Now we have another example of a “family values” politician who is now found to have been involved in an adulterous affair! Indiana Rep. Mark Souder (who incidentally was brought up in a “sister denomination” to the one I was brought up in) has recently admitted to having an affair with one of his staffers and joined the ranks of social conservatives who fought for “traditional marriage” while destroying their own. He’s resigning, ending a career which involved efforts against drugs, gambling, and supporting “traditional family values”.
Obviously this is a sad and hurtful story, especially for his family. As I speak of this, I want to make it clear that my focus is not on Mark Souder as a sinner, for that is certainly not new. Politics (and every other human endeavor) is full of sinners. The human heart is desperately wicked and unfaithfulness of every type runs through the veins of unrestrained sons of Adam. But Mark Souder is also a public man in the matters of moral issues. He’s taken some decisive political stands and made decisions on behalf of others–he certainly isn’t just a private person who has sinned. So, we must reject the way one of his staffers in another article dismissed this by saying Souder is “only human” and “people fall all the time”. People do fall all the time, but we still expect some degree of consistency from people who set themselves into positions to legislate their moral views.
To some, Souder words were always suspect, because he was saying them in the context of what for the most part constitutes somewhat of a thuggish turf war (sorry, not exactly a flattering description of the current political scene, but it probably isn’t far from accurate). Somehow the message that “I am committed to preserving traditional marriage” Sauder still has on his website doesn’t ring so true anymore. Was that a deeply felt commitment to the institution of marriage or was that the political posturing in an attempt to wage a political turf war? (sort of like a “graffiti tag” or a “gang tatoo”). Maybe its just one of those things you have to say to keep the party spirit going? Whether you actually subscribe to it down deep may not even matter?
It feels horribly mean to ask those questions, but I don’t think we should avoid them–since they are the question that comes down to the root of why so many people are instinctively suspicious of social conservatism. If social conservatives are going to be taken seriously, there needs to be some thought (and maybe action on this). Why is it that so many of its leaders are falling? Mark Souder’s actions are a shame, and it is consequently no surprise that the masses will not listen to the “family values” and “traditional marriage” jingle. Especially when so many of its advocates–one by one–are doing their part to tear marriages and families apart.
The incredulity of this is capture well by Gene Edward Veith in a blog post, where he asks the piercing question “Is it any wonder that Christians are losing their credibility?” and also astutely observes: “That these two, both of whom are married, started their cheating while exercising their religiosity at a Christian radio station and while making videos on Christian sexual morality is just too much”.
Of course no movement will be perfect, but as–one by one–respected leaders fall, one must start thinking about what is wrong.
In Vanity Fair an article tells of how the author’s father (who was involved in the CDC and STD-work) was confronted by Souder over the issue of teens and abstinence and sex outside of marriage. For what it’s worth (probably not much), the article has an interesting conclusion. It ends with a pithy, but rather weighty, “If Souder was my dad, I’d be very confused.”
It wasn’t too long ago that Souder called upon Larry Craig to resign for his lewd activities. Now Souder gets to step down. But the damage is done. This merely reinforces my instinctive suspicion of highly politicized social conservatism (although I am a conservative Christian in my worldview). The strongest support for “family values” will be strong marriages and families that have parents who love each other and are faithful to each other. This can be done even in a state where the idea of marriage has gone out the window. A practical individual-level commitment to marriage does what going around and chanting “I support traditional marriage” could never do. But it’s hard work (and, it doesn’t get you elected! you need slogans for that) In the current climate, the “family values” movement has minimal credibility. How many more of these incidents will it take? Its hard to imagine that much of the posturing is more than an insignia in a political turf war. But even if the movement did have a high level of credibility, there is probably not much evidence that it’s actually doing anything to preserve marriages and families in practice.
Anyways, I don’t want to be some sort of controversy-blogger who gets all riled up by the latest scandal, but I just felt this merited some comment.