Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, tweeted a message to Congressman Anthony Weiner saying, “Dear Congressman Weiner: There is no effective ‘treatment’ for sin. Only atonement, found only in Jesus Christ.”
I hear you, Rev. Mohler. But I seem to recall many sexual scandals involving evangelical ministers that would seem to undermine the premise that salvation through Jesus Christ grants immunity to sexual sin.
I have debated Rev. Mohler many times on national TV, most notably on CNN’s Larry King Live. We have spent time together in the green room and I have enjoyed his company as a warm and unassuming man and as a lover and supporter of the State of Israel. But just as soon as the TV camera goes on, Mohler’s persona changes. He is one of our Christian brothers who believes that Christians alone are saved, that Jews, however moral, ethical, and virtuous, are condemned to the eternal bonfire simply because they don’t believe in Christ.
No doubt this is the reason that Rev. Mohler has turned to Weiner, a Jew, and attempted to proselytize him via Twitter, the implication being that Weiner’s Judaism has not prevented him from sin but Christianity will.
I have a slightly different take on the matter.
Redemption comes about not through anything we believe but how we behave. A man can repose faith in the law of Moses, he can proclaim his love for Jesus, he can affirm his devotion to Muhammad. He can read the Bible, memorize the Koran, or become a walking index of the New Testament. And none of that will amount to a hill of beans if he texts pictures of his appendage to a woman that is not his wife. It is not faith that guarantees our morality but rather an ironclad commitment to righteous action, be we atheists or theist.
Redemption is never a function of belief and always a function of deed. What Rev. Mohler should have said to Congressman Weiner was that the Judaism in which he was raised has always extoled the virtue of action over dogma, behavior over belief. A man can profess all the love in the world to his wife. But if he breaks her heart by focusing his erotic attention on other women, then his emotions are fraudulent and useless. Jesus expressed the same idea: “By their fruits you shall know them.” (Matt: 7-16) Notice that, contrary to Rev. Mohler, he did not say “By their faith you shall know them.”
I have counseled many married couples and I have especially sat with countless heart-broken wives who have told me of their husband’s infidelities. In their pain these wives did not much care if their husbands were sincerely religious or utterly secular. They were not focused on whether their husbands believed in G-d or believed in the tooth ferry. Rather, what shook them to their core was that their husbands, whatever their belief, had replaced them with someone else, making them feel unattractive, useless, superfluous, old, and ordinary. They felt abandoned and alone.
Rev. Mohler’s Tweet gives the misleading impression that faith alone can make a man moral and ethical. Yet the history of religion demonstrates clearly that that this is not the case. There are plenty of atheists who are faithful and romantic, plenty of religious people who cheat or are sexually distracted, and vice versa.
Atonement comes not from belief in Jesus Christ but from getting on your knees in front of the wife whose heart you broke, begging her forgiveness, and placing yourself in an environment of change that will help sustain your new moral commitment. Judaism is emphatic that when it comes to sins that pertain to human relationships, not even G-d can forgive. The injured party must be approached directly.
And if Congressman Weiner is interested is turning his life around, while I thank my friend Rev. Mohler most cordially for offering Jesus, I would tell the good Congressman that he is a Jew and that the wisdom of Judaism is readily available through countless Rabbis who do not seek to judge him but to restore him to a path of moral integrity and righteous action.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Values Network and is the author of “Kosher Adultery: Seduce and Sin with Your Spouse.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.