Booze and betrayal

A Christian and a Scientologist discuss love on the rocks

Linda Smith believes that honest relationships can survive infidelity.

Linda Smith believes that honest relationships can survive infidelity.

SN&R Photo By Larry Dalton

When SN&R asked a Scientology reverend and a Christian Presbyter to advise a marriage tainted by alcoholism and infidelity, I expected more than a simple difference of opinion. I anticipated a verbal boxing match.

In one corner, we had Dr. Jerry Hurst, an ex-military man called to the ministry while serving in South Korea during the Vietnam War. A self-described “Southern boy,” Hurst was involved with churches in Florida and Texas before he became interim associate for congregational support at the Sierra Mission Partnership in Sacramento.

In the other corner, we had Linda Smith, a Church of Scientology reverend for the past 30 years. Smith has served the urban frontlines through faith-based disaster preparedness, drug education, marital counseling and human-rights advocacy.

But there were no pious punches thrown.

Christian and Scientology teachings don’t always agree on issues of conflict resolution. Scientologists believe you should “disconnect” from antagonistic people in your life, while Christians are taught to “love thine enemy.” But when marital oaths bind the betrayer and the betrayed, the right action isn’t always clear. According to Smith and Hurst, it requires some serious discussion.

And though these two approached the roundtable from different angles, Smith and Hurst championed a common value: forgiveness. You won’t always receive it, but there’s no harm in trying.

I’m an alcoholic now going through the 12-step program. Part of this process is making amends with those I’ve wronged. I’m wrestling with whether to tell my wife of an affair I had 20 years ago. I want to be honest, but I don’t want to hurt her and damage our marriage for something that happened so far in the past. What should I do?

“Truth is truth and a relationship built on honesty will endure and build,” said Smith. “It’s better to come completely clean and start out with a new slate. Make up for the damage rather than just staying part of it. That person is going to continue not to feel good because they’re not being honest.”

Smith explained that Scientologists move through a series of “audits,” or steps toward realizing their spiritual potential. Honesty is central to the auditing process, and Scientologists are encouraged to admit their transgressions, or violations of agreement or law.

“Our system is not as structured [as the system of Scientology],” said Hurst, “but forgiveness is important because often, like in this situation, the sin that we’ve committed against somebody eats us alive. The person we’ve committed the sin against might even be able to let it go.”

Hurst believes that the secret past affair “is probably contributing to his alcoholism. In order to make that 12-step program work, it’s going to have to come out.”

Dr. Jerry Hurst agrees—but only if the relationship is deep.

SN&R Photo By Larry Dalton

But what if the truth is too painful? Is there a possibility that the marriage will crumble once the affair is revealed?

The answer, according to Smith, is “no.”

“Maybe when the spouse first finds out about it, there will be upset,” she said. “When we do marriage counseling, we involve both people, whether it’s a parent or a child or the partners in the relationship. We also handle the upsets that can come about in finding out what the transgressions are. The person’s upsets are dealt with, as well. We’ve found it to be extraordinarily successful.”

Hurst also believes that faith counseling can solve problems.

“I hope there’s more in the Catholic tradition than maybe a few ‘Hail Marys’ and ‘Our Fathers’ to feel absolved,” he said. “The fact that the priest can say, ‘Maybe you need to go back and tell your wife what you did. And maybe the three of us should get together and discuss it’ is comforting. The person making that confession has in essence forgiven himself by getting it off his chest, by confessing those past harms.”

Unlike Smith, Hurst once counseled a marriage that was torn apart by an admission of infidelity.

But he was quick to note that, “If the confession had not broken up the marriage at that point, the marriage might have broken up down the road. It was that shallow.”

Smith also has counseled shallow arguments.

“Breakups usually focus on the areas that aren’t really the problem,” she said. “The couple might be arguing about one thing, like money, but that’s not really it. Relationships are actually broken down by what people agreed to but didn’t do.”

And what happens when you acknowledge the root of the problem?

“There’s a divineness I’ve experienced myself through confessionals,” said Smith. “When you become clean, you lose those transgressions, it’s an incredible feeling and then you can go out and continue to reach what you want to go after.”

Hurst echoed this sentiment. “It’s a therapeutic thing when you’re face to face with a priest and getting something off your chest, having somebody hear it,” he said

Though rooted in different traditions, Smith and Hurst agreed that the best way to inner peace is through honesty.