Sunday, November 03, 2013

Keeping secrets

There's been some buzz on the Internet about a so-called scandal involving Doug Phillips.  In his letter of resignation, he says, 

With thanksgiving to God for His mercy and love, I have stepped down from the office of president at Vision Forum Ministries and have discontinued my speaking responsibilities.
There has been serious sin in my life for which God has graciously brought me to repentance. I have confessed my sin to my wife and family, my local church, and the board of Vision Forum Ministries.  I engaged in a lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman. While we did not “know” each other in a Biblical sense, it was nevertheless inappropriately romantic and affectionate.
There are no words to describe the magnitude of shame I feel, or grief from the injury I caused my beloved bride and children, both of whom have responded to my repentance with what seems a supernatural love and forgiveness. I thought too highly of myself and behaved without proper accountability. I have acted grievously before the Lord, in a destructive manner hypocritical of life messages I hold dear, inappropriate for a leader, abusive of the trust that I was given, and hurtful to family and friends. My church leadership came alongside me with love and admonition, providing counsel, strong direction and accountability. Where I have directly wronged others, I confessed and repented. I am still in the process of trying to seek reconciliation privately with people I have injured, and to be aware of ways in which my own selfishness has hurt family and friends. I am most sensitive to the fact that my actions have dishonored the living God and been shameful to the name of Jesus Christ, my only hope and Savior.

Truth be told, I know nothing about Phillips. I'm not into Vision Forum Ministries. On the face of it, his confession and contrition is disproportionate to the stated offense, which is cryptically vague. If it wasn't a physical relationship, what was it? Sexting? Salacious email? Phone sex? 

Merely saying he felt inappropriately romantic and affectionate about a woman other than his wife isn't a very convincing explanation. Surely there's more to it than that. Otherwise, it's terribly overblown.

Mind you, I don't want to know the details. It's none of my business. I have zero interest in his private life. It's like being bombarded with the latest "news" about the Kardashians. I didn't ask for that. And I make a point of not knowing who they are. Kind of like Mark Driscoll: the more you know about him, the less you want to know.

I'm using this "scandal"–if that's what it is–as a jumping off point to say something else. There's a popular cliché in Hollywood movies and TV dramas. I don't know how many times I've heard this snatch of wince-inducing dialogue. It usually a female character saying this to her husband or boyfriend: couples shouldn't keep secrets from each other. Couples should be totally honest with each other. How can I trust you if refuse to tell me everything about yourself? When you keep secrets, that's tantamount to lying!

At this point the male character acts guilty, defensive, and apologetic. 

It's so utterly absurd!

I can always tell when the screenwriter is a woman. At least I think I can. They write such preposterous dialogue for men. Things a normal man would never say in real life. Ways they want men to be like. 

This dialogue usually involves a situation in which the male character is covering for someone else. Protecting someone else. Sometimes he's protecting his wife or girlfriend. If she knew what he knew, it would endanger her. 

But she suspects that he's leading a double life. She's not sure what she's gutting into. Or what he already got her into, without her consent.

That's fiction, but many impressionable people are influenced by Hollywood values. That becomes their ideal of how to have a real relationship.

Withholding information isn't ipso facto tantamount to lying. Say a man has a best friend. An old high school buddy, from long before he met his wife or fiancée. He knows things about his friend. Private things. Things shared in confidence. An unspoken trust. A best friend is someone who knows enough about you to destroy you, but won't.

His wife or fiancée is not entitled to know everything he knows about his best friend. Same thing with her friends. That would be a betrayal of trust. 

There's nothing inherently wrong with compartmentalizing some of our relationships. With holding something back. When we form a new relationship, like getting married, that doesn't mean our spouse ought to be privy to every tidbit about about our prior friendships or failures.   

Many of us have a past, going into marriage. That's often true of both spouses. They know that about each other. They weren't born 20 years old. 

There's nothing wrong with keeping some of that to yourself. Of course, if you had a child by someone else, that's not the kind of thing you should keep from a prospective spouse! That's not something the husband or wife to discover after the fact. Likewise, if you're on the run from the mob because you were skimming the protection money, it's best to disclose that to a future spouse. Otherwise, the marriage will resemble Clint Eastwood's The Gauntlet. 

But we all have baggage. It's best to keep some of that packed. Best to keep that locked away in our mental attic. Don't open it. Don't share it.  

Take a cue from St. Paul: "It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret" (Eph 5:12). Some things are best left between God and yourself. 

Having read some scathing reviews of Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll, I get the impression that their marriage was poisoned from the start by knowing too much about each other from when they were still single. Unfortunately, many young people have a Social Network mentality, where they feel the impulse to publicize everything about themselves. Some of them then find out, when they apply for a job, that making your life an open book wasn't the brightest idea. 

Our grandparents were more prudent. That generation had a sense of discretion–which our generation has lost.  

If I was a married man who became emotionally attached to another woman, I wouldn't tell me wife. Rather, I'd break it off. Cut off further contact. Put as much physical distance between me and the other woman.

It would be very damaging to my marriage to announce to my wife that I had feelings for another woman. How is she supposed to react to that? What does that accomplish? She will feel rejected, resentful, and jealous all at once. Once you say that, you can't take it back. It's not something she will forget. There will always be that lingering sense of mistrust. 

And it wasn't based on anything tangible. How can she ever compete with that? 

It's best that she never knows how you felt. Keep that to yourself and deal with it yourself. 

It's not bad to have secrets. You're not lying to her. 

Telling a spouse too much can do irreparable harm. That's a two-way street. 

Fact is, wives can become emotionally involved with other men. It isn't just a guy thing. There may always be an old flame, an old boyfriend for whom they retain a soft spot. If they bump into him at the supermarket, all the fond feelings come rushing back like it was yesterday. And maybe that nagging, what if?

As long as you don't nurse it or act on it, big deal. As long as you keep it at a distance, big deal. It's not an affair, or even a fantasy. Just involuntary feelings of attachment. 

The fact that you choose your spouse over someone else, the fact that you reaffirm that choice in spite of competition, is flattering. You didn't choose them simply because they were the only available prospect. What spouse wants to feel that way? And remaining committed to your spouse despite feelings you might have for someone else is a mark of a strong marriage. 


  1. I'd be curious to hear your opinion on confession of sins. Obviously we need to confess known sins against a person to that person and ask forgiveness. But what about sins they don't know about (assuming confession is not necessary in order to recompense them in some manner)? For instance, say I steal $20 from my dad's wallet. The next day I have a guilty conscience and put the money back in, with him oblivious to the whole thing. Would I have an obligation to confess to him, or would it be okay to be quiet about the whole thing?

    My guess is those who think confession in the cases you mentioned is the right thing see non-sexual but romantic entanglements as a sin against the spouse, which in turn creates the obligation of confession, even if it leads to negative consequences.

    1. We can always confess to God. There are situations in which confessing sin to the unsuspecting party would do more harm than good. You have to take that into consideration. So that's a judgment call.

  2. Since he said the relationship was "inappropriately romantic and affectionate." I think affectionate must = physical. Whether that means hand-holding or Bill Clinton stuff, who knows (not my business either). However, it doesn't sound like a purely emotional affair or an inappropriate virtual relationship.

  3. Overall a very good article. I agree with what you're saying here. I just wish it had some application to this Doug Phillips kerfuffle. Rather than having a sudden twinge of conscience, he "confessed and repented" only because he had to.

    Bear in mind that Doug is a lawyer and is well versed in the lawyer-ly arts of secrecy, cover up, and duplicity as part of his daily business practices. He's also very gifted and convincing in the arts of issuing lawyer-ly threats and intimidation against any who would dare to challenge or oppose him. He's done so for many years, and I have first-hand knowledge of much of it, as do the many others that he's cheated.

    Cheating on his wife is not a temporary moral lapse, but completely consistent with his character. The one thing we can believe of him in his so-called confession (much of it, particularly his sincerity, should be called into question) is that his affair was "lengthy." Indeed it was. However, it was not a "God has graciously brought me to repentance" situation at all, as though after years of infidelity his conscience suddenly got the better of him. No, Doug outed himself in a carefully orchestrated attempt to limit the extent of his exposure, and prevent the full story from coming out.

    Yes, this situation is strikingly similar to the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky tempest in a teapot "scandal". The real scandals of Bill (and Hillary) were gargantuan (and criminal) in comparison to "I didn't have sex with that woman." Orchestrating the outing of a salacious sex scandal (oh how the Press loves those!) is the only thing that saved Clinton from being exposed for far more serious charges than perjury.

    The truth about Doug Phillips' real nature isn't any harder to find than was the truth about Bill and Hillary, at least for those who will open their eyes. Doug Phillips is no more a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ than was Bill Clinton. Like Bill, Doug is first and foremost a politician, and like a good politician Doug knows the value of telling people what he knows they want to hear. Doug's confession was a brilliant political move, but also only too transparently manipulative for those of us who personally know the man.