John Ensign

[God and Man]

Keeping the faith

To know more about Ensign the man, it helps to take a look at the company he keeps


It’s always so much more dramatic when the Fallen Ones once touted their morality as being a cut above the average schmoe, because we’re a vengeful and petty audience that adores schadenfreude. So when Ensign slept with his family friend, blasting two marriages and a career (but not his hair!), he also put a ding in the public armor of Christianity, and two organizations in particular: Promise Keepers and the freakishly shrouded C Street house.

Ensign publicized, as part of his campaigns, that he was a Promise Keeper—a national group of men who try to improve themselves and the world by espousing Christian values. Their stated mission is “to ignite and unite men to become warriors who will change their world through living out the ‘Seven Promises’ to God, their families, their fellow man and community.”

Two of those seven promises to God are: No. 3, “a commitment to practicing spiritual, moral, ethical and sexual purity”; and No. 4, “a commitment to building strong marriages and families through love, protection and biblical values.”

It should be noted that this group also opposes gay marriage, and that in better, more arrogant days, Ensign proudly proclaimed on the Senate floor, while voting for the 2004 Sanctity of Marriage Act, “Marriage recognizes the ideal of a father and mother living together to raise their children. Marriage is the cornerstone on which our society was founded … It is not right to mold marriage to fit the desires of a few, against the wishes of so many, and to ignore the important role of marriage.”

Since Promise Keepers’ mission is nothing less than “to change the world”—which gives non-Christians in a nation respecting freedom of religion a shiver—it’s hard not to transfer Ensign’s failures onto the organization as a whole, and view him as a totem for all that is despicable and hypocritical about such clubs. The root of this feeling is a deep desire to pull the legs out from underneath anyone who holds himself up as morally superior and in doing so denies the rights of those he considers lesser. And so, in searching for the identity of John Ensign, we can glom onto the failed-Promise-Keeper tag, or view him as a representative of a false and intrinsically hypocritical institution, would-be theocracy. Either way, it’s not pretty, but one has more repercussions for an entire political philosophy.

In fact that characterization—that he’s a perfect soldier in a screwy army—is fortified by the weirdness of the second of Ensign’s nearness-to-God associations. In being a holy politician, Ensign has enjoyed Christian-subsidized rent and entrance into the fundamentalist congressional inner circle by living at the C Street House in Washington, D.C. This, as far as the Nevada public he represents knows, is a brick home for those who want desperately to meld fundamentalist Christian values with political goals, and need private time with one another in shared living quarters using the name “The Family” to accomplish it.

This doesn’t play well with the idea that politics should be open and transparent. Nor that Christianity is welcoming to all. And since the revelations of Ensign’s affair—as well as South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s affair and his affiliation with the C Street House, and the news that Tom Coburn sought to counsel Doug Hampton and Ensign at the C Street House—the place has moved from being a dorky prayer dorm to a scandal-cover-up flophouse. But even before that, Ensign’s affiliation with it spoke about his character: the group that runs it, Youth With a Mission D.C., also espouses a desire to change the whole world according to its interpretation of Christian values.

More Ensign

“Youth With a Mission is one of the most extensive Christian fundamentalist para-church organizations on Earth, and YWAM founder leader Loren Cunningham has publicly outlined a vision for Christian world-control,” writes the Huffington Post about the group, which seeks to control the Seven Mountains of Culture: government, education, media, arts/entertainment, religion, family and business.

Affiliation with this group could be seen to give Ensign the quality of an extremist, subversive, power-mad nutjob. Or it may suggest that he is just another randy politician hiding behind the appearance of buttoned-up Christianity by living with the altar boys.

It seems the former is more true, sadly. After Ensign had begun the affair with Cindy Hampton, he sent a letter to her that read in part: “God never intended for us to do this. I walked away from Him, and my relationship with Him has suffered terribly. I know He loves me, and I know He loves you ... More than anything he wants to restore our relationships to Him.” This suggests he’s sincerely in the Seven Mountains of World Domination camp.

And so it goes that when a fundamentalist falls in the woods, everybody hears it. If it were a matter of personal faith to a man who had kept his faith personal, the story might be different. But he’s a man who not only made his faith public, but also sought to make the public submit to his faith. In his personal failure, then, he takes down the structures he was building himself up on

Photo of Stacy J. Willis

Stacy J. Willis

Get more Stacy J. Willis

Previous Discussion:

Top of Story