After Gov. Mark Sanford’s tearful admissions to the Associated Press about a “handful” of previous indiscretions and that his mistress was his soulmate, you’d be forgiven for assuming that the governor’s Argentinian scandal would end in divorce court. But there was one more shock to come. Two days later, his wife, Jenny Sanford, released a statement saying that she’d forgiven her husband and would give their marriage another shot.
Since the scandal first broke, the governor’s sobs and the first lady’s public comments have been dripping with religious dogma. The couple’s spiritual advisor, Warren “Cubby” Culbertson, told The State last week that the only thing holding the marriage together right now is “their vow to God.”
In both the governor’s high-profile press conference and a written apology last Monday, there are a host of faith-based references to God, sin, and redemption. In particular, the governor cited the importance of heeding “God’s laws.”
“What has transpired over this last week vividly illustrates the damage that comes personally, and to those you love and respect, in doing otherwise,” the governor wrote, vowing he would “commit to growing personally and spiritually.”
And Gov. Sanford is not alone in looking to the good book. In her latest statement, Jenny Sanford quoted the Book of Psalms about quelling her anger over her husband’s affair. In defense of the governor, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), told NBC’s Meet the Press that we’re all sinners.
It’s not surprising that this rhetoric would flow through this scandal, says John Green, senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and American Politics.
“(Religion) is how people understand morality and deviations,” Green says.
It’s hard to say what part of it is a politically motivated attempt to strike a sympathetic chord with Sanford’s evangelical constituents and what is legitimately coming from Sanford’s strong religious background.
But his faith is a double-edged sword. It gives sincerity to his apologies, but it also highlights his hypocrisy.
“Many people will wonder if he can be believed now that he professes to feel bad about it,” Green says.
But Gov. Sanford isn’t just going to the Bible for his mea culpa. The governor even cited scripture in love-lorn e-mails (obtained by The State) to his mistress, Maria Belen Chapur:
“I looked to where I often look for advice and counsel, and in I Corinthians 13 it simply says that, ‘Love is patient and kind, love is not jealous or boastful, it is not arrogant or rude, Love does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in the wrong, but rejoices in the right, Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things.'”
It should be pointed out that other versions of this chapter translate differently, noting that love “rejoices in the truth” instead of rejoicing in the right.
When Sanford’s wife first found out about the affair roughly five months ago, the couple entered Culbertson’s intensive counseling program. The owner of a Columbia court reporting business, Culbertson has organized several faith-based support groups and programs. The governor even took Culbertson with him as a chaperone on a New York trip to end the affair with Chapur in person. It apparently didn’t take, considering the latest trip south of the border.
Sanford’s justification for remaining in office has included references to the story of David, a king who murdered his mistress’ husband and then married her. Through sorrowful prayers and unparalleled repentance, David remained ruler and was eventually forgiven for his sins.
The governor’s pleas are a good start, but it’s too early to tell if this is a healing story of biblical proportions, says Oran Smith, executive director of the Christian political advocacy group Palmetto Family Council.
“It’s a good thing if it progresses in a way that’s symbolic of the Christian message,” he says. “The immediate response is to lead with forgiveness. The question is whether he is sincere.”
The jury may still be out on the governor’s future, but Jenny Sanford has been a model of restraint in what is without a doubt one of the most revealing and humiliating political sex scandals since the introduction of the wide stance to the lexicon of political indiscretions.
In one of his many public apologies, Mark Sanford called her “a wonderful Christian woman in this process.” And he’s not alone. Some have found something to be proud of in Jenny Sanford’s actions.
Palmetto Family Council has implored supporters to “Stand With Jenny” on its website, praising the first lady for the way she’s handled herself. Smith says it largely came from support within its membership.
“We began to get a strong response, particularly from women, that this shouldn’t be glossed over and forgotten,” he says.
Her reaction has shown her respect for herself and her commitment to her family, Smith says.
“The bottom line is that she handled herself with class and strong Christian conviction,” he says.
But Jenny Sanford isn’t the only one that has been tested by this scandal. Most any couple that has stood at an altar got a wake-up call from Gov. Sanford’s awkward revelations.
“There were a lot of men and women who just wanted to call their partners,” Smith says, to affirm their vows during this scandal. “You wanted to see some good come from this.”
Stay cool. Support City Paper.
City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.