It has been disturbing to many of us who have supported Sam Adams that he lied to the public about his sexual relationship with Beau Breedlove. During the mayoral campaign, Sam was accused by a rival candidate of having sex with a minor, and fearful that the public would not believe him (Sam) if he explained that Breedlove was of age, he lied. In fact, Sam claimed to be only a mentor and feigned indignance that people might think that he, a gay man, might not be trusted in a mentoring relationship with a handsome young man. He created a public relations campaign to discredit his detractors, and as part of that effort, coached Breedlove to lie effectively, as well. Moreover, Sam may have hired an unqualified individual, a former reporter, as part of his staff, in order to stop her investigation of his relationship with Breedlove.
Many citizens have called for Sam to step down, saying that he has lost the public trust. Others have urged him to stay on as our Mayor, saying that he has done nothing illegal, and though his deceit was reprehensible, he has learned his lesson and that he has the skills and commitment to serve the city well. This is a complex issue, with no clear-cut answers. I have tried to sort out my thinking on the situation, and want to share those thoughts with you.
My God is a God of love and mercy, rather than a God of judgment and condemnation. Therefore, I believe that if Sam truly understands the import of what he has done and repents of his behavior, then he should stay in office. If he is opportunistic and devious, thinking of his own career and well-being, then he should by all means resign. Only Sam knows what is in Sam’s heart, and I would urge him to consider what is there. Those of us in the Judeo-Christian tradition might be reminded of King David, who sent Bathsheba’s husband into the front lines of battle, that he might be killed, so David could have his wife. We might remember Paul, who was a fierce prosecutor of Christians before his conversion on the road to Damascus.
We might ask ourselves: who among us has not done something absolutely stupid, because we were sexually attracted to another, or “in love”? We might ask ourselves if we have ever lied to avoid getting in trouble. “Yes, but Adams is a public servant!” we say. And public servants are also human beings. We often forget that. And we often forget the immense pressures that leaders are under, and the isolation they feel. Does this excuse bad behavior? No, but it helps to explain it.
Another dimension of Sam’s offense is the abuse of power. The two men were not equals, and Sam needed to recognize that his age and position made Breedlove vulnerable. Fortunately, by his own testimony, Breedlove seems to not have been harmed by the relationship. But Sam must recognize that with the power of office comes the responsbility to use that power to serve and protect–otherwise, other abuses of power will come into play.
Incidentally, the question of whether or not Breedlove was 18 when he and Sam had sex is a legal question, but not a moral question, to me. Was it two weeks after his 18th birthday, or two weeks before? The moral question is whether or not any liason, at any age, has integrity. When I was growing up in the ’50′s in rural Louisiana, people often married young. I remember that my brother’s best friend was a young farmer who married at the age of 15 to a beautiful young woman of fourteen. They had four beautiful daughters and a good, sound marriage. Age and sexual propriety changes with time and with various cultures. It is arbitrary. (And yes, one should respect the laws of the land.)
Another consideration is whether or not it makes a difference that Sam Adams is gay. Are we more forgiving of Bill Clinton, because after all “men will be men”? In recent days we have brought into office a President who seems to have great integrity–and we breathe a sigh of relief. We don’t want to see any more sexual scandals in high places. But it is interesting that during the past few days, dotted frequently with memories of other heroes, when JFK was mentioned or when MLK, Jr., was mentioned, no one seems to remember their well-documented extra-marital sexual liasons, again an abuse of power. And indeed, I’m happy not to go there, either. But we cannot have it both ways–condemning people we don’t like (Larry Craig), while passing on people we admire (Clinton).
So again, I say, what kind of man are you, Sam Adams? Do you know what you have done? Have you truly repented? Are you willing to go forward in good faith, and serve the public with honesty and integrity, understanding that it’s not about you? If so, I say, “Don’t resign. We all make mistakes. We can change. I believe that you have much to offer our city, and I hope you have the character and will to offer it.”