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April 22, 2013


Mark Sanford, former governor of South Carolina, is running as a Republican for a congressional seat in a special election in South Carolina. He has just been endorsed by John Boehner, Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives. The former governor, divorced by his wife for his admitted adultery, lied to the people of his state during a prolonged absence while governor, claiming during his marriage and his term of governor that he was somewhere else when he had actually flown to Argentina to be with his mistress (now his fiancée). He was AWOL from his job of governor and lied to the people of South Carolina about his whereabouts. None of this is made up; the ex-governor freely admits it all – and asks for our forgiveness. The Speaker’s endorsement, unsurprisingly, does not dwell on this background.

Forgiveness is a substantial item on the list of what it takes to be Christian, and high on altruism’s list if not religious. Few would argue with the notion. We have manufactured statements of social policy, as it were, to bulwark the idea. We say that, “To err is human, to forgive is divine,” thus removing the idea from the profane to some God-approved status. One could infer from this interplay that one is against God if he or she does not forgive transgressions. We are also familiar with the Apostle Paul’s correct admonition that, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We are told, finally, that we must forgive Sanford’s admitted transgressions, both as to his breach of marital vows and his lies to the people of South Carolina. We have allowed ourselves rather than Sanford to be the bad guys if we don’t. Our attention is diverted from his admitted transgressions to our own as our prospective wrongful judgment takes center stage and his past judgments lurk in the shadows.

There is another view in taking on such an untrustworthy candidate to represent the people. It is bulwarked by the statement, “Once burned; twice shy.” We are not required to touch a hot stove twice in the name of forgiveness. Nor does the idea of forgiveness extend to some future potential opportunity to again lie to the people represented. We, as it were, are not bound to put Sanford in a position to come up with repeat performances – that is not within the realm of forgiveness. You do not forgive a future transgression yet to be committed, obviously. To the argument that such a potential transgression has not been committed yet, I answer, why take the risk? He is a known quantity – and arrogant enough to constitute a continuing risk – one we need not take.

It boils down to this. The voting public can forgive Sanford of all his lies and adultery as Christians or in the interest of altruism, but that does not extend to any positive duty to vote for the man. That judgment is not subject to the idea of forgiveness. It is therefore perfectly logical to forgive a candidate for old wrongdoings but still consider such wrongdoings when considering a vote for him or her – that is a new and different judgment to be made and one unrelated to forgiveness.

In summary, forgiving is one thing; looking at the qualifications (or lack of them) of a candidate for office is another. The two are mutually exclusive exercises; they do not intersect within or between either religion or ration. The Speaker’s endorsement is pure politics – and wrong.

I do not live in South Carolina and cannot vote in the special election in question. If I could, I would vote for his opponent. GERALD  E

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