27th Jun, 2009

Lessons Learned from Governor Sanford’s Mistakes

Our ability to destroy ourselves has no limit. And there actually is an enemy – yes, a very real devil – who desires to do nothing but steal from us, kill us, and destroy us. John 10:10. He will gladly partner up with us to see our lives and God-ordained purpose ruined.

This reality has recently been demonstrated by the poor decisions of Governor Mark Sanford, of South Carolina. Governor Sanford was first elected to be a Congressman when he was only 35 years old, became governor at the age of 42, was reelected at 46, served as the Chair of the Republican Governor’s Association, and was being touted as a potential presidential candidate in 2012.

His reputation and future all dissipated with his recent disappearance and then admission that he had gone AWOL to visit his mistress in Argentina. Some may think to themselves, “What 49-year old man, who has all the responsibilities of someone like Mark Sanford, disappears and goes to South America just to pursue an extramarital affair?” With those thoughts we miss the entire point. But for the grace of God there go any of us and we need to be prepared to prevent our own fall. We may not pursue an affair, but any of us can decide to agree with Satan or with God at any given moment and all too often we choose to believe lies rather than truth. None of us are exempt.

Governor Sanford was an Eagle Boy Scout, had an MBA from the University of Virginia, owned a leasing and brokerage company that he founded, was a captain in the USAF, was married for more than 20 years and had four sons, didn’t accept his allowance for housing in D.C. while a congressman (instead he slept in his office), and had, from the world’s point of view, nearly everything going for him. Yet, he left his wife and four sons, his responsibilities as governor and his political future during Father’s Day to spend time with an Argentinian woman who had become his mistress.

How did this happen? Sanford shared some of the story with his admission. “It began innocently.” How many times has this been said by people who just revealed how sin had destroyed their lives? Governor Sanford claims he met his future lover innocently, and, ironically, their friendship and relationship reportedly began after he counseled her to stay with her husband and not divorce him. The Governor went on to say that emails followed that conversation, leading to their ultimate affair.

How should we respond to Sanford’s demise? King Solomon gave us great advice long ago: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23. The prophet Jeremiah revealed much about the human heart when he wrote “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9. And it does not take much for the Enemy to entice us to follow a course of deceit down a broad path to destruction. Therefore, we must guard our hearts through prayer and thankfulness. Philippians 4:6-8. And, specifically with those of us who are married, we shouldn’t find ourselves in a position of being an emotional stability to someone of the opposite sex. It may start innocently, but the Enemy sure doesn’t want it to stop there.

Finally, we shouldn’t be quick to judge Governor Sanford. He is no different than Adam, Abraham, Jonah, David, Peter, you or me. He simply failed to guard his heart by desperately depending on God in prayer and relationship, choosing instead to find intimacy in the arms of a lover. His choices are ones that many of us have made, whether with lovers, habits, entertainment, distractions, work, money, or other things. We should pray for his marriage and his relationship with God. May we remember that the pathway to destruction is broad indeed, and we are called to a narrow path, lit and prepared for us by the Word and Son of God.


The old admonition rings truer than ever … that every situation like this really starts with a decision .. a decision which gives us permission to do something we shouldn’t. In this case, Gov. Sanford, at some time, gave himself permission to go beyond advice to a friend, to romance with a paramour.

If we don’t stop the decision .. which really requires a renewed mind .. we’ll never stop the sin. That represents, to me, the real fault with the church’s normal teaching on repentance; namely a “turning away”. That mandates the renewed mind, to me.

We can’t judge him, like you say, but we can sure learn from him.

Bob Cleveland’s last blog post..The Most Liberating Thought I Know

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