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June 17, 2009

You can’t be too careful

Ensign You may have heard that Sen. John Ensign (R-Nevada) has resigned his Senate leadership post after confessing to an extramarital affair. You may not have heard about this, from a 1999 article:

Christian politicians and evangelical leaders commonly follow an unspoken rule not to meet behind closed doors with women staff members or travel alone with them. The Rev. Billy Graham, for example, has famously refused to be alone in a room with any woman except his wife since he married her in the 1940s.

Rep. Steve Largent (R-Okla.), a Christian conservative, insists a male staff member is present whenever he meets with a woman, his spokesman said. John Ensign, who is running for senate in Nevada will not be alone in a car with a woman.

To make that kind of commitment to purity and faithfulness, and still to fall into sin -- to me, that seems the saddest part of the whole sad story.

"Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." (1 Corinthians 10:12, NKJV)

(Image © MSNBC)

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Dan Gill

Perhaps he didn't make a commitment to purity and faithfulness, but instead maintained the appearance of such.

It's a good rule, one I try to follow, even though I'm not a politician. But of course we can break our own rules just as we break God's.


I heard Mr. Ensign has also got marital counseling--which would rebuild his inner self. Good for him!

Maybe he & his wife (& trusted counselors--trusted staff) can figure out what needs to change in his workplace. (Obviously, the exterior protections were not enough.)

He's a powerful and visible person. Therefore, he is a "target"!


We're all sinners. Just because you're a public figure doesn't mean you're exempt. His infidelity is inexcusable, but what makes him different is his admittance to his sin and repentance. I am encouraged by his humility to admit to his sin and own up to it by resigning his leadership post. I hope the world can see that what makes Christians different is not that we are perfect and are sinless, it's that we ack. our sinfulness and in doing so God's redemptive power can be shown mightily through our lives.

Benjamin Ady

I'm terribly curious as to how refusing to meet with women behind closed doors, or be alone in a car with them, etc. etc. plays into patriarchy, seeing women as dangerous, "other", "untrustworthy" etc. etc. I bet no female Senators or Congresswomen have this sort of policy about guys.

Our language reflects this. If one thinks of a guy as a weakling because he's doesn't have the internal fortitude to be faithful to his wife, there's a bunch of not very nice names one can call him, and many/most of them have feminine connotations. The reverse is not true--there are hardly any male-connotative not very nice names that talk about human weakness. And yet how often does a female public figure demonstrate the level of cowardice required to secretly have an affair while they're married? Not nearly as often as we guys.

Gina Dalfonzo

Ah, Benjamin, that brings back memories. I've done my time in academia -- not as much as some, but enough that I'm quite familiar with the good old "Other." :-) But I'm not sure how it applies in this situation. If a man had these policies because he thought all women were dangerous sirens, that would be pretty out there; but if he did it because he knew the weakness of his own human nature, that's just being sensible. As Ensign has just demonstrated, we are terribly fallible creatures. Would that he had stuck with his policy, old-fashioned though it might seem. He would have spared the most important woman in his life a world of hurt.

Rachel Coleman

For what it's worth, I have practiced a "no closed doors" policy about being alone with men other than my husband -- at home, in the workplace, wherever. Most of my female believing friends follow these types of guidelines. My anglo-Indian relations would say closing the door is "just not pukka."
Sin nature is an equal-opportunity deal. It's just the way we think and talk about it that draws distinctions.

Benjamin Ady

If people in power have very different rules for access to them based on gender, doesn't that grant more access for one gender, and less for the other?


How so? It's not as if it's an impossible task to get hold of a third person. In nearly any office, there's almost always more than two people present at once.

Dan Gill

Benjamin, does not being alone with someone behind closed doors deny that person access? Hardly.

Benjamin Ady

Dan, Gina,

I'm coming from a bit of a weird place with this. I grew up in this uber conservative place where these kind of rules, and even stricter ones, were the norm.

So coupla things: At one level I just don't think these external rules *work*. I think at best using such rules has a neutral effect, where the good results are balanced out by the bad results. I think that if the ... more internal, relational stuff is right, then these rules aren't necessary, and if it's not, they aren't going to keep anyone safe in the long run.

The second thing is about the access to power. I've never really thought about this before, but the more I do, the more it makes sense to me.

People in power have a circle of friend, co-workers, associates, etc. who have a lot more access than strangers they don't know. I mean where a lot of power is concentrated with one person (like a U.S. senator), then there's going to be a flowing out of that power to other people. I'm guessing that male senators probably spend time alone with guys who work for or with them, guys who are close friends, etc. etc. and without them really necessarily intending it, that access leads to those guys having power. Having these rules, it seems to me, creates a system where women are systematically denied that power. I've not really been there, so I don't know/haven't seen the details of how that works, but it *seems* to me that that could be the case.


Understood, Benjamin.

I'm coming from a bit of a weird place myself -- from having seen a beloved and respected pastor leave his wife and run off with his secretary, many years ago. I'm all for ANYTHING (within reason) that will help those who are tempted to maintain some restraint. It is so, so easy for even a good person to lose control.

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