Sin and God’s law at a press conference

mark-sanfordI’ve confessed before my unfortunate love of a good scandal — and a good sex scandal all the more. A couple of days ago, I had gotten a tip about what would happen with regard to South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s confession of adultery. And as I read accounts of his groundbreaking press conference (on Twitter, yes), I reacted with delight. I’d hoped for something very dramatic and I’d gotten it. A few days ago I read the following C.S. Lewis quote over at Gene Edward Veith’s blog:

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils.

As my reporter friends and I traded excited emails about Sanford’s demise, I couldn’t help but think of that. Not that Sanford is my enemy but I have a tendency to dehumanize people going through infidelity scandals.

And yet what struck me about the media coverage was how it seemed to miss what I found most interesting about the press conference. Sanford will get what he deserves, I’m sure, but have you ever seen such a display of real flesh and blood and torment? Usually when politicians confess to cheating on their wives, they remind me most of robots. I’m still not convinced that John Edwards, Larry Craig, Elliot Spitzer and Jim McGreevey are actual humans. All the emotion seems manufactured. If the speeches aren’t scripted by a high-priced damage control firm, I’d be shocked. But this? This was real. It was downright uncomfortable to watch someone be so honest about their horrendous moral failings. He was visibly shaken by the damage he’d caused his family.

Sanford’s press conference was also deeply religious. But most of the reports couldn’t care one whit about that. They care about his career, his presumably dashed presidential aspirations, his governorship. And sure, those are very important and interesting things. But sometimes I wonder why reporters can’t see a tremendous story when it’s melting down right in front of them! This is human drama.

The only report I read that seemed to get it was a blog post by Ann Godlasky at USA Today:

Gov. Mark Sanford’s announcement that he had an affair may have sounded more like a confessional than a news conference, dripping with religious language.

She provides quotes about his views on Christian community and forgiveness. But this was the one that got me:

On sin and God’s law:

“It’s not a moral, rigid list of do’s and don’ts just for the heck of do’s and don’ts; it is indeed to protect us from ourselves …

“Sin is, in fact, grounded in this notion of ‘what is it that I want’ as opposed to somebody else …

“There are moral absolutes, and God’s law is indeed there to protect you from yourself, and there are consequences if you breach that. This press conference is a consequence.”

When was the last time you heard a politician talk this way at a press conference? I don’t know what it means, necessarily, but I do know that this is terribly fascinating stuff. I know the media will focus on all of the political angles — Did he visit his Argentinian mistress on the taxpayer dime? Will he be impeached or resign? Even the religion reporters are focused on those angles — but I find the human drama so much more fascinating.

And speaking of that, you should read Mrs. Sanford’s statement about the affair. It’s got a lot of religion in it, too.

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  • Roberto Rivera

    I’m still not convinced that John Edwards, Larry Craig, Elliot Spitzer and Jim McGreevey are actual humans.

    I think I know what you mean but this is a terrible way to put it given that you and at least three of the men named are on opposite sides of the political spectrum.

    As to talking about the coverage, I’ve read lots of accounts of Sanford’s anguish. Most of it took a jaundiced view of his confession and other, especially uncharitable folks made fun of it but they did see what you saw — they simply interpreted it differently.

    Sanford’s use of explicitly religious language probably had something to do with it: to some people it’s incomprehensible and in others it elicits a cynical response.

  • Richard

    I wish Mrs. Sanford had not used the word “indiscretions” concerning her husband. That is a weasel word.

  • http://HSSSblog.com Pierce Hibma

    This is what my wife has to saw about the situation:

    Marriage has been the backbone of strong healthy societies for generations. When a married couple is happy they produce successful families, productive workplaces, and they themselves benefit with better health. However, in today’s society it almost seems acceptable to shatter the covenant of marriage with extramarital affairs. Additionally, once the marriage has been drug through the mud, spouses humiliated, and families torn apart, there is still one more necessary step if someone with celebrity or influence has been caught. The “teary eyed, choked up, press conference” is now apart of Cheating 101 Protocol for damage control.

  • Martha

    I’m not following this in detail, and certainly not wishing pain and humiliation on any of the parties involved, but the stupid seems to be as much a part of this as the scandal.

    In the midst of a global economic crisis, not to mention the rest of the turmoil in the world, when being in charge of the state he governs is actually very important, he takes off for Argentina with his mistress? For nearly a week? Without telling anyone, so his office is issuing stories about hiking in Appalachia in order not to sound as if they’re running around like headless chickens? Which in reality, they are, because no-one knows where he is or what he’s doing?

    Temporary insanity is the only explanation, and I’m sorry for his family, but for the love of Pete, is there no politician who can manage to keep their trousers zipped?

  • http://vagantepriest.blogspot.com/ FrGregACCA

    I am a resident of SC. I have a great deal of empathy for both Sanford and his family in this situation and wish them well: not so much for his political ideology. I have to wonder what the connections are between his ideology and the recent missteps in his personal life and yes, his faith.

  • Martha

    I suppose the cyncism some of us feel (me included) is precisely because of what Pierce says: politician gets caught out discussing Ugandan affairs (to use the euphemism coined by “Private Eye”) with a lady not his wife; politician immediately has tear-choked press conference, complete with wife and kidlets by his side, often quoting some version of “I’m only human, we’re all miserable sinners, I’m really truly sorry and I trust in the mercy of God” and then we’re supposed to take it that since his missus hasn’t (publically) hit him over the head with a rolling pin and tossed his clothes into the street, and since God has forgiven him, what are we getting so bent out of shape about? Especially when they then ask for their families to be spared the glare of publicity – er, wouldn’t be happening if you hadn’t dragged them into it, Mr. Politician!

    The ‘repentance’ has less to do with genuine remorse and more with ‘dang! caught with my hand in the cookie jar!’ damage control.

    I’m not saying Governor Sanford isn’t genuinely racked with remorse; it’s just that too many, when caught in a scandal, have used the ‘God knows I’m a sinner’ card without appreciable sincerity behind it.

  • hoosier

    Salon.com has been covering this angle quite a bit. In War Room, blogger Alex Koppelman made specific mention of the religious talk in the Guv’s confession. He thinks it’s calculated to help him with SC’s very Protestant electorate. I lived next door to that state for a great deal of my life, and I have to agree. Talk of sin and redemption is a big part of what it means to be a Southern Protestant (Think GW Bush, alcoholism, and salvation at the feet of Billy Graham). If the Guv has any hope of not being impeached, he’s gotta look the part.

  • Jerry

    The C. S. Lewis quote is a good one – well worth keeping in mind. For one thing, it called up a certain statement about those without sin casting a first stone. And we can add to that those that are hypocrites about demanding morality from others.

    Wouldn’t it be a much nicer world if people’s sins could be between them, those affected and God with the media and those who disagree with the sinner’s politics avoiding wallowing in self-righteous indignation and hypocritical finger pointing.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Everyone talks about sin and redemption when they do these press conferences. That’s not the point. But this press conference stood out. Not just for the rambling and uber-transparent nature of it — but he was clearly working stuff out as he went and was clearly tormented by competing desires. Normally these things seem much more “calculated” to use Hoosier’s word. If this was calculated, it seemed calculated to ensure he won’t be governor much longer.

  • Scott

    I think there is an important distinction here with Gov. Sanford vs. most politicians. I think the difference is that the news came out while he was working to FIX things! He didn’t try to fix thing AFTER the news came out. After his news conference and from what I have read from his wife, when I look at the Governor I see what we ALL would hope to see when we look in the mirror – a guy that does the best he can, but makes mistakes. And unlike Clinton, who to this day feels like someone he was unjustly treated, Sanford appears to be doing what we should all do when we sin – he has stopped the original sin, confessed, repented, and is now working to make it right.

    All of us have done things that were ‘bad’ at one point or another to varying degrees, and those that read the Bible know that we always will. There was only one perfect and true Man in history. What matters is what we do with the messes we inevitably make, and whether or not we repent. Now he may step in it again. He may make the same mistake again, but from what I can tell now, he meets all of the requirements that I know of to be forgiven and given the benefit of the doubt.

    And it is important to also make sure that people don’t confuse the dirty finger pointing at the moon, with the moon itself. The dirty finger in no way diminishes the beauty and wonder of the moon, and this applies to the religious as well as the political aspects of the situation.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Frankly too much of the coverage I have heard or read about Sanford is far too sympathetic toward him. One libertarian radio talk host I heard felt sorry for him as though he were a victim instead of a perp. “Isn’t it tragic to not be married to the one you now love.” Apparently to Hell with the 4 kids and the effect Sandford’s skirt chasing would have on them, especially since this marriage most likely well crack-up over the situation.
    I taught social studies–history for almost 40 years in a public high school. And many times, in discussing public issues and people, divorce, adultery, etc. would come up.
    And I learned a lot from just listening to the children of divorce telling of the effects of divorce in their lives. It is emotional murder, psychological torture, mental assault. Divorce is a sword that spiritually disembowel
    its youngest victims. A survey set up to find out how many years it takes a child of divorce to get over the trauma was shocked to find out the answer is “NEVER!” (It was in Atlantic 5 or 10 years ago).
    For a while. back then, there was some media notice about the situation, but it seems to have died down–probably because so many in high places in the media have themselves made their own kids devastated semi-orphans by moving on to the next “hook-up.”

  • http://catholicdefense.blogspot.com/ Joe Heschmeyer

    So strange! I had just been listening to an audiobook version of Mere Christianity (available here: http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/audio.htm) yesterday, and so I thought of the exact same passage when I heard about all this craziness this morning.

  • Mari

    I despise infidelity, but I felt my heart go out to Gov Sanford, his wife and children the other day, and since when the media have been treating him and them as well, as the butt of their jokes. He seemed truly wretched, and the same types carrying on in the media about this, are rather hypocritical when it comes to those they favor, and their own indifference to truly awful tragedies and human suffering.

    What also troubles me is the SC newspaper reporter admitting the paper had these emails since last December, but refuses to say how they got them, and their claim that they didn’t know who the people behind the email addresses were is farcical. The press have tremendous search tools at their disposal, and could have traced them to their identity in a flash. There is also no reason why the journalist would have been given the emails unless they knew it was about the governor. I can’t help but wonder if they were attempting to blackmail him, or anticipating the ability to do so. Frankly, I can’t help but wonder if the Obama administration, with their technical dirty tricks brigade hadn’t a hand in this.

    I wasn’t that familiar with Sanford, until several months back, when he was being pilloried about his refusal to accept the ridiculous terms Obama was applying to the stimulus money. He was vilified by Obama’s Education secretary, Arne Duncan, who blamed Sanford for low math scores in SC, yet the truth was, that the math scores in SC, were twice as high as the math scores in Illinois, where Arne Duncan was in charge of the state education department, and who oversaw the colossal waste of a grant of 50 million dollars. In the hands of Duncan, Obama and Bill Ayers, the money wasn’t used to purchase new text books, hire teachers with math and science degrees, or anything substantive that would have provided a better education for poor children in Chicago, no. That 50 million was used to create a program to indoctrinate those poor kids, with a Marxist “community organizer” program. Of course the msm won’t report about that, just as they won’t stop and recall that Sen Ted Kennedy’s drunken antics caused the death of a young woman all those decades back.

    SC has poverty, like other states do, but it’s seemed to me, that they under the governor tried to do the best they could with what they had. The Sanford family will be in my thoughts and prayers.

  • Jerry

    I think the Wall Street Journal did a good job of discussing this situation. The key paragraph was:

    But there are two related failings [voters] find much harder to forgive. The first is hypocrisy, and the second is abuse of office in pursuit of a sexual escapade. Ultimately, those now are the two mortal sins for which absolution is much harder to find — and that is turning out to be Mr. Sanford’s real problem.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124595671948355489.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

  • bill ali goldstein

    Married guys should not spend time with ladies who aren’t their wives. Following that simple rule would save a lot of people a lot of torment. Once it turns into adultery–once it even starts to get close–it may be too late.

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  • jimmydore

    Imagine what kind of a lying letch he would be if he didn’t have “faith” all his life.

    So you can do anything you wan, leave your wife and children on Fathers day to have sex with your mistress, and then when you get caught you lie about it, abd then eventually admit it, but you do it all the while talking about god and jesus. How gross can you be?