I wasn’t planning to write about the Mike Pence non-story concerning his commitment to his wife because that is exactly how I saw it—as a non-story. To protect his marriage, he doesn’t dine alone with women other than his wife and, unless he is with his wife, Karen, he doesn’t attend parties where alcohol is served. This very basic personal marital agreement was treated by feminist and liberal outlets with the same hysteria they would have accorded to the revelation that the Vice-president was actually Jack the Ripper. Since hysteria on steroids has become the hourly response of many since November’s election, I decided to ignore the story.
I changed my mind and wrote the following because I remembered an encounter I had with a bright, conservative-leaning, religious young woman back in 2007. She explained why she was going to vote for Barack Obama and I was so taken aback that I was unable to respond. Later, I realized that her youth was leading her to believe campaign statements that sounded wonderful, without having the tools to judge them against history or reality. Along with that recollection, I became aware that Karen and Mike Pence’s commitment had become a target of comedy shows. Laughter harnesses tremendous power that, if used negatively, is hard to combat and silence didn’t seem an option for me any longer.
Most of those mocking Mike Pence as someone who is liable to attack any woman across the dinner table if Karen isn’t there to serve as a brake, have an agenda. That is the most charitable explanation for their idiotic statements. However, there actually could be people hearing them, especially young women, who are so inexperienced and naive in the way that the world really works that those statements sound plausible. They may not even be so young. In her book, Committed, author Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) relates that she was well into her thirties before she realized that infidelity does not ‘just happen.’ Neither does it happen only to people of low character or to those swept away by uncontrollable forces. It was a revelation to her that one can actually set in place boundaries in a marriage that protect you from the seemingly harmless, tiny steps that lead on a path that can end in marriage betrayal.
Setting those boundaries in place is exactly what Mike and Karen Pence have done. While the particulars may differ, in concept they are in sync with ancient Jewish wisdom. Marriage, it says, is so valuable to both individuals and society that it must be protected just as you would protect a valuable, irreplaceable piece of art. Should you, let’s say, own such a masterpiece, you wouldn’t set up a system chiefly to deal with the aftermath of a theft. You would set up all sorts of protections in advance to make theft, or even damage to the piece, difficult in the first place. The fact that you don’t disable the system when a six-year-old girl comes to view the piece doesn’t mean that you suspect her of being a felon in disguise. The system stays in place regardless of who comes near.
I would ask anyone who even felt a shred of indignation or scorn at Vice-president Pence’s principles or who saw a funny lampooning of his marriage to read the following two accounts.
- Rabbi Aryeh Levin (1885 – 1969), was known as “the tzadik (righteous one) of Jerusalem,” for his tireless efforts to care for the poor, imprisoned and sick. Stories abound reflecting his caring, Godly nature. Yet, one of the most circulated stories of his life relates not to his public works, but instead, to his marriage. At a doctor’s appointment for pains his elderly wife was suffering, he explained their presence in the doctor’s office with the words, “Doctor, our foot is hurting us.”
- In 1990, Robert McQuilkin retired from the presidency of Columbia Bible College and Graduate School in order to stay at his wife’s side while she dealt with the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease. In 2005, my husband and I, along with over 6,000 other married couples, watched a video where he talked about his resignation, including these words:
The decision was made, in a way, 42 years ago when I promised to care for Muriel “in sickness and in health…till death do us part.” So, as I told the students and faculty, as a man of my word, integrity has something to do with it. But so does fairness. She has cared for me fully and sacrificially all these years; if I cared for her for the next 40 years I would not be out of debt. Duty, however, can be grim and stoic. But there is more; I love Muriel. She is a delight to me–her childlike dependence and confidence in me, her warm love, occasional flashes of that wit I used to relish so, her happy spirit and tough resilience in the face of her continuing distressing frustration. I do not have to care for her, I get to! It is a high honor to care for so wonderful a person.
If there was any woman in the crowd who didn’t choke up, I didn’t see her. I did see many women murmuring a silent prayer asking for a marriage as blessed as that one. Fewer men had tears rolling down their cheeks, but I saw quite a bit of nose blowing.
I absolutely believe that marriages such as those can and do still exist. What’s more, I believe that most women know that they crave such marriages. At the same time, I think that today’s cultural milieu make these marriages less likely and harder to achieve. Late night comedy shows, partisan politics and foolishness about gender and sexuality masquerading as cutting-edge wisdom that is paraded not only in universities but also aimed at young children, imperil the chances of such enduring devotion and love. We can’t simply ignore or dismiss those things unless we are willing to fall under their spell as well as bequeathing them to our children. And so, I write.