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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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.

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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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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


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.


Excerpted from The Family by Jeff Sharlet Copyright © 2008 by Jeff Sharlet. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Jeff Sharlet is a visiting research scholar at New York University's Center for Religion and Media. He is a contributing editor for Harper's and Rolling Stone, the coauthor, with Peter Manseau, of Killing the Buddha, and the editor of He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 67 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a surprising and engrossing book¿part investigative journalism, part immersion, part history, Sharlet assembles shocking and often funny evidence from the group¿s archives, shows its operation in contemporary political life, and considers the deeply personal dimensions of the Family for some of its members. Most importantly, he weaves the Family¿s history into a larger thread of American religion and foreign policy. While the past few years have witnessed a flood of books on the current fundamentalist moment, this book will stand the test of time for the originality of its analysis, which moves beyond short-sighted hysteria and looks at the theological, historical 'and sometimes erotic' underpinnings of a fundamentalist vision that has been largely neglected by scholars and journalists while it acts powerfully below the public surface of legislation and diplomacy. There is a tendency in books about the Christian Right to assume that there is an average American voter--usually the reader and the book¿s author--and that this person is purely and simply a victim of the Right, a tendency to fall into the essentially reactionary trap of blaming everything on George Bush, or Dick Cheney, to take this genre of analysis to its ultimate conclusion. Sharlet is one of the few authors I've read who fiercely rejects this. He understands fundamentalism as a full-fledged social movement¿it is contentious and unified, ideological and deftly pragmatic, alternately exhilarating and pedestrian, the product of perfect timing and a phenomena decades in the making. From this perspective, the Family¿s preference for secrecy and its obsession with elites is alarming, but more frightening to me was the fact that their agenda--the crushing of organized labor, the support of dictatorships abroad, the resurrection of sexual purity codes--is one that has hurt many Americans, but also one in which they have been complicit.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The subject matter is important and needs to be promulgated to the world at large. However Mr Sharlet's writing style is difficult. I never got all the way through the book. He seems to be wrapped up in minutae or personal observations when he really just needs to expose this conspiracy. So I purchased it enthusiastically after watching him on Rachel Maddow and other shows I was sorely disappointed in the book itself.
universe1701 More than 1 year ago
Today we have so-called protesters marching along our town halls disrupting any kind of civic debate about the current health care system being manipulated by unethical entertainers in Fox News, and rich corporate Health insurance lobbyists. Calling our president a Nazi and comparing our current administration to hitlers government. These "protesters" should instead be in washington marching and protesting about how groups like the "Family" our influencing our elected representatives and our current democracy into a theocracy, destroying any and all ideals our founding fathers intended. groups like "the family" are the real threat, not health care reform. The right fears socialism, but it is nothing compared to a Religiously run government (theocracy).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an important book--please read the 5 star reviews, not the two one-star reviews that just happen to be most recent and show up on the "front" page. It is common for the very people Mr. Sharlet exposes to pad the reviews and bury the more thoughtful reviews on a page that requires a click. Click, it's worth it.
pondfan1 More than 1 year ago
After seeing the author interviewed on television, I knew this was something I would like to know more about. If you wish to stay truly uninformed, by all means, don't read this; however, for a look into the world of extreme religious or power-hungry in the name of religion (haven't decided which) workings of the conservative right, this tells it all. C-Street takes on a whole new look.
billball More than 1 year ago
On August 12, Jeff Sharlet, author of THE FAMILY, appeared as guest on THE DAILY SHOW. Sharlet painted a picture of a cultish, almost conspiratorial group that was mainly concerned with power, an apparently loose-knit organization to which many members of America's political elite belong, especially, but not exclusively those on the right. Could this be "the vast right-wing conspiracy" that I had heard of? I bought the book and read it. The book was not what I had expected! It was informative; I learned a great deal about the history of The Family, also known as The Fellowship, but I had a hard time with the thesis of the book and its proofs. Mr. Sharlet wants to demonstrate that religion, especially fundamentalist religion and politics are hopelessly intertwined. "This is a story," he tells us, "about that imaginary place, so real in the minds of those for whom religion, politics, and the mythologies of America are one singular story and how that vision has shaped America's projection of power onto the rest of the world." The imaginary place is America as the "shining city upon a hill." Values of the book. It reveals the history of a movement that began with 1930s union busting and anti-New Deal crusading, based on a vision of Abraham Vereide, an itinerant preacher and Norwegian immigrant, and carries through the anti-Communism crusades of the 50s, down to present day right-wing power politics. It shows ties between members of The Family and many political movements. Its present leader is Doug Coe, a well-known, but rather secretive person. Secrecy or invisibility is the first rule and personal morality is not at the top of their list of requirements for membership. While biblical doctrine seems relatively unimportant, Jesus is, but as a sort of undefined idea, not the Jesus of the New Testament. Power is important. They hold to Romans 13:1: "The powers that be are ordained of God," making it mean that those in power are more important to God than those without power. Win those in power to "Jesus" and those below will be blessed - "trickle-down" evangelism. This is in total contrast to Jesus' example and teachings. What's wrong with the book? To prove his thesis, the author gives a sketchy, selective outline of American church history, tying The Family, or at least its philosophy, back to a select string of individuals showing little, if any real connections between them: Jonathan Edwards, Charles G. Finney, Billy Sunday, etc. He paints with a broad brush. Well-known Christian leaders get splattered, whether or not connected with The Family. Political leaders on the right professing faith in Christ get splattered. The impression is given that all well-known American Christians are tainted. The sketch of Hillary Clinton is ironic. Though she had connections with many in The Family, we are assured that "she's not a member of Coe's Family." So liberal readers can be relieved, assured that she's not part of the vast right-wing conspiracy. What is sad about the book is that the picture painted of American evangelicalism is accurate. It pictures us as concerned more with political power than with the teachings of the lowly Jesus. It shows a "fundamentalism" unconcerned about the fundamental truths of the gospel, a moralistic politics unconcerned about personal morality, and a picture of Christianity that is held by many today.
OneWomanInk More than 1 year ago
This is a well-written, fascinating book that is long overdue, but very much of importance in the world of politics today, especially as we see the dysfunction and disrespect play out on live television--as in during our duly-elected President's speech to Congress. Americans are being pushed into the most divisive groups BY our political "leaders," all in the name of either morality or truth, when the real truth is that GOD is being hijacked to create a two-class society with little regard for what is truly the message of the Bible. It is a shame that our country may never be able to live down. In an era of the media serving as the propaganda wing of the Republican party and Bush administration, as FOX News did and continues to do, along with most of the mainstream media that continues to promote conservative ideology, it is imperative, and also true, that unless more individuals like Mr. Sharlett speak out in real truth--truth to power--and insist on the media allowing that discourse, nothing will ever change. This is not about Christians versus non-Christians. It is about fraud perpetrated by Americans against other Americans, all in the name of religious certitude. This is a long-established struggle, which must come to an immediate end. Jeff Sharlett has written a mandatory read for those who "believe" as well as those who don't. Understanding how our country has been led down this vile path in the name of religion can only help restore the balance that America stands for. We are, after all, a melting pot. We must praise those who expose the secrets and hate that permeate our government, no matter the side they take, before it's too late. Sharlett is a man of honor; he has written an honorable book that I truly enjoyed, in spite of its often difficult to absorb subject matter. This is a real must-read book. I encourage anyone who cares about the world, this country, and their place in it to read it--sooner, rather than later.
Richard_the_Reader More than 1 year ago
"The Family" is a comprehensive overview of Christian fundamentalism in government since the first term of FDR. Many books have covered religious and political fundamentalism over the same period. However, this book has a specific focus on an unbroken line of right-wing conservatives who have had a secret influence, directly and indirectly, on national government policy since the mid-'30s. They consider themselves the "elect" and do not feel bound by conventional law or codes of ethics. They think of themselves as the equivalent of the Nietzche concept of the "superman" who should feel free to operate outside the law simply because of their status as the "elect of God" who have replaced the Jews as "God's Chosen People". They call themselves "Christians" but it is a "Christianity" which is highly selective and very muscular. Gone is the Christ of the "Golden Rule" or the Beatitudes/Sermon on the Mount. This Christ is too soft and too much of a "sissy". The "Christ" favored by "The Family" is the one found in the Book of Revelation and the Christ who is quoted with favor as having said "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace but a sword." Matthew 10:34 (KJV). So much for our "sissy Jesus". There is an emphasis on the Old Testament as opposed to the New and King David is one of "The Family's" favorite role models. David was one of the "elect" and, as God's appointed leader, saw what he wanted and went after it. What he saw was Bathsheba and David used his power to arrange for Bathsheba's husband, a military man under David, to be sent off to war and killed thus making Bathsheba available to the King. This incident is referred to repeatedly by Doug Coe, the current "Godfather" of the "Family", as a positive example of how the "elect" are expected to operate. Other positive role models in terms of the exercise of power are Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Mao and various international dictators and Mafia leaders. The Mafia is held up as a structural model of power and brotherhood for its insistence on entering into a "covenant" with each other which creates a bond that is stronger than any other statutory law or code of morality. The "Family" will protect each other regardless of what any individual member may have done. The names included of past and current members of Congress are astounding and many of them have been in the news recently for actions which would seem to call for resignation. However, members of the "Family" consider themselves above the law and above traditional codes of ethics or morality because they are the "elect" of God. The majority of the book is well-written and researched religious history which has been covered elsewhere. The thing which makes this book stunning and frightening is the credibility which the author brings to bear, having been accepted as an insider and having rubbed elbows with, not only individual members in D.C but also, Doug Coe who seems to be the most powerful non-registered lobbiest in the history of the federal government. Everyone with fingers on the levers of power in Washington seems to have Doug Coe on speeddial and least in terms of (almost exclusively) Republican Christian fundamentalists in government.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I saw Jeff Sharlet on several talk and news shows and became interested in reading The Family. At the time, it was completely sold out in the Dallas / Fort Worth area and I had to order my copy. It is a very informative book, detailing the beliefs and practices of members of a religious group centered at "C Street House" in Washington D.C. After reading the book, I find it freighting that men with these attitudes serve in the US Congress. Attitudes such as having been chosen by God to be rich and powerful therefore they are above the law, social norms and even Christian values. This is how they justify their adultery, greed and complete disregard for the best interest of the people who elected them. I highly recommend this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read Jeff Sharlet in Harper's for a while. Much as I would prefer, in the age of Obama, to remain in denial about the threat of the power of fundamentalist ideology and right wing politicians, this book won't let me. No wonder so many mainstream, traditional Republicans have left the party. Did you catch him on the Daily Show?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was a good read. If you are interested or care about the seperation of church and state, then get this book. If you are interested in learning about a secret society, that attempts to control our politicts and foreign policy,read this book. The Family, can be disturbing and a bit frightining especially if you want to keep religion, church, politics and govt, seperate.
drewwallen More than 1 year ago
Not being a conspirasy buff, myself, I was shocked to find this detailed and carefully researched book about a conspiracy that penetrates to the highest levels of our government. The members are careful not to describe it as a conspiracy, but it espouses a particular set of values and actions. Did you ever wonder what the National Prayer Breakfast is? We hear about it every year, but nobody (else) explains the whys and wherefores. Read this book and "The Lost Symbol" and you'll join the Masons, for sure. "The Family" is NOT fiction, however.
avidhistorybuff More than 1 year ago
I have always been a student of history, being a firm believer in the old adage, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it." In the current heated and, in some cases, toxic relationship between the believers and those who recognize the importance of "Separation of Church and State" in our Constitution, this book clearly demonstrates how the integration of religious doctrine into the governing process of what is by definition a secular state can create a circumstance that is rarely beneficial to the overall health of the state. As a religious person, it is as important for me to protect my personal faith and how it is expressed while not fearing for inordinate intrusion of another particular brand of faith as a guiding principle into our conduct of governmental affairs. This book is well worth the reading for those who would better understand the problems, misdirection and errors that losing that principle can create.
Jokar More than 1 year ago
This book brings to light some of the underhanded dealings of a very select group of possibly "rogue" politicians and others who share very scary ideas. Why does it seem that certain groups must always act in an advesarial way. Why must those who have a different way at looking at a problem or who try to get their ideas across be attacked just because theirs is a different viewpoint than the persons who this book was written about.
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madcow More than 1 year ago
I found this book fascinating and very disturbing, so much so that I bought it twice to have it in my Nook library as well. This is a must read for anyone concerned about the eroding separation of church and state in this country. Religion is insidiously creeping back into government and ushering us into a new dark age.
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