Two Thoughts on John Tory's Affair

The modern world makes little of garden-variety adultery, but it still upholds a key biblical truth: character is the ultimate judge of leadership.

On Saturday evening I joined those shocked and saddened to learn that Toronto mayor John Tory would step down due to an inappropriate relationship with a former employee. I don’t live in Toronto, but I feel like we lost a valuable public servant to a lapse of judgement. I can only pray for Tory and his family as I reflect on this somber episode.

From a biblical perspective, this issue highlights two facts. The first is that modern relativism fails to see plain adultery as a major issue in itself. I couldn’t say it better than Don Martin:

“…the story of his office romance was a shocker at first, because adultery is not exactly a stranger in high political circles. But when Tory had a long-term affair with a staffer less than half his age, it violates every modern office protocol against personal entanglements creating power imbalances in the workplace.”

To be very clear, I agree that the workplace aspect complicates the issue significantly. It’s why Tory is stepping down – rightly so, because the imbalance does exacerbate the fault. But in the Christian worldview, even “plain” adultery is an egregious sin. This stems from an external and immutable definition of marriage: one that gives it a clear purpose, couples sex inseparably with it, and imposes other demands that our society left behind long ago. In today’s world, remove the power imbalance element from this affair and you’re left with a sadly common and accepted reality in the upper echelons of most institutions.

The second fact is that leadership rises and falls over character. Biblical leaders never failed at their assigned tasks; instead, they succumbed to their character flaws. (I first encountered this insight in Tony Dungy’s book Quiet Strength.) Think about it. Moses was more than capable of delivering Israel to the promised land, but his own disobedience cost him the chance to enter with them. Eli and Samuel were a fine priest and prophet, respectively; they just weren’t great parents. And David had no rival as a king and war commander, but he found in Bathsheba the same stumble that brought down John Tory. The mayor earned a reputation as an even-keeled and respectable politician, especially in contrast with his precedessor. This allowed him to comfortably win re-election last fall, despite trepidations around his approach to the issues that Canada’s largest city is facing. His political success was undoubtedly buoyed by his character, which matched –or even eclipsed– his competency. And fittingly it is a character issue what now threatens his legacy.

I find it very interesting that even as the world is willing to overlook adultery in leadership, in some ways it still seems to uphold the biblical truth that character is the ultimate judge of leadership.

Published: February 13, 2023