The Case of the Fallen Governor

In the past 24 hours since Governor Mark Sanford admitted his affair, I’ve run the gamut of emotions: sadness, depression, anger, and most of all, bewilderment.

The particular tragedy of Sanford is that he had been an outstanding governor. He’s attractive, engaging, and smart. He is an articulate and tenacious defender of family values. And he espoused the cause of Christ.

Now, his career lies on the ash heap of history. He’ll have to gracefully withdraw from political life and try to put his shattered marriage back together.

I mentioned sadness and depression. Sanford’s admission is simply the latest among pro-family conservative Christian politicians. Remember Senator David Vitter, involved with a prostitution service? Then just a week ago, Senator John Ensign of Nevada—a good friend I have known for years—he, too, admitted an affair.

And now Mark Sanford, probably the last man in American public life I would have expected to so incredibly disappoint us.

Sadness, depression—then there’s anger. These men dishonored their families and their offices and the Christian faith they profess.

But most of all, I am bewildered. Sanford had it all—a beautiful wife and family, high public office, and he was a viable candidate, perhaps, for President. Why would he throw it all away?

The answer came to me as I stewed over Sanford’s demise—and as I have reflected on my own life and my own failures, particularly before I knew the Lord.

We humans, you see, have an infinite capacity for self-rationalization. We reason that we can give in to those seemingly minor temptations—say an emotional attraction to a co-worker, or just one drink at the party—because we think we know the boundaries. We think our reason can keep us safe.

The problem is, as C. S. Lewis wrote in his timeless essay, “Men Without Chests,” that our reason is no match for the passions of the flesh. Lewis put it this way: Our stomachs (that is our appetites) can’t be controlled by our minds (that is, reason). Something else has to come in to play—and that is the spirited element, or our chests, as he called it. It’s our will being trained to do what is right and just.

Nearly every grave moral failure begins with a small sin. Because there comes a time, after we toy with sin, when one pull of the flesh causes us to cross the line, to disengage from reason, and to follow our appetites wherever they may lead.

And, I’m afraid, this is especially easy today. We’re told we can have it all, that we can be free to pursue any pleasure. Our wills are not trained to do what is good, but to do what pleases us. Many of us have become, as Lewis said, men without chests.

So, fellow Christians, don’t be self-righteous. Let the Sanford tragedy be a cautionary tale. Are you toying with sin? If so, for your self, your family, and your Lord—stop. Don’t put yourself in a position of compromise.

Instead, let us—you and I—prayerfully build up our chests and train our will that we might, by God’s grace and in fellowship with other believers who hold us accountable, not betray our Lord.

Subscribe to CE
(It's free)

Go to Catholic Exchange homepage

  • Warren Jewell

    Lord Acton issued his warning about the corruptions of power most precisely for historians – who he would have witness to these terrible errors among those in power in our past that future generations learn not to compromise God’s graces among us.

    It would seem that the tempting dangers of power should cause those who take to it to so pre-dress in sackcloth and ashes, even if only symbolically every ‘morning offering’ of their lives.

    Among the worst these sinners in political office will suffer is that who should be their loved ones will never fully trust them again. Then again, taking as so many of them do to the powers of their offices, and even as not taking to humility, maybe they are already in infidelity to their loved ones – why not go deeper into sins including apparent infidelity? As one wit put it, ‘a man can cheat on his wife . . .’ (and family) ‘. . . with weekend golf as easily as with another woman’.

    And, how many families cheat corporately, what with the TV (‘American Idol’ anyone?) getting the attentions of everybody to the near exclusion of everyone else in the family circle? Temptations abound, since they are part of Satan’s ‘easy way out’ of commitments to have ‘eyes to see’, and responsibilities to have ‘ears to hear’.

    And, pathetically, without value or humor, the more I learn of our faith, to make it more and more my faith, the more distant I feel from fellow Catholics, even those in the pews! I can enter my parish Palace for our Christ during the weekly forty-five minutes of scheduled Confession before the Saturday anticipatory Mass to find no one in line; and, then see the congregation nearly en masse going up to Communion! Imagine that – given the opportunity to refresh via His Sacrament of Penance right before accepting His Sacrament of His Eucharist – and, hardly any takers! Is that not likely ‘small first sin’ on the way to greater sins, all bound up in self-absolution and minimizing God’s graces, if not witness to effective and ‘convenient’ agnosticism? Maybe, we need annual homilies on the ‘inconvenience’ of at least Purgatory, not to mention the eternal ‘inconvenience’ of never being with God eternally!

    And, may I take one last moment to comment on the noise level of the incoming pew-dwellers, that my own prayers of Penance often must wait until I am home? I keep wanting to shout out, “This is HIS house, not yours!” I hold my tongue – what’s the use? Even my pastor is more likely to find me at fault than them.

  • Warren Jewell

    Of consonant note, Kathryn Lopez, the bright editor of the online site of National Review, notes that each one of these Republican failures of morality is likely to bury us further in the socialistic secularism and slavery in which the Wash.D.C. administration intends to bury us.

    I would weep more for the likes of Governor Sanford (and Ensign, et al) if I wasn’t weeping for his family and citizens, and all of us whom he has so betrayed. I can find few tears for Judas Iscariot – he chose his paths all the way to his suicide. The Jewish original may have led to my salvation and yours, but it isn’t what he intended. For all Judases, “It’s all about ME”. And, this feeble and heartbreaking attitude holds impulsive influence, even as history teaches that such recourse leads only to one suicide or another.