Marital Dirt Brings Scrutiny to C Street Digs

A Tawdry Trifecta

Court: Religious Refusals Invalid

What do South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, U.S. Sen. John Ensign and former U.S. Rep. Charles “Chip” Pickering all have in common?

For a start, they all have interesting ties to a red brick house at 113 C St. S.E. in Washington, D.C. Other commonalities are their oft-professed love of sacred scripture and so-called “family values.” The bee in the balm of marital fidelity is this: All have recently been implicated in extramarital affairs that cast doubt on their private commitment to the monogamy they praise in public.

Records list the property as a religious and commercial building affiliated with a Christian group known as the Fellowship Foundation or the Fellow­ship and by various other names including The Family. It’s owned by a group called Youth With a Mission, according to The Associated Press. The AP quoted a member of the group’s board of directors in 2003 saying its goal with members of Congress was “to hope that we can assist them in better understandings of the teachings of Christ, and applying it to their jobs.” The foundation sponsors the annual National Prayer Breakfast.

Journalist Jeff Sharlet’s book The Family: Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power came out in 2008. He lived for about a month at the C Street house. Sharlet’s reporting of the story has gotten traction after recent revelations about the politicians’ marital infidelity.

Sanford isn’t known to have lived in the house while he was in Congress but attended prayer and bible study groups and got “solace and counseling” there after he admitted to an adulterous affair with an Argentinian woman.

Ensign, who still lives there when he’s not home in Nevada, had an affair with a female staffer who was married to another Ensign aide. Ensign’s parents later wrote a check for $96,000 to the woman “out of concern for [her family’s] well being.”

Third in the tawdry trifecta were details in the “alienation of affections” lawsuit filed by Pickering’s estranged wife Leisha. She contends Pickering carried on a long-term affair with Elizabeth Creekmore Byrd, including while he lived at C Street. The Pickerings have five children and separated last year. He’s now a lobbyist for Cellular South, a telecom company owned by Creekmore Byrd’s family.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the C Street house is assessed at $1.84 million and has 12 bedrooms, nine bathrooms, five living rooms, four dining rooms, three offices, a kitchen and a chapel and formerly was used as a convent for nearby St. Peter’s Catholic Church.

“Resident members,” including U.S. congressmen, reportedly pay $600 a month in room and board, including cleaning and laundry service. It’s been called an “in-session” dormitory for those inclined to agree with The Family’s worldview.

The property is exempt from District of Columbia real property taxes because it’s classified as a “special purpose” use. The law exempts “buildings belonging to religious corporations or societies primarily and regularly used for religious worship, study, training, and missionary activities” and “buildings belonging to organizations which are charged with the administration, coordination, or unification of activities, locally or otherwise, of institutions or organizations entitled to exemption.” Sharlet has reported on The Family for years. (Read or listen to his 2008 FFRF Convention speech at: In a recent piece at, he writes:

“If sexual license was all The Family offered the C Street men, however, that would merely be seedy and self-serving. But Family men are more than hypocritical. They’re followers of a political religion that embraces elitism, disdains democracy, and pursues power for its members the better to ‘advance the Kingdom.’ They say they’re working for Jesus, but their Christ is a power-hungry, inside-the-

Beltway savior not many churchgoers would recognize.

“Sexual peccadilloes aside, The Family acts today like the most powerful lobby in America that isn’t registered as a lobby, and is thus immune from the scrutiny attending the other powerful organizations like Big Pharma and Big Insurance that exert pressure on public policy,” Sharlet says. – Bill Dunn

Freedom From Religion Foundation