepared for the consequences of your sin”. Actually, what follows is not a consequence of the sin but the consequence of having divulged the matter. If the wife, in this case, never learned of the offense there would be no such consequence.
The actual consequence of the sin is the sin itself and any of its direct products (which may include divine initiatives of discipline toward the offender). Admitting infidelity to one’s spouse is an indirect consequence, at best, and one that is not a default repercussion. It is up to the offending party whether or not to involve their spouse which then, they must be accepting of its consequences.
Dr. Moore directs that the offending party needs to “own” their sin. I agree. However, by pulling an uninvolved spouse into the matter we need to be clear, we are now requiring her share the wound which up until now, she was not sharing in the injury. In other words, what Dr. Moore is actually directing the guilty party to do is to pass the injury around and extend its damages to his spouse, not owing and bearing it himself.
Assumptions about forgiveness
Here, Russell Moore suggests, regarding the reaction of the now injured spouse, that it will take time and that the offending husband should not take her first reaction, “to be necessarily her last reaction”. He then goes on to describe what he anticipates to be a processing cycle with the wife eventually forgiving him but warns that, “You are going to have to spend in many ways the rest of your life in your marriage rebuilding the trust that is there, even when she does forgive you.”
The rest of your life?
My initial reaction is one of astonishment that Moore believes every spouse can handle such knowledge and more so, that it will always eventually result in forgiveness (though not stating this directly his weakly qualified counsel assumes this outcome). But even then, the kind of forgiveness Russell Moore seems to be relating to us is one that is conditional, where the rest of a marriage is spent rebuilding a trust. Frankly, if it takes the rest of a marriage to rebuild a trust then the marriage is destroyed, in effect. Moreover, I would never teach any spouse that they have the liberty to force their offending spouse to spend the rest of their marriage enslaved to a point of failure in the marriage.
But to the earlier comment Dr. Moore makes, that her first reaction may not necessarily her last. Right, it might not be but what if it is? The marriage is destroyed and when not disclosing this information and possibly bearing the burden of the offense within one’s self, alone, and receiving the forgiveness of God, may have been the solution that kept the marriage together instead of destroying it. This leads me to my own observations which I will share in Part 4.
Tuesday, July 14, 2015
Part 2: Must Infidelity be Confessed to a Spouse? A Rebuttal to Questionable Counsel from Russell Moore
Second Section of Moore’s Advice
Secondly though, you have brought to the marriage a breakdown in intimacy. You are keeping a secret from her about something that is at the core of your marriage. She deserves to know this, and I don’t think you have finished repenting until you confess it to her and until you ask for her forgiveness. I also don’t think that you are going to be free from the weight of conviction that you feel from that sense of guilt that you either feel.
Secrets and using your spouse as a personal priest
Here, Russell Moore proposes the idea that because sexual information exists in one’s head which is not possessed by the spouse, that person is obligated to disclose it to the uninformed spouse. Now, in all fairness Moore does qualify his demand of disclosure in this case as essential because it is “at the core of your marriage”.
My question to Dr. Moore is simply this, if we are going to argue as dogma such necessities and do so as a Biblical argument, where may we find in Scripture that core of your marriage issues have to be confessed, never mind the claim that this is the core of your marriage in the first place (though I do agree that it is an important element at times but it is far from core else many a vibrant marriage where sexuality is scant is in trouble)?
The answer is that it cannot be found in the Bible. Fundamentally, this is Russell Moore’s own rational or logical conclusion. Now, that does not mean he is disingenuous or does not have something virtuous in his mind behind the issuance of this edict since the Scriptures do speak of going from the good to the better and to the best, values of which are determined through Scriptural derivatives (doctrinal conclusions) and are not plainly stated.
However, he offers no such Biblical blueprint as to how he determined this is the “core of your marriage”, that this information is essential to be confessed or that the individual hasn’t finished repenting (again, I point you to our Lord’s instruction, “go and sin no more” as well as James 5 and the context of why and when we confess our sins, one to another). While it is true that effective and honest communication is necessary for a marriage or any relationship, it is naïve to propose that our spouse is to function as our personal priest for our sexual indiscretions of thought, word or deed hence, they must be divulged otherwise we have not truly repented and been appropriately forgiven.
Further, I am not sure where this threshold of “secrets” Moore suggests lies which marks when we are Biblically compelled to reveal marital indiscretions to our spouse or when we are emancipated from such, but allow me to ask a reasonable question which is consequential to Moore’s no sexual secrets in marriage formula. Should we confess when we lust in our heart? That certainly is a sexual secret. Can you imagine the health of a marriage by such a standard?
If we are to take his principle to heart, that we cannot keep sexual secrets in marriage, then please draw me a Biblical line, not one that is personally determined by Dr. Moore and then labeling it as Biblical dogma and universally prescribed. Of course no such Scriptural demarcation exists in any codified form which is why I am cautioning against Moore’s heterogeneous counsel requiring infidelity to always be disclosed.
Guilt and more priestly demands for the spouse
Moore does identify something with which I can happily agree and that is the matter of guilt. However, his remedy is ailing, in my view. He states, concerning someone carrying around the guilt of infidelity, “I also don’t think that you are going to be free from the weight of conviction that you feel from that sense of guilt that you either feel.”
In my view he is correct on one point and delinquent on another. Russell Moore’s suggestion is that one is going to be “free from the weight of conviction” if they admit their infidelity to their spouse. Really? This seems to be a significantly idealistic approach and a great deal is assumed here.
First, I would state rather emphatically that guilt is part of what comes with private betrayal. However, the remedy isn't furthering that betrayal by bringing it to the attention of the innocent party and then placing the burden of amelioration on them. It is the offender's guilt to deal with, not not the innocent party's. Receive your forgiveness from God and keep your spouse free from such a weight and distraction if at all possible, that is, if you care for her or him.
Secondly, often what a person is experiencing when they are not “free from the weight of conviction” in this matter is the erroneous concept that they are always required to reveal their indiscretions to their spouse and receive his or her priestly forgiveness. In other words, the innocent spouse is, in effect, the marital priest to whom such sins must be confessed in order for true reconciliation in the marriage to occur and the offending party be forgiven and guilt assuaged. I'm not quite ready for this novel idea as a Bible doctrine, hopefully you are not either.
Practically speaking in the case Moore deals with, there is no reconciliation by the offending spouse to be pursued with the innocent spouse since the uninformed spouse does not share the perspective that something needs repaired. In any such case similar to the one Moore addresses, until the innocent spouse is informed of the infraction, he or she remains connected or reconciled as they were before and after the offense. The break on the end of the innocent party only occurs then the innocent spouse is informed!
Your spouse is not personally offended when you are unfaithful and is unaware of it, they cannot be, it requires them knowing of it to be personally offended or injured. They only become offended when this information is learned. You, however, have offended yourself and sinned against your body (I point back to 1 Corinthians 6) and the person to whom you need to confess and receive forgiveness is God. Now, if you wish to introduce this information to your spouse so that he or she may be personally offended/injured and therefore be placed in the position of them having to forgive you, have at it, that is, if you have masochistic tendencies.
Monday, July 13, 2015
Part 1: Must Infidelity be Confessed to a Spouse? A Rebuttal to Questionable Counsel from Russell Moore
A year ago I read an article at The Gospel Coalition which contained a transcript of Dr. Russell Moore, the president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, on this issue of disclosing infidelity to a spouse and you may read it here. The case dealt with a man who had an affair some years ago which only lasted a week but who had struggled with whether or not he ought to confess this to his wife. In his communication to Dr. Moore, the guilty party also shared that in weighing whether or not to divulge this to his wife, Russell Moore should know that his marriage is already fragile and that he is not even sure his wife is saved and if so, she certainly is not a mature believer thus, such a revelation may simply be too much for the relationship to bear (I have paraphrased the letter with its implication).
My rejoinder will be in four parts. Parts 1, 2 and 3 will be addressing Moore’s counsel and Part 4, my own observations and recommendations. Here is the first section of the documented solution Russell Moore offers:
First Section of Moore’s Advice
I do think that you need to tell her and for several reasons: One of those reasons being, you have sinned against her. Your having this adulterous affair is a sin against your wife, and until you have confessed to her and until you have repented to her I don’t think you are finished with the process of repenting. Biblically she has ownership—that is radical language, I Corinthians, chapter 7—she has ownership over your sexuality, and so your sin affects her, even if she doesn’t know about it. And it affects her in several ways: one of them being you have joined yourself with some other woman outside of your marriage, which has a spiritual, mysterious effect, Paul says in I Corinthians, chapter 6.
Repentance and confession
While Moore is earnest and correct in identifying the fact that the man’s infidelity is a sin he qualifies the unfaithfulness of the man as sinning against his wife in a manner which by default, requires admitting this to her. My first question to Russell Moore is by virtue of what Biblical edict is this derived?
It cannot be Matthew 18 since Matthew 18 requires one to be aware of an action against themselves in order to be offended. Further, it involves the offended party confronting that person, not the offender going and confessing something unknown.
As well, it cannot be referencing James 5. When the James speaks of confessing sins “one to another”, it has to do with admitting what both parties know. That is, both parties are aware of a sin that one party has committed against the other but one of the parties refuses to acknowledge the offense, just as Matthew 18 demonstrates.
What many erroneously believe about James 5 is that we are to indiscriminately use our brothers and sisters in the Lord as personal priests for confession. That is not the context of the James passage which has to do with being disciplined by God via health issues for sins against someone we refused to acknowledge and to whom we owe a confession. And if you look at the larger text which starts at the beginning of the chapter James is writing or enumerating specific sins against others which bring divine discipline when we refuse to acknowledge them.
One might argue that confessing to a spouse is not indiscriminate but owed since he or she has been sinned against. And again, in order to be sinned against, a conflict arise and then a conflict resolved through confessing or admitting a sin to the offended party, requires the offended party to have knowingly been acted against and the offender resolving it by admitting or confessing their offense . In the case of James, they are being commanded to confess to the party(s) against whom they have knowingly offended and to be restored to health and from divine discipline (as well as fellowship with one another). This does not mean an offense has not been committed but how it is viewed, Biblically, with respect to appropriate resolution which includes confession, must be qualified based on the variables involved. And in just a bit I will speak to that.
The woman caught in adultery (John 8) and brought to our Lord was instructed by Christ to “go and sin no more”. However, the fact is, being caught in adultery would certainly include her sinning against one or more parties. The Lord did not direct her to go personally confess to any such person(s) but to abandon her sinful practice. She acknowledged her sin and was instructed to stop. Her repentance was qualified by our Lord as going and doing this sin no more. One might argue that it assumes her confessing to the parties whom she has offended but any such assumption is an argument from silence and has no real weight.
The union of husband and wife
Russell Moore appeals to his audience with the proposition that marital infidelity must always be confessed because a spouse has joined him or herself to another and that this has a "spiritual, mysterious effect". While this argument has the attractiveness of piously elevating the institution of marriage to a spiritual construct (it is a divine institution for certain but that does not make it a spiritual construct just as government is a divine institution but not a spiritual construct), it really leaves a great deal to be assumed and worse, errs with the Scriptures.
Let’s look at the passage to which Moore is referring in 1 Corinthians 6:
15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! 16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” 17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. 18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.
The Scriptures, in 1 Corinthians 6 talks about two unions:
- Our union to our spouse in which it states, “The two shall become one flesh”
- Our union to Christ which states, “But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him”
Further, there is a spiritual union mentioned in the text but it is with Christ. That is the one to whom we are joined spiritually.
The fact is Russell Moore simply fails to pay careful attention to the passage. While 1 Corinthians 6 does reference marriage and its union and the husband and wife becoming one flesh, it neither states or even hints that the marital union is spiritual and where a spiritual union is mentioned, it is that of the believer with Christ.
So at best, if one is going to introduce the “spiritual, mysterious effect” argument (which Moore actually never even made, he simply asserted it), this passage does not qualify seeing that Moore erred in his interpretation and subsequent application of it. This is not to say there is not an effect on the marriage but no such mysterious spiritual effect, as Dr. Moore describes, is present in the text.
Finally, here in the midst of the very passage referencing immorality and a married man joining himself to a prostitute this qualifier regarding who is sinned against is given which is prima facie (italics mine):
18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.