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Adultery in Armed Forces – Magnitude, Motivation & Help

Adultery in Armed Forces – Magnitude, Motivation & Help

By Suzzanne Bonn, ACBC Certified Biblical Counselor, Director of Biblical Counseling at Arcade Church, Ranger Mom

Adultery: voluntary sexual activity outside the bonds of marriage; extramarital, consensual sexual intercourse between two people who are not married.

Adultery is such an ugly word—ominous, really. The very mention of it even in our post-Christian culture conjures up images of brokenness, deceit, scorn, disgust, regret, and shame. No one wants to bear the Scarlet Letter, yet despite the fact that it is still technically illegal to commit adultery while enlisted, our military is rife with this problem—on both the side of those serving and those staying home to hold down the fort. With a growing number of women deploying with their male counterparts, it isn’t just "Dear John" letters being received by some pitiable soldier doing his duty on the battlefield. "Dear Jane" letters are being sent home to the wives and girlfriends who promised their fidelity to a soldier during his tour of duty. Adultery has become a pervasive problem in every level of the American Armed Forces, and families are being devastated by its chaos and destruction.

Alarming Numbers

According to Divorce (https://www.divorcemag.com/articles/frequently-asked-questions-about-infidelity) the rate of adultery among married women is between 45 and 50 percent, and the rate among married men is between 50 and 60 percent. Infidelity accounts for almost 40 percent of the divorces in the United States. It is estimated that each of these percentages rises by 13 percent when applied to those serving in our military. Simply put, if you or your spouse is serving the country in any branch of the Armed Forces, adultery is more likely to wreak its havoc on your family.

The military is hard on the family unit. Over 56 percent of military personnel are married, and an additional 7 percent have a dual-military marriage, meaning that both spouses are actively enlisted. All these individuals must learn to cope with the stress and loneliness resulting from separation by deployments, Temporary Duty Yonder (TDY), long hours given to duties on base, frequent relocations, and the reality that there is always a third party in their marriage—the military itself. It’s no wonder the divorce rate is placed at 5–7 percent per year for those in active duty.

It would be presumptuous to assert that all these dissolutions are caused by adultery. However, since adultery is still listed as an offense worthy of military prosecution for those enlisted, it is difficult to gain statistics on just how many military marriages are destroyed by adultery because no one will openly admit to committing it. Personal interviews with both enlisted and veteran soldiers as well as websites such as Quora, PopularMilitary.com, Military.com, and many others tell a story of a U.S. military rampant with it.

There is a circuitous way of estimating just how pervasive a problem it is.

Previous wars, especially WWII and the Vietnam War, undeniably indicate that tens of thousands of children were conceived, born, and abandoned by men deployed on a tour of duty by the US military. But August 2, 1990, marked the beginning of a much easier and convenient way to cheat. For the first time in U.S. History, women joined their male counterparts (more than 60 percent of whom were married) in Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield—not only as doctors and nurses confined to medical bases, but in actual combat. No fewer than 41,000 women (40 percent of whom were married) were deployed with and staying in coed quarters during the first wave of what has come to be known as the Persian Gulf War, making adultery rather rudimental. Gone were the days of men having to go off-base to find a sexual partner; they were now right next door, just as lonely, often much more cognizant of the challenges a soldier faces than their girl back home, and quite inclined to be accommodating. Obviously, it wasn’t only the deployed men being adulterous; it was the deployed women. Instead of only one American family having to bear up under the adultery of its service member, two families were being threatened by the "friendly fire" of mutually American sexual immorality.

Adulterous relationships involving stateside spouses are not purported to occur as often as in the deployed populace, but it is impossible to estimate just how frequently it happens. Spouses who are not going to deny themselves the pleasures of illicit sex find clever and covert ways to advertise their availability to their compeers who are comparably inclined. "We [stateside wives of deployed soldiers] would put a signal out when they [the soldiers] deployed so that everyone interested would know they were gone and we were available. It could be a statue of something on a front window sill, a certain wreath or silly sign with some stupid saying on the front door. Word gets around, and you could pretty much have as much fun as you wanted."[i]

The problem of adultery in the military is nothing short of pandemic.

Why is this?

Motivation

When asked why they cheated, answers ranged from loneliness, frustration with an at-home spouse, stress, and common grief at the loss of comrades to detachment from consequences, apathy, drunkenness, and downright stupidity. Notice that all these are feelings: they felt lonely, frustrated, stressed, grief-stricken, detached, apathetic, etc. It is curious to note that among those interviewed, the feeling of guilt is almost never mentioned, even after the adultery is ascertained by the stateside or deployed spouse. Each one interviewed remained anonymous to keep from being discovered. All seemed content that acting on their feelings was reason enough to justify their surreptitious activities, thus assuaging any pesky guilt that might crush their consciences. It seems feelings play an immense part in the rationale of the adulterer.[ii]

Christians understand that feelings must not be—and ultimately are not—the motivation for our actions. The human heart is in a constant state of slavery to either sin or righteousness and is bound to obey whichever one it has chosen to serve (Romans 6:16–17). It stands to reason that the unrepentant and unregenerate heart is hopelessly dedicated to sin and has no other choice but to bow to it. The repentant heart redeemed by Jesus Christ has a choice, for which every Christian should be immeasurably grateful!

Biblical counselors have a clear advantage here that must influence both those hoping to guard themselves from the temptations of adultery and those desiring forgiveness and restoration after committing it. For the former, we can help them discern the root longings that can so easily take the throne in our hearts and to which we so readily give our servitude. For the latter, we can listen to their feelings and reasons for cheating and help them trace it back to find the sinful craving that led to the sinful act. We will discuss this more in another article.

Other Motivating Factors

Other factors play into why adultery in the military has become such an immense problem, and this is where the Church can be of immeasurable help, especially local churches with a strong biblical counseling presence and the culture such a church tends to cultivate.

Lack of consequences.

"We would be let out for a weekend off, and as we left the barracks two sergeants would be just outside on both sides of the door with a brain-bucket of condoms telling us to ‘be careful out there.’ It was just assumed we’d use every one we took with us. And we did." (J.J, 21, Marine Corps)

"When my husband asked me why I needed the pill when I was going to be deployed, I told him, ‘So I won’t have periods.’ He bought it, but it was a flat-out lie. I was gonna have a good time!" (Alaina, 23, Air Force)

An untoward desire of the American lifestyle in general is the desire to avoid the consequences of sin, and it is no less prevalent in the US military than in the civilian realm—perhaps it is more so. As it pertains to sexual immorality, the advent of and easy access to birth control, abortion on demand, and the "don’t get caught" policy of the military make for an easy dodge of the clandestine by-products of adultery. While it is not as easy for a woman in active duty to procure birth control or an abortion in a military setting, it is by no means impossible. And if she is determined to get one, she can always go to a private clinic and do so without incriminating herself to her superior officers or to her husband back home. It can all be handled with the utmost secrecy.

Since it is highly improbable that the military will ever attempt to discover and successfully prosecute any or all cases of adultery, it would do some good to military marriages to clearly state severe repercussions before deployment. As one Senior Airman aptly commented, "Me, I was lucky. My wife didn’t believe in having affairs or divorce. She did however believe in widowhood, and made sure I understood that." (C.H. retired, USN)

Christians have a leg-up here. The comprehensive involvement of the local church can provide accountability, support, encouragement, counseling, childcare, and, if necessary, church discipline for an erring spouse who proves to have a roving eye while his or her better half is deployed or holding down the fort back home. It is a wise service family that avails itself of these rich blessings (Galatians 6:2; Romans 15:14; Matthew 18:15–19).

Peer-pressure.

"I’d never been away from home before, and all of a sudden I’m in Okinawa, surrounded by guys who had no problem doing things I’d been told were big sins for my whole life. It just got too hard to be strong, and before I even knew it, I was just like them. I missed that sense of family that I left behind, and I got it back when I hung out with my Marine brothers." (Josh, 19, Marine Corps)

Many Christian parents have encouraged their children to consider and fulfill their duty to their country by serving in the military—only to lose them to the wanton ways of many of their enlisted buddies. Rather than standing strong in the face of expectations to drink and carouse, they succumb to the notion that engaging in such activities builds trust and rapport with the new clan of comrades.

Again, the wonderful advantage of communion and commitment to the local church is that there is an eternal family that stands ready to supply the reminders of the higher calling of the Christian to live a life sanctified and set apart for Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:3–8). Letters, emails, care packages, and the like are physical evidence of a church family waiting for its soldier to come home. Free babysitting, inclusion in holidays and special events, check-ins with those who are bearing up under the weight of juggling both parental roles while one is gone, and other such activities remind both the deployed and the remaining that they are loved and cared for. This provides vital support on both sides for those enduring the onslaught of pressure to fit in with those who don’t respect biblical values of fidelity and chastity.

Fellowship of suffering.

"We shared a traumatic experience. Doesn’t make it right, but it [adultery] happened." (Maria, 27, Marine Corps)

Few events build solidarity faster than a shared experience, and common suffering is perhaps the most efficient of them. Few theaters offer the opportunity for it better than war. The idea of "foxhole buddies" is nothing new, but it is certainly different now considering that there are now two genders in the trenches. What was once a valid opportunity to develop a band of brotherhood between men who endured the rigors of training, waiting, and fighting together has taken on the flavor of fraternities and sororities on a college campus.

First Peter is a book in the Word of God that focuses on this very subject. The timeless and relevant truths discussed in it can go a long way to help broaden the perspective of those suffering together. Instead of merely focusing on the consequences of the war at hand, one can take courage and comfort in remembering there is a much larger war being waged against sin itself. A soldier who is tempted to seek affirmation and camaraderie with those he goes to war with is wise to read it often; a stateside spouse is wise to encourage this.

Commonality of purpose.

"She was an embassy employee who I worked with closely. She saw the qualities I possessed manifest in a professional sense and had great respect for the job I did and the manner in which I did it. It was not only physical, but emotional too. . . . My college-educated partner never respected my job and never understood it or demonstrated a desire to understand it." (L, 28, Army)

"It was an emotional bond, and we made plans to see each other when I got back . . ." (Francisco, 35, Marine Corps)

Frustration with a spouse who doesn’t appreciate or understand the vocation of one’s work is hardly limited to the military, but the argument could be made that when those putting their lives in danger are not feeling appreciated or understood, it adds a unique pinch to the difficulties already common in marriage.

No entity on earth is better equipped to bring its presence to bear upon this plight than the local church. We who are called to be soldiers in the army of Christ against the powers of the devil himself should be most familiar with the rigors of our own war against sin. While we are not often called into situations where our physical bodies are imperiled, we should certainly be keenly aware of the vulnerability of our souls in the daily arena in which our enemy prowls around like a ravenous lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8).

Ambiguity regarding the definition and terms of adultery.

Exactly what constitutes adultery? Is it an emotional connection? The thrill of the chase—even if it doesn’t culminate in sex? The hiring of a prostitute with whom there is no substantial relationship—past, present, or future? A monogamous relationship which includes sex but without the benefit of marriage?

August 17, 1998, marked the day that our then-sitting President and Commander in Chief of the United States Military looked his nation in the eye and asserted that is—the most common verb used in the English language—doesn’t really mean what it means. He was applauded by many for his clever use of words and excused for his abuse of the Office—including the actual Oval Office itself—because his actions were "nobody’s business." It’s nothing revolutionary for people to find aberrant and artful ways to deceive, but when one in authority engages in this fraudulent practice, it is by the very nature of possessing that authority that fraud becomes acceptable. One must only find a means by which it doesn’t sound deceitful or look illegal, and if that proves too daunting, just look indignantly at the disapproving and tell them to mind their own business.

How indispensable is the Church in this particular arena! We who hold fast to the Word of Truth know the importance of integrity in our speech and conduct, and we do not allow ourselves the false luxury of fashioning a truth of our own to assuage a guilty conscience or quash a hostile public. We, with the help of the Holy Spirit, relish the freedom to confess our sins, repent, and bask in the loving forgiveness of our Savior, even it if means we must accept and navigate arduous consequences. God has not been obscure or dubious in His definition of adultery, and He has categorically and unequivocally denounced it in both Old and New Testaments (Hebrews 13:4; Exodus 20:14; Leviticus 20:10). These are truths we must instill in our soldiers before they deploy into situations in which they will find it is more popular to connive than to remain true.

Constant threat of impending death.

Throwing caution to the wind is a common reaction in those who understand that at any minute, death can take a life, so we might as well "go for the gusto" while we can. This is a reckless attitude with absolutely no consideration for eternity and its incomparable value to any and all of the suffering we endure in this life (Romans 8:18). This attitude is prolific in unregenerate American culture but should not be so among those who claim to know and trust Jesus Christ.

The Scriptures command and exhort God’s people to do everything—even the mundane activities in life such as eating and drinking—to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31; 1 Thessalonians 5:11). We are specifically commanded to glorify God in our sexual activity by remembering that we have been bought with a price and are to live as those who desire to glorify our good God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:15–20; 1 Thessalonians 4:3–8). Our bodies belong to our Savior because He created them and died to set us free from the power of sin that comes with them.

How the Local Church Can Help

Christians in the military should have several advantages to help them remain sexually pure and faithful to their spouses, the most obvious being the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit of the Living God to convict and compel them to continue in the will and ways of God—no matter where they are. But it is most certainly incumbent upon the Church, especially each local church that has both deployed and remaining family members, to come alongside these who sacrifice for our country’s freedom and help them in their quest to do so for the glory of God.

Here are some practical ways the local church, friends, and family can bless and assist those deployed or facing deployment:

  • Write them handwritten letters filled with encouragement and truths of Scripture. If handwriting is too hard, type out a personal letter and send that.
  • Once a month, have a group activity to assemble and send care packages to our soldiers. Be sure to ask their family members for specific likes and dislikes.
  • Skype, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites have made the twenty-first century the best time in the history of the world to start and maintain a long-distance relationship. Use them! But be careful to maintain op-sec measures.
  • Send a package of "open when" letters. When my son was in Ranger School, we were encouraged to write our prospective Ranger letters to be opened in a specific setting: "open when you get the ‘go’ to the next phase"; "open when you fail"; "open when you’re discouraged"; etc. He and his buddies saved each letter for its specific situation. He graduated on his first try, but he gave his "open when you have to repeat a phase" to his buddy, and it was very encouraging to him.
  • Send pictures—lots of them! Pictures remind a soldier of his family back home, and this includes his eternal family. Make sure he gets his weary, lonely mind filled with the faces of those to whom he’ll return and hopefully stay faithful.
  • Before deployment, give them something small they can carry in their kit as a constant reminder of you, your family, your church, etc.
  • Commission them before leaving and pray over them. In our church, we can’t all 2,000 fit on the stage to lay hands on our deploying, but we all extend our hands toward them and pray.
  • Supply them with godly music and the means by which to listen to it. And while we’re on this subject . . .
  • Make recordings of your voices so they can hear you as often as desired. How comforting and encouraging the familiar voices of home become when one is away!
  • Send them spare Bibles. Anticipate that the godly actions of a Christian soldier will produce the fruit of new disciples!

Here are some practical ways to bless and assist those remaining at home:

  • Have a presence in their lives. Don’t wait to run into them at church! You make the first contact. Be persistent in this.
  • Ask them over for dinner both with their children and without. Moms sure do need those times of refreshment.
  • Remember the holidays. The likelihood is that a remaining spouse will be far from home and not able to afford the trip home for every holiday. How wonderful it would be if the earthly family actually had to compete with the eternal family of the body of Christ for Thanksgiving and Christmas! Avoid the excuse that you already have a houseful; being cramped and cozy for one day isn’t going to harm anyone and may be an inexpressibly great encouragement to a family.
  • Get a helping ministry together for them. One of the hard truths of this life is that people going through any sort of difficulty are not spared the regular difficulties of normal, everyday life. Repairs must be made, tires and oil changed, homes painted, weeds pulled, etc. Instead of leaving our military families to deal with these things themselves, the local church can pull together a detail and get the job done—and have fun doing it!
  • Give these parents a break from the constancy of filling both parental roles.
  • Sincerely ask for ways you can minister to them and fulfill their requests if possible.
  • Take offerings, have fundraisers, start a GoFundMe, etc. to fund a trip for the family to visit their soldier, especially if he or she is gone for a lengthy amount of time.
  • Gift them with certificates to their favorite restaurants. Nothing says support and love like not having to cook!
  • Send a care package to the family at home. A nice little gift bag filled with bubble bath, a note of encouragement, and of course, chocolate is always a welcome and encouraging sight!
  • Support them with money to be used at their own discretion. The military doesn’t pay particularly well and because families must relocate frequently, it may be difficult for the remaining spouse to find work outside the home. Monetary gifts go a long way in saying, "We understand, we empathize, and you matter to ."

Conclusion

The Church is not responsible to guarantee the sexual purity of its members. Christians in the United States, however, are the direct beneficiaries of both God’s goodness to us in giving us a country resplendent with freedom and military personnel who are willing to maintain it. It is appropriate that we "Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God" (Hebrews 13:16) by keeping a presence in their lives, especially when one of them is deployed. These reminders of their eternal family may be the "way of escape" (1 Corinthians 10:13) that the Lord will use to deliver them from sexual temptation when it presents itself.

[i] Lindsey, 27, USAF wife, now divorced

[ii] TaskAndPurpose.com
 


 
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