Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina

Mark Sanford, Governor of South Carolina

Some friends have asked my opinion on the recent admission by South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford that he had an extramarital affair.  Specifically, I hear the question “Don’t these politicians know they’ll get caught?  Don’t they know what they’re risking?  Surely they aren’t that dense.”

First, we need to remind ourselves that improper sexual relationships aren’t relegated only to the world of politicians.  In fact, if this admission comes from someone in, say, the entertainment industry it may even help their career.  Bed-hopping in some vocations can actually advance one’s goals.  But we’re talking about politicians now, and for them (at least some of them) the fallout can be a career-ender.  Are they so obtuse to believe that adultery is a valid option for them?

This ties in with the Paphos Paradigm of Acts 13.  Another governor, Sergius Paulus, who was the highest ranking Roman political official on Cyprus when Paul and Barnabas came through on the first missionary journey, is described as “a man of intelligence” (Acts 13:7).  He summoned Paul and Barnabas to meet with him personally so that he could hear their message himself.  This wasn’t uncommon since customarily public orators traveled the ancient world speaking new philosophies all the time.  Sergius had the intellectual curiosity to seek out those who presented new thought in his day. 

It has been my experience (and I expect it to hold true in the future) that those I’ve met who have risen to high office didn’t get there by accident.  They are driven, ambitious and very, very smart.  As you browse through their education and achievements this becomes clearly evident.  Since I seek to minister the gospel to these folks, that fact can be intimidating, but there are several biblical principles that need to be kept in mind. 

Let’s just get this first one out of the way.  All of us are sinners and need the gospel of Jesus Christ for forgiveness and the power to obey Him.  We all won’t struggle with the same sins, but we all will struggle.  Governor Sanford claims to follow Christ which is another reminder that Christians can give in to their flesh and fall as well.  This doesn’t address the issue of intelligence, but is just a statement of fact:  “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Next, there is a wisdom that this world provides and a wisdom that comes from God.  There are some very intelligent people who have no heart for God.  There are some who don’t have the degree from Harvard, but love the Lord and seek to please Him.  Paul made this clear to the Corinthians when he said “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”  (1 Corinthians 1:20)

Not only does Paul show that there are two sources of wisdom (God’s vs. the world’s), but he also demonstrates that the qualities of those two ways of thinking are very different:

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.  (1 Corinthians 1:25-29)

The smart person (in the world’s definition) will see God’s wisdom as foolishness.  But any “wisdom” apart from God is destined to destroy.  We see it every day in marriages, families, communities and nations.  The impact has a wider range when leaders fall, so again we should be in prayer for them to act wisely, from wisdom that comes from God in His Word.

So when a politician cheats on a spouse, are they being unintelligent?  It’s the wrong question.  We should ask “To what source do our leaders look for wisdom and their ability to make God-glorifying decisions, professionally and personally?”  When they are unfaithful in marriage, it only shows their source and quality of wisdom is man-based, not God-centered.  But let us take care to cast stones: “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted”  (Galatians 6:1).

I say in the title that Governor Sanford’s struggle is shared by all leaders.  Obviously, I don’t mean that all officials cheat on their spouses.  But they do all have a sin nature, like every person.  The struggle for the right wisdom is the fight we all must wage.  The Church has a dog in this fight and we must wake up to our responsibility before God to speak loving truth to the leaders of men to see their hearts changed.  The time and treasure we are spending to merely force them to give us the society we want is one of the greatest acts of neglect in the Church’s legacy.