Monday, May 24, 2010

David Durenberger and the Family, 1993

Before there was John Ensign, there was David Durenberger. In 1990, the Senate unanimously denounced their Republican colleague from Minnesota for financial schemes sufficiently shady to merit a two year Justice Department investigation. He was also disbarred. At the time this article was written, he was in the thick of a paternity suit over a child that resulted, said the mother, from rape. That wasn't his last affair. One burst into public view when his secretary attacked him with her purse in an airport. He blamed much of his troubles on his wife. His chief regret, he told the St. Pioneer-Press, was that he got caught. But he kept on going until 1994--buoyed by faith and the Family.

It's all "ancient history" now, as my Family friends say of just about any past unpleasantness, but tonight I happened to stumble on a 1993 article from the St. Paul Pioneer Press in which Family leader Doug Coe, seeking to rehabilitate his brother's reputation, is unusually candid. Following are some excerpts.


--Bruce Orwall, Feb. 28, 1993

U.S. senators have a favorite biblical metaphor to describe the plight of their long-suffering colleague from Minnesota, Dave Durenberger.

``This is our version of Job,'' they say, as one Republican did last month when introducing Durenberger to a stranger.

The allusion seems apt - Job being history's most vivid symbol of steadfast faith. Despite being burdened with a lifetime of trial and despair, he never turned away from God.

Yet each time the comparison is made, Durenberger demurs. He chooses a different Biblical figure to symbolize his struggle.
``Not Job,'' he says. ``Joseph.''

In the Old Testament, Joseph was betrayed by those who were supposed to love him. But using his power as a visionary interpreter of dreams, he returned in triumph to lead his nation, forgiving those who had deserted him.

The ``new'' Dave Durenberger has risen again this winter.

The new Dave surfaces each time the Minnesota Republican finds himself neck-deep in controversy, which is often. This is how Durenberger fends off controversy: by unleashing a torrent of spiritual revelation, oozing New Male sensitivity and sincerity to assure voters that the old Dave - self-centered, egotistical, out of control - is dead and buried.

In his place, Durenberger says, is a man driven by self-improvement. He attends several prayer groups a week. He has a spiritual adviser and a new and improved relationship with God. He's not just a better senator; he's a better person.

Durenberger has turned to this explanation frequently over the years. In early 1986: ``I think in terms of just a `small p' person, I am so much better a person than I was a year ago.'' In 1988: ``My life continues to improve all the time. I couldn't say that four years ago.'' In 1990: ``I am looking forward to making amends the only way I know how: by being the most effective senator I can be, every day I serve in the U.S. Senate.''

Finally, in 1993: ``I spent a lot of time thinking about `The Senator.' Right now, I put a really high value on being `The Senator,' but I put a higher value on being me - whoever that is. And that's coming a long way for me. A long, long way.''

Who has helped him on this journey? Our man Coe, and some of his friends -- ranging from Mother Theresa to Tariq Aziz, a former deputy prime minister to Saddam Hussein currently serving 15 years for his role in the executions of 42 Iraqi businessmen.

Dave Durenberger and his inner circle are heavily invested in the power of faith. They say that a deepened spiritual conviction has carried Durenberger through his darkest days to make him a better, more effective public servant.

``It's his faith,'' says Sen. Alan Simpson, a Republican from Wyoming and one of Durenberger's closest Senate friends. ``That's the anchor he has plunged into the sandy earth here. ... He found out where to turn when he didn't know where to turn.''
At the heart of Durenberger's spiritual journey is Doug Coe, operator of the International Foundation, a vaguely defined spiritual center in Arlington, Va.

Coe, 64, is not a minister. He won't say where he gets money for the foundation, which is not affiliated with any religion. He floated from job to job during the 1950s before devoting himself to the spiritual development of public officials through the foundation, which runs prayer groups for politicians and oversees a number of charity projects.

Coe calls the foundation a ``family of friends''' from around the world that gathers to explore the spirit and soul. A key member of that family is Dave Durenberger.

``They're sort of compatriots in a cause,'' says Holderness, the friend from Dorsey & Whitney. ``They're ministering to leaders around the world. I think Doug has been a good counselor and listener and in some ways a minister to Dave.''

The International Foundation also owns The Cedars, a retreat house in Arlington where Durenberger has lived on and off during turbulent personal times.

Described by some as a ``commune,'' The Cedars is nothing of the sort. It features a mansion with a swimming pool and tennis courts on a sprawling campus, where friends from around the world stay when visiting Washington. No one lives there full time; Durenberger was an exception.

``When he and Penny were having difficulties, he needed a place to stay,'' Coe says. ``He was very depressed and he needed some company.''

Together, Coe and Durenberger have traveled the world trying to forge spiritual bonds with world leaders. They have prayed in Jordan with King Hussein, dined at midnight with Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tarik Aziz, and explored the power of Jesus Christ with Rajiv Ghandi in India.

It was during that visit to India several years ago that Durenberger met Mother Teresa, and was awed by her personal commitment to the poor. To explain her dedication, Mother Teresa took Durenberger's right hand in hers, counted his fingers and recited: ``I take my hand every night and I say: He-Did-This-For-Me.'' Then she grabbed Durenberger's left hand and counted: ``Then I say to myself: I-Did-What-For-Him.''

``Dave didn't wash his hand for two days,'' Coe says.

The two men have spent long hours together at The Cedars, on what they both describe as an earnest quest to change

Durenberger for the better. The Dave Durenberger that Doug Coe knows does not blame others for his downfall: ``He's saying, `Look, there's something must be wrong with me that I get myself into this sort of stuff.'''

The article continues with Durenberger's childhood as the son of a legendary Minnesota football coach. No special trauma, but Coe works what Durenberger has given him.

Coe, the spiritual adviser, explains the fallout of Durenberger's self-esteem problem with a long discourse on the importance of children being touched and loved. He likens Durenberger's upbringing to that of inner-city children from fractured homes who witness a world of violence and drugs.

``These little children are very emotionally scarred,'' Coe says. ``Now, you say that David didn't come from that. But I don't see any difference in my experience. ... He didn't ever learn about intimacy.''

The resulting scars left Durenberger unable to confront his problems directly, Coe says. And in the depths of a midlife crisis, Durenberger's actions often made him look like a hypocrite. Even as he told the public he was improving his life, he was having an affair and signing off on questionable business deals.

``He would tell you that he was not practicing, in a personal way, his Catholicism or his faith,'' Coe says. ``He would have a technical belief that (his actions were) wrong, just like Prince Charles has a technical belief that he appears and takes communion and does all the things right - but he has a regular bevy of women and so on. He was, I would think, very much like that, just like most of the ballplayers and the Redskins. That's kind of that Kennedy thing.''

Durenberger often avoids confronting people or problems directly - behavior that creates the impression he is dodging accountability. But Coe says it is a form of emotional denial, a trait that has allowed Durenberger to dodge deep pain.

``One of the reasons, in my view, that he's having trouble is that he doesn't want to be hurt anymore,'' Coe says, ``That's not excusing. That's just to say that that's what he has to battle within himself.''

But that was then. According to Coe and Durenberger himself, the new Dave Durenberger of 1993 has won his battle against low self-confidence. His strong spirituality now allows him to experience life in a way he has never known.

``This spiritual experience is giving him, for the first time, the capacity to be intimate,'' Coe says. ``He feels this is the first time he's ever had it, and he's very excited about it. He feels like he's getting a new lease on life in his relationship with God and people.''


Doug Coe has faith that his friend and spiritual confidant, Dave Durenberger, will be the Charles Colson of the 1990s.

Colson was the callous White House special counsel under Richard Nixon, best remembered for maintaining Nixon's ``enemies list.'' After serving a prison term for his role in the Watergate coverup, Colson accepted Jesus Christ and now runs a widely acclaimed prison ministry. Coe thinks that Durenberger, like Colson, will overcome the bad influences that have controlled him, and emerge a finer person.

``Everybody wrote every day about what a rat (Colson) was,'' Coe says. ``He was a rat, and he did all those things and a lot more things people don't know about. The thing is, some people are defeated by their errors. Other people grow.

``We're in a process where David is learning and growing. I don't think there's much more that can hurt him.''