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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Grace and Governor Mark Sanford

My heart breaks for Jenny Sanford, wife of Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina.  My heart breaks for the four Sanford boys—Marshall, Landon, Bolton, and Blake.  I can only imagine the profound sense of betrayal and confusion they must be experiencing, as Gov. Sanford has gone public with the news of his adultery just yesterday afternoon.

Sanford’s staff has been humiliated, the people of South Carolina have been offended, and the office of the governor has been sullied.  Deception, infidelity, betrayal, abdication, an international tryst by a high-profile public figure.  Derelict behavior by a man entrusted with the highest leadership role in his entire state.  The potential endangerment of the citizens who elected him, had a crisis arisen in his absence.

Yet I am proud of Mark Sanford.

There is no excuse for the governor’s actions.  His behavior is unjustified, his actions irrational and irresponsible, his choices grossly unacceptable and incredibly selfish.  He has ensured a lifetime of difficulty and immeasurably painful consequences for his family and others close to him.

Still, I am proud of Mark Sanford.

I am proud of the governor for the very same reasons that I am proud of King David in the Old Testament.  David, too, was a high-profile public figure, a political leader entrusted with the lives of many.  He, too, committed grave sin, sullying his office and grieving God, even going so far as to orchestrate the death of one of his own.  It was beyond selfish, beyond irresponsible; it, too, was unforgiveable.  He, too, claimed loyalty and devotion to his faith and to his God.  He, too, brought a reproach upon the name of the Lord.

Yet we Christians celebrate King David, in large part for his response to the exposure of his sin.  God-fearers around the world, and throughout history, have sung about David, aspired to be like him, named their children after him, proudly touted his name in the bloodline of Christ; we still do.  David, the adulterer, the “murderer,” the betrayer, the derelict, the man arguably responsible for the ravaging of his own family.  And we have made a hero out of him.

Rightfully so.

King David inspires us because his story suggests there is hope for all of us grave sinners.  King David whispers to the Ted Haggards of this world, the Jim Bakkers of this world, that there is hope for redemption.  King David’s life dares every failing parent, every addicted Christian, and every washed-up backslider to believe that their journey can still be meaningful, even heroic.

Today I am proud of Governor Mark Sanford because, like David, his public response to the exposure of his sin was not merely an admission; it was a confession.  The apparent spirit of the governor’s confession removes him from categorization with every other disappointing politician of recent years.  When have we last heard a political leader call his immorality, “sin”?  When have we last heard a politician apologize to “people of faith … across the nation” for disappointing the Body of Christ?  When have we last heard a statesman say of himself that “there are moral absolutes,” and that “there are consequences if you breach [God’s law]”?  When have we last heard one of our government leaders confess immorality, acknowledge that he is in a restoration process guided by Christian leaders, and declare he is “committed to trying to get my heart right”?

Mark Sanford’s public response stands out in stark contrast to the host of recently disillusioning public figures.  His confession is raw, painful, disoriented, and broken.  His private response is just that—private.  The facts are only now coming to light; more will likely be revealed as days go by.  Meanwhile, we only have his words and the words of his faithful, supportive wife by which to understand the inner workings of his heart.

Already, many thousands of professing Christians have been quick to cast the first stone at Sanford.  That is understandable.  Today, however, I am asking Christians these questions of consistency, questions of conviction: How can you be filled with admiration for a man like King David, yet disgusted by a man like Governor Sanford?  Are their responses so different?  Once faced with the public, is there a response from Sanford you would have considered more godly?  If you are disturbed that he remains in office, are you equally disturbed that King David remained in office?  If you are ashamed of the governor, why are you not ashamed of David’s name?

As for me, I remain proud of Mark Sanford.  Governor, given my limited understanding, you have my forgiveness.  You also have my admiration.  Your confession does not disgust me; it inspires me.  I pray your life is true to the words you have spoken.

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