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NOT YOUR IDEAL FAMILY | A Book Review

by Larry Jones
 
"This religion isn't an opiate of the masses; it's the American Christ on methamphetamine."  So states research scholar Jeff Sharlet in his compendious book "The Family," which details the machinations of what some call the most powerful group you've never heard of.  Its subtitle is "the secret fundamentalism at the heart of American power."

The "Family" weaves together right wing politicians in this country and throughout the world into a network of "cells. It's easy to get the impression of enormous power when one reads of the numerous big political figures who are part of The Family's cell structure, which their current leader Doug Coe fashions after organizations he admires such as the Nazis and the mob.  An article in "The Nation" indicated that "the roster of current and former Family members includes senators, congressmen, Fortune 500 CEOs, generals and at least one Supreme Court justice." Power, not compassion, is their major fascination and the notion that creates their unique vision of Jesus.  There is, of course, plenty of material in the book of Revelation showing a Jesus of bloody power.

The Jesus of power is evident in the Family's involvement with General Suharto, the infamous dictator of Indonesia.  From a list provided by the CIA, a list with many names secured by conservative Christian missionaries, in 1968 Suharto massacred at least 500,000 Indonesian "Communists."  "Communist schoolchildren, babies, entire villages," as Sharlet put it.   

The Family arranged numerous meetings with its representatives and Suharto and prayed with him, but never once did people from The Family, or The Fellowship as it was then known, denounce Suharto's genocide in Indonesia.  In fact, The Family's founder Abram Vierde declared the Muslim dictator's "coup" a "spiritual revolution."  At one point, Sharlet said that he had "learned not to ask what a "good' genocide looked like."

THE NATIONAL PRAYER BREAKFAST

The Family keeps most of its activities out of public view. Its is best known for its National Prayer Breakfast, an invitation-only gathering of many of the nation's and the world's most prominent political leaders at the Washington Hilton.  Invitations and programs are imprinted with official government logos, such that it appears to be a government sponsored event, at $450 a pop.  But it's not the program that is the most significant. It's the secret meetings that result from the muffins and prayer gathering.  A history of despots linked to the Family has resulted.
In 1983 invitations to Central American leaders went out from Family participants senators Richard Lugar, Mark Hatfield, and Dixiecrat John Stennis, the Mississippi segregationist.  Sharlet describes the results:

The Family went on to build friendships between the Reagan Administration and the Salvadoran general Carlos Eugenius Vides Casanova, found liable in 2002 by a Florida jury for the torture of thousands, and the Honduran general Alvarez Martinez, who " was linked to both the CIA and death squads.  El Salvador became one of the bloodiest battlegrounds of the Cold War; U.S. military aid to Honduras jumped from $4 milliion per year to $79 million.  

In the "60s The Family made links between the U.S. government and some of the worst regimes in the world, including General Costa e Silva, dictator of Brazil; Suharto of Indonesia, and Park Chung Hee, then dictator of South Korea.

HILLARY AND COE

Hillary Clinton's association with The Family has been cited in the mainstream media quoting her evaluation of Doug Coe: "" a genuinely loving spiritual mentor and guide to anyone, regardless of party or faith, who wants to deepen his or her relationship with God."  When Bill was president she became a regular member of a Family prayer cell for wives of political big wigs.

Less well known is her association through The Family with reactionary Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, who is even closer to The Family than is Clinton.  Brownback was first a mainline Methodist, then an evangelical, and now a Catholic aligned with the Opus Dei, a Catholic order founded by a saint who was impressed by Spanish dictator Generalissimo Franco.  

In 1999 Brownback, former senator Don Nickles and the late Strom Thurmond teamed up to demand a criminal investigation of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.  He also chaired the fundamentalist group the Senate Values Team formed by now disgraced Tom Delay.  The VAT, as it is known, has fought for legislation against gay marriage and hate-crime legislation, and for school vouchers and "abstinence only" sex education.  It also advocates war with Iran.
 

Brownback and Hillary once teamed up on what appeared to be progressive legislation, but which turned out to be just the opposite.  For example: the two united to support a law to ensure "religious freedom."  In reality it was a law providing "freedom" for pharmacists who didn't want to fill birth control prescriptions, nurses who didn't want to treat gays or lesbians, or cops who didn't want to protect abortion clinics.  This is just one example of Clinton's and Brownback's "freedom" bills.  There were others.  Bur remember, they were Family friends.

SUMMING UP

On the penultimate page of his book, Sharlet compares the populist fundamentalism of people like John Hagee and the elite fundamentalism of The Family, both of which "want to ease the pain, banish fear, forget loneliness, to erase desire."

Populist fundamentalism does so by offering certainty, a fixed story about the relationship between this world and the world to come; elite fundamentalism, certain in its entitlement, responds in this world with a politics of noblesse oblige, the missionary impulse married to military and economic power.  The result is empire.
It is possible for readers of this important tome to end up feeling like The Family is an octopus secretly reaching out to envelop the government.  But such is not the case.  U.S. imperialism is still the dominant power in the nation and the world and The Family is but one of many manifestations of fundamentalist religion upholding it.  

Larry Jones is a long time political activist and former United Church of Christ minister who lives in Honolulu.

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World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.