The Family

Atheist Revolution sums up some of the facts about this mysterious, theocratic power player in Washington as covered by Bruce Wilson:

Here are some details about the group worth knowing:

  • The Family is the oldest conservative Christian organization in Washington D.C.
  • The Family runs (but does not own) the notorious “C Street House” as a church to provide assorted politicians with inexpensive living space, Christian bible study, and “spiritual counseling.”
  • “C Street House” is owned by an organization, Youth With a Mission D.C., headed by Loren Cunningham, a man with a vision for worldwide Christian dominion. Cunningham links to Campus Crusade for Christ and Christian Embassy, a D.C.-based ministry that tries to convert Pentagon officials.
  • The Family is responsible for the annual National Prayer Breakfasts and runs assorted prayer groups in which both Republican and Democratic members of Congress participate.
  • According to Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (added to my to-read list), the Family is “committed to a political theology that views democracy as a form of secular humanism, to which they’re deeply opposed.”

It does not sound to me like members of the Family, including the politicians who continue to associate with them, have much interest in democracy. If this group was not on your radar before, I suggest they should be now.

Rachel Maddow has covered the story, twice.  Here is a video extolling the group’s goals:

embedded by Embedded Video

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Here’s The Nation from a year ago on The Family and Hillary Clinton:

almost all its real work goes on behind the scenes–knitting together international networks of right-wing leaders, most of them ostensibly Christian. In the 1940s, The Family reached out to former and not-so-former Nazis, and its fascination with that exemplary leader, Adolf Hitler, has continued, along with ties to a whole bestiary of murderous thugs. As Sharlet reported in Harper’s in 2003:

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.

At the heart of The Family’s American branch is a collection of powerful right-wing politicos, who include, or have included, Sam Brownback, Ed Meese, John Ashcroft, James Inhofe and Rick Santorum. They get to use The Family’s spacious estate on the Potomac, The Cedars, which is maintained by young men in Family group homes and where meals are served by The Family’s young women’s group. And, at The Family’s frequent prayer gatherings, they get powerful jolts of spiritual refreshment, tailored to the already powerful.

Clinton fell in with The Family in 1993, when she joined a Bible study group composed of wives of conservative leaders like Jack Kemp and James Baker. When she ascended to the Senate, she was promoted to what Sharlet calls the Family’s “most elite cell,” the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast, which included, until his downfall, Virginia’s notoriously racist Senator George Allen. This has not been a casual connection for Clinton. She has written of Doug Coe, The Family’s publicity-averse leader, that he 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.”

Furthermore, The Family takes credit for some of Clinton’s rightward legislative tendencies, including her support for a law guaranteeing “religious freedom” in the workplace, such as for pharmacists who refuse to fill birth control prescriptions and police officers who refuse to guard abortion clinics.

The part about admiring Hitler struck me as a bit over the top, Harper’s asked Sharlet about it (and more which you can read about by following this link):

1. Your exposé on The Fellowship, aka “The Family,” appeared five years ago. Has your understanding of the group changed?

When I was working on that story, I remember debating how much Hitler we should put in the piece. That is, we wondered how fair it was to dwell on The Family’s invocations of Hitler as a model of “total commitment.” As it turns out, it was quite fair. After I left Ivanwald, a team of researchers and I spent years combing through hundreds of thousands of documents in archives around the country. We discovered that as far back as the 1940s, when The Family began organizing congressmen, the group’s founder, Abraham Vereide, was praising Hitler’s “youth work” as a model to be adopted by Americans. He denounced Hitler himself, but he admired fascism’s cultivation of elites, crucial to what he saw as a God-ordained coming “age of minority control.”

The Family has put that concept, which they call “Jesus plus nothing,” into action for decades, from their early successes fighting the New Deal in the 1930s and 40s to their recruitment of war criminals such as Herman J. Abs, known as “Hitler’s banker,” into postwar European leadership, to their facilitation of U.S. support for dictators ranging from Papa Doc Duvalier of Haiti to Suharto of Indonesia to Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, now their “key man” for Africa. The fetish for strongman leadership has continued with Vereide’s successor, Doug Coe, who leads the group today. Throughout his letters in the Billy Graham Center Archive at Wheaton College, I found references to the leadership model of Hitler. In one sermon, variations of which he’s given many times, Coe says: “Jesus said ‘You got to put Him before mother-father-brother-sister.’ Hitler, Lenin, Mao, that’s what they taught the kids. Mao even had the kids killing their own mother and father. But it wasn’t murder. It was for building the new nation. The new kingdom.”

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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