King David of Israel wasn’t looking to start an adulterous affair when he wandered aimlessly around the roof of his Jerusalem palace one spring night, but he was smitten when he saw the beautiful Bathsheba bathing nearby.
His first mistake was letting his eyes linger. He compounded that bad judgment by sending messengers to Bathsheba even after hearing she had a husband, Uriah the Hittite. Then David committed adultery – a sin that ultimately resulted in an unwanted pregnancy, the conspiratorial murder of Uriah, the death of David and Bathsheba’s son, and ultimately rebellion in the king’s family (I Samuel 11-12).
That story came to mind last week when news broke of another David who was considering a bid to lead this country. He loves his wife enough to take precautions against adultery, yet somehow he became the bad guy – a domineering prude who doesn’t trust his wife — instead of a prudent spouse who wants to protect his marriage.
I’m talking about David French, the conservative commentator, constitutional scholar and Iraq war veteran whose name entered the presidential discussion last week as a potential independent candidate. Few people know anything about him, so of course journalists scrambled to report something sensational.
The best they could find at first glance came in the form of a predictably snarky, and misleading, tweet from Politico’s Kevin Robillard:
— Kevin Robillard (@PoliticoKevin) May 31, 2016
With good reason, Mollie Hemingway of The Federalist called that clueless commentary “the stupidest critique imaginable.” Robillard twisted “a painfully honest conversation about human frailty” between a husband and wife into a false report about their marriage.
To make matters worse, Robillard shared this reaction of a fellow journalist and amateur marriage counselor: “If I slept with every guy with whom I emailed about politics, I would be a huuuge slut.”
French’s wife, Nancy, didn’t appreciate the ensuing online outrage. She scolded Robillard for feeding Twitter trolls and clickbait websites. “If you ever wonder how we ended up with such unlikeable candidates or why normal Americans won’t consider running for elected office,” Nancy French said, “ask Politico.”
Robillard eventually backtracked a bit. He agreed that the Frenches’ plans for staying faithful while apart during David French’s military deployment was “a totally legitimate agreement for a married couple to make.”
What’s astounding is that it took an online backlash to open his eyes. Has he never heard of a “Dear John” letter, the term for a heartbreaking missive from a wife to a husband that appears to have its roots in World War II? Did he not think to check whether military deployments could increase the risk of divorce?
Is Robillard so uninformed that he doesn’t realize social media is fertile field for flings, even among people who don’t go looking for them? It is so common that lawyers coined the term “Facebook divorce” to describe such marital meltdowns.
“Spouses who make concrete plans for fidelity to their marriage covenant ought to be admired and emulated, not attacked and caricatured,” biblical scholar Denny Burk wrote in response to Robillard’s tweets.
My wife and I regularly have the kinds of discussions the Frenches had. To the extent possible, we avoid one-on-one meetings or lunches with people of the opposite sex. When these interactions can’t be avoided, usually for professional reasons, we tell each other in advance and talk about the meetings afterward.
For years we shared an email account. Now we know each other’s passwords to our separate email accounts and social networks. We do not connect with pre-marriage girlfriends, boyfriends or crushes without asking each other.
We’ve occasionally offered room and board to young, single men or women on a short-term basis. If one of us has to be home without the other or our children, we help our guests make arrangements to stay elsewhere temporarily.
These tactics for fleeing sexual immorality (I Cor. 6:18-20) are driven not by a lack of trust in each other but by an awareness of how subtly temptation works.
Many people betray their spouses precisely because they don’t think it is possible (I Cor. 10:12). Paul even advised husbands and wives in Corinth not to deprive each other sexually “except by agreement for a time” because extended abstinence, for reasons other than prayer, might lead to temptation (I Cor. 7:5).
Faithfulness in marriage includes knowing the forces that threaten it and building defenses against them. King David might have avoided the transgressions that brought him misery the rest of his life had he built a few boundaries – and David and Nancy French should be lauded for exercising that wisdom.