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What do Hillary Clinton, John Ensign, Mark Sanford, Bill Nelson, and Tom Coburn have in common?
They are either members or friends of the Elitist Christian Right group The Family. The family holds weekly prayer meetings or “advisory” meetings where members discuss their problems, both personal and political, and give each other veto power over each others lives.
The Family has operated under various names since its formation in 1935. They have gone under the names:
National Committee for Christian Leadership, International Christian Leadership, the National Leadership Council, Fellowship House, the Fellowship Foundation, the National Fellowship Council, the International Foundation
They hold their prayer meetings at the Defense Department, the Pentagon and have their own little cul de sac of houses called Ivanwald where they groom future leaders. They also have a house in Washington where senators and congressmen live called C street. Residents of the C street house include Brownback, Coburn and Ensgin, including both Democrats and Republicans. The Family has connections to the CIA as well as to governments around the world including the former Suharto dictatorship, the current dictator in Uganda,Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the former president of Honduras, Ricardo Marudo and The Family has been involved with coups in Fiji, of all places.
Jeff Sharlet descibes some of the Family’s diplomacy in his article, “Jesus plus nothing.”
In 1978 it secretly helped the Carter Administration organize a worldwide call to prayer with Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, and more recently, in 2001, it brought together the warring leaders of Congo and Rwanda for a clandestine meeting, leading to the two sides’ eventual peace accord last July. Such benign acts appear to be the exception to the rule. During the 1960s the Family forged relationships between the U.S. government and some of the most anti-Communist (and dictatorial) elements within Africa’s postcolonial leadership. The Brazilian dictator General Costa e Silva, with Family support, was overseeing regular fellowship groups for Latin American leaders, while, in Indonesia, General Suharto (whose tally of several hundred thousand “Communists” killed marks him as one of the century’s most murderous dictators) was presiding over a group of fifty Indonesian legislators. During the Reagan Administration the Family helped build friendships between the U.S. government and men such as Salvadoran general Carlos Eugenios Vides Casanova, convicted by a Florida jury of the torture of thousands, and Honduran general Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, himself an evangelical minister, who was linked to both the CIA and death squads before his own demise. “We work with power where we can,” the Family’s leader, Doug Coe, says, “build new power where we can’t.”
Jesus plus nothing: Undercover among America’s secret theocrats, By Jeffrey Sharlet (Harper’s Magazine) (10 July 2009)
They are fond of the tactic of building up power in low power areas like Latin America and Africa. Like the Evangelical Christian Conservatives who built power in rural areas where there won’t be as much resistance to their authority. This tactic is the tactic of surrounding areas of centralized power as a prercusor to taking those areas of centralized power over.
Charles Colson, recruited by The Family Leader, Doug Coe, before Colson went to jail for obstruction of justice for his participation in Watergate, estimates the membership was as large as 20,000 members. After the early sixties they underwent purging because too many members diluted the organization and membership is now reserved for the powerful and based on recommendations from one another. ( Guerilla News Network via Alternet, interview with Sharlet. )
There are two main levels of affiliation to the group, members and friends. There are no rituals of initiation like Skull and Bones but only requires a person to call themselves a member ( An interview with Sharlet on WNYC ) . Membership remains loose in the organization. Members refer to their groups as cells with only six or eight members per cell. They do not care for recruiting those without power. The Family is stridently anti-populist unlike other Evangelicals like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.
Most notably the Family created and still supports the National Prayer Breakfast, formerly called the Presidential Prayer Breakfast, in 1953 in honor of President Eisenhower who felt he had to repay the Evangelical community who helped elect him. Since that time they have hosted such notables as Bono, Ken Salazar (former senator of Colorado,)Tony Blair, King Abdullah the second, Norm Coleman, Mother Teresa and the head of the Humane Genome Project. Very popular in the south, the National Prayer Breakfast, is accompanied by smaller local prayer breakfasts throughout the nation which are at times are accompanied by marches.
Unlike most Christian organizations, the Family doesn’t really care for abortion activism and they even go so far as to not call themselves Christians. They see the term Christian as too narrow of a term, holding that Muslims can bow before Jesus, just as Jews can bow and even Catholics can bow before Jesus (Originating from Calvinist Protestant line of Christianity, they view Catholics as the farthest removed of all from them.)
So when Matte, the leader of Somalia was asked to pray to Jesus, he said fine if you give me debt relief. The Family set up a meeting with Reagen for Matte and fixed his debt problems. However, Matte still calls himself a Koranic Marxist. Faith doesn’t matter for the Family, only obedience (Guernica magazine, interview with Sharlet.)
The Family: the first Christian Right Organization.
The Family was started, with the help of 19 Seattle businessmen, by the anti-socialist and anti-unionist, Abraham Vereide, who was concerned about workers and socialists gaining power in Seattle during the depression under FDR. Within ten years Vereide, after expanding to other western cities like San Francisco and after the success of electing a Senator from the west, The Family moved his organization to Washington.
The organization originally started with only Republicans. The Family began recruiting in both parties. It was the hope of The Family that after WW2 there would be a one party system but the one party system didn’t materialize. Just after Ten years of existence over one third of congress was attending weekly prayer meetings with the Family.
In the nineteen fifties the Family began working with the U.S government on anti-communism activities. By the nineteen seventies they decided to lose their prior name and become more low key. They removed all letterhead from their documents and disowned their branded symbols. From then on they were known as the Family. “Everything invisible is transitory, everything invisible is lasting, forever. The more you can make your organization invisible, the more permanence it will have,” Jeff Scarlet quotes party doctrine of the Family in his book about the Family.
Unions, Free Market Fundamentalists, and The Family
The original purpose of the Family was to provide solace to businessmen, destroy unions and prevent working people from gaining power. They see Adam Smith’s invisible hand of the market as the hand of God which makes the chosen wealthy and powerful.
Sharlet writes in Harper’s
They believe in something called Biblical capitalism. They think capitalism is ordained in the Bible, but at the same time, they say that capitalism is the “wedge”-it’s the wedge with which we introduce the gospel. They are very blunt. They recognize that capitalism is this very powerful and appealing force for governments that want to get in on that market, and the Family has all these connections. We can help you. We can bring businessmen your way. Yosemite, meet AES, the largest energy corporation in the world. Jordan, meet Raytheon, the defense contractor. Part of Biblical capitalism is that they believe that the gospel and capitalism travel together. So ultimately, they say, it is about your soul, but you are going to come to us through the market, and then your soul will be okay.
Anti-semetism, John Hagee and The Family.
John Hagee recently got in trouble for supporting the Holocaust when in quoted a verse from Jeremiah and used it as support for hunting the Jews. This was the influenced by a reading The Family taught during the fifties. Henry Ford was loosely affiliated as was the Lindburg family and while they are influenced by fascism, admire it and support it, they are not fascists. For them ideology doesn’t not matter as much as power and markets.
Christianity, femininity and The Family.
Another major concern of the Family is what they see as the feminization of Christianity over the past 2000 years, and it is a major reason that The Family gives that Christianity not what Jesus intended. Jesus intended, according to them, for males to lead and conquer not to coddle the weak, which they see as feminine.
Hero Worship, Totalitarianism and The Family
Hitler, Stalin, Pol-pot, Mao, Genghis Khan and others brutal totalitarians are revered by The Family. For them it was there ability to grab power and use it to its full extent that made them admirable. The Family sees these leaders and the powerful as selected by god to do gods work. These leaders receiver revelations from god but they don’t have to believe in god. This is different from other forms of fundamentalism which is populist instead of elitist.
1000 years of Christ rule, the rapture and the Family
As part of their religious beliefs they are what are called maximalists post-millenialists who believe religion should be integrated to every area of life and it calls on the powerful elite, who have all been selected by God, to conquer the Earth. After a thousand years of rule by the powerful worshipers of Christ, Christ will return to earth – different from typical Rapture where it is dependent on a certain number of people living in sin.
There they forge “relationships” beyond the din of vox populi (the Family’s leaders consider democracy a manifestation of ungodly pride) and “throw away religion” in favor of the truths of the Family. Declaring God’s covenant with the Jews broken, the group’s core members call themselves “the new chosen.”
Recently Sharlet said in an Alternet interview,
But at the upper levels there is this weird emphasis on the Old Testament. It’s in the story, they talk about King David, who in some ways was a really bad guy. They are really interested in the biblical concept that whether you are good or bad it doesn’t matter, what matters is whether you are chosen. That’s part of the Hitler Concept. It doesn’t matter whether Hitler was good or bad, Hitler was chosen for leadership. That was part of God’s plan. Nothing happens that isn’t part of God’s plan.
Does the King David reference in Mark Sanford appology make more sense now?
Recently John Ensign was caught cheating on his wife as well. While at the Family’s C street House, John Ensign and Tom Coburn discussed how to pay off his mistress.
Hillary Clinton said of the leader of the Family according to NBC news:
[Doug Coe is] a unique presence in Washington: a genuinely loving spiritual mentor and guide to anyone, regardless of party or faith, who wants to deepen his or her relationship with God…
Hillary has attended the Family’s prayer meetings since 1993.
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All information gathered for this article was from investigative work that Harper’s editor Jeff Sharlet has done. Jeff Sharlet has written a book on the Family and two Harper’s articles on them after a stay he had at the Family’s residences. I am in no way affiliated with Jeff Sharlet.