The Family

The Family

3.8 67
by Jeff Sharlet
     
 

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They insist they are just a group of friends, yet they funnel millions of dollars through tax-free corporations. They claim to disdain politics, but congressmen of both parties describe them as the most influential religious organization in Washington. They say they are not Christians, but simply believers.

Behind the scenes at every National Prayer Breakfast

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Overview

They insist they are just a group of friends, yet they funnel millions of dollars through tax-free corporations. They claim to disdain politics, but congressmen of both parties describe them as the most influential religious organization in Washington. They say they are not Christians, but simply believers.

Behind the scenes at every National Prayer Breakfast since 1953 has been the Family, an elite network dedicated to a religion of power for the powerful. Their goal is "Jesus plus nothing." Their method is backroom diplomacy. The Family is the startling story of how their faith—part free-market fundamentalism, part imperial ambition—has come to be interwoven with the affairs of nations around the world.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
An investigative journalist examines a Jesus-centered, fundamentalist network whose ambitions exceed "Al Qaeda's dream of a Sunni empire."It's hard to imagine a religious gathering more anodyne than the annual National Prayer Breakfast. Harper's and Rolling Stone contributing editor Sharlet (Journalism and Religious Studies/New York Univ. Center for Religion and Media; co-author: Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible, 2004), however, sees something sinister, a more than merely ceremonial moment marking the achievement of Abraham Vereide and his successor, Doug Coe, founders of a ministry specializing in the care and feeding of high government, industry and military officials, an elite fundamentalist corps known as "the Family." Sharlet traces the twin threads of the Family's origins in the evangelical teachings of Jonathan Edwards and Charles Grandison Finney and its commitment under Vereide and Coe to a painstaking, prayer-cell by prayer-cell conversion of the elite-prominent Americans such as Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh, politicians from Melvin Laird to Sam Brownback-to its notion of a smiling, muscular, American Christ, enthusiastically capitalist, socially conservative and fiercely anti-communist. Unashamedly modeling their leadership training along lines favored by Hitler and Lenin, the Family has insinuated itself firmly into the ruling class, its theology better suited, Sharlet insists, to empire than to democracy. The author's discussion of the Family's beginning and growth and his lengthy disquisitions on other figures prominent in the evangelical movement-Frank Buchman, Billy Sunday, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Billy Graham, Charles Colson, James Dobson, Ted Haggard-alldemonstrate his acute understanding of the theocratic streak that has long run though American history. His firsthand, critical reporting on the Family's enclave in Arlington, Va., and on the evangelical boomtown of Colorado Springs testifies to his relentlessness and, yes, even courage. Finally, however, Sharlet fails to persuade us that this "guerilla force on the spiritual battlefield" poses any significant danger to the republic. Fine research and reporting diminished by overblown analysis. Agent: Kathleen Anderson/Anderson/Grinberg

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061801815
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
10/13/2009
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
464
Sales rank:
184,677
File size:
1 MB

Read an Excerpt

The Family The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power
By Jeff Sharlet
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2008 Jeff Sharlet
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780060559793


Chapter One

Ivanwald

Not long after September 11, 2001, a man I'll call Zeke1 came to New York to survey the ruins of secularism. "To bear witness," he said. He believed Christ had called him.

He wandered the city, sparking up conversations with people he took to be Muslims—"Islamics," he called them—knocking on the doors of mosques by day and sliding past velvet ropes into sweaty clubs by night. He prayed with an imam (to Jesus) and may or may not have gone home with several women. He got as close as possible to Ground Zero, visited it often, talked to street preachers. His throat tingled with dust and ashes. When he slept, his nose bled. He woke one morning on a red pillow.

He went to bars where he sat and listened to the anger of men and women who did not understand, as he did, why they had been stricken. He stared at photographs and paintings of the Towers. The great steel arches on which they'd stood reminded him of Roman temples, and this made him sad. The city was fallen, not just literally but spiritually, as decadent and doomed as an ancient civilization. And yet Zeke wanted and believed he needed to know why New York was what it was, this city so hated by fundamentalists abroad and, he admitted after some wine, by fundamentalists—"Believers," he called them, and himself—athome.

At the time Zeke was living at Ivanwald. His brothers-in-Christ, the youngest eighteen, the oldest in their early thirties, were much like him: educated, athletic, born to affluence, successful or soon to be. Zeke and his brothers were fundamentalists, but not at all the kind I was familiar with. "We're not even Christian," he said. "We just follow Jesus."

I'd known Zeke on and off for twelve years. He's the older brother of a woman I dated in college. Zeke had studied philosophy and history and literature in the United States and in Europe, but he had long wanted to find something . . . better. His life had been a pilgrim's progress, and the path he'd taken a circuitous version of the route every fundamentalist travels: from confusion to clarity, from questions to answers, from a mysterious divine to a Jesus who's so familiar that he's like your best friend. A really good guy about whom Zeke could ask, What would Jesus do? and genuinely find the answer.

His whole life Zeke had been searching for a friend like that, someone whose words meant what they meant and nothing less or more. Zeke himself looks like such a man, tall, lean, and muscular, with a square jaw and wavy, dark blond hair. One of his grandfathers had served in the Eisenhower administration, the other in Kennedy's. His father, the family legend went, had once been considered a possible Republican contender for Congress. But instead of seeking office, his father had retreated to the Rocky Mountains, and Zeke, instead of attaining the social heights his pedigree seemed to predict, had spent his early twenties withdrawing into theological conundrums, until he peered out at a world of temptations like a wounded thing in a cave. He drank too much, fought men and raged at women, disappeared from time to time and came back from wherever he had gone quieter, angrier, sadder.

Then he met Jesus. He had long been a committed Christian, but this encounter was different. This Jesus did not demand orthodoxy. This Jesus gave him permission to stop struggling. So he did, and his pallor left him. He took a job in finance and he met a woman as bright as he was and much happier, and soon he was making money, in love, engaged. But the questions of his youth still bothered him. Again he drank too much, his eye wandered, his temper kindled. So, one day, at the suggestion of an older mentor, he ditched his job, put his fiancée on hold, and moved to Ivanwald, where, he was told, he'd meet yet another Jesus, the true one.

When he came up to New York, his sister asked if I would take him out to dinner. What, she wanted to know, was Zeke caught up in?

We met at a little Moroccan place in the East Village. Zeke arrived in bright white tennis shorts, spotless white sneakers, and white tube socks pulled taut on his calves. His concession to Manhattan style, he said, was his polo shirt, tucked in tight; it was black. He flirted with the waitress and she giggled, he talked to the people at the next table. Women across the room glanced his way; he gave them easy smiles. I'd never seen Zeke so charming. In my mind, I began to prepare a report for his sister: Good news! Jesus has finally turned Zeke around.

He said as much himself. He even apologized for arguments we'd had in the past. He acknowledged that he'd once enjoyed getting a rise out of me by talking about "Jewish bankers." (I was raised a Jew by my father, a Christian by my mother.) That was behind him now, he said. Religion was behind him. Ivanwald had cured him of the God problem. I'd love the place, he said. "We take Jesus out of his religious wrapping. We look at Him, at each other, without assumptions. We ask questions, and we answer them together. We become brothers."

I asked if he and his brothers prayed a great deal. No, he said, not much. Did they spend a lot of time in church? None—most churches were too crowded with rules and rituals. Did they study the Bible in great depth? Just a few minutes in the morning. What they did, he said, was work and play games. During the day they raked leaves and cleaned toilets, and during the late afternoon they played sports, all of which prepared them to serve Jesus. The work taught humility, he said, and the sports taught will; both were needed in Jesus' army.



Continues...

Excerpted from The Family by Jeff Sharlet Copyright © 2008 by Jeff Sharlet. Excerpted by permission.
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