A former White House intern's phone conversations with a friend are taped, revealing intimate details of alleged sexual encounters with the President. She then swears that she didn't have a sexual affair with him. The President announces that he not only is not sexually involved with the woman, but he did not act improperly toward her.
Furthermore, the tapes allegedly reveal that the President had assured the intern, Monica Lewinsky, that oral sex does not constitute a sexual affair. Two Arkansas troopers told the L.A. Times that Mr. Clinton had said the Bible holds that oral sex with a woman other than one's wife was not adultery.
What's going on here?
We see two issues: the post-modern sense of entitlement to define things any way we want, and a misunderstanding of what the Bible actually teaches about sex.
Miss Lewinsky never claimed to have intercourse with Mr. Clinton. According to people who have apparently listened to her taped phone conversations, she only talked about having oral sex and phone sex late at night. According to what she said on the tapes, Mr. Clinton did not define their experiences as a sexual affair. That would explain how he could deny having had an affair with her. If intercourse is what makes a relationship adulterous, the rationalization goes, then if the parties stop short of that point, it's not adultery.
When a culture abandons moral absolutes, we return to the Biblical times of the Judges, when "every man did what was right in his own eyes."(Judges 17:6) If we refuse to accept the lines that God has drawn, then we can define things any way we want. People who do not want to consider themselves sinners can move the boundary lines so that their actions fall inside the lines of what they decide is acceptable. We do it all the time: who hasn't seen the Special Diet that has been circulated around the internet, offices and neighborhoods that declares "broken cookies have zero calories because of calorie leakage"?
There is no Biblical distinction between intercourse and other forms of sexual activity. All sex belongs in marriage. The New Testament word for "fornication," also translated as "sexual immorality," is porneia, a Greek word from which we get "pornography." It means any sexual activity outside of marriage, and specifically "to indulge unlawful lust." There is nothing inherent in the biblical languages which would allow anyone to make a distinction between intercourse and other forms of sexual activity.
Where is the line between what is sexual and what isn't? Some wise people have made an excellent observation that may prove helpful here. The line between what is sexual and what isn't can be answered with the question, "Would you feel comfortable doing [fill in the blank] with your sister or brother?" Suddenly, semantic games evaporate. Most people instantly and instinctively know where the line is when it comes to a relative. That's a line that most spouses would be happy with, as well.
Regardless of whether the President is guilty of an extramarital affair or trying to cover it up, it would seem that the root of much of the current controversy is the desire to avoid guilt by re-defining what is right and wrong. That's never a good idea. It's about as wise as deciding to repeal the law of gravity.