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Mark Sanford's Dilemma and the Quest for the Good: I

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I'd like to share my thoughts about Mark Sanford, the "fallen" governor of South Carolina, and where he is in his life.

It is with my focus on the question, "Where from here lies the good for Mark Sanford?" that I address this Sanford situation. For many progressives, this has been an opportunity to dump on Sanford, who has been a soldier in the other political army. That's understandable. But it is not as an enemy that I'm regarding Sanford here, but as a human being who's life has reached a crisis and whose wholeness and well-being I feel moved to care about.

Sanford, I feel, has "earned" my caring through what he has seemed to reveal --in his reports about his extra-marital relationship-- about the nature of this crisis in his life. His "affair" with the Argentine woman –his "mistress," as the press puts it-does not seem to be one of those casual or exploitative pursuits of lustful pleasures that characterize the usual political sex scandals. The relationship seems to have touched something deep and soulful in the man, to have awakened something in his very core.

Although this discovery has apparently confused Sanford and, now, is potentially bringing much of his "beautiful" former life –power, status, a perfect-looking family-down around him, it has also apparently inspired him and transformed him in a way that seems to me to bespeak that what he has contacted is infused with the sacred.

What will Sanford do with what he's discovered, and with the possibilities for his life? What should he do? These are some of the directions I would go if I were speaking to him as a friend.


It seems clear that, with the woman from Argentina, Sanford found something that he does not have in his marriage, something that probably he never had in his marriage. And that "something" he found is no small thing. It is indeed, as I read and listen to Sanford's words, a sacred thing.

That does not mean that, if I were to speak to Mark Sanford as a friend, I would be prepared to say pursuing that relationship is the best way for him to seek the Good. Marriage also is no small thing. And in this case, Sanford has four sons in that marriage, and their well-being should weigh significantly in his decisions.

But I would tell Sanford that he will only be able to decide wisely if he understands in a full way what it is that he's discovered. For not only is it (if my sense of his story is correct) something sacred that can happen between a man and a woman. But beyond that, it is potentially a key for understanding what's been wrong in his life before.

And beyond that, in the issue that Sanford is now wrestling with, he could also discover what's been wrong with the political and cultural forces he's spent his life embedded in and working to advance.

In view of that last statement, it should not be surprising that I would worry on behalf of my friend that the advice he's getting from that cultural world will be of limited help, at best, and quite possibly of harm to him. If he listens only to the advice he's getting from his conservative Christian friends, I doubt that he'll learn or grow from this experience into more of the full and whole human being that I believe the human good is about.


Here are a couple of passages from one of the leaked emails Sanford sent his lover. They help reveal what it is that has drawn Sanford so powerfully toward her:

[Y]ou have my heart. You have oh so many attributes that pulls it in this direction. Do you really comprehend how beautiful your smile is? Have you been told lately how warm your eyes are and how they softly glow with the special nature of your soul.... I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificently gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curves of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of night's light...

And from another:

My heart cries out for you, your voice, your body, the touch of your lips, the touch of your finger tips and an even deeper connection to your soul.

An engagement of heart, body, and soul-together, as part of one human connection. It does not get much more whole than that. It is this, I believe, that has allowed some in the Western religious tradition to understand that in the union of a man and a woman there can be a profound gateway into the sacred.

But Sanford's caring and decent religious advisors-do they recognize this? Are they able to include this dimension in their understanding of what the Good requires in this situation?

Coming in the next installments:

1) What do Sanford's conservative Christian advisors think is important here?

2) What is the core human and spiritual issue that connects this Sanford drama to the central problem with the Christian right?

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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