This week marks yet another story of the secret lives we are capable of living due to the fallenness of our human nature. Down here in South Carolina, Governor Mark Sanford, a man who has staunchly stood up for family values, was busted for having an extramarital affair with a mistress from Argentina he has known for 8 years and with whom he has been romantically active with over the past year. Suspicious thoughts started circling the local airwaves when state officials and politicians could not reach the governor for several days earlier in the week. His staff announced that Gov. Sanford was hiking the Appalachian Trail and that communication between the governor and his office was sparse, if any.
Come to find out, Sanford was not on the Appalachian Trail, but rather down in Argentina visiting his mistress. Setting politics aside, my heart broke for this man who is the father of four young boys, an active Episcopalian, and a well-loved public figure here in South Carolina. I was saddened to think what all this man had been going through internally in order to convince himself that he, as the governor of one America’s 50 states, could actually sneak off to Argentina without anybody knowing. I thought of major figures such as Bill Clinton, Ted Haggard, the list could go on, who have been well-known and well-loved public figures and busted for the secret lives they lead.
We tend to forget that public figures, whether they are religious or political, are still human beings. We think that they are somehow exempt from the sin that plagues our very souls. The opposite is actually true in my opinion. I bet it is safe to say that these guys probably struggle with sin more than most do, due to the fact that they have to keep their earthly and humanly desires all bottled up because of “who they are.” As we all know, nobody wants to hear how we truly struggle because more times than not, it really looks like a mirror facing right back at us. That’s why we would rather hear a self-help sermon rather than a grace/atonement filled message. After all, we can ultimately control our bound wills right? It is unfortunate that while guys like Clinton, Haggard, and Sanford try their hardest to “maintain face,” they actually are suppressing their sin so much that it finally erupts and causes AWOL behavior such as what we heard about this week.
Where is the grace in all of this? I believe that the true grace is found in how the betrayed families react in all the mess. While the media has been relentlessly attacking Gov. Sanford for his mess-up, his wife has said the following: “I would like to start by saying I love my husband…I believe wholeheartedly in the sanctity, dignity and importance of the institution of marriage…When I found out about my husbands infidelity I worked immediately to first seek reconciliation through forgiveness, and then to work diligently to repair our marriage…I believe enduring love is primarily a commitment and an act of will, and for a marriage to be successful, that commitment must be reciprocal. I believe Mark has earned a chance to resurrect our marriage. Psalm 127 states that sons are a gift from the Lord and children a reward from Him. I will continue to pour my energy into raising our sons to be honorable young men. I remain willing to forgive Mark completely for his indiscretions and to welcome him back, in time, if he continues to work toward reconciliation with a true spirit of humility and repentance. This is a very painful time for us and I would humbly request now that members of the media respect the privacy of my boys and me as we struggle together to continue on with our lives and as I seek the wisdom of Solomon, the strength and patience of Job and the grace of God in helping to heal my family.” (Mrs. Sanford’s statement may be read in its entirety here)My hope is that Gov. Sanford’s family and the people of South Carolina can truly forgive Mark Sanford and move forward in grace. I look at my own life and realize that the areas where I struggle could (and do!) most definitely escalate to unacceptable behaviors, and they too could cause much grief and hurt. We are all capable of doing such ill will and we are all capable of living secret lives. The more we try and control the very sin that plagues us, the more it festers up and causes infection. The good news about living at the foot of the cross is that Jesus takes our sin, though he may never fully remove it, and forgives us. That one-way love he offers us is unconditional, regardless of what our bound wills may stir up.
“ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable off enders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.” (General Confession, 1928 Book of Common Prayer)