Adultery and Church Discipline, is it Sexist?
Adultery is a sensitive subject. Unfaithful spouses can cause great pain in marriages and families. No one is immune from the devastation caused by breaking the seventh commandment. However, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that marriage is a two-way street and the cheating spouse is never 100% of the problem.
That said, I’m interested in the difference in perception between unfaithful wives and unfaithful husbands, and how they are disciplined by the church.
As far as I know, my own marriage has been free of adultery. Not so for my parents. When I was 10, my dad was excommunicated from the church and shortly thereafter I found out why (both parents acknowledge it was a mistake to tell me at such a young age). A few years later, he was rebaptized and shortly thereafter ex’d, again. He was eventually re-rebaptized (after I was married, actually) and is in full fellowship, even serving as YM President at one point. My parents’ continuing marital problems aside, from what I can tell, the story of marital infidelity is fairly common, even in the church.
I have another family member who had an affair when she was young and unhappy in her marriage. She described it as” just a physical thing,” because she didn’t feel needed in her marriage and was disfellowshiped for a short time after her divorce. She soon remarried and was recently sealed to her new husband and child.
In my experience, four of the five of the men I know have been excommunicated for adultery, but none of the four women have been. Considering marital vows of fidelity run both ways, I am continually mystified by why church leaders appear to treat women differently than men for the same sin.
Here are a few reasons why this may be:
1. Women are more vulnerable than men, so should be treated more carefully and not punished as harshly.
2. Excommunication is a blessing, not a punishment. It is a way of separating the sinner from God and the church so he or she can truly repent and come back. If this is true, then perhaps women are not worthy of this blessing, or can achieve true repentance without excommunication.
3. Women are not accountable for their actions in the way men are.
4. God holds husbands to a higher standard of fidelity than wives because they preside in marriage.
Regardless of the rationale behind the church discipline, it directly affects the way outsiders judge the situation. My general sense is that most people see unfaithful men as weak-willed, sex-crazed, or unwise stewards. Men are attributed to acting on their mating instincts and need for physical intimacy. On the other hand, when a woman is unfaithful, perhaps she was a victim or taken advantage of by a predatory man. Or maybe she was in an emotionally empty relationship and found support or understanding in a sexual relationship outside of marriage. This makes me wonder how much the reasoning behind the infidelity factors in to church discipline.
As an end note, I believe it would be incredibly hard to be a bishop or stake president trying to help people found in difficult situations created by adultery. I know that these men do the best that they can and each situation is different. I am just interested in the trend I have observed and wonder if others have observed the same thing. I also wonder if others have a sense of why the church discipline appears to be sexist.
Feel free to respond to the post or the following questions:
Do you think men and women are equally responsible for their part in infidelity?
Why do you think they are often disciplined differently within the church?
Do you judge unfaithful wives differently than unfaithful husbands?
Does the emotional or physical nature of the extramarital relationship affect your judgment? Why?
Do you think the difference in church discipline affects the rate at which men and women in the church commit adultery?