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Bible Versus

State Republicans struggle to practice what they preach

Surprise, surprise: A conservative state Republican, one who strives to defend marriage from gays, has been undermining marriage on his own.


Don Sherwood, a Republican Congressman from the eastern part of the state, recently admitted a five-year-long affair to his constituents. "Although it was intermittent and ended last year, nothing I say can diminish the pain and hurt I have caused my wife and family," he said in a statement. Sherwood pled with voters to "forgive my poor judgment on this personal matter."


So, one's sexual behavior is a "personal matter" now, is it? That's not the tune Sherwood was singing a year ago, when he voted for  the "Marriage Protection Amendment." This amendment, as you might guess, was not intended to protect marriage from adulterers like Don Sherwood: It was to protect marriage from gays and lesbians seeking equal rights.


In 1999, when Sherwood's affair apparently began, he also voted in favor of a measure expressly permitting schools and public buildings to display the 10 Commandments. Alas, the measure did not require posting a copy in Sherwood's bedroom, where the injunction against committing adultery might have done some good.


I know, I know: Republican hypocrisy about the "sanctity of marriage" is so 1995. Remember Henry Hyde, the Clinton scourge who turned out to have been unfaithful himself? Remember Newt Gingrich, who divorced his wife when she was hospitalized with cancer?


It's tempting to think that, in their rush to find the Bible verses damning gays to the lake of fire, Republicans missed the part where Jesus said, "Judge not, lest ye be judged." But something has happened to the conservative conception of Christianity: "Getting saved" has become the equivalent of getting out of jail free.


As Dr. Robert Bowman said in a July 22 speech at Carnegie Mellon University, in the fundamentalist conception of Christianity, "All that matters is a personal belief in Jesus." Since Jesus is all-forgiving, even if they are sinners themselves -- as they must be -- "The saved feel free to tell others how to live." Indeed, I know of pro-life fundamentalists who've had abortions; they're anti-choice now not despite their prior choices but because of them. Opposing abortion now, they'll tell you, is part of being saved. It's not enough that they pay for their sins: Now you and I have to as well.


Bowman, who started his own church and in 2000 ran for president as a third-party candidate, may be onto something. Then again, he may be a bit of a nut: His speech also darkly alluded to the power of the Trilateral Commission, and suggested the Bush administration abetted the 9/11 attacks.


But it seems that potentially unbalanced political candidates -- and potentially unbalanced alt-weekly columnists -- are among the few who pay attention to such things.


For example, just days before Sherwood's public confession, the Philadelphia Inquirer disclosed that a staffer in Senator Rick Santorum's office is gay. Friends in Republican circles tell me this didn't come as news to Santorum or anyone else: Santorum opposes gay marriage, but apparently he loves the sinner even while hating the sin.


The irony is that while Santorum faults liberals for being tolerant, that very tolerance may mute the impact of the story. While there are national bestsellers alleging that Hillary Clinton has surrounded herself with a lesbian cabal, Santorum's gay staffer has resulted in almost no media attention outside Philaldelphia. Other than an offhand reference in a column by the Post-Gazette's Tony Norman, and of course this column, I've yet to see a mention of the story locally. Maybe God really is a Republican.


Of course, Jesus also said that if you live by the sword, you die by it. Perhaps next year, Republican voters will prove as intolerant as the GOP has encouraged them to be. They may punish Sherwood for undermining the sanctity of marriage, and assume that if Rick Santorum hires a gay staffer, man-on-dog action in his offices must be coming next.


For those anxious to get Republicans out of office, such intolerance may be our best hope. And our worst fear.

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