'Dear friend' no stranger

Culbertson

If you do business in Columbia, you might know Warren "Cubby" Cul-bertson, real estate developer, owner of Reporting Services Inc. court reporting business. If you take a seat in upper-echelon, counsel-and-be-counseled Christian fellowship sessions, you do know him.

Culbertson, 51, the "incredibly dear friend" and spiritual adviser who is guiding Gov. Mark Sanford through the moral morass of his affair, is one of those widely regarded, low-profile figures in the capital city.

He's a close friend of Bill Jones, president of Columbia International University, and Pastor Det Bowers of Christ Church of the Carolinas.

Culbertson is a personable man with a self-effacing smile and forgiving eyes. He speaks about Scripture in podcasts on the university and church Web sites in an almost staccato voice, running through a thought and then pausing before going on.

Divorced twice in four years in the 1990s, according to court records, he's no stranger to marital strife.

"He's the guy next door; he's the next-door neighbor," said Columbia Mayor Bob Coble, who has known Culbertson for some 20 years. "I think he takes his religion very seriously. It's something he's very passionate about."

Culbertson could not be reached for comment for this story. But in an interview with The Associated Press last month, he said "everybody is vulnerable, and there's no boundaries on darkness." He doesn't dine alone with women other than his wife and keeps his office door open when he has a female visitor.

He told the AP that he has counseled many men "who have fallen in the position that Mark's in."

"Everybody starts with the same exact story: 'We got to be friends. We started talking. I didn't mean for anything to happen,' " Culbertson told AP. "That's exactly where a sin begins."

Sanford first met Culbertson in 1986, when both worked on a gubernatorial campaign for Phil Lader of Charleston. The governor has attended sessions of the Round Table, a Bible study-counseling group for men that Culbertson founded and holds throughout the Midlands, according to published reports.

Communal get-togethers like that are the bread and butter of evangelical Christian mentoring, a standard at most churches and a refuge for Christian lawmakers.

Session members tend to become a support family for each other that at times develops something akin to the strength and reliance seen at Alcoholics Anonymous mentoring.

As a U.S. Representative, Sanford took part in sessions involving lawmakers and former lawmakers at the C Street Center in Washington.

The center is a discrete Christian facility run by a foundation that holds the annual National Prayer Breakfasts attended by the sitting president, and houses members of Congress from both political parties, including U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S. C.

Those are the people Sanford turned to as the affair began to unravel his life. Culbertson, who is a friend to Sanford and his wife, Jenny Sanford, was right in the middle and has stayed beside both.

After Jenny Sanford learned of her husband's affair, Cul-bertson in May led Sunday afternoon "boot camp" sessions at the Governor's Mansion for six couples, including the Sanfords, that focused on marital issues and forgiveness.

"It challenges husbands and wives to talk about things eternal that we won't do unless we're in a structured environment," Culbertson told the AP.

Coble said of Culbertson, "He's a very caring person who takes his counseling very seriously."