As if his name alone doesn’t cause seventh-grade boys to snicker, New York Representative Anthony Weiner has become the current, cheap political punchline. After sending lewd photos and maintaining inappropriate online relationships with several women, his indiscretions have been mocked on a variety of news outlets, from NPR to The Daily Show. And after a couple of weeks of headlines, the jokes turned out to be in bad taste with the realization that his wife of almost one year is pregnant.
What started off as another story of a politician enduring the ridicule of being culpable in a failing marriage has become a sad and all too familiar story of brokenness.
While the public is enraged and calling for his resignation, I’m torn in a different direction. For me, it’s not just that he cheated on his wife or he lied about sex. A lot of people cheat. A lot of people lie. No, it is the blatant hypocrisy of it all.
In a culture that has degraded intimacy to “hooking up,” where tabloids at checkout stands talk about who is sleeping with whom and where “normal” teenagers have four sexual partners by the time they graduate from high school, why are we shocked that the practices starting at such an early age are ingrained in the actions of “respectable” adults? We don’t live in a society where sexuality is heralded as sacred. And yet, we are scandalized by its misuse?
The hardest part of this conversation is that the highest virtue in American culture is “just don’t hurt someone else.” All things are permissible—as long as no one else is in “danger.” But there is a large leap from that standard to valuing the hard work and care necessary for cultivating a relationship that will be able to endure.
A person can’t just become a faithfully monogamous person if they are often encouraged to “experiment” in college or view a successful marriage as one that doesn’t end too quickly. If intimacy in practice has been a series of one-night stands, then sex fails to be intimate. We sell sex all the time through television shows, advertisements and other forms of entertainment we indulge in. Which makes the way the media has portrayed Weiner as another fallen, sleazy person just confusing. How can the media sell sex so openly and then come down on a person when they buy it?
The sad truth is that as we all endure the constant degradation of sex and sexuality as a vehicle of personal consumption, we have lost sight of the sacredness and joy of intimacy. Even Christians try to sell monogamy with tag lines like, “Christians have the best sex.” We have allowed the sin of gluttony to enter into commonplace, only to find that sex can never satisfy the emotional wounds caused by rejection and loneliness.
What we need is to offer something more—treating sex like it is a sacred union between two people, calling people to true intimacy.
True intimacy is possible, but like other Christian virtues, that process takes time. We have to be refined by sanctification. Just like a person has to learn what it means to enter into adulthood through adolescence, spiritual maturity takes time to fully arrive. And as conversation about Weiner continues to circulate, there needs to be that step between the one extreme of sexual gluttony and the other of mature monogamy.
Perhaps this is the place where the Church can be most helpful. Maybe we should be practicing the patience that comes with wisdom, the understanding of having been there, the grace to be sympathetic when we encounter people whose ultimate (though often misdirected) desire is to feel connected to others. Churches should function as places where people can come as they are and find the support they need to go from the limp bondage of broken humanity to the health and joy the Gospel offers. We need to be better about saying: “There is good news. There are ways we can heal.”