In the middle of the political and pseudo-celebrity flapdoodle over Mark Sanford, governor of South Carolina and occasional voice for family values conservatism, there’s a question I keep asking in the back of my mind.

How would I handle this if he were a member of a church where I served?

All too often, when a high profile married man in church life is caught out publicly in infidelity, he can’t get away from the church fast enough — and candidly, most of my experience pastorally is where the woman attended but the man did not, and wasn’t even an inactive member.

But in this case, while I’m hearing — to my great frustration — the usual rationalizations and justifications interwoven with the acceptance of responsibility and request for forgiveness, there is clearly a glimmer of a sense that this man knows he has done wrong, knows he should not have gone down that road, knows he should have stopped himself long ago . . . and yet he went back down to Argentina, which he seems to have figured out was a bad idea to start with, but didn’t quite regret so much as was sorry he’d gotten caught.

But let’s say he went down “to break it off” (yes, I know, that means he thought there was still a chance, since whether across town or around the globe, going to visit the person “to break it off” is never a good sign), and now he is . . . well, let’s say he’s trying to change his ways, and realizes, or is starting to realize, that this was sin and he is in it up to his ankles, head first.

How, pastorally, do you talk to and work with this man? And how do you speak to the wronged spouse — and don’t give me the “it takes two to tango,” since a) that’s not in the Bible, and b) no, it often doesn’t take two, just one — so when the offender asks you to speak to the offendee, how do you respond?

The Sanfords have CNN and a house on Sullivans Island and a million Twitter comments, but in many ways the story, with the attractive other woman, the father-in-law sitting on the porch, and children caught in the middle . . . it’s a story that plays out in and next door to our congregations, I dare say almost every month, if not every day.

What would your pastoral counsel be? Not just for clergy, but for church leaders in general? Do we just stick with the hollow joke of “who gets custody of the church?’ which we know often ends up being “neither.”

And we just can’t leave Jon and Kate + 8 out of the picture, where I keep thinking of the counseling I’d hope they each could get (and i’ve never seen any of the shows except last Mondays, so I’m new to this one). The Sanfords and the Gosselins have presented themselves as struggling, conflicted, believing, committed Christians. As Christians, how would we as church reach out to them?

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