Originally published in Eternity News.
John Sandeman wrote in Eternity last week that while everyone else has been talking about Barnaby’s woes, church leaders have been silent. I have tried to imagine what I might say to Barnaby if he were to ring me as a pastor and ask to meet? With marriage breakdown so common, it wasn’t too hard to work out what to say. If you are in a similar situation I hope you will find this imagined conversation helpful.
Hi Barnaby, thanks for coming to see me. It’s a bit weird meeting each other for the first time, in such circumstances.
I think it’s best for this conversation if I as much as is possible we put aside the Deputy Prime Minister thing and just think of you as a child of God, a man, husband and father. Because even though it might be hard to see this in the middle of the political cyclone that you are in at the moment, that’s actually what’s important. Your relationship with God and with your family are what’s going to matter in twenty, thirty years time. And then later we might think about the politics.
I saw your media conference this morning saying, ‘I would not wish on friend nor foe, the hurt, the scrutiny, the intense intrusion in your lives that I have gone through this in this process.’ I have been feeling, hurting and praying for you in this. I only have the tiniest glimpse of the world of pain and confusion that you are in. Today I prayed for you and Natalie, as well as your daughters, Vicky and your unborn son.
Like you I was married in 1993, and if things broke down between me and Catherine, I just know that I would not be thinking clearly. We are so intertwined in our everything, that I just can’t imagine how you have held it together over the last 12 months, with your marriage going south, the by-election. If it was me, my world would be imploding.
But let’s start with the breakdown of your marriage. No matter whether the sex with Vicky Campion started before or after your formal split with Natalie, whether it happened when Vicky was a member of your staff or not, either way you have broken the promise that you made to Natalie. The promise to love her above all others, for richer, poorer, better or worse.
Our experience has been in running ten or more Divorce Care courses, is that people in the midst of marriage breakdown often go unstable for a period, and run to rebound relationships which rarely turn out to be long term.
There’s two issues, the vertical and the horizontal. First, there’s fixing it vertically with God, then there’s fixing it with your wife and then your daughters. Then there will be conversations with Vicky and eventually much later your unborn son. They are the priorities. In twenty years time, they are going to be the relationships that matter
All of those come before the short term political relationships.
Let’s think about God first. When people marry in a church they marry before God. So to break a marriage vow (which you have done), is not just a horizontal problem, it’s a vertical one as well. How do we fix this relationship? Jesus says, through his Apostle John, in 1John 1:8:
‘If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us.’ (1John 1:8)
Or from a sentence later in sentence 10:
‘If we say, “We don’t have any sin,” we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.’ (1John 1:10)
Every single person in the world has offended God, rejected God, ignored God, failed God in a myriad of different ways. If we think about sex though, I know about my home suburb of Annandale in Sydney’s inner west. When the Ashley Madison thing broke, there were 455 reported homes in our suburb who had Ashley Madison accounts. Those accounts, like you actions, are symptoms of humanities rejection of God. And all of us have done wrong. Different people offend differently, but none of us get it right with God all the time.
So what do we do? God says:
‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ (1John 1:9)
There needs to be a saying to God and to your partner, I have done the wrong thing. To confess. I have seen your public apologies, but if I could give a suggestion, I think what you have to do is to not apologise in generalisations, but specifics. You have to own it and not make excuses. And you have apologise for the impact on the other person. I would suggest making this apology as strong as you possibly could, without owning responsibility for things that you didn’t do.
I am talking about what you say to God, but also what you say to your spouse. Now of course, that’s a hard conversation with God, and with your spouse. You might need help from someone, to frame the conversation.
I am thinking of a half a dozen people that I have helped to frame this conversation. Either they have been in adultery, prostitution or porn. And in the conversation with God and with their spouses, they have outlined in as much detail as possible, when the deception started, how they did the coverup, and how they wrongly treated their spouse when it was exposed.
In terms of going forward from there, there’s a vertical answer and a horizontal answer. Vertically, if you genuinely come to God and confess, then in sentence 8, there’s a promise. And really it’s a ‘hard to get your head around promise,’
‘He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ (1John 1:8)
And so I want to say to you Barnaby, that though it might feel awful now in all the horizontal relationships, and you might not even be able to feel like lifting your eyes to God at the moment, there is a way forward, a hope. And forgiveness is available from God. The Apostle John goes on in the next verses.
‘My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the Righteous One. 2 He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.’ (1John 2:1-2)
That word propitiation means dealing with anger. It won’t be a surprise that just as Natalie is angry (and I saw what she said in the) God is angry. But Jesus takes the brunt of God’s anger. Jesus takes the punishment for us so that you and I can be forgiven for all that we have done.
There’s more to say about moving forward in relationship with God and asking for God’s help to live a different life.
But let me think about your wife. Well, it’s not going to be easy and she will be angry, and rightly angry. But it won’t help to hide It’s a matter of telling the truth and eventually asking forgiveness. It’s much harder to say ‘I did XXX, I am truly sorry. Would you please forgive me?’ than just to make a general statement of ‘sorry’. Because when we say ‘Would you please forgive me?’ you are actually totally vulnerable.
Now in an ideal world she might forgive you, and she might even work out that there were things that she did wrong (perhaps not of the same order of magnitude) but things that she has done that have made life harder for you, that she might ask for forgiveness for as well.
Now, just to be clear, forgiveness is different to reconciliation, and different again to trust. It is fairly common for someone to forgive another person, but still not trust them.
Jesus teaches the line in the Lord’s Prayer, “Father, forgive us our sins… as we forgive those who sin against us.” And my prayer for you is that Natalie might get to the point of forgiving you.
But reconciliation and trust if that were to ever come is going to be a much longer journey.
Now. Here’s where it gets even harder. In terms of how should you act before God going forward. I don’t think it’s about ‘What the heart wants?’ but ‘What have I promised?’ and ‘How can I be a man of character, fulfil my responsibilities and keep my word.’ In terms of the people who matter most, isn’t that the example you want to set to your daughters, and your son.
I may be wrong, but I think you are in a position where you have made a promise to one woman who you are still formally married to, and yet you are currently living in an adulterous relationship with another woman.
I think God would have you go to your wife, apologise and ask for her forgiveness, try and work on rebuilding that marriage, and if she was prepared to work on the relationship, then I think you ought to work at keeping those 24 year old promises and do what you can to win her trust back.
To Vicky you would need to say, ‘I am sorry for leading you on towards a relationship that I can’t give you.’ But then to say, ‘I want to own my responsibilities in regards to our son, and be a full co-parent with you.’
Of course Natalie may not be prepared to entertain that idea. But, if she was prepared to, then you would need to (of course) stop your romantic relationship with Vicky Campion, and do what you could to repair your relationship with Natalie. While of course, continuing to bear financial responsibility for supporting your new son. That would seem to me to be the a way of first honouring the promises you have made.
If Natalie was not prepared to entertain that idea at all. Then I would see you should continue to support Natalie, as you had promised to, and at the same time, take on the responsibility of marrying Vicky, and raising the son with her.
I know no one else will say this to you, but having prepared 70 couples for marriage, I don’t think it’s going to be smooth sailing with Vicky. I say this not because I know anything about you two, but because it’s choppy waters for everyone in marriage, and you guys have had about the worse start that it is possible to have.
In regards to your daughters, you should give the same detailed apology that you gave your wife. And pray that you might over time win their forgiveness, and one day their respect and trust again.
Is it possible? Well with counselling, finding an older wiser Christian couple that you could trust.
I want to say there could be a happy ending though. In our church we’ve got couples who’ve come back from adultery, prostitutes and porn. And with the help of God’s Spirit we have been able to work through it.
And some of my favourite moments in Christian ministry - have been when I have watched the power of the spirit of God transform someone gradually. Sometimes it’s been a couple in a complete mess, but we have seen them work through the issues with the help of Jesus and the power of the Spirit of God, and come out stronger than ever before.
Other times as we’ve run the Divorce Care course (www.villagechurch.com.au/divorcecare) that has been enormously helpful for people to work through healing to hope, as they have talked through anger, depression, single sexuality, forgiveness, potential reconciliation and moving closer to God.
Can I pray for you.
I pray for my friend who knows they have done the wrong thing.
Help them to break the silence. To own it. To apologise to you and their spouse.
Father thank you that you promise that if we confess our sins that you are faithful and just and will purify from all unrighteousness.
Thanks that this happens though Jesus’ sacrifice.
Thanks that Jesus dies for us, for our wrong, to take your anger away.
We pray for what is happening horizontally.
We pray that by the power of your spirit, you might help this couple, on the journey to forgiveness, and healing and hope.
And we pray that you would help this man to honour properly the promises, commitments and responsibilities he has made.
And we pray this in Jesus name.
Ps What about politics and Australia? Well you may be able to work through all of the above while still doing the super demanding job of Deputy Prime Minister. But I know that I wouldn’t be able to do the Deputy Prime Minister’s job while trying to juggle all these more important personal responsibilities.
As a new friend, I would prefer you to be the man who properly honored your personal responsibilities. And so I’d encourage you to step down and be a back bencher. And if you put your house in order then you could potentially come back later.
Dominic Steele is the pastor of Village Church Annandale. He hosts a weekly conversation with a senior Australian pastor on www.thepastorsheart.net He’s a director of Christians in the Media.