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FIRST-PERSON: Adultery by any other name …

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–In the 1950s, Hank Williams twanged, “Your cheatin’ heart, will tell on you.” In the ’70s the Eagles harmonized, “You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes.” Most recently, Toby Keith sang, “Just remember when you let it all go, what happens down in Mexico stays in Mexico.” Though the approach is different in each song, the subject is the same — adultery.

Adultery is like a car wreck on a busy street. Though everyone knows something terribly tragic has happened, the urge to stare is difficult for many to overcome. The subject of adultery seems always to creep its way onto the stage of popular culture. Whether the vehicle is music, film or literature, cheating on one’s spouse is a subject hashed and re-hashed in every generation.

When the movie “The Bridges of Madison County” was in theaters in 1995, a young lady in the church I was pastor of approached me and suggested that my wife and I should see it. I knew the movie was about adultery, so I replied, “Why do you want us to see it? Do you want my wife to be unfaithful?”

Her face revealed a look of shock, “No, of course not,” she said. “Oh,” I said, “Do you think I should commit adultery?” She shook her head, “No.” I asked her why then was she recommending the movie. She replied, “So you would realize why some people commit adultery.” I graciously informed her that no matter the reason for adultery, it always leaves in its wake hurting people and damaged marriages.

Through the ages there have been some who have vainly attempted to romanticize adultery. However, its deceptive and destructive nature renders cheating on one’s spouse difficult to spin in a positive fashion. As a result, most discussions of adultery include the negative consequences of such behavior.

Until now.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, a new line of greeting cards is hitting the market aimed at those involved in adulterous relationships. Cathy Gallagher has launched the “Secret Lover Collection” of 24 cards “exclusively for people having affairs.”

Gallagher contends “affairs are out in the open.” She cites not only former President Bill Clinton’s “relationship” with Monica Lewinsky, but also the dalliances on the popular television show “Desperate Housewives.” It is all about “forbidden love,” Gallagher says.

What sort of sentiment does an adultery card convey? Among Gallagher’s offerings is a card that celebrates the anniversary of adultery, one that addresses the reality of holidays spent apart due to family obligations and another that suggests the adulterous couple leave their spouses and become a “legitimate” couple.

To the charge that she is celebrating, even encouraging, a dark and destructive reality, Gallagher replied, “People make choices. I’m not making the choice for them… And by the time they buy this greeting card, they’re already involved deeply in the affair.” She added, “This is an entrepreneurial venture…. That’s the bottom line.”

By Gallagher’s standard, the drug dealer is not contributing negatively to society. Rather, he is involved in an entrepreneurial venture. After all, his customers choose to use his product. They were already addicts long before he came along.

And, of course, the pimp is only supplying a service for which there has long been a demand. So don’t judge him, he is an entrepreneur with his eye on the bottom line. Of course, the same holds true for pornographers.

In the winter 1993 edition of the American Scholar, former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York observed the following in an article titled “Defining Deviancy Down”: “… we have been redefining deviancy so as to except much conduct previously stigmatized, and also quietly raising the ‘normal level’ in categories where behavior is now abnormal by any earlier standard.”

While adultery has long been a reality, it has never been viewed positively. Even when romanticized in song, film or literature, it has rarely escaped stigma. Every generation has understood that adultery carries with it the baggage of harmful consequences.

The last thing our culture needs is a line of greeting cards that celebrates adultery as some romantic adventure. It doesn’t matter where infidelity takes place or under what circumstances, it always hitches a ride home in a cheating heart and undermines the trust that is the foundation of a marriage. The result is a family that suffers damage.
Kelly Boggs is pastor of the Portland-area Valley Baptist Church in McMinnville, Ore. His column appears each Friday in Baptist Press.

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