Sanford Cites Secretive Christian Group's Role in Helping Confront Affair

The South Carolina governor says a little-known religious group helped him confront his affair.

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By Dan Gilgoff, God & Country

Mark Sanford's news conference today was unusual for lot of reasons, but here's a less obvious one: The South Carolina governor referred to "C Street," a Washington dormitory for lawmakers funded by a highly secretive Christian organization called the Fellowship. (The Fellowship is the group behind the National Prayer Breakfast, where President Obama rolled out his Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships earlier this year.)

It's rare for elected officials to publicly allude to C Street or to anything affiliated with the Fellowship. But here's the exchange between Sanford and a reporter:

QUESTION: Did your wife and your family know about the affair before the trip to Argentina?

SANFORD: Yes. We've been working through this thing for about the last five months. I've been to a lot of different—as part of what we called "C Street" when I was in Washington. It was, believe it or not, a Christian Bible study—some folks that asked members of Congress hard questions that I think were very, very important. And I've been working with them. I see Cubby Culbertson in the back of the room. I would consider him a spiritual giant. . . .

The Associated Press wrote about the Fellowship in 2003. Interesting to note that Sen. John Ensign, who admitted to an extramarital affair, is also closely affiliated with the group and is a resident of C Street:

Six members of Congress live in a $1.1 million Capitol Hill town house that is subsidized by a secretive religious organization, tax records show.

The lawmakers, all Christians, pay low rent to live in the stately red brick, three-story house on C Street, two blocks from the Capitol. It is maintained by a group alternately known as the "Fellowship" and the "Foundation" and brings together world leaders and elected officials through religion.

The Fellowship hosts receptions, luncheons and prayer meetings on the first two floors of the house, which is registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a church.

The six lawmakers—Reps. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn.; Bart Stupak, D-Mich.; Jim DeMint, R-S.C.; Mike Doyle, D-Pa.; and Sens. John Ensign, R-Nev. and Sam Brownback, R-Kan.—live in private rooms upstairs.

Rent is $600 a month, DeMint said.

"Our goal is singular—and that is to hope that we can assist them in better understandings of the teachings of Christ, and applying it to their jobs," said Richard Carver, a member of the Fellowship's board of directors who served as an assistant secretary of the Air Force during the Reagan administration.

The house, valued at $1.1 million, is owned by the C Street Center, a sister organization of the Fellowship. It received more than $145,000 in Fellowship grants between 1997 and 2000, according to IRS records—including $96,400 in 1998 for reducing debt.

Its tenants dine together once a week to discuss religion in their daily lives.

"We do have a Bible study," said DeMint, a Presbyterian who asked to move into the house less than a year ago when there was a vacancy. "Somebody'll share a verse or a thought, but mostly it's more of an accountability group to talk about things that are going on in our lives, and how we're dealing with them."

Few in the Fellowship are willing to talk about its mission.

It organizes the annual National Prayer Breakfast attended by the president, members of Congress, and dignitaries from around the world. The group leaves its name off the program, even though it spent $924,373 to host the event in 2001, bringing in $606,292 in proceeds, according to the most recent available IRS records, and pays travel expenses for foreign officials to attend.