Secretive Religious Group Offers Congressmen Cheap Rent In D.C.

Finding a nice place to live in the desirable neighborhoods of Washington, D.C., can be tricky, but six members of Congress have stumbled upon a bargain: They reside in a $1.1-million townhouse on Capitol Hill and pay only $600 per month apiece all thanks to a secretive religious group.

The six members live just blocks from the U.S. Capitol in a three-story house that is owned by an evangelical group called "The Fellowship." The group seeks to help political leaders find ways to integrate their faith into their public lives. Six federal lawmakers currently reside in the house: Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), Rep. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.).

The Fellowship was profiled recently in Harper's magazine and by the Associated Press. In the AP interview, Richard Carver, who serves on The Fellowship's board of directors, implied that the group, which runs the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washing­ton, wants to affect public policy by influencing politicians.

"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," Carver said.

The members of Congress dine together and meet regularly for Bible study. Carver denied, however, that The Fellowship seeks any type of special access with the lawmakers.

"We have no issue in legislation before the Congress, and nor would we," he said. "And the idea that we would have any quid pro quo is really impossible because there's no quid that we're asking for."

"What concerns people is when you mix religion, political power and secrecy," said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn told the AP. "Members of official Washington should always be open and direct about the groups they choose to join, just to dispel any concerns that there's an inappropriate or unconscious agenda in these groups."

In other news about religion and politics:

An Indian evangelist has been hiring former members of Congress to boost his fund-raising efforts and profile in America.

Dr. K.A. Paul, a Hindu who converted to Christianity at age 19, has hired several ex-members of Congress as lobbyists and consultants, reported the Associated Press in late March. Paul says he wants the former congressmen to help him get grants from U.S. foundations and establish a presence on Capitol Hill.

Paul, who runs a group called Global Peace Initiative, works primarily to convert Indians but also runs missions in other countries. His religious affiliation is unclear. Paul once worked with the late Mother Teresa and says on his website that his group "is not affiliated directly with the Catholic Church or any religious organization. However, many religious leaders and groups of all faiths are attracted to GPI because of its pureness in helping the poorest of the poor and delivering hope to all people."

In 1997, he clashed with Southern Baptist officials who questioned his finances and accomplishments. His group reported $3.1 million in donations in the year 2000.

James Dobson, president and founder of Focus on the Family, is changing jobs at the large evangelical ministry. Dobson has announced that he will become chairman of the group and pass the presidency to Don Hodel, a former Reagan-era cabinet member who served as president of the Christian Coalition from 1997 to 1999.

Dobson, who has had health problems recently, will continue to host FOF's daily radio program while turning administrative duties over to Hodel.

"This redefined responsibility will assure Dr. Dobson's continued leadership of the organization but without the burden of day-to-day management," a FOF announcement read. "It will allow him to spend more time on ministry objectives that only he can accomplish."