By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country
Some of the punditry about embattled South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's faithiness are taking me back to the days when those of us in the news business weren't expected to know too much about religion.
Take this description from the lead of Gene Lyons's column today about why Republican extramarital affairs deserve more scorn than Democratic ones:
... like most Southern Republicans, Sanford talked like a biblical fundamentalist: piously condemning others' sexual sins and boasting about his own righteousness.
This is patently false. Sanford never talked like a biblical fundamentalist. What's remarkable about all his Bible-quoting in the days since news of his affair broke is that it marks a clear departure from his earlier public persona. "I didn't perceive of him as someone who was constantly quoting the Bible or calling on his religion," says Bruce Chapman, a political science professor at South Carolina's Clemson University. "I didn't see him as someone who wore the religion on his sleeve."
To the extent that Sanford did invoke the Bible in his pre-"I was hiking the Appalachian Trail" days, he mostly repeated a quote from Micah: "What does the Lord require of thee? Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God." That doesn't sound like self-righteous boasting to me.
"It's a good verse for him, because it's not John 3:16 or something more aggressive," says Oran Smith, president of the Palmetto Family Council, a conservative Christian group associated with Focus on the Family. "His approach to Christianity has always been relatively—not weak, but understated."
Indeed, the Palmetto Family Council grew so frustrated with Sanford's refusal to take public stands on its issues that it requested a sit-down meeting with him in 2005 to call him on it. "He said he agreed with us 100 percent but that he didn't feel like he had the background to articulate those issues," Smith says. "He didn't feel like he was as much an expert on those issues."
That's not to say that Sanford wasn't a helpful ally of religious conservatives. He signed laws making a violent crime against a pregnant woman two separate crimes, requiring abortion providers to provide pregnant women with an ultrasound image before terminating their pregnancy, protecting prayer at pubic meetings, and authorizing the Bible to be taught as literature in public schools.
And as a congressman in the 1990s, Sanford also criticized Bill Clinton for the Lewinsky affair. But what Republican lawmaker didn't? Are there any other examples of Sanford "piously condemning others' sexual sins"? If so, please send them my way.
There are valid arguments about the hypocrisy of a family values Republican like Sanford cheating on his wife—and of family values groups in keeping quiet about such behavior. I've written about them myself.
But it's possible to take that case too far, sacrificing facts along the way. So let's set the record straight: Sanford never talked like a biblical fundamentalist. He wasn't in the habit of condemning others' sexual sins. And he certainly didn't boast about his own righteousness.