TEXAS FAITH: Mark Sanford and the politics of forgiveness

William Lawrence, theology professor and dean of SMU's Perkins School of Theology, talks about the politics of forgiveness, specifically as it applies to recently elected Mark Sanford.

By Bill McKenzie

The last time we dealt with a topic like the one below was a few years ago, when Tiger Woods fell from grace. But since Woods is not an elected leader, I would like to update this discussion and hear your thoughts about how forgiveness applies to public life. So, here’s the subject:
Mark Sanford won election to Congress from South Carolina last week after a major fall from grace. As you likely know, only a few years ago Sanford was the governor of his state. But the Republican was caught in a big lie, saying he was hiking the Appalachian Trail when he actually was in Argentina with his mistress.
His political career quickly fell apart, and so did his marriage. Sanford went from a leader with national expectations to a public figure thrown way out of the headlines.
But he’s back. Sanford defeated Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch by a convincing margin. He now will return to Congress, where he once served before becoming governor.
For some, there was a big ick factor to his victory. But Sanford is not the only politician who’s ever sought a second-chance. Richard Nixon came out of the political grave several times. Similarly, Bill Clinton rose and fell and rose more than once. And, after an embarrassing presidential bid in 2012, Texas’ own Rick Perry could try once more for the White House in 2016.
From a theological perspective, what are we to make of politicians seeking second chances? Forgiveness is a concept espoused in many religions. In Christianity, it is arguably the central concept.
But how does forgiveness apply in our public life? Or, at what point, does it not apply?