All right, it’s not the worst thing you could have done, and you definitely are far from being first on the long list of ministers, priests, bishops, pastors, etc., who have strayed into other pastures. That stuff has been going on with men for nearly as long as we have had more than one woman to choose from. Who knows what Adam might have gotten himself into if he’d had more than one rib removed for the sake of companionship?
But here’s the point; Putting a religious title — or any other kind of title — in front of someone’s name doesn’t change who they are at heart, as I’m sure you know. Titles don’t make the man, titles don’t break the man.
You are who you are.
If it hadn’t been for an extramarital affair you never would have been born, as you yourself have pointed out. And if you had never been born, this country would have been deprived of one of the most incredibly charismatic and dynamic personalities it has ever seen. I doubt you would use this as a reason to justify having an affair, but I guess it does go to show that you just never know how things will turn out judging from how they begin. Everybody deserves a chance to prove himself, and everybody deserves forgiveness at least once or twice. I don’t know if I can quite sign on with that part in the Bible where it says you’re supposed to keep on forgiving folks ad infinitum. Not to doubt God or anything, you understand, but I just haven’t quite got the hang of that much forgiveness just yet.
And you’re a person who requires a considerable, ongoing amount of forgiveness, Jesse. I mean, you do so many great things on the one hand, but then it’s like you have to tear it down so you can build it back up again or something. Is that what the thrill is now for guys like you who have lived more lives in one life than any 10 ordinary people combined? Does life get boring, or what? Is it fun to challenge yourself and see how much crap you can get into and then, against all odds, get yourself out of again? And then still save the world when all is said and done?
What’s up with you, man?
Look, the Rev. Martin Luther King, your mentor, was caught on tape having an extramarital relationship by none other than J. Edgar Hoover, whose obsessive hatred of King just about sent him over the deep end. Poor man was just so sure that King would be irreparably discredited once word got out about what the esteemed civil rights leader was doing behind the scenes. The story stayed, for the most part, bottled up while King was alive and never did serious damage to his reputation when the media posthumously picked it up. Truth is, nobody much cared except for J. Edgar.
Then there was the Rev. Jimmy “I Have Sinned Against Thee, O Lord” Swaggart, who definitely spent his time at play in the fields where he had no business. But after turning on the tear duct faucet on live television for an hour or so where everyone could see him repent as they continued to write checks to his ministry, ol’ Jimmy was soon back in the saddle again. So to speak, that is.
And then there was the Rev. Jim Bakker, who was even better at crying for dollars than ol’ Jimmy Swaggart, and that was before he really had something to cry about. After the story of his affair came out, Bakker’s career did kind of hit the skids, and he did sort of lose his wife, although I’m not sure that could be considered a bad thing. Still, life went on and it wasn’t long before nobody really cared anymore. With or without you, life goes on. This rather dubious Hall of Fame wouldn’t be complete, of course, without the inclusion of Our Man Bill. Or Lyndon Johnson. Or John F. Kennedy and brother Bobby. Hell, half the members of Congress are probably in that Hall, and that’s just a lowball estimate judging by the widespread panic inspired nearly two years ago during the impeachment hearings by Hustler publisher Larry Flynt when he said he was compiling a list of which of our duly elected representatives had been naughty and who had been nice. The nice list was obviously the short one.
I’m working to drag up all these names to remind myself that you are in the company of hundreds, if not thousands, of so-called Great Men who have screwed up just as badly, if not worse, than you, Jesse. And yes, you did screw up.
I’ve heard a lot of your supporters rally to emphasize all the good you have done and to make sure nobody forgets all that good as they try to diminish how badly you screwed up. It’s great that you owned up to what you did, even if it did take some nudging from the National Enquirer, and it’s good that you’ve been providing financial support for the child and that you say you love the child. It’s not the child’s fault what happened, and she deserves every ounce of love you can give.
But no matter how many names I can conjure up of Great Men who fell to earth like Icarus did, it doesn’t change the fact that you screwed up. Again. I consider myself pretty cynical, even hardened in some ways, but deep down I still keep wanting to look up to guys like you, Jesse. I hate to admit it, and I’m continually reminded how much of an idiot I must be for feeling that way, but I want to be able to expect more from you because you seem to expect so much from the rest of us. When you expect us to march with you, to risk our lives with you, to battle injustice side by side with you, that’s expecting a lot, Jesse. A hell of a lot.
No, this doesn’t mean that you’re no longer fit to be a leader any more than Bill Clinton should have been removed from office for his transgressions. The both of you are too good at what you do — when you do it right — to be shoved to the side. That’s why so many of us have been willing to follow guys like you into hell and back. We believed, sometimes against our better judgment, that you knew the way. And despite the recent revelation that you have fathered a daughter, now 20 months old, out of wedlock, many will still keep trying to believe despite the other times when you let them down as well.
Sure, you’re only human. Maybe the fault lies with folks like me who were, once upon a time, blinded by the light of your mammoth potential and wanted so badly to believe.
Once upon a time.Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-area freelance writer and musician. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org