Mark Sanford, upon winning the South Carolina congressional election,, said “I am one imperfect man, saved by God’s grace.”
Apparently God’s grace is pretty undemanding: Mr Sanford is engaged to his “soul mate”, the woman he left his wife of twenty years , the mother of his children, for. The idea that one can repent of one’s sin without leaving the sin is a curious one, and one in keeping with the shoddy grace that Americans embrace. American evangelicals, with some notable exceptions, have long been practical antinomians. I remember writing about a megachurch pastor some years back who bragged about all the Catholics who flocked to his “non-judgemental” congregation. Many of them lived together outside of wedlock; “We must embrace people where they are”, he said.
Well maybe. But to leave them where they are? That is different. It is as if Christ said to the woman caught in adultery “Go, therefore, and sin some more.” To say that Mr Sanford can be truly repentant while staying with his adulterous partner is like saying that a bank robber can repent of his sins while keeping the loot.
Not that Catholics should be smug. Newt and Callista Gingrich are only the most high profile adulterous couple to have their union blessed by the Church. The Catholic Church may speak of the indissolubility of marriage, but in practice makes a joke of it.
In related news, Ariel Castro, one of three brothers in Cleveland who are accused of keeping three women against their will in their home for ten years, apparently subscribes to the doctrine of American Grace as well: his last Facebook post before his arrest said “Miracles do happen. God is good.”
The god who blesses one’s will and desires is no true God, but a projection of the self.
This same self-god appears in American civil religion, when “God” blesses the USA, not with a call to righteousness, but with a declaration of righteousness, whatever we do. American exceptionalism too often includes an exception to moral law: if we do it, it is good because we are good.
Mr Sanford and Mr Castro, in claiming “God’s” blessing on their acts, are being exemplary Americans.