Friday, February 19, 2021

Too Hot to Handle: Abandoning Ship

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

Men have always done it mid-life — some men, anyway, though thankfully Christian men did it somewhat more rarely.

We met the “right” waitress, secretary, serving wench or married woman bathing on a rooftop and bailed on our wives and families. We did it to find happiness (or at least firmer skin or, for a time at least, a cheerier disposition). We did it to demonstrate we were still virile and desirable. Or we did it for some other perfectly scrutable male reason that we wholeheartedly believed was unique to our own experience.

Tom: It took them a while to catch up, Immanuel Can, but thanks to feminism’s influence, women are doing it too, and they’re doing it with a vengeance. Almost 70% of divorces are now initiated by unhappy wives.

Infidelity on Both Sides

And they’re doing it in our churches. I don’t have numbers on that, but I can tell you story after story about very surprised husbands, many of whom are left with abandoned kids. Their soon-to-be ex-wives are almost always already involved in a new relationship. To make things worse, these are not newly-saved pagans who decided they couldn’t hack the challenge of marital fidelity, but almost exclusively young and middle-aged women raised in Christian homes.

I thought we might talk a bit about the possible causes for the increase.

Immanuel Can: Hmm. Interesting. But we’re just guessing. If we use someone else’s study or quotation as a launch pad, it looks less like we’re just pulling things out of thin air.

Any suggestions as to where this information comes from?

Tom: Yup. It’s a 2015 study from the American Sociological Organization, whatever that may be, conducted by Michael Rosenfeld, an associate professor of sociology at Stanford University. So it’s current at least. It has been cited by everyone from The Huffington Post to The Washington Post, which doesn’t legitimize it, but at least tells us its figures are accepted by a broad spectrum of socio-political propagandists.

Increased Opportunity

IC: Has anybody correlated the data between the rise of social networking and online chat and the data on woman-initiated divorces in the church? I’d be interested to know, because I have a suspicion …

Tom: Well, let’s talk about the Internet first then because, yes, I believe you’re right about that, though I have only anecdotal evidence to call upon. With one possible exception (by which I mean simply that no evidence of an affair has yet been unearthed), every woman I know of who has left her partner has leapt immediately into another relationship, and in several cases without ever having worked outside the home. So, yes, the Internet would seem the obvious culprit.

IC: Ah, yes, I thought so.

The Workforce

Tom: But we shouldn’t ignore the re-pairing possibilities offered by the workforce either. The very first time this issue became real to me, I was in the pews listening to an attractive young woman attempt to sing a solo prior to the message. As she did so, she was repeatedly convulsed with tears, so much so that I can’t recall if she was able to finish her song. The next week she left her husband for a man from the office where she worked. Her performance stuck with me, for obvious reasons.

IC: Well, only anecdotal, I suppose; memorable, though, no doubt. On the other hand, in working environments where eight hours per day five days a week are spent with one man, and whatever time is left over after self, his work, and domestic stuff is done is spent with husband, I suppose a few calamities are pretty likely.

Tom: Indeed. So, yes, opportunities for infidelity are now pretty much equal between the sexes.

The Internet

But the Internet has provided opportunity squared, in that it is possible to pursue any number of prospective suitors almost without risk to your current situation. That’s new.

IC: Yes, it is. And I would guess it doesn’t ordinarily start out as a search for suitors, but rather as the activities of someone who feels bored and out of touch, or who just likes socializing. But I’m always amazed at our potential for self-delusion when it comes to people we think we’re meeting on the Internet. It seems that nothing can compete with the “suitor” our own minds can concoct for us out of the pallid impressions we receive from internet communication.

Tom: Agreed. It seems to me what we’re seeing here is a huge increase in the number of times Christians allow themselves to indulge a particular temptation, compounded by the newly-acquired technologically-enabled ability to nurse these emotional affairs along at their own pace from within the safety of an existing relationship until the person playing with fire decides they are ready to act on their desires. That’s something that did not exist in the days when women stayed home with their children and primarily associated with other women during the workday. Sure, affairs happened, but I think it was more likely a woman putting her toe in the water would get called on it by a friend or family member before she had fully committed to a new relationship.

Have you ever heard platform ministry on the dangers of Christians indulging the temptation to infidelity, IC? Directed at either sex? Because I never have. Not once.

IC: No, actually. I have not.

Tom: Might be a subject the people of God should consider addressing.

Did you have any further thoughts on the Internet as a potential trouble spot in Christian marriages?

IC: Well, there’s the obvious porn problem. That’s hitting a lot of people. And there’s the proliferation of websites that cater to adult “adventure affairs”.

Tom: True, but I guess I’m thinking more about the sort of thing that would appeal to a Christian woman at home; the kind of temptation that sneaks in under the radar as innocent time spent socially, or even as an “outreach” — the kind of thing a wife and mother might rationalize until an attraction becomes full-blown.

The Overprotected Upbringing

My sister was talking about this issue a while back and suggested another factor that may contribute to infidelity among Christian women, and that’s overprotection. She’s encountered situations in which the straying wife was raised in what we would call a good Christian home and appears to be doing fine spiritually. Then she marries and the relationship also appears to be doing fine, sometimes for years, many times with more than one child.

But it’s all external. The wife has been “Christianized” behaviorally in her parents’ home but has never really submitted to the lordship of Christ. Perhaps she’s not saved at all. And when opportunity knocks, suddenly her friends and family see a side of her they never knew existed.

IC: I’ve seen the same thing, but especially in cases in which the form of “Christianity” in question was highly legalistic and rule-focused. It takes a while for the woman to realize that those very tight constraints are actually gone; but once she realizes it, and once the gloss is off her new marriage, anything can happen … especially since our broader society no longer supports any penalties or stigma for such a choice — not even a “tsk” of disapproval.

Tom: These are the really baffling cases to me: women who are able to walk away from their own children entirely and often end up raising the children of their new partner. And of course they also walk away from their churches and never look back, sometimes badmouthing Christians after the fact. And you wonder what that says about the reality of their professed faith.

Now, I’d be reluctant to presume that the woman’s parents did something wrong in such a situation, but I wonder if sometimes our Christian communities inadvertently encourage conformity without real conviction.

The Problem of Legalism

Immanuel Can: That’s where legalism really magnifies the problem, I think. Strict rules, or a culture of disapproval, make any rebellious streak go underground for a time, but these things do not do anything to abate it. Legalism is very negative, in fact, and I would argue it intensifies the urge to rebel, making the desire for sin more “alive”.

Tom: “For apart from the law, sin lies dead.”

IC: Right. But while the rules are in place and the social punishments too severe, it’s maybe not going to manifest. It will manifest when the rules slacken a bit … as people move into adulthood and independence.

I’ve noticed that the early marriages among Christians in the States are frequently in trouble. I remember a very fine young Christian man in his late 20s who was living there, attending a mega-sized community church. His mother asked him why, with the many very attractive young women in his congregation, he was not maybe picking one out. He said, “They’re all divorcees, and the baggage is just too complicated.”

Tom: I have read similar sentiments. We all want the best for our kids, so naturally my desire has always been for all of mine to marry Christians. But it occurs to me recently what a terrible thing that is to do to some other parent’s child if your own child is not a committed follower of Christ: to inflict on them someone who knows evangelical language and is able to parrot it without really knowing the Lord or walking with him. Your young friend might have the right idea.

Let’s pick this up next Friday. I think we’ve probably got one or two more possible causes to explore.

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