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Normalization of adultery prompts his admonition not ‘to wogaman&#821

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–Remember that Continuing Witness Training transparency with the heading, “Two Views of Sin?” Drawn on the model of a seesaw, it showed man’s light view of sin on the left side and God’s heavy view on the right. On the left, we read that man makes little of sin, calls it an illusion, denies it, jokes about it and disregards its consequences. To the right, we read that God makes much of it, that it is an abomination to him, that he takes no pleasure in wickedness and that his judgment for sin is death.
It led me to think of the television show, “The Price Is Right.” The host calls out, “Come on down!” and the contestants run out of the audience to take their places on stage. In turn, they’re asked to guess the price of certain products, whether a washer-dryer set or a home entertainment center. The one who gets closest wins the prize.
Let’s put a twist on it. This time the contestants are challenged to guess the expense, the negative value, of various sins. First comes lying. One guesses $10, another $100 and the third $1,000. A rude buzzer interrupts. The host announces the price at a trillion dollars (or death) and disqualifies all their answers for utter lack of reality. From sin to sin, the contestants are dumfounded by the cost the host declares, representing the Lord.
Two years ago, I was particularly struck by the breezy assessment of the sin of adultery in the death announcements for U.S. ambassador to France Pam Harriman. As Sally Bedell Smith’s biography, “Reflected Glory,” showed, Harriman was a tramp of the first order. She was, of course, a well-connected, charming and wealthy tramp, so a choice ambassadorship was within her reach, but who can excuse the fawning media assessment of her life?
U.S. News & World Report headlined Harriman’s obituary, “A Woman of Achievements.” In USA Today, Deirdre Donahue concluded her review of the Smith biography with the words, “What a dame!” In another edition of the same paper, Barbara Slavin wrote of Harriman, “She strove to attain luxury and respectability. In the end, she achieved both.” Christopher Hart of The Los Angeles Times spoke appreciatively of the woman “many said cornered the catnip market when it came to rich and powerful men.” In their coverage of the auction of Harriman’s estate, Newsweek noted her illicit sexual alliances with Leland Hayward, Gianni Agnelli, Elie de Rothschild and Averill Harriman, among others, but spoke warmly in the headline about her “mystique.” In another article, they added Edward R. Murrow, Jock Whitney, William Paley and Stavros Niarchos to her list of lovers. Most of them were married to other women at the time. Yet The New York Times reported that her funeral at the Washington National Cathedral was “the closest thing to a state funeral Washington has seen in years.” At that service, President Clinton eulogized Pam Harriman as “a patriot and public servant.”
How can she get a pass on such wretched and sinful behavior? I think William Safire gave us some plausible reasons in a column about loyalists to the president in recent months. Wondering how so many people could stand by a serial adulterer, Safire guessed that “loyalists find his failings to be their failings,” “some loyalists discern a liberating message in his example,” and “loyalty to Clinton in this contest is intensified by anger at his pursuers.” In short, so many of us are sexually corrupted that we identify with him, appreciate his groundbreaking, and resent his (our) critics. Danielle Crittenden of The Weekly Standard calls it “Revenge of the Creeps.”
Since Harriman’s death, I’ve kept a file of clippings on the normalization of adultery. Whether or not one has been unfaithful, the cultural air he or she breathes is saturated with approval of this practice. Just think of the leaders and icons who practice and/or excuse it. Lady Di and Prince Charles. Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros. German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Geraldo Rivera and the Canadian prime minister’s wife, Margaret Trudeau. Frank Sinatra and Charles Kuralt. Yes, I said “Charles Kuralt,” that pudgy charmer of CBS News fame, the one who took over their Sunday morning program. Turns out his time “On the Road” included a 29-year affair with a woman he kept in Montana. Paige Williams of Knight-Ridder recently reported that his survivors are at it in probate court. On and on it goes.
It’s bad enough when they excuse it, but they are not content with that. They suggest that those of us who are not involved in adultery are somehow defective. Rep. James Moran, D.-Va., observed, “There aren’t many people with an ounce of testosterone in them who’ve had the unblemished record that our fifth-grade nuns would have wished for us.” And dear old Willie Nelson said, “You could try to live monogamously. Good luck. There’s people who say thinking about cheating is just as bad as doing it, so if you start looking at it from that angle, they got us all.” Oh, really?
But they can’t leave it at that, either. We’re not only pitiful. We’re toxic. The Kansas City Star ran Donald Kaul’s column lambasting Bill Bennett’s book, “The Death of Outrage.” Kaul calls Bennett “a pompous blowhard” and observes “it must be swell to be that much better than other people.” And we don’t have to go into what they’ve said about Ken Starr. Just watch the clip of Alec Baldwin’s demonic rant on “The Letterman Show” to see the depth of hatred for this man.
Preachers, welcome to the new America. She calls to you, “Come on down! We’re only human. Nobody’s perfect. God is love.” And many clergy become enablers and apologists.
I propose a new verb, “to wogaman,” (for the president’s feckless Washington, D.C., pastor) as in, he wogamanned through the television interview, alternatively scalding and patronizing God’s prophets, preening in aching sensitivity to all concerns and in virtually boundless tolerance, checked only by intolerance of firm standards and those who would uphold them.
Ernest Mosley, my colleague on the SBC Executive Committee staff, once wrote a song titled, “Don’t you do it, Samson!” To our students and other readers who hear the world calling, “Come on down,” I sing, “Don’t you do it! Don’t you kuralt. Don’t you wogaman.” The price is wrong.

Coppenger is president of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, Mo. Reprinted from Heartland, Midwestern Seminary’s journal, Spring 1999.

    About the Author

  • Mark Coppenger