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Mark Sanford's teenage son meets his father's mistress-turned-fiancée for the first time at this victory party following the primary.

Mark Sanford, upon winning a U.S. house seat from South Carolina less than two years after an extramarital affair and divorce with plans to marry his mistress, said:

“Some guy came up to me the other day and said you look a lot like Lazarus,” Sanford told the crowd Tuesday night, referring to the man who, according to the Bible, Christ raised from the dead. “I’ve talked a lot about grace during the course of this campaign,” he said. “Until you experience human grace as a reflection of God’s grace, I don’t think you really get it. And I didn’t get it before.”

“I want to acknowledge a God not just of second chances,” Sanford said in his victory speech in Charleston, referring to his first TV ad in which he asked voters to support him despite his past problems. “But a God of third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth chances because that is the reality of our shared humanity.”

Ross Douthat reacts:

Because of course when Jesus told his disciples to forgive sinners seven times seven times, what he really meant was that they should affirm people in whatever they’ve done and want to do and then return them to high office as swiftly as possible. And when he raised Lazarus from the dead, it was likewise a sign that no political ambition need ever be set aside or abandoned, no matter how the politician in question has failed the public trust. For that matter, who can forget the famous gospel passage where John the Baptist officiated at King Herod’s second marriage, and then encouraged the Roman government to give Herod a few new titles and honors? I’m surprised Sanford didn’t reference that one!

If you think, as I obviously do, that we have more than enough Sanford-style religion in America, then the way he used the megaphone afforded by victory to do a little creative scriptural interpretation illustrates the problem with just bracketing a politician’s private life and saying “vote the party, not the man.” When that private life is already woven into the public narrative, a vote for the man is often a vote to ratify that narrative, and to lend one’s support not only to particular policies, but to a larger view of human behavior and affairs — encompassing, in this case, a theologically bankrupt and socially destructive understanding of what real redemption actually involves.

You can read the whole thing here.

Update: Rod Dreher has a good post contrasting Sanford’s actions with that of John Profumo, the disgraced British cabinet minister caught in a sex scandal who retired from public life.

We need to be careful here not to buy into a works-righteousness mentality that pays back infidelity and shame with a meritorious stream of good works that will balance things out. At the same time, is it really too much to ask (to use Jonah Goldberg’s wording) that “maybe the interval between scandal and rehabilitation could last a little longer than the maturation time of a fruit fly”?


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22 thoughts on “Ratifying Mark Sanford’s Narrative”

  1. Michael says:

    You shall know them by their fruit.

  2. Nate says:

    Douthat on point.

  3. Melody says:

    I need someone to explain the stupid people that voted for him. Please, I can’t wrap my head around it.

  4. Dana Olson says:

    Just curious, JT: if you had been a voter in SC on Tuesday, what would you have done? I have been asking myself that today. This situation is pathetic and sad on so many different levels.

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      I’ve asked myself that, too, and I don’t know how I’d answer that. I would not have voted for his opponent; I might have sat out; I might have voted for him. I don’t think there is an easy answer. Jonah Goldberg, linked above, offers a different take than Douthat and Dreher, and highlights the complexity of it.

  5. Michael Snow says:

    In it all, as a Christianity Today editorial some years ago put it, when it comes to basics, some of them have become “unrecognizable.”
    And there really isn’t much hope that that will change.
    http://textsincontext.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/love-prayer-and-forgiveness-now-also-in-ebook-format/

  6. Rachael Starke says:

    Question – are the details of the caption under the photo verifiable? That boy doesn’t look near 17, and I find it impossible to believe he and his father’s “friend” met for the first time that way. If that’s true, it adds another level of awful that just makes my head explode and my heart ache.

  7. Danny says:

    I am a voter in SC 1. There is no doubt that Mark Sanford has a decent record of governance. But, my honest assessment is that the guy is a bit delusional. He lost me a couple years ago with the “soul mate” speech. I think most people who are “famous” get a bit delusional. However, Dems around here are also delusional if they think they can win with a candidate like Colbert-Busch. I sat out the election. Was going to write-in Curtis Bostic, but pressing family matters didn’t allow(2 of 5)kids puking all day(might have been the election that made them ill). One thing you need to remember about SC-1: it is very, very libertarian. Most people here are ok separating morality as long as it doesn’t get into their pocket book.

  8. David says:

    Full disclosure … I’m not a South Carolinian, but if you voted for Cobert, you’d be going a long way to putting a party back into power (with a WH & Senate already controlled) in 2016 that votes in a way so that it’s legal to “snip” the necks of babies as long as their head is still in the birth canal. So, serious question, what are we to do?

  9. Gaby LeBlanc says:

    Doing penance (and avoiding public scandal) as John Profumo did (and Mark Sandford didn’t) is NOT works-righteousness; it’s simply fulfilling the biblical injunction to “Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Matt3:8)

  10. Debbye Tate says:

    Were it not for our hope in Christ, the whole situation in America would seem bleak.

  11. Barbara T. says:

    Woe to a people who call good evil and evil good.
    God will not be mocked.

  12. a daughter says:

    As someone whose own parent did something similar, I believe that Mark Sanford is trying to manage his legacy. He’s trying to redeem himself. It’s my opinion that he’s very likely somewhere on the narcissistic personality spectrum.

    The thing is: Sometimes the most redemptive thing a victimizer (in this case, adulterer) can do — after turning to Jesus — is express genuine remorse and repentance for what he or she has done and demonstrate this repentance by sustained humility. Unfortunately, for someone who falls somewhere on the narcissism spectrum, there’s usually so much pride, lack of self-awareness, selfishness and lack of true empathy that this kind of redemption rarely happens.

    That’s been my experience anyway.

    1. Danny says:

      a daughter, you communicated the “delusional” thingy I was trying to convey in an earlier post. Narcissism may be a better term.

  13. Nathanael says:

    It isn’t works righteousness to say that it is necessary to repent of your sins before you are forgiven. As far as I can tell Sanford is completely unrepentant. By marrying his mistress he is continuing to commit adultery (see Matt. 5).

  14. Mike D says:

    I’m also a SC 1 voter and wrestled with this one up until the last minute…literally. I was on the phone with a friend as I pulled up to the polls. One the one hand, I’m afraid now that Sanford is in, we’re stuck with him for a while, whereas if Colbert-Busch had won we could have voted her out with a better Republican candidate (I’m still a Larry Grooms fan, Danny) in 17 months. Admittedly, that would’ve been risky…but how much damage could she do in that time? In the end, I couldn’t bring myself to give any more votes to the democratic platform. I had friends that sat out and friend that wrote-in. In the end my buddy on the phone got the last word in and convinced me that I wasn’t voting for Governor or President, I was voting for a Representative…someone who would vote in Congress most closely to the way I would vote…so I held my nose and voted for Sanford. My wife sat this one out & there’s still peace in the home…praise God for that.

  15. Brian says:

    this is easy. I would have voted for Sanford and encouraged everyone to do the same and not pretend it was a hard decision. You vote for someone who is going to vote the way you would want him to vote in the Congress. The most important personal characteristic is that he not be a *political idiot. Political idiots who are faithful to their wives don’t help you. Moral train wrecks are obviously not preferred, but can be used as a “lesser evil” to produce reliably principled votes and legislation. America’s greatest weakness is that they don’t vote on principle, they vote for personalities/characters. One other comment, i found the sarcasm in the Ross D article above to be not his best writing in his life.

  16. Danny says:

    Grooms and Bostic are the same guy. Both quality candidates. Bostic lives right outside of the district…almost on the “county line”. Either guy would have been great.

    1. Mike D says:

      I agree they’re both great guys & either would’ve been a great choice. Grooms has a great legislative record though, so in my book he not only talked good policy, he walked it. Plus, I think he would’ve had a better shot at beating Sanford in the run-off.

  17. Mark says:

    Does the evangelical community really have a place for biblical repentance? Were I in Sanford’s shoes, listening to spin-doctors and the political machine, perhaps my visceral reaction would be identical: save your *3$ for the public good (right!).

    But hopefully, there would be a faithful pastor or friend who would speak words of life to me. God have mercy on him.

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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