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Rep. Mark Souder, a Republican Congressman from Indiana who is a religious conservative, has resigned his seat after admitting to having had an adulterous affair with a staffer. How religiously conservative is Mark Souder? This 2004 column by David Brooks gives you a clue — but also a clue that he’s not a by-the-books religious right guy. Excerpt:
One of the most thoughtful politicians in Washington doesn’t believe in the theory of evolution. I thought I’d introduce him to you because over the next week we’re going to hear a lot of stereotypes about Republicans and especially social conservatives. It might be useful to interrupt those prejudices with the more complicated reality.
Representative Mark Souder grew up in a small town near Fort Wayne, Ind. His father owned a general store and then a furniture store and was the beneficiary of what Souder calls small-town socialism. People would pay more to buy from local merchants to keep out the big chains.
Souder was a member of the Apostolic Christian Church, a fundamentalist church with a strong pacifist tradition. One of Souder’s jobs as a boy was to cross out the word ”devil’s” on the Devil’s Food Cakes, because his uncle said that nothing that good should have the word ”devil” on its package. In accordance with his church’s teaching, Souder has never smoked or danced. But the church does allow beer drinking (they’re Germans), and he did own a 1966 Mustang as a young man.
Souder welcomed the rise of the religious right, but regarded Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell the way many conservatives did: ”I was supportive but I believed they oversimplified problems.”
Then in 1994, he ran for Congress himself, and in that great Republican year, won. He immediately behaved in ways that defy the stereotypes. He’s worked with members of the Black Caucus to steer federal scholarship money to urban kids. He voted against three articles of Bill Clinton’s impeachment — he thought Clinton’s behavior was immoral but not impeachable. He was one of the House Republican leaders of an unsuccessful coup against Newt Gingrich.
And so, we find that a big Christian conservative has betrayed his family and his God by committing adultery, a thing both sad and appalling. So why am I writing in praise of Mark Souder? Because of the admirable and (therefore) unusual way he’s dealing with it. He’s not holding on to his seat at all costs. He’s not issuing a pro forma apology of the sort we’re used to hearing from politicians. He’s resigning his seat because he doesn’t want to put his family through hell in the public spotlight, and because he doesn’t want to hurt his party. From his resignation statement:
To serve has been a blessing and a responsibility given from God. I wish I could have been a better example. I sinned against God, my wife, and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff. In the poisonous environment of Washington D.C., any personal failing is seized upon, often twisted, for political gain. I am resigning rather than to put my family through that painful, drawn-out process.
Diane and my family were more than willing to stand here with me. We are a committed family. But the error is mine and I should bear the responsibility.
Not only am I thankful for a loving family but for a loving God. My comfort is that God is a gracious and forgiving God to those who sincerely seek his forgiveness as I do.
But I am so ashamed to have hurt those I love. …The ideas we advocate are still just and right. America will survive and thrive when anchored in those values. Human beings, like me, will fail, but our cause is greater than individuals.
… As I leave public office, my plans are focused upon repairing my marriage, earning back the trust of my family and my community, and renewing my walk with my Lord.
I find that completely respectable. He took the fault upon himself, and he resigned his job not only because he knew that he could no longer serve effectively, having been morally compromised, but also to spend his time rebuilding his relationship with his family and repenting (“renewing my walk with the Lord”). It is not to minimize the seriousness of Mark Souder’s sin to recognize that he has handled its exposure with moral courage of the sort that’s far too rare in American public life. Having by his own admission been a poor example of a public servant because of his adultery, he has now been a good example of a human being by putting the needs of his soul, his family, and his party over his own. He deserves our prayers, and even, in a way, our admiration.