It’s agonizing to watch the excruciating ordeal of Herman Cain as accusations of sexual harassment–and now an extramarital affair–have been made against him by various women. As we watch this tawdry spectacle, it’s critical to keep in mind the philosophy both Americans and Christians must adhere to: A person is innocent until proven guilty. The Bible has it as, ““One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.” (Deuteronomy 19:15) Of course, “witnesses” must be tested to be sure they are true witnesses and not false witnesses. Mr. Cain’s problem is that outside the test of a courtroom or credible investigation, the more accusers that surface, the more credible their charges become.
IF the charges are true (and that’s a big “IF” because at this point only the accusers and Mr. Cain know whether they are), my pastoral advice to Mr. Cain would be to withdraw from the race immediately and give his full attention to his family, his relationship to God, and his interior life. This is precisely the advice I’ve given to several prominent public figures. Some took the advice and stepped down; others did not.
If there is a lesson in this wrenching saga, it is that private life does matter when it comes to public office. (Questions are being asked about Mr. Gingrich for the same reason.) You could say that Americans are too prudish (as my European acquaintances often opine), or that it’s pharisaical to point the finger at another person while three fingers point back at you. (See Luke 18: 9 – 14) On the other hand, you could also say that Americans on the whole know that if you have a hard time keeping to your most intimate promises of fidelity, you just might have a hard time keeping to your most public promises on policy. (Luke 16:10 in the Bible in Basic English, “He who is true in a little, is true in much; he who is false in small things, is false in great.”)
When these revelations of infidelity come up in my private conversations with office holders–or candidates–(and they often do)–I always deliver the same counsel: “Nothing is as important as your relationship to your spouse, your family, your children, and grandchildren. And nothing–absolutely nothing–trumps your own interior relationship with God and your conscience. The best thing you can do for your loved ones and yourself, is to step away from the unmitigated demands of public life and give yourself completely to the ones you love and that love you.”
Mr. Cain is a praying man. (For that matter, as far as I know, all the candidates are praying people.) Mr. Cain–and each of his rivals–must pray, contemplate, and take under wise counsel the question of whether their personal failures (and they all have them–together with the rest of us) require their full and undivided attention. I, for one, have enough confidence in Mr. Cain to believe he will, in fact, do just that and make the right call in the end.
My prayers are with him–and I hope yours will be, too.