For the record, I wanted President Bill Clinton to resign once the famous stained blue dress revealed the whole, true story. I could no longer trust him. He was a bald-faced liar about a tryst he had entertained there in the oval office. I thought he should go.
About South Carolina's Governor Mark Sanford, I'm not as sure. His indiscretions are colored in a wholly different hue. While, today, the violation of his oath to his wife and his marriage are as broken as Clinton's were, Sanford--give him his due--wasn't toying with an intern. His liaison with the Argentinean may turn out to have been nothing more than a fling, but his leaked e-mails suggest that what was going on between them wasn't simply an extended bout of heavy breathing. What Kitty Sanford, his wife, faces seems to me at least to be a whole lot darker than what Hillary Clinton did: Sanford appears to love his paramour.
Clinton was a Southern Baptist, a Bible-toter, someone who showed up at church far more frequently, say, than Ronald Reagan. But this Sanford is as different from the sinner Clinton as he is the saint. He and Nevada Senator John Ensign, also disgraced by his sexual indiscretions in the last month, are both members of a small and somewhat secretive Bible study they call "C Street, " a ministry of an organization called The Family. I don't doubt for a moment that I share with The Family a specific theological orientation; I'm quite sure they're people I'd like and respect.
Yesterday, Governor Sanford indicated he wasn't stepping down, and then he said this: "I have been doing a lot of soul searching on that front. What I find interesting is the story of David, and the way in which he fell mightily, he fell in very very significant ways. But then picked up the pieces and built from there."
And later, this:
I remain committed to rebuilding the trust that has been committed to me over the next 18 months, and it is my hope that I am able to follow the example set by David in the Bible - who after his fall from grace humbly refocused on the work at hand. By doing so, I will ultimately better serve in every area of my life, and I am committed to doing so.
Now I'm all for sola scriptura, but nothing convinces me more deeply that Gov. Mark Sanford needs a leave of absence to work, full-time, on himself, his marriage, and his own mind and soul than those remarks, that analogy, not because, historically speaking at least, he's wrong. He isn't: King David didn't walk away from the job, even though he engineered the death of Bathsheba's loyal husband, and thus was not only an adulterer but also a murderer.
But what I can't understand is how on earth a smart man like Governor Mark Sanford, a committed Christian and an inveterate Bible study-er, actually presumes that King David's not giving up the throne is the template for his own decision-making a couple thousand years later. He's just plain crazy. Governor Mark Sanford is not King David of Goliath fame, despite their mutual indiscretions, because South Carolina in the first decade of the 21st century is not Israel in 500 B. C.--or whatever the calendar said the night the King spotted Bathsheba in the tub. Start here--Mark Sanford is not a king.
A couple of years ago, I finished a long psalm study, having writing 365 meditations. It was a wonderful exercise and experience, manna--no, fillet Mignon--for the soul. The greatest lesson I learned throughout all that close reading is that scripture's greatest poetry contains just about every last human emotion and thus--I swear--offers us the immense blessing of knowing that no matter what we think or feel or do, no matter how low we fall or how furious we get at the Lord God almighty, we are simply not alone. The very humanness of the psalms makes them divine.
All of that being said, Gov. Mark Sanford is not King David. He may suffer as David did. His deep anguish may lead to a confession that painfully wrings the pride from his passionate heart. He may share all kinds of emotions with King David--even David's ecstatic joy in forgiveness.
But to not give up his governorship because King David didn't walk away from his throne is not only dumb, it's an abuse of scripture and just plain awful theology.
If Christians weren't so bloody human, we'd offer a whole lot more convincing testimony. But we are--human, that is.
And that's a fact all of us need to remember.
Painting above is David and Bathsheba, by Jan MASSYS, 1562. It's oil on wood and hangs in the Musée du Louvre, Paris.