Sex Scandals and Public Office

There is nothing new about sex scandals. And there is nothing new about public office. Sadly, there is also not much new about sex scandals involving those in public office. And we have just had another very public case of this in Australia involving National Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister, Barnaby Joyce and one of his staff members.

While the story is only a few days old, it has gotten plenty of media attention. One of the most recent pieces on this gives us the basics, as well as how Joyce seems to be seeking to defend himself:

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce says he feels “incredibly hurt” that his private life has been thrown into the public arena. His comments, in an interview with the ABC’s 7.30 host Leigh Sales, have come after The Daily Telegraph reported Mr Joyce had moved in with his former staffer, 33-year-old Vikki Campion.
Mr Joyce, who has separated from his wife of 24 years and the mother of his four daughters, is now expecting a baby with his former employee. Mr Joyce told 7.30 he wanted to “make sure that private matters remain private”. “So it’s a private matter and I don’t think it helps me, I don’t think it helps my family, I don’t think it helps anybody in the future to start making this a public discussion. As much as I can I will keep private matters private.”
Mr Joyce’s wife, Natalie Joyce, issued a statement yesterday saying she feels “deceived and hurt” by her husband for starting an affair with a person who was his employee.

Along with Joyce himself, many others are taking the usual line so often heard when such things explode in public: ‘this is a private matter and should stay that way.’ The claim is that it should not matter what happens in the private life of a politician or any other public figure. For example, one writer for the Australian said this:

Journalism is at its best when it exposes abuses of power, the misuse of public money, misconduct in office and there’s plenty of that going on without having to rifle through an MP’s undie drawer.
But if you insist on media coverage that focuses on the deeply personal and sometimes vulgar elements of an MP’s life, and God knows there is a huge appetite for this stuff, then understand we are headed down the American path where our politics really does become show business for ugly people.

Regrettably his is a very common response to these sorts of matters, and we expect it from secularists. But sadly we often get it from those claiming to be Christians as well. These are just some of the wrong responses they will throw at you:

-“No one is perfect.”
-“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
-“Who am I to judge?”
-“What is done in the bedroom is no business of mine.”
-“I’m a sinner too, so I cannot condemn the guy.”

There are plenty of these lame excuses being thrown around. But I beg to differ. Christians of all people should know better. And so too should conservatives, even if they are not religious conservatives. Character counts. Character matters. And simply put, the sort of person we are in private will always manifest itself in public. How can it not?

Twenty years ago I wrote a piece on this when another politician was involved in a sex scandal. I said in part:

The issue is not muckraking, or dragging up the past, or politicians being put under the spot light. A politician, like any public leader, should have certain standards. We expect that politicians bring many qualities to the job, among them, honesty, loyalty, commitment and faithfulness.
Character is all of one piece: something that affects the whole person, both private and public. What a person does in private tells us a lot about what that person will be like in public. If a person is willing to cheat on his wife for example, is it not possible that he will also cheat on the electorate?
This false dichotomy between private and public life just does not hold water. If a person is known for dishonest financial dealings with family and friends, surely that tells us how the person will act as a treasurer, bank manager or politician. If a person is known to be a chronic liar, surely that fact is relevant to whether that person should be voted for.
This is not a question of being judgmental and throwing the first stone. We all need to be judged, and self-judgment is the best place to begin. But a society that says a person’s moral condition has, or should have, no bearing on public life is asking for, and will get, trouble. One might as well dispense with the police, law courts and any other semblance of morality. All societies, and all individuals, need a moral code to survive. Moral anarchy may sound good in theory but is not possible in practice.
The bottom line in all this is the issue of integrity. Integrity still matters. Simply defined, integrity is the difference between what you say and what you do. Or put another way, integrity is what you do when no one is looking. Character counts, both in public and in private. And in a relativistic age such as ours, it matters even more.
Our real problems today are not economic problems. Nor are they political problems. Our real problems have to do with values, with character, with morality. A country can survive a current account deficit, but it cannot for long survive a value deficit. And the first place to begin in restoring this value deficit is to reaffirm character, integrity and morality, both private and public.
It is interesting to note that character was the only consideration enumerated by the American founding fathers as relevant to qualifications to serve in public office. A person’s politics, philosophy or ideology may be important, but the most important qualification is character. Without good character, good government is not possible. Indeed, more than one commentator has noted that morality, more than anything else, is the key to a healthy and lasting democracy. Politics skills can be learned, policies adjusted. But without character, a nation will soon flounder on the rocks of moral relativism.
We are seeing such an unravelling of the commonweal now. The need for leadership based on character and values is now our most pressing need. We need to recall the words of George Washington in his farewell address: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
We have paid a terrible price in the false separation of morality from social problems. Australia’s (and America’s) rising tide of social pathology will only be reversed when we once again acknowledge that character and morality are not optional extras, but are the essence of civilised society.

Other considerations

A few other things can be said about all this. First, as a Catholic and a political conservative, Joyce defended traditional marriage in the recent homosexual marriage debate. He was quite right to do so, making his transgression all the worse. Now we have hypocrisy to add to the list of shortcomings.

But to his credit, consider what also he did. I would guess that in at least 98 per cent of other such cases, the quick “solution” would have been to have the baby aborted. At least to their credit, the pair is not going down this path. For that we can be thankful. But it certainly does not excuse the sins of adultery, the breach of sacred marriage vows, the betrayal of trust, and other transgressions.

There is another matter worth noting. Consider the double standards at play here. Paul Zanetti recently posted this on the social media:

You won’t hear much from Labor and the Greens about Barnaby Joyce’s extra marital affair.
Bill Shorten – had an extra-marital affair with cute blonde Chloe Bryce 10 years ago – and got Ms Bryce pregnant while both were still married.
Tony Burke – had an affair with office staffer Skye Laris while married to Cathy Bresnan with kids.
Bob Hawke – had an affair with Blanch d’Alpuget while married to Hazel – while he was PM.
Nick McKim – had an affair with married staffer Cassy O’Connor while her husband artist was at home keeping the home fires burning and raising their 4 kids. McKim’s affair ended up breaking up the young family.
There are lot of shout-outs that Barnaby Joyce should resign.
Yet, Shorten, Burke and McKim are still there.
If we apply the ‘resign’ principle to all of parliament – and the press gallery – Canberra would be a ghost town.

Yes the double standards here by the left side of politics, and by the left-leaning mainstream media is sickening. But aside from all that, what Joyce did is wrong. From a Christian point of view, it is sinful, and genuine repentance is the only way forward to deal with this mess.

Another obvious Christian lesson is this: As the Bible says, “be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). Sexual sin especially always has public consequences. And what we try to do on the sly will usually come back to bite you. And even if no one finds out what you have done, God knows all about it.

And leaving aside any Christian concerns, it is still a truism to say that character counts, and the way we live our lives in private will always have an impact on how we live our lives in public. If you can’t keep your marriage vows, how can we expect you to keep your public and political vows?

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32 Replies to “Sex Scandals and Public Office”

  1. Barnaby’ s behaviour has hurt a lot of people especially his wife and daughters and will have ramifications for generations to come. He’s also hurt those who oppose SSM because he was so publicly opposed to it and now the pro SSM brigade are using his example to say all anti SSM people are also hypocrites.

  2. Proverbs 14: 34 sums it up really well: “Righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people”. We long for those in positions of authority and influence, including Members of Parliament, ministers of the Crown, judges, public servants and leaders of corporations to read and obey Scriptural principles. It is only when this occurs that the nation is exalted in accordance with Proverbs 14: 34.

  3. “If we apply the ‘resign’ principle to all of Parliament – and the press gallery – Canberra would be a ghost town.”

    OK, let’s apply the principle, and make it a ghost town. Then we can start with a fresh election and hopefully a bunch of MPs less inclined to moral failure.

  4. Devastating, deceitful, family destroying, violating covenant marriage vows. Absolutely heart wrenching for Natalie, his wife. It is shattering for the one who is faithful.
    My prayer is that she will remain commited, faithful and honour her spoken vows to God and her husband, to love, ……for better and worse, forsaking all others, TILL DEATH DO US PART.

  5. At least we now know a little of the character of one of our representatives. Usually private matters are well hidden and we only get to vote on party policies irrespective of who stands. I think when a person enters public life, his life ought to be public. Otherwise, why do we need them? We might as well have a bunch of robots or virtual politicians. This touches on a significant shortcoming in that we hardly ever really know who we are voting for.
    (By the way, I know of many who are setting their phone alarms to 7:14 as a reminder to repent and ask for forgiveness according to 2Ch 7:14.)

  6. Excellent analysis, Bill. I wholeheartedly agree with you. A person who disgracefully betrays his own wife and children has basically revealed his tremendous lack of moral character. He may very well equally betray his own electorate and the nation as a whole.

  7. Sadly this happens in the Church too, and too often gets given the ‘blind eye’. It is even worse when a denomination rewards the culprit (Minister) after twice defaulting and wrecking his own marriage, by making him a Marriage Counsellor and eventually puts him in a very elevated position over the whole church. There is definitely something very wrong …

  8. It has been interesting watching the media pile on to Barnaby with this while ignoring the sins of the left side.
    The most hypocritical of the lot of course are the ABC who claim they want to expose the possible misuse of the taxpayers’ funds while numerous of their presenters have themselves been involved with politicians possibly on the taxpayers’ dollar.
    Barnaby did have the decency to allude to his marriage separation while speaking in Parliament against SSM.

  9. Excellent post I have to agree if marriage vows are broken, what is to stop political and public vows from being broken, and this affair was know by some of His party and PM last year when he went for reelection, what does this say about his Govt currently, not too many years ago one other rising star federal liberal Mp had an affair with a staffer and he resigned … that I believe was the right thing to do, for if you can not lead your family in the right way how can you lead in Government. Trust appropriate support is given to wife and 4 daughters…how the mighty have fallen. So thankful the church in the nation is in prayer together this Saturday for National Day of Prayer and Fasting.

  10. Personally, I don’t think the press should be sticking its nose into politicians’ private lives. That being said, some things are bound to come out, and when they do, let the chips fall where they will. It’s a pity that the time is long past when a sex scandal automatically ruined a politician’s career.

  11. In this case, marriage vows are violated. Death breaks marriage vows.
    One’s public life is a reflection of one’s private life.

  12. Dear Bill, As far as I am concerned Barnaby should be ashamed of himself and stop saying his affair is none of the public’s business because it IS our business.

    However, you are right Bill. There is nothing new about sex scandals and public office. I am old enough to remember the high class prostitute Christine Keeler and her affair with the Minister Profumo and how it rocked Britain to its core.Therefore if Barnaby had anything between his ears he would have learned an important lesson from history about what can happen in liberal democracies when politicians embark on extra marital affairs. His gross selfishness and self indulgence has caused his wife and lovely daughters great pain and suffering not least from the publicity he must have known would generate once it was made known.

    I wrote a letter to the press about twenty years ago saying that those who aspire to public office and are paid from the public purse should expect their private lives to come under scrutiny so therefore it was imperative that they should set an example to the rest of the population by living exemplary lives. I said if they could not be trusted in their private lives they could not be trusted in their public lives. In reply I was ridiculed by a well known personality in the town so I know how lax some opinions are on this issue.

    Public figures who fail morally should be exposed. I know we are all sinners but but we do not all aspire to public life and live off the public purse and if we want the best people to run the country the public needs to be informed about their dishonesty because adultery is a form of dishonesty just as stealing is.

    Barnaby has also given bullets for the SSM advocates to fire although in my opinion it still makes sense for adulterers and fornicaters to oppose unnatural homosexual ”marriage”

    However to their credit they have not taken the easy way out and killed their innocent child and added murder to their sins of adultery and fornication.

    Whilst Barnaby seems to be copping all the blame we have to remember that a woman who deliberately sets her cap at someone else’s husband is a disgrace to womanhood.

    Leaders are drawn from the society in which they live so if society is weak and immoral as it obviously is now its leaders will be the same.

    Finally, Tony Abbott has also gone down in my estimation along with Barnaby for going to his sister’s so called ‘wedding’. How can you give your support by your presence at something you say you strongly oppose?

    What have we running the country men or mice?

  13. It is necessary to examine public events, particularly where morality is concerned. The event has happened. it can’y be erased. God’s judgement will stand. The guilty have recourse to the mercy and forgiveness of a holy God who provided a Saviour for this very purpose. Rather than passing judgement we need to remember ‘there, but for the grace of God, go I” and strengthen our resistance to sinful actions by constantly studying GOd’s Word for personal purity.

  14. “Let him who is without sin” could be acceptably translated “Let him who is without this sin”. The woman caught in adultery shows the hypocrisy of only the woman being brought before Jesus whilst the man is let off. When challenged for one who has not committed adultery to cast the first stone they all walk away. They wanted someone punished for doing the very same thing that they had got away with doing themselves.

    There’s certainly a big difference between that and expecting our politicians (our lawmakers) to exemplify a standard of conduct that gives a good example to the rest of us.

  15. He did confess that he had failed. He said it was the biggest failure of his life. He did say he is not proud of what has happened. I don’t recall Bob Hawke ever confessing that he had failed when he left his wife for another woman. Hawke is as proud as the devil and has no belief in God, I understood. I think that Hawke and Joyce are poles apart in character.
    I am sure in hindsight Barnaby Joyce would do anything to avoid this devilish snare that has destroyed his family who he loves; surely he wishes, “ If only I could turn the clock back.” I hope so much the Holy Spirit comes knocking on his door just as the Holy Spirit knocked on King David’s door, when Nathan was sent as God’s messenger and the ‘penny dropped’.
    While there is life there is hope. Maybe yet God may use this tragedy to bring about a reformation in Barnaby Joy’s heart. The fact that he sees his failure does give hope. A hardened adulterous heart would be blind to their sins.

  16. Thanks guys. Some of my commentators here seem to be missing the point a bit. This article was not about “judging” anyone as I already made clear. It was about making the fully biblical case that it is vital to pursue virtue both public and private, something even pagan philosophers like Aristotle insisted on.
    And of course there is hope for people like him and others, and of course we pray for them. But the idea that he has somehow admitted his guilt or feels bad about it and thus everything is now basically peachy is problematic. Real biblical repentance ALWAYS entails stopping the sin and turning from it. He is still married. If real repentance has occurred, he should be breaking off the adulterous relationship and getting right with his wife and children. That would be the bare minimum.
    To be honest, it bothers me and baffles me somewhat that here and elsewhere I have seen so many Christians effectively zealous to defend sin and sinners. That is not how biblical Christians should be operating. Yes we are all sinners and we all need God’s grace daily. But trying to excuse sin or minimise it is not how we move forward. But thanks for your thoughts one and all. I may have to write another article on all this!

  17. The whole mess is a sad reminder that we need to constantly be on guard and watchful for the attacks that come on us. Peter teaches us in 2 Peter 1: add to your faith virtue. So many church goers confuse believing facts about God with believing in God. But faith has to be relational, we have to know God intimately. In that relationship, we still have to deliberately choose to model our character on God’s moral excellence which is virtue. But this process is not a one off choice, it continues every hour for the rest of our lives. So, take this terrible mistake as a warning that we have an enemy who longs to bring us down, and the only defence is to enjoy our heavenly Father, to worship Him and make choices that please Him.

  18. I thoroughly agree that what Barnabas has done is wrong. Also, it is important that the character of a (aspiring) politician be examined.

    Over at Stream Dennis Prager wrote an opinion piece where he states that it is naïve to think that a person’s character is more important than their policies. He gives the examples of whether one should vote for Donald Trump or Jimmy Carter (married once), be a supporter of Oskar Schindler (who was a serial philanderer) and of Rahab (the prostitute) in the Bible.

    Now, I am not quite convinced that character is less than important than policies but it becomes more complex when I consider these few examples. I for one could never have voted for Hillary Clinton, despite the fact that her marriage integrity is better than Donald Trumps’. Recently here in New Zealand I voted for our version of the Liberals (in itself a less than optimal choice but for the sake of space I’ll skip that aspect) as I could not vote for the Labour Party who want to proceed down Victoria’s path of the decriminalization of abortion. However, the local MP that I voted for (East Coast bays) is a married wife (on her first marriage) with two children and has no serious character blemishes. Then she delivered her maiden speech in which she declared her support for same sex marriage. I am very disappointed in my lack of research and put it there as an example where her character is not enough for me to have voted for.

    Hopefully this can lead to more discussion.

    Ideally, good character and right policies are what I am looking for, and in general I think right character leads to right policies and bad character leads to bad policies. However, there are many examples of people whose character based on their past life, to date, is appalling but yet make a change in their life that demonstrates better character. Bill has developed excellent character since the early 1970s, and it would be unwise for me to have ignored him in the 1970s just because his earlier life was not full of good character. (Forgive me Bill if I have misrepresented the facts.) Then people can make changes late on in their life – like it appears to be with Donald Trump. It’s never too late until we die. What is harder to determine is whether past poor character is succeeded by righteous policies is worth voting for.

    As another example, Stream recently had a 90 minute you tube clip on the Heartbeat bill. The supporter of abortion had never had an abortion and is married with two children. Good character and bad policy, right? While the two women who both had abortions and one even performed abortions were now pro-life. Bad past character but now supportive of righteous laws. I think while past bad character is not good, we should look at current character, even if it has only been around very recently. Rahab’s good character seemed to be very recent.

  19. Our covenant marriage vows are all for life! Mr Joyce is married to his wife Natalie until death do them part. The old fashion vows also included forsaking all others. That means not to find another or a better person.
    Bill,.not should break the adulterous relationship, he MUST return to his covenant wife.
    God’s Word teaches to separate then reconcile.

  20. Thanks Matthew. But you are missing the point here by talking about people changing. Of course that can happen, and I already discussed that above. I also said that of course we pray for such people and hope that God will work in their lives and bring about change. But it is not our job to speculate about what might be happening in a person’s life twenty years in the future. Our job is to discern where folks are at now, especially when they are running for, or involved in, public office. Jesus said we can know people by their fruit – now. We are to be fruit inspectors, not guessers about what a person might possibly become one day in the future.

    If we took this train of thought to its logical conclusion, we would not have fought Hitler – after all, people could have said back in 1940, ‘one day he might become a terrific chap, so we better leave him alone now’. Or again, using some of the examples I shared above, we would not seek to work against the abortionists and fight for the unborn, because maybe the abortionists one day will turn a new leaf.

    The fact that people can and do change – by God’s grace – is NOT the issue here. The issue is real evil exists now, and we as believers need to continue to insist that character counts – always. And I must again emphasise what I said: if a person cannot be trusted to stay true to his wedding vows, why should we expect him to stay true to his political vows? For the believer, principle should always trump mere pragmatism.

    Thus you are somewhat amiss when you use my changed life as an example. You say, “it would be unwise for me to have ignored him in the 1970s just because his earlier life was not full of good character.” This is confusing matters. If you had known me in 1970, you should have prayed for me and hoped I left my messed up and dead-end lifestyle. You would not have wanted to vote for me for high office if I was running for something at the time. While we can always hope for better outcomes for folks in the future, we can only deal with where people are at now, especially when it comes to things like leadership. It does absolutely no good to appoint a hardcore thief to the church treasury job now in the hopes that maybe in twenty years from now he will get saved, change his way, and stop stealing!

  21. Hebrews 13:4 (NKJV)
    Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.

  22. Most of our leaders have had such problems. John Gorton admitted to two affairs whist PM, Harold Holt was quoted as saying that parliamentary sessions in Canberra would be intolerable if he had not had a mistress in town. He of course died in the company of a mistress as did former Liberal leader Billy Sneddon. Holt of course fathered two children with Zara when she was married to another.

  23. In a world where it is extremely difficult not to be bombarded with continual misuse of sexual imagery and promotion of sexual sin it is a wonder anyone is able to be faithful. Until we address the issue of what we are feeding our minds and the minds of our children then this will continue. This is something that needs to be nipped in the bud, if not on a national basis then definitely at a personal level.

    The fact that Canberra was put in a place where almost no one would normally want to live does not help the situation because what this helps to cause is family breakup. When people are so far from their families and working in close and often private settings with opposite sex work companions then this is a huge risk. This is why it was such a blessing to hear Mike Pence’s rule. More people should be taking a stand like his.

  24. Yes Michael, taking preventative steps like Pence has done is how we should proceed here, and is the sort of emphasis that is needed now, rather then trying to make excuses for sin and sinners, as I keep finding some believers wanting to do.

  25. And Bill, thank you for continually monitoring & correcting these comments – as I (we) do not get God’s Truth real-time anywhere else – this is such astounding & blessed Ministry.

  26. But it is not our job to speculate about what might be happening in a person’s life twenty years in the future. Our job is to discern where folks are at now, especially when they are running for, or involved in, public office. Our job is to discern where folks are at now, especially when they are running for, or involved in, public office. Jesus said we can know people by their fruit – now. We are to be fruit inspectors, not guessers about what a person might possibly become one day in the future.

    Thanks Bill. Yes, I agree totally with your statement above. I am at a bit of a loss as to how you arrived at such a conclusion that I said it is our job to speculate what might be happening in a person’s life twenty years into the future, but obviously I have given that impression. What I did mean is if I see evidence at this point in time of good policy but, say 10 years ago that person’s character was not good, then it seems likely that their character is better now.

    I look forward to seeing what I wrote led to the conclusion that if I think a person in the future is to change for the better – e.g. Hitler – then it is ok to do nothing now.

    And I must again emphasise what I said: if a person cannot be trusted to stay true to his wedding vows, why should we expect him to stay true to his political vows?

    Yep, I do agree with that. However, would it also be fair to say that you would never vote for Hillary Clinton even though she has stayed true to her marriage vows (which is a good thing)? In other words, good character with respect to marriage vows is not enough by itself (even if it means the person stays true to their political vows) because we need to look at policy also? I think you would rightly say that I am introducing new aspects and obscuring the main point you want to make. Sometimes it is difficult via a conversation in the internet to avoid accidental misunderstandings 🙂

    God bless you!

  27. Thanks again Matthew. I believe the points I made in my article and in many others like it were pretty clear, so I think the various objections being raised have already been covered, so I don’t want to belabour all this. Readers can decide whether or not I rightly understood your remarks about change.

    As to your comments on Hillary – of course, that goes without saying. Even if she lived a perfect marital life (and I don’t think we can know that for certain), all of one’s character is important and to be considered. Thus if she is a serial liar, or has an inordinate lust for power, eg. – and she is/has both – then yes these also would be things that we should worry about greatly and take into consideration as he reflect on how we should vote.

    And anyone who has followed me for some time would know that my concerns about the importance of character is longstanding. I had strongly warned during the US presidential elections – and lost plenty of friends for doing so – that if evangelicals who should know better are quite happy to ditch concerns about character, morality and integrity for mere political pragmatism (‘anything to defeat Hillary’), we would trash our own Christian credentials. The many evangelicals rushing to make excuses for Joyce and his sinful behaviour (I am not saying you are one of them) is yet another case in point of this. Character no longer counts for far too many Christians. All that matters is getting “our guy” elected and to keep him in office, at all costs. Needless to say, I fully reject that mindset.

    But thanks again for your thoughts. Keep them coming.

  28. I pray, that like King David who added murder to the sin of adultery, Barnaby will repent, learn from his terrible mistakes, and become a man after God’s own heart. Pray for him, his wife , his family, his mistress, his innocent unborn child, and ourselves–fragile, broken souls in need of a Saviour.

  29. Julius Caesar once divorced his wife, with the aphorism: “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.”, and that happened in a Roman Republic where people were already marrying in order to divorce and remarry with monotonous regularity in an ongoing competition for upward political and economic mobility…

    Anyone remember why John The Baptist lost his head?

    Pilate once asked, “What is truth?” and handed over the Truth Incarnate to be crucified. Time we started asking, “What is love?”!

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