I was only a teenager, but I remember the outcry among conservatives when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. Demands for impeachment were not limited to irate housewives on the Concerned Women for America blog (if there had been such a thing at the time). The real-live House and Senate took up the matter. Even a few Democrats voted against Clinton in some of the related perjury proceedings. For the first and last time ever, C-SPAN was the top-rated channel among the coveted 18- to 34 -year-old demographic.*
Being a little more interested in Mega Man X than in national politics at the time, I don’t remember all the wrangling. But one thing rings clearly in my memory from half a lifetime ago: conservatives insisted then that there is a necessary link between someone’s private and public moralities.
Unfaithful in Much
And there is. Jesus said so. “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much” (Luke 16:10). He states this as a general principle, though the particular focus of the context is money.
Leon Morris explained the verse this way: “What one does with the small things of life one does also in the big things. Faithfulness or dishonesty appears throughout. Life is a unity.” (TNTC, 267) I. Howard Marshall is similarly straightforward: “A person who is unfaithful in small things cannot be trusted in big ones.” (NIGTC, 623)**
I’m tempted to call marital fidelity and paternal responsibility big things and running the state of South Carolina, comparatively, a small thing. The vows you make to a wife are pretty sweeping compared to the minimalistic oath you take as SC governor. And let’s be clear: Mark Sanford made an utter, international, public mockery of his marriage vows. As Doug Wilson recently—and provocatively—put it, because marriage is a picture of Christ’s relationship to His church (Eph. 5:25ff.), “every marriage is … a proclamation of the gospel. When marriages go wrong, or blow up, or go cold, they are the marital equivalent of false teachers.” Or as John the Baptist put it: Sanford, it is not lawful for you to have someone else’s wife.
I understand the lesser-of-two-evils argument—but when does abstaining from a vote become the least of three evils? For me, it’s when I feel forced to preserve my ability to say what is most important to our country: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It’s when my moral authority is undercut and even eliminated by measly dollars that moth and rust will corrupt. This would have been a perfect opportunity for Christians to say to the world, “We’re not just hung up on homosexuality; divorce is wrong, too. Both are deviations from God’s created norm.”
The liberals are already crowing, just hours after the election. This Slate piece, in fact, could have been written the day Sanford won the Republican primary and simply saved for today:
South Carolina conservatives may still say a candidate’s sins matter, but they aren’t voting that way. In fact, if you weren’t privy to the state’s strong social conservative history, you could almost mistake South Carolinians for city folk—people who vote for experience, policy, and political leanings and show a sophisticate’s relativism toward personal moral failings. These days, South Carolinians seem almost Parisian when they enter the voting booth.
Sanford was running only in his Charleston-area district, but the Slate writer is justified in speaking of this as a state-wide phenomenon because
this wasn’t the first time the Republican voters of South Carolina put fidelity to party over fidelity to fidelity. In the 2012 Republican primary, voters were reminded of Newt Gingrich’s admitted adultery and three marriages. His second wife spoke out just days before the vote. Gingrich won by 12.5 percentage points over the morally pure Mitt Romney. He won 45 percent of the evangelical vote, a group that has at times shown more than a passing interest in the morality of public officials. He won 46 percent of those who said that the religious beliefs of a candidate were very or somewhat important.
Saved by Grace
Sanford was, when he was my governor, known in part for his religious beliefs (he’s some sort of evangelical [?] Episcopalian). And he was quick to tell his victory speech crowd, “I am one imperfect man saved by God’s grace.”
I take no delight in saying this, but I say it on the authority of the God who knows where He sends that grace: no, Sanford isn’t. God commands all men everywhere to repent. And Paul mentions Mark Sanford, now engaged to his mistress, in a list of people who “will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor 6:9–10)
An unrepentant sinner cannot claim God’s saving grace. Yet. I pray that God will grant—that’s the term Paul uses in 2 Timothy 2:25—Sanford repentance before he marries his adulterous lover. But if the one who confesses and forsakes his sin will receive mercy (Prov 28:13), and the one who covers it will not prosper, what about the one who celebrates it before all the world? Even if Sanford had repented, had restored his relationship with his wife and kids, had cut off all contact with his mistress—even then, forgiveness from God and man need not mean the absence of negative consequences. Simply look at the story of King David and “her that was the wife of Uriah.”
I hope fulmination is not the normal tone of this blog. I pray God that I might have a healthy fear and awareness of my own sin. But I’m not passing judgment. I wouldn’t dare. I’m repeating God’s.
The Love of Money
Republican Christian conservatives, I suspect that your party as a whole will only care about you as long as you give it votes. And when you vote for morally opprobrious people in order to defeat fiscally opprobrious people, you demonstrate clearly what is more important to you—and how reliable you’ll be even if the moral planks of the GOP platform continue to rot. The love of money is, truly, the root of all kinds of evil.
I don’t actually pay a great deal of attention to politics. Politics is the art of something I can’t stomach when it comes to moral issues; in other words, when it comes to things about which God has spoken clearly in Scripture (compromise all you want on the placement of municipal sewer lines and the many other quotidian political issues that are not clearly moral). But I find sad confirmation of this post’s assessment in the words of a liberal who does pay attention to politics, that same Slate writer, the online magazine’s chief political correspondent:
The Republican Party is undergoing a discussion about the role of principle in public life. Which principles are worth putting aside for political gain? On issues from immigration to protecting the Second Amendment, politicians like Sen. Ted Cruz are on the rise for defending principle in the face of the desires of the crowd. In South Carolina that’s still very much the way conservatives see things. Mais pour le moment, quelques principes sont plus importants que d’autres. [But for now, some principles are more important than others.]
* Warning: made-up blog fact; not true.
** I hasten to add, as commentator Robert Stein did (NAC), that this doesn’t mean everyone who is unfaithful in a little thing will always be unfaithful in every big thing. We’d all be sunk. Jesus is speaking in proverbial generalities.