It’s weird to be old enough to see perceptions change. Some things are judged more harshly than they used to be, and other things that used to be totally unacceptable are now permissible. I believe some of these changes have been for the better, and I also believe some of them were spawned straight from the pits of hell. I’ll leave it to your collective imaginations to guess what I might be referring to.
We live in a paradoxical society these days when it comes to infidelity in marriage. We’re constantly assaulted with music, movies, and television programs that glamorize affairs, but if someone is ever discovered to actually be cheating on his or her spouse in real life they take a public drubbing. So, basically, all in the same breath, marriage is a bond easily broken but is also sacred and shouldn’t be tampered with.
I’m old enough to remember the great Christian music scandals of the 1990s, specifically the cases of Michael English and Sandi Patty. It may seem strange to many reading this, but these were two of the biggest names in Christian music back then, and their affairs (not with each other, mind you) and subsequent divorces were absolutely shocking at the time. English’s affair even involved some returned awards and a pregnancy (which, sadly, ended in a miscarriage). It was the first real Christian music scandal I can remember clearly.
Fast forward to 2014, where you can view a repentant Steve Fee on YouTube discussing how “my entire life exploded … and I’m the one who lit the fuse.” I knew Fee had been off the radar for a while, but I didn’t really know why. The reason dates back to 2010, when he confessed to having an affair. I had no idea, and I work at a Christian radio station. Granted, Fee probably isn’t a superstar on the level that English and Patty were back in the ’90s, but I don’t remember hearing about this at all. Plus, while the video is well done, Fee doesn’t actually mention what his “secret sin” was.
Perhaps even more surprising to me, though, was learning Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken had divorced. I was a huge fan of Webb’s early work with Caedmon’s Call, but as his interest in electronic music grew and his politics became more liberal I listened to less and less of his music. Still, he and McCracken formed a sort of power couple for the independent music scene, with Webb starting the NoiseTrade website and McCracken proving to be a viable artist on her own. According to legal documents, Webb had an affair, and McCracken filed for divorce … in April. Again, I didn’t know a thing about this until recently.
Things are just different now. English’s music was universally pulled from Christian radio following the revelation of his affair, but I’m not aware of any of Fee’s music getting the hook (Webb’s latest efforts generally don’t get played on the radio anyway, making his situation rather unique.). Patty and English had to gradually work their way back into Christian music circles, while Fee has a nice new video and label backing for his new single, “Grace.” The public scars don’t seem to run as deep as they used to.
All of this causes me to pose a question: Are we becoming a more forgiving society or are we just becoming numb? I mentioned earlier that I’m old enough now to have seen perceptions change; I’m also old enough to have seen several people near and dear to me divorce. I was sad to see them separate from their spouses, but I didn’t hate them or want them to lose their jobs. Still, when the person in question is in a public role like Fee or Webb, should they still be in positions of influence, particularly if they are in the Christian arena?
A friend of mine today described his lack of grace in the following way: “I just want to judge people and send them straight to hell.” He’s trying to do better, but at the same time he knows that there are certain advantages to following a hard line. Situations generally don’t get out of hand with this kind of attitude. There’s not much room for mercy either, though. King David was an adulterer and a man after God’s own heart. He suffered severe consequences for his actions and possibly even deserved to die under Old Testament law … but he didn’t.
I’m not even sure if I have a point to be made with any of this, except to say the difference with which divorce is treated in Christian circles has evolved and should certainly be continually examined. As far as its effects are concerned, let me conclude by quoting Christian artist Shawn McDonald, who divorced his wife in 2010:
“It’s incredibly humiliating. I feel like I’ve failed, like I’ve let a lot of people down. I hate what happened. This definitely wasn’t something that I ever thought would be part of my story, but now it is my story, and I have to deal with it.”