Forgiving Mark Sanford

It’s tough to write a blog where I start off by quoting a post on Facebook. Especially after I just blasted people for posting too much on Facebook. However, I press on…

A couple of weeks ago, a good friend posted something about our illustrious former Governor, Mark Sanford. Paraphrased, the post went something like this:  People say that they won’t support Mark Sanford because he cheated on his wife. But many who say that are Christians. Aren’t Christians supposed to forgive and forget?

Since South Carolina’s former fearless leader has managed to get himself in the news in yet another less-than-flattering incident, the timing seems right to address the Sanford Question. Can we–should we–forgive him?

Of course we can. But should we? And what exactly does it mean if we do? Does it mean that we should consider putting Mark Sanford back into office?

I don’t necessarily believe that an extramarital affair automatically disqualifies someone from political qualifications. A lot of very capable statesmen (among them many of American’s founding fathers) suffered from the fungus of marital infidelity. At the same time, it’s also a lot easier to forgive than it is to forget.

We use that phrase as if it is directly transposed from the Bible, and it’s not. There is plenty of implicit Biblical support for the idea that we are to forgive and forget (among them 1 Corinthians 13, which tells us that love “keeps no record of wrongs”). I would encourage you to Google “forgive and forget scriptures” sometime. I didn’t agree with a lot of the commentary on such passages, but there is a wealth of scripture on the subject.

However, forgiving is the first part of the equation, and forgetting is the longer and more difficult process. And we may forget at our own peril.

Perhaps I’m playing fast and loose with the interpretation, but the “forgetting” that the Bible encourages us to do seems to be more about forgetting the hurt, not holding a grudge, and refusing to let our bitterness and anger destroy any hope of a future relationship. It is also very focused on not letting this bitterness and anger destroy our relationship with the Lord and Savior who continually forgives us.

We forget in the hope that we can restore relationships and not hold ongoing hate towards anyone. Most of all, our forgetting is an exercise in remembering and confessing our own failings and sinfulness.

At the same time, the idea of pretending that nothing ever happened is disingenuous and dangerous.

If my wife finds me being unfaithful, she may be able to forgive, but I bet it will be a while before I get the green light to go out with the guys or take a trip by myself. And I have lost any right to ask her for such trust until I can prove myself to be trustworthy. If a person is an alcoholic, those around him/her may forgive this addiction and its collateral damage. But they would probably be disturbed if the recovering person decided to get a job as a bar tender (Remember that Cheers is fiction, folks).  

In some ways, it is irresponsible to forget that our own sins, or the sins of those that we are struggling to forgive, never happened.

I am in no position to judge the sincerity of someone’s confession or to deny them forgiveness. But I am also not willing to put them right back into the same situation that allowed them to falter in the first place. Forgiving Mark Sanford shouldn’t even be a second thought. Putting faith and trust in him once again? That, to me, is another story.

Apparently, some Republicans are struggling with the issue as well.

Here’s the thing:  Our politics will largely determine where we might fall regarding Mark Samford. For those who agree with his politics, they will argue that we should forgive him. Their Christian faith will come shining through, and they will determine that true Christianity “keeps no record of wrongs” (1Cor13).

I wonder where all that Christianity was for Bill Clinton in 1997?

Those who wanted Clinton strung up and impeached seemed to forget all about the idea of forgiveness during those dark days. At the same time, others thought that we should simply forgive Clinton and ridiculed the impeachment idea (even in the face of Clinton’s despicable acts).

Now, those who seem to agree with Sanford’s politics want to accept his request for forgiveness and ignore his transgressions. Others believe he is completely unfit because of his lying, cheating and running out of the country. (Some of these are the same ones willing to look past Clinton’s indiscretions).

Let’s just be honest: When it comes to politicians, our willingness to forgive is much more dependent on our politics than on our Christianity. It’s not right, but it is reality. As a follower of Christ, I believe that we are called to forgive others. This doesn’t always mean that we forget, and we certainly use caution when the forgiven person is seeking full restoration to a position of trust.

In my own personal bias, I have a hard time seeing the sincerity of Sanford, particularly considering his general attitude and actions after all of his problems were revealed. If we are going to restore someone to the public trust, then a demonstration that they have learned from their mistakes and can live up to that trust is necessary and justifiably expected.

I’ll give him this much:  He’s got guts. If I had pulled any stunts remotely close to Sanford’s, I wouldn’t need a restraining order. In fact, I’d hesitate to go into the same county as my wife (or my parents, siblings, in-laws, cousins, etc). Perhaps he’s very sincere about wanting forgiveness, but not sincere enough to be less arrogant or more considerate. Or perhaps he’s just not that bright.

None of these give us the right to NOT forgive Sanford. We must use extreme caution when judging someone’s sincerity in their requests for God’s forgiveness or our forgiveness. Do our own lives measure up to that scrutiny?

On a personal level, the answer is: Yes, we must forgive Mark Sanford, as his sins are no worse than any of ours. But that doesn’t mean we should put him back into the same “play pen” where he got into trouble in the first place. And I don’t believe forgiving someone compels us to ignore all of their past actions, particularly if we cannot discern a humility and a willingness to change in a way that will prevent those same things from happening again.

I can forgive, but perhaps I’m just not ready to forget. A lot of that is my own problem. But I also believe that forgiveness does not come at the expense of accountability and demonstrated trustworthiness after forgiveness, which helps us to avoid the same circumstances that caused us to need forgiveness in the first place.

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4 thoughts on “Forgiving Mark Sanford

  1. My only thought is to question how it makes their sons feel that their parents can’t be in each others homes. In fact, their homes. There is no love between my husband and his ex-wife…but she is welcome in our home. And he in hers. They share a child…whose needs should be put first. Same applies.

    • I suspect that there may be more to this than meets the eye…and certainly, the former Mrs. Sanford is understandably struggling with forgiveness much more than any of us. Always sad when children get caught in the middle of the adults in the room

    • Nor was it in Peter’s best interest for everything to be forgotten. Like us, he had a ways to go. Maybe we need to consider immediate forgiveness and ultimate forgiveness. In the “here and now” we are forgiven, but consequences remain. In the eternal, sin is eradicated and completely forgotten.

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