A Governor, a King, and the Tragedy of Adultery

A Governor, a King, and the Tragedy of Adultery

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
July 2, 2009

The sad spectacle of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford continues to dominate the headlines as further revelations add one bizarre twist after another to the governor’s tale of adultery, deceit, and the consequences of sin. With every passing day, pressure mounts for the governor to resign. As the revelations unfold, his leadership credibility is further destroyed. The people of South Carolina now look to their governor’s mansion with a sense of dread and embarrassment.

Governor Sanford’s admission of adultery came only after he was ambushed by the media after returning from a liaison in Argentina. In a rambling confession, the governor admitted to an ongoing relationship and an extramarital affair. While the media quickly turned to ask questions about money and the affairs of state, many others immediately thought of the governor’s wife and four sons and the horrible pain and embarrassment they were now forced to bear.

In his original statement, Governor Sanford seemed to acknowledge the evil of his actions and, using biblical language, he appeared to understand the sinfulness of his adultery and betrayal. Yet, his statement was rambling and disconnected and, upon reflection, his words raised more questions than they answered. How did this affair happen? Was the relationship really over?

When Governor Sanford addressed his cabinet just a few days after his confession, he offered an apology to his colleagues and promised to “carry on” as governor. “I wanted generally to apologize to every one of you all, for letting you down,” he said. Of course, “letting you down” hardly covers the behavior that brought the governor to this admission. The governor violated his marital vows, engaged in an elaborate and sickening correspondence with his mistress, abandoned his responsibility as husband and father, and forfeited his right to lead the state which twice had elected him governor.

When speaking to the Cabinet, Governor Sanford referred to the biblical story of King David. The governor spoke of “the way in which he fell mightily — he fell in very, very significant ways — but then picked up the pieces and built from there.” The governor also suggested that remaining in office would set a good example for his four boys, teaching them to persevere after a fall. The great shame is that the governor did not have his four boys in mind as he committed adultery.

Naturally, questions emerged related to the extent and duration of the extramarital affair. The governor’s initial statement was unclear about several key issues. The days following would render the situation even more unclear.

Most recently, in a lengthy interview granted to the Associated Press, Governor Sanford added what the wire service called “explosive details” that made the picture all the more troubling. In the first place, the governor admitted to having “crossed the lines” with other women. “There were a handful of instances wherein I crossed the lines that I shouldn’t have crossed as a married man, but never crossed the ultimate line,” said the governor.

But the most troubling words from the governor concerned the nature of his relationship with Maria Belen Chapur, the woman with whom he had the affair. “This was a whole lot more than a simple affair, this was a love story,” he said. He added: “A forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day.”

Speaking, not of his wife, but of his mistress, Governor Sanford declared that he would go to his grave “knowing that I had met my soul mate.”

Immediately following the governor’s first admission, it seemed that he might survive politically and remain in office. The nation found itself once again in a debate about the relationship between personal virtue and public responsibility. This is a question that is particularly vexing to Christian conservatives, who must simultaneously understand that all are sinners in need of redemption and, at the same time, affirm that some sins disqualify individuals from public service and influence.

America’s recent political history indicates that some politicians can survive revelations of adultery. While Christians should be less concerned about the political consequences and more concerned about the spiritual consequences, it is fair to observe that those politicians who survive more often than not do so when the adulterous relationship is clearly over and in the more distant past and when the politician has given himself in a demonstrable way to the priority of rebuilding his marriage and reestablishing credibility with his family.

Put simply, Governor Sanford’s most recent comments point to a worst-case scenario. His words make clear that his heart is still inclined toward his mistress, and not his wife. With tragic candor, the governor has spoken of trying to fall back in love with his wife. He refers to his mistress, not his wife, as his soul mate, and speaks wistfully of the affair as “a love story at the end of the day.”

Governor Sanford may cite King David, and he may even suffer the illusion that his response is similar to that of Israel’s King. Nevertheless, the difference is clear. David’s adultery was mixed even with murder, but his own acknowledgment of sin came in a flood of contrition, remorse, broken heartedness, and humility. David acknowledged the reality of his sin, expressed his hatred of the sin, and became a model for us all of repentance. Governor Sanford, on the other hand, demonstrates the audacity to speak wistfully of his sin, longingly of his lover, and romantically of his descent into unfaithfulness.

Governor Sanford is no King David, and the people of South Carolina — as well as the watching world — now observe the sad spectacle of a man who, while admitting to wrongdoing, shows no genuine repentance. As the Christian church has long recognized, true repentance is reflected in the “detestation of sin.” This is a far cry from what we’ve heard from Governor Sanford.

If the governor is really serious about demonstrating character to his four sons, he should resign his office and give himself unreservedly to his wife and family. He must show his sons — and all who have eyes to see — how a man is led by the grace and mercy of God to hate his sin, rather than to love it. Until then, the governor must be understood to indulge himself in wistfulness for his affair and in a desperate determination to maintain his office. His remaining days in office are like a Greek tragedy unfolding into farce. The whole picture is just unspeakably sad.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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