The XX Factor

Does this Christian Safe House for Congressmen Harbor Adulterers?

Jessica, it’s funny you should mention the Appalachian Trail . New York governor David Paterson’s defense of his aide reminds me of another all-male club that wants to keep its secrets in house-a club that sheltered Mark Sanford and urged his wife to be easy on him. I’m talking about a brick townhouse on Capitol Hill called the C Street House, where a group of evangelical congressmen, including Sanford, have bunked. The house is associated with the Fellowship, a secretive Christian organization that Jeff Sharlet has written an excellent book about. The house also claims tax-exempt status as a church, which a group of ministers have decided to complain about in a letter to the IRS .

In that complaint, the ministers raise many reasonable objections-among them, how can a place that does not list its phone number or official address be a church? But they also get into the more uncomfortable atmosphere of the clubhouse scene. The men who live there support one another in Christian fellowship. This habit stems from the Promise Keepers, the movement of the ‘90s that encouraged Christian men to form friendship groups where they could be open and honest about their feelings.

But to the wives, the honesty sometimes looks like collusion. Missouri Republican Chip Pickering lived there while he was carrying on his affair, his wife Leisha claimed in a lawsuit against his mistress. Ditto for Nevada Sen. John Ensign. Mark Sanford thanked the group in his lovesick press conference. And then Jenny reports the details in her book: Someone from the house told her that staying angry with Mark “was not an option,” and that she should “open my heart and be kind”-and especially not withhold sex from him. She should behave in all ways, the friend from the house advised, like “the Bride of Christ.”

Of course, this is not the same as covering for a friend who has committed domestic violence. And Jenny herself does not seem offended. But I will be offended for her. In fact the church’s emphasis on insta-reconciliation, above all else, has sometimes encouraged a too-quick forgiveness of domestic violence . But even short of that, how about some honesty in the wife’s direction? No one shared with Jenny, for example, that the woman from Argentina was not his only mistress.