God’s role in Mark Sanford’s redemption story

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God — and South Carolina voters — decided Tuesday to give disgraced former Gov. Mark Sanford a second chance.

At least that’s the impression left by news coverage of the state’s most famous adulterer, who won back his old seat in Congress with 54 percent of the vote.

The war-size headline on the front page of The State in Columbia, S.C.:

SANFORD WINS REDEMPTION

The Associated Press used a similar headline:

MARK SANFORD REDEEMS CAREER, HEADING TO CONGRESS

God figured heavily in Sanford’s victory speech, with Yahoo News! noting that Sanford said he wanted to “publicly acknowledge God’s role in this.” (God was unavailable for comment, and I can’t say I blame him.)

I am pretty certain Sanford was referring to God’s alleged role in his election victory — as opposed to a role in Sanford carrying on a secret affair with an Argentine mistress, to whom he’s now engaged after his divorce from the mother of his four children.

Here’s how AP quoted Sanford way up high:

“I am one imperfect man saved by God’s grace,” the Republican told about 100 cheering supporters Tuesday after defeating Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch to win back the 1st District seat he held for three terms in the 1990s. “It’s my pledge to all of you going forward I’m going to be one of the best congressmen I could have ever been.”

Later in the story, AP included more religious language from the former governor:

“Some guy came up to me the other day and said you look a lot like Lazarus,” Sanford told the crowd Tuesday night, referring to the man who, according to the Bible, Christ raised from the dead. “I’ve talked a lot about grace during the course of this campaign,” he said. “Until you experience human grace as a reflection of God’s grace, I don’t think you really get it. And I didn’t get it before.”

Lazarus wasn’t the only person whom Christ raised from the dead, according to the Bible, so it probably would be more accurate to describe Lazarus as “a man” Christ raised and not “the man.” But I appreciate the reporter’s effort to provide essential background information for readers.

My bigger concern about how AP — and other media, such as The New York Times and USA Today — quoted Sanford is that God makes only a cameo appearance.

From The State:

“I want to acknowledge a God not just of second chances,” Sanford said in his victory speech in Charleston, referring to his first TV ad in which he asked voters to support him despite his past problems. “But a God of third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth chances because that is the reality of our shared humanity.”

None of the stories I read made any reference to Sanford’s religious affiliation (he’s apparently Episcopalian, with a dash of Buddhist). Nor did any of the stories elaborate on Sanford’s specific religious beliefs or how he meshes those beliefs with his plans to marry his mistress.

To be blunt, I’d love to know if Sanford’s God frowns on adultery — or if Sanford’s God is OK with it as long as the consenting adults see themselves as “soul mates.” I’d also love to what voters in the nation’s sixth most-religious state think of Sanford’s God talk. Did they buy it, or did they support him for different reasons?

If Sanford insists on bringing up God, reporters should have a little fun and go ahead and delve into his (twisted?) theology.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.