Review of John Schoenheit's Paper on Adultery

reviewed by Dr. John Juedes

A research paper written by a Way staff member called "Adultery and Fornication: A Biblical Perspective" led to huge upheaval in The Way International (TWI). The author was John Schoenheit, a 6th Corps graduate, who at the time was employed by TWI as a member of the Research Department.

John Lynn, who was on TWI staff at the time, described TWI's reaction to the paper:

"At the November, 1986 USA Clergy meeting, Chris Geer (European Trunk leader), without even telling the subject of the paper, branded it as a 'slipshod piece of biblical research,' and as 'handling the Word deceitfully.' He said the paper left the door open to undermine all of Dr. Wierwille's woks.

"He also said that anyone who supported this or even had knowledge of it without reporting it to the Trustees should be relieved of his ministry responsibility and never allowed to hold any position above a Twig again.

"By then John Schoenheit had already been fired, and shortly thereafter Bo Reahard, Bob Mirabito, Dennis Hickman and Franklin Smith were also fired for their alleged 'involvement' with the paper." (Open letter by John Lynn, July, 1987; Lynn described the situation in more detail in taped speeches and transcripts of conversations Wayers had with L. C. Martindale)

Why would TWI leadership react so strongly against the paper? Why would it undermine V. P. Wierwille's work?

Leadership apparently found the content threatening because it indirectly accused them of moral and spiritual sin and error in the area of adultery and personal sexual behavior.

Since leadership so vehemently opposed the paper, most people have not heard of it, have not seen it, or have been afraid to read it. What does the paper contain that leadership considered so damaging?

Content of the "Adultery" Paper

The core of the paper is a 16 page review of many Bible passages which address the subject of adultery. Although Schoenheit was a Corps grad, he admits that he knew little about the subject before his study. This in itself is a strong indication that TWI did not clearly teach against adultery nor consider it a significant topic.

He wrote it because he "discovered that not everybody believes that adultery is wrong." (Forward). While the paper never names who practiced and defended adultery, it is obvious that many of them were other leaders in TWI.

The paper then offers a Biblical perspective on adultery, organized, in true Way fashion, around five Administrations (Dispensations). He shows that adultery in the modern sense of the word, "voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a partner other than the lawful husband or wife" and in the Biblical sense, "the breach of a marriage contract...when a man (married or unmarred) had sexual intercourse with a woman who was either betrothed or married."

Schoenheit is careful to say that he "will basically deal with the physical side of adultery, i.e., actual sexual intercourse between a man and a woman" (P.1). The reason he states this is because other Way leaders were saying, in essence, "sure, spiritual adultery, that is, unfaithfulness to God, is wrong, but not physical adultery."

Schoenheit begins, "Every time the issue of adultery comes up in the Patriarchal Administration it is considered wrong and a sin." He cites Genesis 35:22, 49:3-4, where Reuben "defiled" his father's bed and would "not excel" because of it. David was punished for taking Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:10). Job 24:15, 31:9-12 called adultery a "heinous crime" and an "iniquity to be punished by the judges." Then he mentioned several other instances in passing and concludes,

"Adultery was wrong. It 'defiled,' it made one 'guilty....' (And) was is not was acceptable before God in the Patriarchal Administration" (p.5).

He then quotes several passages from the Law Administration, including the seventh commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery" He then quotes more specific laws in Leviticus 20:10, Deuteronomy 22:22-27 and Leviticus 19:20-22, which clearly call adultery "sin" and prescribe punishments for it. He adds, "In contrast to these clear verses, there is not one verse or record showing that adultery was acceptable to God in the Law Administration" (p. 7).

He progresses to the Christ Administration, saying that "clear verses during the Christ Administration... show beyond a shadow of a doubt that adultery was a sin" (p. 7). He notes that Jesus Christ quotes the seventh commandment and speaks against adultery on several occasions, including Matthew 5:27-28, 19:16-18, and John 8:4-6. In fact, Jesus "gave illicit sexual relations as the only valid reason for divorce" (p. 10).

Schoenheit concludes that adultery was wrong and a sin in all these administrations, and adds, "For adultery to be acceptable to God in the Grace Administration would be a change, and God would have to say it was acceptable. In fact, the opposite is the case. In the Grace Administration, God continues to call adultery a sin" (p. 10).

He then address the fourteen times the King James Version uses the words "adultery" and "adulterer/ess:" Romans 2:22, 7:3, 13:9, 1 Corinthians 6:9, Galatians 5:19, Hebrews 13:4, James 2:11, 4:4, 2 Peter 2:14, and Revelation 2:22. He concludes that in every one of these "Adultery is a sin, Furthermore, the sin of adultery is used to graphically portray the sin of idolatry" (p. 16).

Schoenheit summaries the paper to that point,

"...this paper has shown is that for a man to have sexual intercourse with another man's wife is a sin. This next phase of the paper will deal with fornication and will show that in the Grace Administration it is a sin for a man to have sexual intercourse with any woman unless he is married to her" (p.16).

Overall, the paper is a simple, basic, study about how clearly all parts of the Bible condemn adultery as sin. While many Christians would disagree with the way he screens Bible passages through the lens of TWI's administrations, any Christian who knows and believes the Bible would agree with Schoenheit's basic evaluation of these Bible passages on adultery.

Fourteen Reasons Way Leaders Think Adultery is Acceptable

The longest (31 pages), and perhaps most controversial, part of Schoenheit's paper is the fourteen appendices which list "common" reasons given to justify adultery. Each appendix cites one reason followed by a Biblical refutation.

While some of these may be used by people outside TWI, many of them are clearly based on beliefs, thinking and attitudes distinctive to TWI. It would be clear to anyone in TWI's leadership that these appendices were aimed at then-current Way leaders. One reason leadership condemned the paper so strongly is that they saw themselves being critiqued and Biblically condemned in these appendices.

Appendix A, Reason 1: In the Old Testament, men were allowed to have more than one wife, and things in the Grace Administration must be less strict than under the law. Answer: In Old Testament Israel, the sexual affections of women were not freely available to men, and men were required to marry and take care of any woman they had sexual relations with. " the Grace Administration, marriage is to be monogamous" (p. A-5).

Appendix B, Reason 2: The sin which King David committed, and which made God angry, was the murder of a believer, not adultery. Men of high position like David are not forbidden to have sex with other women. Answer: David's position as King did not make his intercourse with Bathsheba right. David knew it was sin, because he tried to cover it up, and Nathan mentioned both adultery and murder when he reproved David. Three other kings, Pharaoh and two Abimelechs, placed themselves in position of committing adultery. Therefore, "...adultery is a sin, no matter what 'position' or 'title' a person held" (p. B-4). Since TWI emphasizes position so highly, especially those of "the man of God," Trustees and clergy, one can easily see how men in such positions could use this argument.

Appendix C, Reason 3: Elijah, one of the greatest prophets, stayed many days with a widow, so surely they must have had a sexual relationship. Answer: There is no speck of evidence that Elijah had sex with her, in fact, it mentions he had "his own bed" in his chamber which was separate from the main part of the house. Law required that he had married her if he had had sex with her.

Appendix D, Reason 4: Jesus and Paul traveled with women, so they must have provided sexual as well as other needs. Answer: There is no shred of evidence that either man had sexual intercourse, and the culture they lived in kept men and women very separated. If Jesus had done this, he would have broken the Law and could not have been our redeemer. Since many Way leaders traveled as part of their job, one can see how they might use such ideas about Elijah, Jesus and Paul (as well as that in Appendix K) to defend their sexual behavior.

Appendix E, Reason 5: Romans 14:21-23 shows that adultery would not be a sin for people who are believing to stay in fellowship with God. Answer: The context is food, which God says is O.K. to eat unless the people think they are sinning by eating it. However, believing cannot make "pure" something that God considers to be impure and sinful. Since TWI emphasizes "believing" so much, this is the type of argument (along with appendix J) that follows the "logic" of a Wayer. This type of thinking is commonly heard among even rank-and-file Wayers, who have applied to sexual and other types of situations..

Appendix F, Reason 6: We live in the Grace Administration and are not bound by hard-and-fast laws, 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23 both say "ALL things are lawful to me.: Answer: The Bible plainly say adultery is sin, and our feelings cannot overrule this. "If adultery is not a sin because 'all things are lawful for me,' then murder is not a sin either..... The phrase 'all things are lawful for me' is not the same thing as 'nothing is a sin for me.'" (p. F-1-F-2).

Appendix G, Reason 7: The marriage relationship is one of permission, not law (1 Cor. 7), so I am not breaking any of God's laws by getting my sexual needs met outside as well as inside my marriage. Answer: Marriage is a freewill decision, but once made it is binding.

Appendix H, Reason 8: Colossians 2:20-21 says that people are no longer subject to ordinances like "touch not," so adultery is just another "not" that was done away with when we were born again. Answer: This verse says that we are not subject to man's commandments, but we are still subject to God's commands. If we weren't subject to any ordinances, then God needn't have bothered to tell us in His Word what to do and not do.

Appendix I, Reason 9: Whenever the word "adultery" is used in the Word of God, the term applies to spiritual adultery, not physical adultery. Answer: The terms "fornication" and "adultery" are used of both physical acts and spiritual unfaithfulness. "In fact, the terms 'fornication' and 'adultery' were used of spiritual unfaithfulness because physical unfaithfulness was so clearly understood and known to be a sin against God" )p. I-1). There are many parallels between the two, including a broken covenant and seduction. They are tied together because they were associated with pagan worship. Many Bible verses plainly say it was a physical act between a man and woman.

Appendix J, Reason 10: I married a woman with a weak sexual drive, and since I know God meets needs, I believe He meets my needs through other women. Answer: God does meet needs, but not in ways the Word prohibits. Marriage is the way God ordained for meeting sexual needs, and when couples walk in love and obey the Word, they will work out their sexual differences.

Appendix K, Reason 11: My job takes me away from my wife for long periods of time, so God meets my needs for sex through other women. Answer: If couples are apart for so long, they are disobeying 1 Cor. 7:5, which says that times apart must be limited. The need is to be together more, not to commit adultery.

Appendix L, Reason 12: Flesh is flesh and spirit is spirit. Since a penis and vagina are simply flesh of the human body, there is no difference between holding hands and having sexual intercourse. Answer: If being only flesh makes adultery O.K., why wouldn't homosexual sex be O.K.? "What is done in the flesh is a sin if and when God says it is a sin" (p. L-1).

Appendix M, Reason 13: The Word flexes with culture, For instance, we don't enforce the rule in 1 Cor. 11:5-6 that women wear hats. Since adultery is so widely practiced today, why wouldn't adultery also be a rule that bends with the culture? Answer:

Here the Word specifically states that dress code may bend with culture, but this is not true of adultery, murder, etc.

Appendix N, Reason 14: I am so wrapped up in adultery, that I cannot stop now, because my marriage, relationships and public life would all be destroyed. Answer: This is a result of unchecked sin, and fulfills Proverbs 5:3-4 and 6:32-33 which warn of such consequences. Believers should not want to continue in sin. It believers look for deliverance, God will provide it.

What The Paper Tells Us

Schoenheit offers an accurate, clear and concise summary of the Bible's condemnation of sexual intercourse outside marriage. The appendices offer reasonable and Biblical answers to people's flimsy defense of adultery. When Way leadership rejected the paper, the truth it represents, and those who agreed with it, they may have secured their positions, but lost any hope of obeying God's will in this important moral and spiritual matter.

The appendices show how Way teachings and theology provided the basis for approving practice of the sin of adultery. Such key Way teachings as believing, God filling the needs of those who believe for them, being born again of God's seed (and not being able to lose this), holy spirit, administrations (which dismisses the teachings of most of the books of the Bible because they were written only "for our learning," not to the Church), and rejecting the Law (even though TWI's current practices are extremely legalistic in many areas) are all easily used to defend adultery. This is troubling, because it suggests that the "fruit" of adultery shows that the "tree" of Way teaching is permeated with certain severe errors.

Schoenheit's struggle with this issue also indicates that Way leaders did not normally openly practice and defend adultery (although some ex-Wayers say that it was taught in certain Corps settings or regional meetings). It also shows that many Way leaders had well-developed reasoning for committing adultery, which may suggest that certain leaders passed the thinking and practice on to other leaders in private settings. While the leaders may have practiced and defended it the most, many ex-Wayers speak of how promiscuous sex was common even on the twig (local) level.

Dr. John P. Juedes, C. 1998

Related articles: "The Way Tree Splinters" (Christian Research Journal) and "How Widely Was (Is) Adultery Practiced in TWI?" (Available Nov 1998).

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