Morality in Government: The Sanford Case

I argue constantly for Biblical morality to be the standard for our government, not only in its policies but also in the people who make those policies. One of the most poignant quotes I pass on to my students comes from John Adams, who warned,

We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge . . . would break the strongest cords of our constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.

When a nation’s morality plummets, so does the nation. This is particularly true when the citizens choose their civic leaders. I’ve often said our government is no more than a reflection of those who put it into power.

If I lived in a certain district in South Carolina this past week, I would have had to make a hard decision. Mark Sanford, the former governor of the state, was running for a congressional seat in a special election. Sanford has become infamous for brazen lying and adultery. As governor, he kept going on secret forays to Argentina to see a mistress while publicly saying things like he was out hiking on the Appalachian Trail. When the truth became known, he found himself the focal point of disdain and jokes.

Sanford, of course, is hardly the only politician with unsavory character. Give me time and I could come up with quite an extensive list of public officials no better than he. That, in itself, is the bane of our political life, and it is why some Christians shy away from any political involvement, thereby withdrawing their positive influence from our government.

This special election pit Sanford against Elizabeth Colbert Busch, a political neophyte and the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert. What went largely unreported in the media is the fact that she spent some time in jail back in the late 1980s for contempt of court while going through a messy divorce. I don’t know all the details of that incident, but it certainly should have been part of her resumé upon which the voters were to make their choice. The media—and this was a national event for them—simply ignored that fact. A good portion of the media saw this election as a harbinger of what is to come in the 2014 congressional elections. Many were hoping Busch would win as a sign that Democrats will take back the House next year.

Back to the question: what would I have done as a resident in this district? First, I believe in forgiveness, and that would apply to both candidates. However, forgiveness comes only after genuine repentance. That’s God’s standard, and it should be mine also. Busch, to the best of my knowledge, has no Christian foundation to her life or her political stance. She was heavily supported financially by Nancy Pelosi, a maneuver that apparently backfired on her in that conservative district. At least that’s some of the analysis that has appeared after Sanford’s victory.

What of Sanford? He spends a lot of time talking about God’s forgiveness, yet I have not seen any real repentance on his part. He never made a serious attempt to reconcile with his wife; as a father, he has now practically deserted his children, and his mistress is hanging around, ready to take on her new role, presumably, as the new Mrs. Sanford.

As a voter, what I would have before me is a choice between two very flawed people: the Republican who stood for family values and then hypocritically repudiated them; the Democrat who has some history of a run-in with the law and whose policies would be contributing to the overall decline of the nation. And that then becomes the crucial feature for me.

While I decry Sanford’s immorality and don’t want to see him rewarded for it, I know that another pro-abortion, pro-homosexual, pro-Obamacare member of the House helps destroy the entire nation. Sanford, at least, will probably vote the way I wish he would on most issues. Busch never would do so. She would help advance an anti-Christian, anti-family agenda that will do far more lasting harm than anything Sanford has done or may do. Consequently, as distasteful as it would have been, I would have had to cast my ballot for him.

One of the more comical aspects of this whole affair, so to speak, is how concerned Democrats suddenly became over moral issues. When it works to their advantage, they will trumpet the moral failures of Republicans. But there’s one thing to remember, illustrated quite well, I believe, by this classic political cartoon from a number of years ago:

It’s not hard to clear the bar if it is set so low to begin with.

Meanwhile, what of Sanford? I presume he’s looking at his newly won congressional seat as a political comeback.

Outwardly, this is a comeback, to be sure. But redemption is not primarily external. True redemption occurs in the heart. Unless Sanford experiences that true redemption, I would urge Republicans in his district to begin looking for a suitable challenger in the primary next year. Putting moral people in government should remain a top priority.