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

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(Photo: Reuters/Yuri Gripas)U.S. President Donald Trump arrives at Newark International airport in Newark, New Jersey in June 2017.

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.)

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.com, "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?

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.

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?

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.

Dr. Michael Brown (www.askdrbrown.org) is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio program. His latest book is Saving a Sick America: A Prescription for Moral and Cultural Transformation. Connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.