"The Family" and Christian Right Damage Control
Okay, just one more unavoidable reference to Mark Sanford unless he makes some real news by resigning as governor or getting impeached. In his poignant press conference on Wednesday, he made a cryptic reference to "working through" his infidelity issues on "C Street" in Washington.
This was quickly deciphered by Dan Gilgoff of US News and others as a reference to the Capitol Hill townhouse owned by a shadowy fundamentalist group variously called "The Family" and "The Fellowship," which sponsors the National Prayer Breakfast and a variety of other religious events and services aimed at elite political and business leaders. Turns out that the other would-be-presidential-candidate-with-an-adultery-scandal, Sen. John Ensign, lives at "C Street" when he's in DC, whose proprietors knew about and tried to help him manage his problem, as Manuel Roig-Franzia explains in today's Washington Post:
The house pulsed with backstage intrigue, in the days and months before the Sanford and Ensign scandals -- dubbed "two lightning strikes" by a high-ranking congressional source. First, at least one resident learned of both the Sanford and Ensign affairs and tried to talk each politician into ending his philandering, a source close to the congressman said. Then the house drama escalated. It was then that Doug Hampton, the husband of Ensign's mistress, endured an emotional meeting with Sen. Tom Coburn, who lives there, according to the source. The topic was forgiveness.
"He was trying to be a peacemaker," the source said of Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma.
"Peacemaker" is one term for it; "damage controller" is another.
These incidents cast some unwelcome light on "The Family," a secretive group (sort of an evangelical version of the conservative Catholic elite group Opus Dei, though much less focused on conversions) whose vast array of activities were exposed last year in a sensational book by Jeff Sharlet. By sheer coincidence, I've just started reading Sharlet's book, and it's pretty disturbing to me on both religious and political grounds.
That intrepid chronicler of the Christian Right, Sarah Posner of The American Prospect, summarized Sharlet's take on "The Family" last year in an article that also offered an interview with the author:
The Family exposes the inner workings of an elite and secretive association of politicos (The Family boasts a bipartisan but mostly Republican roster of members, including Sens. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, and Mark Pryer, an Arkansas Democrat) and business executives (such as the CEOs of Continental Oil and the defense contractor Raytheon) who have exploited their uber-masculine, uber-capitalist version of Christianity to serve political and profit-making goals, from union-busting here at home to imperialist adventures abroad.
But I'm not sure even Sharlet knew that The Family's services included counseling and public-relations-damage-control for governors and senators caught up in adulterous affairs. I guess when you are trying to impose what you think to be the Will of God from the top down, you spare no expense or trouble in managing your investments.