Cover Story

Lessons from a broken man

"Lessons from a broken man" Continued...

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

Souder wrote that his conscience stung every time he saw Sam McCullough, leader of a Bible study on the Hill, in the hallways of the Capitol. "The most baffling part was that I loved Diane," Souder says-but he didn't tell her about the initial "spark" and what happened thereafter. But last fall Souder and Jackson were in a parked car in a nature reserve near Fort Wayne when a Department of Natural Resources officer tapped on the window and asked them to move along. That scared Souder, and he realized he needed to come clean.

First he confessed the affair to some of his colleagues-but since Jackson was a member of Souder's staff, House rules required them to report the activity as an ethics violation. Not until last month did Souder tell his wife about the affair. The colleagues-first pattern was not unusual. In his emails to WORLD about the affair, Souder often related conversations with colleagues but rarely mentioned anything about his family members. Those family relationships, for many lawmakers, are what are neglected when they're in office and away from home.

Other politicians, like Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., have admitted to affairs and stayed in office, but Souder didn't want to slog through that and a reelection race. He hopes to save his 35-year marriage, and he hopes that "others can learn from our pain, and the agony we caused Brad [Jackson] and my wonderful wife Diane. There is no question that the toughest thing to guard is the human heart."
Email Emily Belz

'It's only getting harder'

Time in Congress saps many marriages, almost like a military deployment. Many congressional families, in choosing whether to move together to Washington, weigh their finances, personal concerns such as where their children are in school or whether they have to care for a grandmother, and how a move would come off to constituents.

The choice can lead to personal and political success-or a train wreck. One trend is clear: The daily congressional obligations that compete with family obligations aren't lessening. Until the 1970s, Congress technically adjourned for the year at the end of July in an effort to avoid Washington's smothering summers-though legislative business often carried past that date. Air conditioning has not only moved political power southward but expanded the legislative calendar: Over the last decade, lawmakers had to be present for votes an average of 252 days a year, and the last session (2007-2008) jumped to 272 days.

"It's only getting harder on family life," said Rev. Rob Schenck, who has worked in ministry on the Hill for almost 17 years and has noted that the lawmakers he knows are busier than they ever have been. "It's creating the absentee father, or now more and more the absentee mother." Worried about politicians making a career out of politics, he thinks they should impose term limits on themselves.

Schenck doesn't see lawmakers regularly depending on a church community: "They need that very badly, it makes them very vulnerable in many ways." When he talks to lawmakers about the matter, he said he tells them, "There is nothing more important than your interior life and your family life. Absolutely nothing more important, not even the business of the Congress of the United States."

Mark Souder wrote in one of his emails about how a "tiered defense" might have helped him: "Bible study, accountability partners, church, small groups, prayer, personal time, close friends who check on each other." Souder had joined the Christian Embassy Bible study when he first took office, meeting on the Hill once a week. But he said as he got busier and busier with work, he quit going.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.

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