The past couple days I’ve been seeing articles all over the place about the discovery that a high profile religious man is addicted to pornography and subsequently cheated on his wife. I recognize that this is his second scandal brought to light in the last few months, and the combination of his previous actions, his high profile status, and his religion have made this a hot topic. This is not something I would normally address publicly, but I can’t get it out of my mind and I have to get it out or I think my heart will burst.
I in no way condone his actions, I think they are awful, but it also saddens me how we so quickly jump to point fingers at someone who is struggling with something so common. I guarantee every single person reading this knows someone addicted to pornography. Not just an acquaintance, but someone you know well, and most likely someone you love, or maybe that addict is you. It is everywhere. Although I’m sure there are a few exceptions, the majority of articles I’ve seen about this couple aren’t reaching out to help, but just to point out what a mess they are in and judge them for it. How do you think this kind of attention affects the people struggling, in varying degrees, with the same thing? Do we think seeing him treated this way encourages those with pornography addictions to change? The majority of time, no. It just makes them want to learn how to be better at keeping secrets. I guarantee the addict already recognize that this is a bad behavior, that’s why they keep it secret. He already knows. He is already feeling more pain then we realize. I am in no way suggesting that he should be absolved from the consequences of his choices, but just that we give them the space to work through the appropriate consequences without adding to their burden.
For most pornography addicts there is a gap between where they are as addicts and where they would like to be, recovered. Most either don’t know how to get there, or don’t have faith in the process. But it is possible. That’s what we should be highlighting. Not that he made a horrible choice, but how to fix it and break the cycle to make sure he never finds himself in this position again. The saying that once a cheater, always a cheater, is not true. Recovery is possible. Change is possible. Healing is possible. Becoming clean is possible through the atonement of Jesus Christ. Of course full repentance and subsequent divine forgiveness of course includes restitution and consequences, and once an addict completes that process, we don’t get to hold their past against them. The atonement works as completely for addicts, and recovered addicts, as it does for the rest of us.
Many outside her situation seem to know what she should do. I guarantee that you don’t really know what you’re going to do in a situation like this until you’re in it. Having your marriage vows violated in such an extreme and repeated way is one of the most painful things you can experience, especially for someone who considers marriage to be a sacred and special covenant, a major part of which is chastity before and after marriage. But, she is in no way trapped, she is in no way weak, and she is in no way permanently broken, even if it feels like it right now. She has been given the opportunity to learn to rely on the Savior and draw strength from him in a way that she never has before, because she’s never needed to before. She is in a tough spot, but she has the opportunity not to just “get through it”, but to triumph in it. She can still hold her head high and recognize that no matter what he did, no matter how embarrassed she may feel, no matter how awful it is to have everyone think you are weak for staying or leaving (because no matter what she chooses people will think it was the wrong choice), no matter how heavy her burdens feel in the moment, nothing affects her relationship with the Savior but her own choices. No matter what happens with him, she can win her fight.
This is not the end for either of them. Each of them has the opportunity to become a new person, a better person, a person who knows how to rely on Jesus Christ, and a person who has empathy for those in pain, no matter the cause. Their religion does not limit their choices, it is not a reason to mock them for their situation, nor is it a proof that religion does no good. It is an opportunity to become a living testimony of Jesus Christ, to triumph over pain and to pick yourself up to live a new life. It is not when things are going well that growth happens, but when things go completely awry and you have to decide what you’re going to do now.
I truly hope and pray that they will both find the strength they need to make the hard choices they need to make. I hope both of them will feel supported as they try (and of course trying includes a lot of something that feels in the moment like failure) to sincerely change and become new people. If I had the opportunity, I would give them both a giant hug, look them in the eye, and say with all the energy I could muster and let them know “YOU CAN DO THIS!”