Adultery is not just about having a messy personal life

Newspapers broke a rumour on Friday that the Health Secretary Matt Hancock was having an affair with his aide.  One journalist has attempted to play this down with the headline “So Matt Hancock has a messy personal life: who doesn’t?” The headline is part of a narrative that we should not be obsessing about politician’s private lives. What happens behind closed doors is none of our business.  Well, perhaps. Certainly the media’s love of gossip draws us into unhealthy intrigue about alleged details, the truth of which we do not know.  However, even if you don’t subscribe to the more traditional view that unfaithfulness in your private life raises questions about your public reliability and integrity, there still are two issues of public concern here.

  1. There are questions about the process and transparency involved in a public servant being employed who was already a close personal friend of the Secretary of State.
  2. There are questions to be answered about how the Health Secretary can be responsible for regulations and guidelines on COVID that he by his own admission has been breaking.

However, I want to focus here on that phrase “a messy personal life.” You see we’ve bene conditioned to think in those terms over the past few years haven’t we? The writer suggests that we should hold off from stone throwing on the basis that we probably have either been involved in a bit of extra marital romance ourselves or know someone else who has.  The implications are “Everyone is doing it …it’s not big deal .. it’s just harmless fun.”

This is what I want to focus our attention on.  You see, adultery is not by any means just about having “a messy personal life.”  What the headline does is trivialise something that is serious, cruel and destructive.  Unfaithfulness is about human pride and selfishness. It is first and foremost against God. Unfaithfulness is ugly and destructive, it destroys marriages, it breaks up families. Therefore, adultery is painful and harmful. The adulterer causes grief and pain to their spouse and their children. It is also harmful because it takes sex outside of a loving relationship, it is about selfishly using another for your own personal gratification.

Whatever the veracity of this specific story -and I have no intention of speculating and whatever the implications are for public office -and people will have different views on that, the crucial point is that adultery is no minor trivial matter. It cannot be played down and excused as “a messy personal life.”

It is important for us to recognise this, not just in the specific case of adultery but in terms of sin generally. We are tempted to play down much of sin in the same way as not serious and not harming anyone. BUT sin is ugly and destructive, that’s exactly why we needed a saviour to come and die for us.