Adultery, Character, and Leadership: A Response to Dennis Prager

By Michael Brown Published on April 1, 2018

In light of the media’s obsession with Stormy Daniels’ and her alleged tryst with Donald Trump, Dennis Prager has returned to the question of whether one can be both a good president and an adulterer. (He had previously addressed this in 2011 in his article, “What Does Adultery Tell Us About Character?”)

Without a doubt, Prager is correct in stating that, while adultery is always sinful, we should recognize that:

  • The calling of a president is different than that of a religious leader.
  • The same left that wants to crucify Trump for his alleged (past) affairs gave Ted Kennedy a free pass, defended Bill Clinton against his accusers, and has no problem celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr., despite his many alleged infidelities. In Prager’s words, “It should be clear that this whole preoccupation with Trump’s past sex life has nothing to do with morality and everything to do with humiliating Trump — and, thereby, hopefully weakening the Trump presidency — the raison d’etre of the media since he was elected.”
  • The Never Trump conservatives shouldn’t be so focused on the president’s alleged past failings; they should look, instead, at his positive accomplishments in the White House.

Accordingly, if America was under attack by ISIS militants, I would rather have a philandering, battle-tested general leading our troops than a faithfully married pacifist who was afraid of his own shadow. And, with Prager (in his 2011 article), I agree that a twice-married Ronald Reagan was a far more effective president than a once-married, Sunday-school teaching Jimmy Carter.

I also concur with Prager when he writes, “That 60 Minutes correspondent Anderson Cooper and many in our country found it acceptable to ask a woman, ‘Did he use a condom?’ on national TV is a far graver reflection of America’s moral malaise than a man having a one-night affair 12 years ago.” (For my own reflections on this, see here.)

The Moral Effect

At the same time, I don’t believe we are left with an either-or question. Could it be that Trump and Clinton and Kennedy and King could have done their jobs better without the adultery? Is it possible that we are being too compartmentalized? And what of the larger, moral effect that a president has on the nation?

According to a 2010 article on CBS News, “Researchers point to former President Clinton’s infamous statement, ‘I did not have sexual relations with that woman,’ as the pivotal turning point in society’s changing views about oral sex. The attitude shift has been dubbed the ‘Clinton-Lewinsky’ effect.” And with that, “virginity” took on a new meaning as well.  What will be the ripple effect of the constant talk of Trump and a porn star?

Every Sin Can be Forgiven

To be clear, though, my purpose here is not to throw stones from some imaginary moral high ground. How many of us have committed adultery in our hearts, numerous times? According to Jesus, that is quite serious too (see Matthew 5:27-30). On the flip side, every sin can be forgiven in God’s sight, and even adultery can be overcome within a marriage.

Serious Consequences

But are there serious consequences to adultery, even for the President of the United States? And does adultery tell us something about character?

The person who commits adultery violates the deepest trust two human beings can have. He or she engages in deception, makes choices based on carnal desires rather than integrity and faithfulness, and is certainly guilty of impaired judgment. Doesn’t this speak seriously to the issue of character?

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And what of the question of marital strife? Is it improbable that a president enjoying a solid marriage with his wife could lead more effectively than a president who was emasculated by his wife because of her reaction to his womanizing? Or, could he govern better if he were not constantly squabbling with his wife?

And what of the distractions caused by adultery? Was Bill Clinton’s presidency unaffected by the Monica Lewinsky affair? Has Donald Trump not been at least a little bit hamstrung by the constant accusations from his past? Was Dr. King at all impaired by the (alleged) threats from J. Edgar Hoover to expose King’s (alleged) indiscretions? Was nothing hanging over his head when he was alone (or, with his wife and family)?

I can only imagine the pressure that a president (or, a leader like King) lives with. Is it farfetched to think that, without the unneeded pressure of affairs and their messy aftermath, those leaders could think more clearly?

We all think of King David as a man loved by God and used by God. But he was also a man who committed adultery, had numerous wives, and even commissioned a murder. Yet to this day, he is a hero of the faith and a man whose songs (psalms) we sing and recite. At the same time, biblical history demonstrates that his actions had a negative impact on his leadership, ultimately impacting the nation.

When it comes to President Trump, if all the allegations about his past prove true, that would not surprise me. As I’ve said repeatedly, we knew who we were voting for. And if the leftist media decided not to focus on his (allegedly) sordid past, focusing instead on his presidential actions, the distractions would be minimized.

Still, we do well to recognize that adultery and sexual indiscretions are not without consequences, even for presidents and world leaders. And while they do not automatically disqualify one from office (or, “invalidate” in Prager’s words), they can certainly hinder effectiveness.

Prager correctly wrote, “If a president is also a moral model, that is a wonderful bonus. But that is not part of a president’s job description.” Yet an immoral president can negatively affect the morals of a nation, not to mention negatively impact his own presidency.

So, while I concur with many of the points made by my rightly esteemed colleague, I do so with caveats.

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  • Tim Roof

    I am not happy about the way President Trump has conducted himself in the past. However, it IS the past. Hopefully he has left that part of his life behind him during the time he is President, and also thereafter. The truth is, this behaviour would bother me much more if it happened during his time in office. At any rate, he needs to be constantly upheld in prayer.

    • wonkavision

      I agree. This point, timing, should be driven home more by both Prager and Brown (and any other conversative voice with an audience)

    • Hildabeast

      I do uphold him in prayer, but why is it everytime I pray I hear something about camels and needles? Maybe I’m projecting.

  • Xrucianus

    Wow. Your dissemblance has become dizzying indeed. Why not simply celebrate the good policies when they come and remain resolute about bad character when it comes? Your charges re: the humanist’s hypocrisy provides a very very thin defense against your own. The only reason to become this entangled in the gerrymandering of sin is because we’ve enthroned idols (in this case political partisan idols) in our heart that we ‘re not willing to let the Holy Spirit confront – yet. The Lord is turning up the heat. He will yet purify His Bride. Either Trump will repent, embrace his cross and surrender to Jesus Christ, (my ardent prayer) or by continuing to try to separate the “black” from the “ink”, more and more of evangelicalism will continue to lose its cultural voice, it’s heavenly authority, and it’s internal integrity to the way of Christ.

    • Myth Buster

      Interesting point. I personally believe the evangelical right is discrediting themselves by their continued support of Trump in the face of growing evidence of his past and continued wrong doings. The dots are tragically comical to follow and the end result leaves one scratching their head and wondering why the Evangelicals are
      maintaining their contradictory and inconsistent religious support? In fact, one
      needs to remember the title ‘Evangelical’ used to denote people who
      claimed the high moral ground; now, in popular usage, the word is starting to be nearly
      synonymous with ‘hypocrite” and people who don’t really have a clue
      what’s in the Bible. They’ve lined up by the tens of millions behind the
      former
      reality TV star they believe will look out for their interests. Not
      just reluctant supporters, opting for the lesser of two evils, they were
      and still are hardcore fans who still cheer endlessly at Trump campaign
      rallies, whose pastors offered
      full-throttled endorsement and even post comments on webpages like this showing endless support, even when knowing of his shady past and
      then also double-downing and backing a child pedophilia in Alabama, with
      dozens of women stepping forward to offer their stories of molestation.

      In a nutshell, the right wing evangelical followers don’t care about Trump’s past statements, acts of
      repeated adultery, Idolatry of Money, relationships to porn stars
      (plural now), calling other women publicly “pigs” and “ugly”, racist
      comments, ungodly number of past lies and unfulfilled promises, nor his
      immigrant wife (along with her chain migration family here now) who
      posed nude on a bed in a suggestive lesbian setting with another nude
      woman. They also don’t care about the $130,000 payoff to Stormy, as hush
      money, one month prior to the last election through a temporary
      established dummy company (for an affair when his third wife of just one
      year was one month pregnant), “pussy-grabbing” comment captured on
      tape, five deferments to get out of Vietnam (then later bragged about it
      in the 1990s on Howard Stern), the 15-women who have stepped forward to
      make sexual groping complaints against him nor the possibility of
      Russia Collusion, money laundering or obstruction of justice. None of
      this matters to them. The the Right Wing “Family Values” Evangelicals
      have given Trump a hypocritical “mulligan” on all these issues. All of
      this means nothing to them. Therefore, I’d suggest the Bible and Jesus’ teachings in the gospels was not designed to be a highly selective moral weapon to be used on Democrats and hypocritical “mulligans” be handed out to Republicans like Trump, when his true character is exposed. Another 2 1/2-years of endless Trump support from the evangelicals will take a decade to undo after he leaves office, before anyone takes them seriously again.

    • Hildabeast

      Even though I agree with what you said, you’ve one really large built in assumption in there, which is that God is seeking to convert Trump. Maybe you assume this because he is president and have an expectation of him to fit a certain image. As long as you can relate to your own statements as your own without assuming what God wants for Trump versus what we would like to see for Trump, I’m actually ok with everything you said – morals do not change because we fail to uphold them.

      • Xrucianus

        “God desires that all be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4)

        • Hildabeast

          Yes, I saw that coming from a mile away. But maybe He hasn’t extended the invitation to DJT… yet.

    • Ron Boyson

      gerrymandering of sin??

      • Xrucianus

        Weaving a serpentine line between God’s straight and clear distinction of good & evil.

  • Ron Boyson

    Things are never as clear cut as we wish they would be and for every divorce there is always another story. As for support for our president Is he any worse than that old heathen king Nebuchadnezzar,yet he was put there by God?

  • Charles Burge

    I think it’s important to point out that King David is a “hero of the faith” in part because he immediately recognized his sin when the prophet Nathan called him on it, and he truly repented. That’s something we don’t see very often from our leaders today.

    In 1978, Alexander Solzhenitsyn said the following:

    There are telltale symptoms by which history gives warning to a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, a decline of the arts or a lack of great statesmen.

    I think that very well describes what is happening to America today, and it grieves me greatly.

  • Up_Words

    In a post Obama-nation, while beggers can’t be choosy, we do well to seek to deal our nation’s tendency towards hardness of heart (Matt. 19:7,8). Thanks for the serious reflections, Dr Brown.

  • Xrucianus

    Interesting: Stream editors are filtering even respectful, contrary view-points… why?

    • Bryan

      Is it Stream mod’s or Discus spam filters? I had one recently “Waiting for review” which means it’s in the netherworld of online comments. Mine might have been put there for being overly wordy and less than perfectly respectful.
      Could you summarize your view?

      • Xrucianus

        We evangelicals are working so hard to gerrymander this man’s prolific present & past sin. Let’s simply celebrate good policy, and respectfully challenge bad character. Serving as apologists for any carnal, unrepentant leader isn’t wise when the integrity of the much needed gospel is on the line.

  • Chip Crawford

    King David came clean when confronted, finally, was chastised in full view of the nation, but was able to finish his kingship. However, he seemed to fail parenting, which caused much grief through the balance of his life and rule. I pray President Trump and his wife could do a joint public statement on this trash. It would not surprise me if they have reckoned with it between them. It’s behind us, etc. But that would require some potent moral courage, which God of course is able to supply. It would free the President of the power of his enemies to use it so strongly against him. That pattern as currently in place helps no one. Humility and true confession give one an authority not available without it.

  • Doug Michalak

    “The calling of a president is different than that of a religious leader.” I’m glad Dr. Brown elaborated later on—God calls us ALL to the same moral standard regardless of our vocational position, and in America, where we are privileged to have some say in the choice of our leaders, we as Judeo-Christians have the great responsibility of electing a person who exhibits God’s character to the best of their ability. Having said this, Donald Trump was the BETTER choice in this regard over Hillary Clinton in 2016, despite what the left would have us believe. Furthermore, I believe the office has softened Mr. Trump, and if he is a God-worshiper, I pray that he will gain a new dimension in that relationship through the office. I pray that he will be a good leader that will make decisions according to the Word of God; and he seems to be doing a lot of that—certainly more than what Hillary Clinton would have brought us!

    But we must not make excuses for unrighteousness, no matter what political gain it would bring us; and I fear this attitude is what is being exposed, particularly among Evangelical Christians.

    • Xrucianus

      100% brother! Thank you!

  • Aurora

    Would it matter to you if he had paid for/encouraged/demanded an abortion from one of his women? Just how much will you tolerate from this abjectly immoral person?

  • littleeif

    All such arguments ignoring character are nothing more than elaborate rationalizations that unfortunately coopt the Christian ethos of forgiveness and thereby cheapen it. We should simply say we have chosen to be lead by a person of low character because the alternative was murder of innocents, and this is the despicable level to which our public life has descended.

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