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Lessons from a broken man

Campaign 2010 | Indiana congressman Mark Souder's admission of adultery shows how a marriage can fall apart, while other lawmakers struggle to keep theirs together

Issue: "How Mark Souder fell," June 19, 2010

Last month a broken man announced his resignation from Congress after confessing to adultery. At an Indiana press conference Mark Souder, 59, said he had "sinned against God, my wife, and my family." He committed to "repairing my marriage, earning back the trust of my family and my community, and renewing my walk with my Lord."

Since then, in more than a dozen emails to WORLD, he has offered an extraordinary look into the thinking and feeling of a principled legislator who violated his principles. "Politicians and any top professionals are skilled manipulators and smooth with words," he acknowledged: "Holding us accountable is hard." His emails reveal the agony of failure: "My sin, while forgiven, is greater in that God put me in a position of public trust, so I deserve whatever criticism I receive."

Souder and his inamorata, a part-time staffer, are both Christians who felt guilty and repeatedly talked about ending the affair as it dragged on over several years. Souder wrote in an email, "I prayed multiple times a day, sang hymns with emotion and tears, felt each time that it wouldn't happen again, read the Bible every morning. . . . So how in the world did I have a 'torrid' (which is an accurate word) many-year affair? How could I compartmentalize it so much?"

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Trying to figure it out, Souder wrote, "One of the biggest dangers-which is partly why intimacy is desired-is loneliness. Loneliness doesn't mean being alone as much as it means being around hundreds of people but not really knowing them. It's a job that results in hundreds, even thousands of friends, but not much closeness." But he knows that explanation is insufficient: "Bottom line, however, is that the problem is sin. . . . The problem is getting the will subordinated to the Holy Spirit early enough that the Spirit is not squelched."

The road to this low point in Souder's life began with his election to Congress in November, 1994, as the short-lived "Republican revolution" began. Souder had just delivered a victory speech to a packed house in Fort Wayne, Ind., when someone tapped his shoulder and told him that former vice president Dan Quayle, a longtime friend and political colleague, was on the phone.

Quayle was calling to give the newly elected congressman a key piece of advice: Take your family with you to Washington. Souder didn't do it. He had promised his three children-ages 17, 15, and 6-that they could finish school in Indiana. He believed that his family would be more "anchored" there. They would be near extended family.

In the end, Souder's wife-they have been married for 35 years-and three children stayed in Indiana throughout his 15 years in office. In 2002 Souder met Tracy Jackson and her husband, Brad, at an event in his Indiana district. In 2004 she joined the staff in his Washington office part-time and worked with Souder closely on a number of issues, becoming what he called a "valued adviser." They recorded a video, now widely mocked, where they talk about the value of abstinence education.

More recently, Jackson worked in Indiana and came to Washington, according to Souder, only 15 days a year. "To carry on a multi-year sexual affair in the district and not get caught shows that where there is a will, there will be a way," Souder wrote. "I believe that it isn't just whether someone is attractive, or available, or flattering members. It is a question of how we-Members of Congress and others-can recognize that with some people we have a deeper, intense attraction. Alarm bells need to go off."

Souder doesn't believe that moving his family to Washington would have kept him from falling into sin. He argues that if his family had been in Washington, the affair back in the district would have been "easier and more constant." Over his 15 years in Congress, he said he only spent eight weekends in Washington. He notes that his children grew up with a stable community and his wife, Diane, was able to be near her parents, both of whom died while he was in office.

Others, like Dan Quayle and his wife Marilyn, argue for moving families to Washington. Some families that move to Washington, though, later switch back. When Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., took office in 1999 (filling the seat of Rep. Jon Christensen, who divorced his wife in his first term after she admitted to an affair), his wife and three young children moved to Washington so they could be together. But he found that during the week he often had late-night votes and work, and needed to travel back to Nebraska on weekends to meet with constituents. After Terry's first term his family moved back to Omaha.

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