Why are so many Christian politicians involved in sex scandals?Michael Lindsay is professor of sociology at Rice University. He’s also the author of Faith in the Halls of Power, widely acknowledged as the definitive account of evangelicals in positions of elite influence. Here’s his insightful answer to that question:
My mother used to say that our weaknesses are just our strengths carried too far. Politicians and preachers have a lot of the same skills. Both reach their positions because they are highly relational. They’re great at building connections, forming new friendships, making people feel welcome and a part of their community. Sometimes we can take those relational skills and use them inappropriately. That’s what gets preachers and politicians off track. No one I’ve studied has turned to a wayward life by one giant mistake. What gets them in trouble is usually a series of small, incremental decisions over a period of time. A lot of these extramarital affairs begin when a politician forms a closer relationship with a co-worker than he should, or when a sexual jest becomes an inside joke between a politician and a staffer. And in the end that winds them up in real trouble
Lindsay’s advice to politicians and other leaders is equally applicable to preachers:
Make sure your marriage is strong and you’ve got the staunch support of the people who know and love you best. They’ve got to be convinced this is a calling, not just for you, but also for them, because you’re bringing them along in that process, and see if you can get a group of friends who can be supporters, even if it’s a matter of having a telephone appointment once a month. You need a group of people who can support and encourage you and make sure you’re holding true to your values.
Then, in the process, identify some people who have been successful in politics over the long haul, people whom you respect for their lives and integrity; seek out their counsel, because they’ve figured out how to maneuver around these potential pitfalls and perhaps they can point you in the right direction.
As he concludes, Lindsay is asked what most he is most concerned about these days. I was surprised, pleasantly surprised, by his answer:
I’m concerned by how little attention we give to the importance of cultivating virtues in our lives. One particular virtue that deserves a lot more attention is the virtue of rest. The concept of Sabbath rest can be found in many of the major world religions, including Judaism and Christianity. But we live in a frenetic world where we don’t practice restraining our ambition, bridling our sense of doing something big for the world. We’re constantly trying to improve and outwork the next person.
That’s setting us up for long-term failure. In that environment, it’s hard to keep things in balance and develop nurturing relationships with our families. We can convince ourselves that we’re part of what’s saving the world, when in fact we play a very small role. Practicing Sabbath rest is one way of exercising humility, but we do it very, very poorly in this country.