By Eduard Loring
We have heard disappointing squeaking from the beds in the White House. We have learned, in “all the news that’s fit to print” and in salacious presentations, about beds bouncing and moans moaning in hotels and motels along the political campaign trail. A recent film, “The Ides of March,” chronicles the ride to power of a liberal idealistic Democratic presidential candidate. Sex with a 20-year-old brings him down. If you want to save dollars but spend some time, get a copy of Robert Penn Warren’s “All the King’s Men,” which makes a similar point in a different medium. (It’s a book.)
As a young man, I was saddened when I learned about FDR’s loves, in part because I have felt the deep suffering of Eleanor Roosevelt. She was one of our great anti-racist leaders. It took me several years to believe that Dwight D. Eisenhower turned amorous toward his driver during World War II. According to the British Broadcasting Corporation, many others slept on both sides of the bed, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Woodrow Wilson and Warren G. Harding, whose story includes “compulsive adultery.” Bill Clinton romped around and lied about it under oath.
Power is an aphrodisiac. Sexual temptations come with power, for men and women. The equation is often that of a powerful man who attracts women who feel his power. Power and sex travel along the campaign trail. Candidate Herman “9-9-9” Cain left the political coliseum tattered and torn. Newt Gingrich, up to this writing, seemingly has nothing to hide – his indulgences have received proper reporting and analysis from peers and seers. He is a free man wrangling the campaign trail with the yips.
None of us are clean, pure or innocent. So this had better not be about judgment. This is a political, and shortly biblical, analysis of what is going on.
My favorite writer is Robert Penn Warren. He says it well in “All the King’s Men”: “Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something.”
So, if that is what is going on, what should we do?
When faced with ethical, moral or political issues, I turn first to the Bible. Wow – God’s Word is really cool.
First, the God of no gender (though we know her as Father/Mother) makes a distinction between fornication and adultery that is essential to the common good and the Beloved Community/Kindom of God. Fornication is sex between consenting partners neither of whom is married or betrothed. Adultery is sex between consenting partners when one or both are married or betrothed to someone else.
It is sometimes difficult to know what “consenting” means for a woman. In biblical days, she was, as in our own day in places (like our front yard), a slice of property, an object to produce male children and to obey husbands. These girls/women had few resources to give them the power to say “no.” We are thankful for one of the great feminists/womanists in the Bible: Vashti, the hero of the Book of Esther. Vashti said “no.”
Though fornication presented tremendous problems for girls/women, whose value for their fathers was tied to their virginity (whose loss sometimes brought execution by the family and religious leaders), it was adultery that made the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. But the intensification of adultery, which brought the death penalty, was not primarily about sexual activity. The prohibition is more closely related to “the knowledge of good and evil” – “for God knows that when you eat of it [the forbidden fruit] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3.5b).
Do not eat of the forbidden fruit, says Yahweh-Elohim. We did and do, but it is not sex or eating that constitutes the fall from innocence and essential goodness. It is the response to the powers and principalities (snakes) that tempt us to know no boundaries. To do our own thing. To not say “no” to personal desire and empire. This may give us the knowledge of good and evil, but always from the social location of “east of Eden.”
An important question that emerges from Genesis 3 to
the end of Revelation 21 and 22, posed by William Stringfellow,
is this: how shall we live together in light of our knowledge
of good and evil?
God gave and gives us a journey to travel toward the Beloved Community/Kindom of God, with means to geton the road, stay on the road and tear down the systems of war and injustice. First, we are called to “go” from our place in the status quo to a new community and vision. Second, God gives us covenant, Torah, teachings, parables, poems, songs and psalms, regrettable threats and wars, and frightening images of hell and banishment, which these days we are excising from the Bible, God be praised. (See Wes Howard- Brook’s book “Come Out My People!”) The end of this journey, experienced while traveling (we look in a glass darkly), is shalom, the Beloved Community/Kindom of God, peace, freedom and equality.
Adultery is important less as a sexual experience in and of itself than as a threat to, a disregard for, the life of the community. Adultery threatens the common good of the community, church, political parties, hospitality houses and the struggle for justice. Adultery can and does elongate the struggle against poverty (John Edwards), toward housing the homeless, and toward the coming of God’s Kindom on earth as it is in heaven.
Thus, in the days of old, those convicted of adultery could be stoned to death, to protect family, community, love of God and neighbor. Though we still practice ancient blood lust in the state of Georgia, the death penalty is not related to adultery. If it were, it might clear out the state Legislature.
When public officials tilt the golden goblet for the aphrodisiacal elixir, using their power and their knowledge of good and evil to pet, pant and purr, the nation is threatened by the abuse of power, by lies and corruption.
So what’s new? The biblical analysis above is not enough. That leads us to consider: what shall we do?
Again, going to the Word, we have a wonderful solution in the first chapter of Esther. In the marginal notes of my study Bible there is a radical statement. I am surprised it made it through the editorial board. If incarnated, it would change the world. “Human action,” Sidnie White Crawford writes, “is the key to achieving God’s purpose in the world.”
Now remember that we are asking questions about how to be helpful to the American Empire and its deformed leaders. Therefore we turn to perhaps the most powerful and extensive world empire in the fifth century B.C., the Persian Empire (ancient Persia being what is now Iran).
The Emperor Xerxes ruled the Persian Empire from 486 to 465 B.C. He had a lot of women, and he had a beautiful queen who acted to achieve God’s purpose in the world. Xerxes, known biblically as Ahasuerus, needed helpers he could trust to be his close advisers and to keep the women in line. He smelled in the courtyard and palace rooms what Erica Jong named in 1973: hard to trust a testosterone-laden man. Only one direction on the compass. Xerxes, as others before and after, chose eunuchs to help him run the empire. Less threat to the common good of all and the emperor’s women-domain, or harem.
This system did not work completely. Once, when Xerxes was in a drunken state, he beckoned his close-at-hand eunuchs together and ordered them to go to the women’s room and get Queen Vashti. According to several rabbis’ interpretation of the text, he wanted to show her off with only her crown on her head. They attempted to fetch Vashti, but she sent a message back to Emperor Xerxes: “no.” This set the Persian Empire into a swirling whirl, and new laws were proclaimed that all women must obey their husbands. Vashti was banished.
But notwithstanding women’s power, Xerxes does offer a solution that might work in a democratic empire. What if a new qualification for electoral office in the usa required that all men running for office had to be eunuchs? Would that not strengthen the common good? The anti-war movement? The justice movement? Would we still have to occupy Wall Street? What do you think?
Eduard Loring is a Partner at the Open Door Community.
Categories: News from the ODC