Should We Chalk Up Another One for the Anti-Marriage Crowd?

date Jun 26, 2009
author Voddie Baucham topics & issues Biblical Ethics, Discipleship, Elders, Family, Men, Theology

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is beginning to take on the look of a punching bag in the press these days (until he was rescued by the news of Michael Jackson’s death).  After going A.W.O.L. over Father’s Day weekend, it was discovered that the Sanford was actually in Argentina with his mistress.  Though it sounds like something from a James Bond movie (the governor being tracked via cell phone pings... his aids telling security to stop tracking him), the unfortunate reality is that this is an all-too-familiar tale of boy meets girl... boy marries girl... boy has four sons with girl... boy climbs the ladder of success... boy meets another girl... you know the rest.


Sadly, the opponents of ‘traditional’ marriage are wasting no time making political hay out of this sad tragedy.  In may ways, Sanford is getting exactly what he deserves.  A high-profile political figure who plays the “family values” card always creates a big target.  As a result, there are only two possible outcomes for a career like Sanford’s.  One is an event-free life where opponents try to ignore a successful marriage and all you get is the satisfaction of having kept your vows.  The other is waking up with your face plastered on the front page of every newspaper above the unspoken headline HYPOCRITE!


This is especially true in an an age when a candidate’s “compelling personal story” carries more weight than his character, intellect, record, or command of the issues.  In the era of media candidacies, moral failure is almost as costly as being short, overweight, or unattractive. 





This news cycle will be filled with fingers pointing at the hypocrisy of governor Sanford (and rightfully so).  Opponents of Christianity, traditional marriage, the Republican party, and fiscal conservatism have found a very large target as they stand and gloat over the rotting corpse of the once-vibrant political career of Mark Sanford.  Just as those who celebrate the taking of innocent lives in abortion mills worked to squeeze every drop of sympathy they could out of the George Tiller murder, the opponents of traditional marriage will ride this horse ‘till it drops. 


However, contrary to popular belief, this is not the greatest tragedy arising from the events of the day.  At it’s core, this is a family tragedy.  This is the story of one man who broke his vow.  This is the story of a wife who has experienced indescribable betrayal.  This is the story of four sons whose larger-than-life father has crushed their faith and trust, and marred their picture of manhood and marriage.  It is also a story about a public official who has demonstrated to his constituents that he cannot be trusted.  After all, if a man will lie to his wife with whom he shares a bed, he will most assuredly lie to those with whom he he shares virtually nothing.  Nevertheless, there are other issues to keep in mind.





Most of us  tend to view governor Sanford’s failure in light of our desire to come out on the winning side of the marriage debate.  While it is true that the opponents of ‘traditional’ marriage will get a lot of milage out of this news story, the greater tragedy is the perversion of the picture of the relationship between Christ and his church (Eph. 5:22ff).  This kind of tragedy grieves God, and that should be what grieves us most of all.  God hates sin, and ultimately, this story is about sin; the sin of adultery (among other things).  Governor Sanford’s violation the Law of God is more significant than his violation of the public trust and his marriage vows. 


Marriage is an earthly picture designed to point to the reality of the gospel.  The message of the gospel (not a reliance upon our own moral or ethical superiority) is our greatest tool in the battle for hearts and minds.  Having said that, we must not surrender ground in the marriage debate at a time like this.  Nor do we have to.





While homosexual marriage advocates are being paraded before the cameras to argue for a redefinition of marriage based upon the hypocrisy of “conservatives” and “traditional marriage” advocates, we need to know that they are wrong.  Governor Sanford’s sin points to something that many will overlook.  We can only talk about failure in marriage to the degree that we believe in success in marriage.  In other words, it is only because we know that marriage is supposed to be a monogamous, life-long covenant between a man and a woman that we can call what happened here a failure.  Far from being an argument for the deconstruction and redefinition of marriage, this is evidence that we all know what the institution is supposed to be!


Calling for a redefinition of marriage based on the failure of a traditional marriage advocate is like calling for a redefinition of English grammar because most famous writers split infinitives and misspell words from time to time.  This is an untenable position.  Far from being a cut-and-dry argument for redefining marriage, what we see in this tragedy is the indisputable fact that marriage is a clearly defined institution.   What is necessary here is a call for strengthening marriage.





Governor Sanford’s sin should serve as a wake up call to those of us in the pro-marriage camp.  While I agree that it is important to oppose the normalization of sodomy, I also believe it is important to recognize our need for strengthening marriage.  We cannot continue to make the marriage argument as though it is a debate between those of us who do it right and those who want to do it wrong.  We cannot lose sight of the serious, systemic problems eroding marriage in our culture.  In fact, many of these problems have come to light in this tragedy.


First, governor Sanford’s sin should remind us all of how important it is for men to guard their hearts while away from home.  Governor Sanford met the woman with whom he had this affair while on a business trip in Argentina (see USA Today).  During this trip, he reportedly counseled her about her relationship with her estranged husband.  As it turns out, this was the beginning of the end.  Those of us who have occasion to leave home for work need to take heed.  Watch yourself. 


Affairs do not begin in the bedroom.  They begin when we start to share intimate details with women other than our wives.  This doesn’t mean that it is never appropriate to have a conversation with a woman.  However, this type of conversation usually takes place in isolation.  In other words, it is highly unlikely that the governor and this other woman were sitting at a crowded table having a conversation about her troubled marriage and what she should do.  At some point these two shared a stolen moment.


Second, governor Sanford’s sin should be a warning to us about the danger of extra-marital intimacy of all kinds.  After the initial meeting Sanford began to communicate with this woman via email.  It was then that things went to another level.  Imagine that; a man initiates private, intimate communication with a woman who is not his wife via email and things escalate!  Men, we must be guarded in our communication with women.  Don’t think governor Sanford is unique.  Unfortunately, this story is anything but surprising.


Finally, Governor Sanford’s sin should be a warning to us about our continuing need for the gospel.  Many people are asking the a very familiar question in light of this tragedy:  “Why would someone with so much to lose do something so stupid and self-destructive?”  The answer is simple; sin is more powerful than self-preservation.  I don’t care what you are relying on to keep you from sinning; unless it is the gospel, it is insufficient.  Paul alludes to this fact in Galatians 6:


“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Galatians 6:1-3 ESV)


There is not one among us who is beyond the continual need for the gospel.  We are saved by the gospel and we are sustained by the gospel.  Jesus is “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2 ESV).  Christianity is not a course we take, it is a life we live.  Jesus is more than a spiritual helper who gets us going in order that we may do the rest ourselves.  On the contrary, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6 ESV) 


One of the most dangerous things we can do in a time like this is vilify Mark Sanford and look upon him as some hypocritical monster whose sin is somehow unique.  This is a story as old as time itself.  The wisest man in the Bible, the strongest man in the Bible, and the most godly man in the Bible all succumbed to sexual sin.  I don’t know about you, but I am not wiser than Solomon; I am not stronger than Samson; I am not more godly than David; and apart from the God of the gospel, I am not a better man than Mike Sanford.  Nevertheless, I still believe the biblical model of marriage as a monogamous, life-long covenant between one man and one woman.  It is believing that truth that allows me to say that what Mike Sanford did was sin.  And it is believing that truth (whether they admit it or not) that allows the opponents of ‘traditional’ marriage to attack governor Sanford.  If they honestly believed that marriage had no parameters, they could not go on the attack.  And if this was just about him “breaking his vows,” (i.e., he’s just a hypocrite because he broke his vows, not because we believe marriage has to follow traditional rules), then there would be no logical reason to address the homosexual marriage issue in light of this tragedy.  Of course, that would assume the existence of honesty, logic, reason and truth in American politics.