Tabloids have pounced on Tiger Woods for his apparent failure to uphold family values. Their stories use traditional morals to define adultery as scandal and include words like "sin" and "confession."
At the same time, the purveyors of our pop culture often portray marriage itself as an arcane institution that our progressive society should move beyond.
In recent years, television shows and Hollywood movies have promoted our acceptance of — and even our appetite for — infidelity. Major networks are complicit in helping to erode the significance of lifelong commitments and loving relationships between husbands and wives.
The same adulterous affair that in real life becomes a threat to reputation, career and endorsements, produces laughs and envy on prime time. Sex is sold as a need-based commodity rather than an expression of shared, committed intimacy.
Billed as a family show, "American Idol" is juxtaposed with Victoria's Secret commercials. Our favorite physician in the 8 p.m. time slot used to be Cliff Huxtable and his endearing relationship with his wife, Claire. Now it's Gregory House and his relationally challenged co-workers. Even Disney betrays us in the new Christmas Carol as Scrooge and his first love refers to their dying relationship as a "contract," rather than marriage.
Media messages that celebrate infidelity can chip away at the resolve of couples, challenging, rather than supporting, their decision to be together.
As the phenomena of 24-hour news and reality television have blurred the lines between reality and entertainment, it becomes difficult for us to even know how to respond to a real-life situation of adultery, as evidenced by David Letterman's recent announcement of his affairs in front of a live audience.
No matter what it does for television ratings, the fact is that any adultery is hurtful, whether you are young or old, rich or poor. Instead of reverting to voyeurism, we have an opportunity — an obligation — to examine the integrity of our own relationships.
Human history, scientific research and our own desire for intimacy tell us that marriage is good — for us as individuals, for our children, and for society. We would do well to remember that even a strong marriage is as fragile as it is good. Given the right set of circumstances, every one of us could find ourselves in a situation ripe for an affair.
In an account that has restored many a sinner's soul and stood the test of time, a woman caught in the very act of adultery was brought to Jesus by her accusers (John 8: 1-11). Instead of condemning her to the customary death by stoning, he wrote in the sand and told the crowd that the one without sin should cast the first stone. They all left, beginning at the oldest, until there was no one left to condemn her.
Perhaps it is through the combined experiences of life, after we have repeatedly been confronted with our own weaknesses, that we become less likely to judge others.
An ESPN commentator mentioned recently that he thinks Tiger's affair will help the golfer to "grow up." We all may have some growing up to do as we seek an appropriate response to adultery — whether it is a public or private admission. We need to be honest about the realities and stresses that become the context in which we work out our marriages.
Each bride and groom ought to know that there will come a time, years or days later, when it will be quite easy for either of them to have an affair. And they ought to know that the Princess Bride quest for true love must mature or the relationship will die. We must see marriage, not as a contract by which we get our needs met and are made happy, but as a sacred covenant designed, if we let it, to forge within us the potential for becoming a better person.
Instead of more news anchors covering adulterous scandals, we need more anchors of grace and kindness in our lives.
We need a consistent and tender respect for marriage, knowing that faithfulness and commitment are dying virtues in what could otherwise be defined as an age of individualism and instant gratification.
We need to reject Hollywood's lie that the thrill of fresh attraction is more desirable than the thrill that comes from a lifetime of living together and finishing each other's sentences.
We might even choose to turn off the television and soberly reflect on our own relationships and what actions we might take to cultivate intimacy with the one we're with, in order to safeguard against the same marital temptations that, if not today, might tomorrow be ours.
Angela Kays-Burden is a licensed master social worker who holds Christian ministerial credentials through Elim Gospel Fellowship.