Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. (Proverbs 3:3)
We live in strange and disturbing times.
Many in the media are drooling over the North Korean women’s cheer squad and fawning over Kim Jong-un’s sister, and they are also salivating at Barnaby’s Joyce’s affair.
The first is insane: young women who have perfected synchronised smiles, cheering, and songs, while their families back home probably have a gun to their heads. Kim Yo-jong is being touted as the next saviour of the world. Forget the fact that she represents one of the most evil and oppressive regimes in the world, suppressing and murdering staggering numbers of people. Instead, The Age has painted her as the enlightened diplomat who outshone those dreadful Americans,
“When the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, decided to send a large delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea this month, the world feared he might steal the show.
If that was indeed his intention, he could not have chosen a better emissary than the one he sent: his only sister, Kim Yo-jong, whom news outlets in the South instantly dubbed “North Korea’s Ivanka,” likening her influence to that of Ivanka Trump on her father, President Donald Trump.
Flashing a sphinx like smile and without ever speaking in public, Kim managed to outflank Trump’s envoy to the Olympics, Vice-President Mike Pence, in the game of diplomatic image-making.
While Pence came with an old message – that the United States would continue to ratchet up “maximum sanctions” until the North dismantled its nuclear arsenal – Kim delivered messages of reconciliation as well as an unexpected invitation from her brother to the South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, to visit Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.”
While the media are mesmerised by the not so mythical Sirens of North Korea, they also can’t get enough of Barnaby Joyce’s sex life. No doubt there is barn full of political hay making at work behind the scenes, but I also think that there is warrant for reporting this story. First of all, there are legitimate questions surrounding Mr Joyce’s new partner’s employment in his ministerial office and concerning his use of tax-payer funded trips to Canberra when Parliament was not sitting. Second, there are moral questions relating to Barnaby Joyce’s character and thus his ability to serve as Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister.
As Australians consider this latest political story, here are three thoughts that I think are worth mentioning:
Firstly, marriage is both private and public
One can try to imagine the pressures associated with public life: extraordinarily long working weeks, considerable time away from home, constant political and media scrutiny. A few moments tiredness while sitting in the chamber and snap, tomorrow’s headline photo with caption, “Prime Minister growing weary in the top job”.
The end of Bill Shorten’s first marriage and his ensuing relationship with Chloe Bryce (whom he married one year later) received media attention at the time. In 2012, Mr Shorten spoke out, saying, “personal lives and families should be off limits.”
Marriage is incredibly personal and private, and yet it is also a public institution. Marriage is a way in which society self-defines and divides according to family units. Governments involve themselves in marriage because of children—to safeguard children so that they may be raised by their biological parents, except in unfortunate and extreme circumstances. The question is, to what extent should the personal life of our politicians remain private?
I err on the side of Mr Shorten and believe that we should respect their privacy, as we expect others to respect our privacy. Too often, salacious news and gossip about public figures dominates the news, and as the public we are responsible, because we are the ones who are intoxicated by the fountain of scandal. Having said that, there are circumstances where knowledge of personal circumstances is relevant. For example, their private life exhibits significant character and moral failing, such that it would cause people to distrust them or that it would impede their ability to do their job properly.
Second, love is not always love
At an event in 2016, Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus, suggested while speaking to the topic of same sex marriage that “it is not right to judge another person’s love”.
And yet the Canberra gallery is choked with opinion, judging Barnaby Joyce’s love, and the corridors of Parliament carry the whispers of others who are using the revelations to plot his political down fall.
Don’t mishear me, I think adultery is a terrible sin. It destroys marriages and families, and even careers and friendships. Adultery and casual relationships may be given kudos in television sitcoms and in Rom Coms, but in the real world, it hurts. Adultery isn’t wrong because of the potential consequences, there are consequences because it is wrong. Barnaby Joyce has acted immorally and repugnantly toward his wife, children, and toward his new partner. What is absurd however, are some of the voices who are calling Joyce a hypocrite, not because the charge is baseless, but because in making the accusation they are betraying their own standards.
For the last two years the nation has been marched into line by the drumming of those slogans, ‘love is love’ and ‘love equality’. I have been told that a person’s love is no one else’s business, no one has a right to judge someone else’s relationships. The suggestion has even been given that religion should stay out of marriage.
It’s been less than two months, but it appears as though someone has already dumped those placards into the recycling bin. Boy oh boy, how quick the media and leftist advocates have been to challenge and rip apart Joyce’s new found love.
Clementine Ford wrote in The Age,
“And so it turns out that not only is Barnaby Joyce a shocking hypocrite, he’s also a repulsive cliche.
The Deputy Prime Minister may have spent years defending the institution of “traditional marriage” from same-sex couples, but he’s carefully avoided applying his moral code to his own marriage of 24 years…This is where the cliche comes in. Because really, a 50-year-old man leaving his wife to start again with a 33-year-old isn’t a love story. It’s a midlife crisis.”
I happen to think that Clementine Ford could be right; Joyce may have caught that potentially deadly disease, known as the mid-life crisis. Ford calling Joyce out for hypocrisy is also fair, given his recent defence of marriage.
However, you can’t have it both ways: either ‘love is love’ or it’s not. Either the only qualification for a sexual relationship is consent or there is more to it. You can’t work to liberate love from the supposed narrow parameters of heterosexual marriage, and then denounce a man for beginning a relationship with a woman who isn’t his wife. Are we going to let others enjoy their version of love, or are we going to own up to the fact that the insistent sloganeering of recent times was false advertising? Perhaps adultery is always wrong. Perhaps having sex with someone outside marriage is wrong. Perhaps casual sex isn’t such a good idea.
Third, Fidelity matters
If there is one lesson we can relearn from the past week, it is, faithfulness matters. Infidelity hurts. I can’t imagine what Barnaby Joyce’s wife and children must be going through at this time, especially due to the very public nature of Joyce’s betrayal. I trust they are being embraced by loving family and friends through all this.
Moral failings among leaders are far too common. Should we be so surprised? They are just like us. And yet we expect so much more of them, and indeed such expectations are important. Leaders ought to set an example for the rest of us. They should lead lives that demonstrate the values that we as a people wish to cultivate and be measured against. This is certainly true of Churches. While a Pastor is no more Christian than any other, having no greater access to God than the least in his congregation, and yet the Scriptures make it clear that character matters. Intellect and skills are important, but character is of greater worth. Should we follow a leader whom we cannot trust? Is it prudent for us to hold political representatives in office when their families have been betrayed?
“Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find?” (Proverbs 20:6)
As I rummage about the street to pick up a stone, I am reminded of the words of Jesus, words that dismantle our hypocrisy, words that don’t minimise the weight of wrongdoing, and words that offer grace, and it is with this message that I want to finish.
On one occasion with a crowd gathered, a group of men brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in adultery. Jesus first spoke a word to the crowd,
“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her”
With no one coming forward, Jesus turned to the woman and said
“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”