Christianity Today: Doug Coe’s vision for the Fellowship

Last year and early this year, as a component of reporting on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, I wrote a bit about the Fellowship Foundation. Author Jeff Sharlet reported in November of last year that the main movers of the Ugandan proposal were associated with the Fellowship. As the matter unfolded, it has become clear that those behind the bill are associated with the Fellowship, but outside of Uganda, many other Fellowship associates oppose the bill. In particular, former Ford and Carter administration official, Bob Hunter offered vigorous public opposition on behalf of the Fellowship. To get the context, Jeff Sharlet’s guest post here on the subject is well worth reviewing.

The signature event associated with the Fellowship Foundation is the National Prayer Breakfast. The Fellowship organizes the event for the Congress with the President sometimes taking an active role in inviting guests from around the world. Held the first week of February, speculation was high in January about who would attend from Uganda. In relationship to my reporting on Uganda, I was invited to come to the National Prayer Breakfast to learn more about the event and the group behind it.

As an aspect of that visit, I was given a rare opportunity to sit down with spiritual leader of the Fellowship, Doug Coe. He grants few interviews, in fact, I only know of a handful, but he was glad to affirm to me that Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill was completely inconsistent with his vision for the Fellowship. Today, Christianity Today published the rest of the interview on their webite.

Over the next week or so, I will be reporting more on my visit to the National Prayer Breakfast. In this post, I want to begin by providing the talking points for a meeting where delegates from Africa were given information about the essential aspects of the National Prayer Breakfast work. In the legislatures of many nations, Fellowship groups conduct prayer breakfast meetings with similar aims as the US version. What follows is a document used to explain the Fellowship at an African gathering at this year’s event.

Eight Core Aspects of the vision and methods – the National Prayer Breakfast work:

  1. Based on Long Term Relationships:  There are a circle of friends connected with this that go back several decades in some cases.  Sometimes we simply call ourselves the fellowship or a family of friends.  Family refers to the nature of relationships and friends speaks to the quality of our relationships.
  2. It’s a Wide Vision but grounded in Small Groups:  It’s world-wide – we have members coming from very many different nations – it’s a very wide vision – but at the same time the whole thing is composed of friends gathering regularly in small groups for fellowship and to pray for their nations, their leaders and the leaders of the world.
  3. We focus on Jesus as the Common Ground:  Any movement needs to have a strong ideal of shared values holding its members together.  Many initiatives that try to promote unity across religious divides – can often end up with the ‘lowest common denominator’ when trying to create common ground.  We are seeking the highest common denominator and so we reference our core values and methods to the principles, precepts and person of Jesus.
  4. We work across all that is dividing humanity:  Nearly all of the conflicts and wars in the world today are being fought because of religious or ideological difference and ethnic differences.  And part of the vision of our family of friends – is to raise up a movement of people who can cross these divides – who can ‘stand in the gap‘ – who can love ‘ the enemy.’
  5. It’s also call for Personal Transformation:  A personal transformation – by Divine influence.  All of us are works in progress… we experience changes in ourselves as we follow this Way of Jesus.  And this happens the more we reflect His thinking, His way of speaking these actions – his love.  The hope for the transformation of society – lies with transformed individuals.
  6. It’s about faith for a Better World:  As human beings making up the family of nations in the world – we can do much better than what we have done so far.  We can do better than this.  We need to articulate and communicate a vision that is big and inspiring enough for people to buy into with whole-hearted, life-long commitment.  A vision for a new way of living, this is what Jesus’ concept of the kingdom of God was all about.  The world in its present state is not at all in line with the ideals of God’s Kingdom.  That is, it is not operating by the values of God. This is why we see wars, injustice, poverty, crime and so forth.
  7. We Focus on the Essentials:  By the time of Jesus – in his religion there were over 600 commandments.  Jesus boiled them down to two.  He said “Love God with all you heart, mind and should and Love your neighbor as yourself.”  This he said was the Sum of all…..the other commandments.  The sum of the law and the prophets.  This was the greatest commandments.  The main thing.  And the main thing to keep the main thing the main thing. 
  8. Finally – we work with Leaders but only have one leader that we give our lives to and that is Jesus:  One of the earlier followers of Jesus – Paul was given a special mission: “This man is my chosen instrument to take my name…before the Gentiles and their kings….Acts 9:15,”  This group of friends has helped to carry on this mission in regards the “king” – or other leaders of our world – who hold enormous influence – for better or worse – over vast numbers of people including billion of the poor – “the least of these” for whom Jesus has a special concern.

Number 7 echoes what Coe said during the interview:

Coe said that Lincoln was always faithful to go to church, but never joined a church. When asked why he stayed unaligned, President Lincoln replied, “When I find that church which has as its only creed ‘to love God with all its heart, mind, soul and strength,’ I will gladly join.” Coe seems to want the Fellowship to be the kind of group Lincoln could join.

For now, let me note that Coe rarely speaks in public and rarely takes public positions on issues. He was willing to do so in order to say that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was inconsistent with his vision of following Jesus.

I am very interested in observations and dialogue regarding the interview and the summary points above. There were many more questions I will ask Mr. Coe if given the opportunity. I suspect this will have an interest to many outside the Ugandan anti-gay bill so I hope the discussion will not be limited to it.

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  • http://www.talk2action.org Bruce Wilson

    “Author Jeff Sharlet reported in November of last year that the main movers of the Ugandan proposal were associated with the Fellowship.” – While that may be so, individuals associated with the New Apostolic Reformation have been much more extensively linked to both the Anti Homosexuality Bill and the wider campaign of incitement of anti-gay hatred in Uganda that has created a cultural and political climate in which it was possible to propose such a bill.

    I’ve been trying to puzzle out the relationship of The Family with the New Apostolic Reformation, and the fact that Doug Coe has spoken out against the bill seems notable to me – the only major evangelical leader associated with the NAR who has also spoken out against the bill is Rick Warren.

    C. Peter Wagner, who was academic mentor for Warren’s diissertation, has written that Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church is a New Apostolic church, and there are many striking similarities among positions espoused by the two – for example, both have proclaimed the advent of a Second Reformation.

    Warren would, I have little doubt, deny he is in Wagner’s Apostolic movement and, in his letter to Uganda’s pastors calling on them to denounce the Anti Homosexuality Bill Warren denied that he and Wagner were “conspiring” to rid the world of homosexuals. It was an odd statement given that no one, to the best of my knowledge, had made such an accusation.

    But among those surrounding the Uganda Bill who are obviously in Wagner’s movement no one to my knowledge has denounced the bill. Indeed Wagner’s prophet Lou Engle seems to have agitated for it, and a number of Ugandan evangelical leaders in Wagner’s movement, such as Julius Oyet, have openly backed the bill.

    On another subject altogether – Warren, did you happen to notice if the National Prayer Breakfast printed program this still featured, as it has in years past, the falsified George Washington quote known as “Washington’s Prayer” ?

    Best,

    Bruce Wilson

  • Jeff Sharlet

    Warren has invited me to comment on his interview, which I’m glad to

    do. In fact, he generously shared his interview with me, thinking that

    it would be useful to Christianity Today to go beyond the interview to

    a forum of perspectives from observers of the Fellowship/Family. (A

    note on names: In my book, the Family, I use both, as does the

    movement — which encompasses not only the Fellowship Foundation,

    which itself does business as the International Foundation, but also a

    whole slew of other corporate entities, including “sister

    organization” C Street. It’s worth noting that the document Warren

    quotes in full above is titled “The Family,” as is another brochure

    prepared for participants.)

    Based on their past coverage, I think it’s fair to say that Christianity Today apparently didn’t think a critical perspective would help. Unlike World magazine, a conservative evangelicalpublication that has done some of the toughest investigative reportingon the Fellowship, Christianity Today has refused to lay a finger onthe movement, despite a departure from Christian tradition so radical

    that its leaders reject the very concept of “Christianity.” In

    response to the Fellowship’s C Street controversies of 2009 — which,

    contrary to CT’s description at the beginning of Warren’s interview,

    involved three adulterous C Streeters, not two, and a cover-up now

    under investigation by the Justice Department and the Senate Ethics

    Committee — CT published an op-ed by two congressmen who offered

    their party affiliations — one, Frank Wolf, is a Republican, the

    other, Tony Hall is a conservative Democrat — as proof that the

    Fellowship doesn’t do politics. I’m told by a reliable source close to

    the magazine that CT did commission a review of my book about the

    Fellowship, but killed the review when it came in insufficiently

    critical.

    So as much as I’m a fan of Warren’s work — I think he’s one of the

    fairest-minded and most insightful observers of Christian

    controversies — I think CT has muddied the waters with its

    publication of Warren’s interview with Doug Coe absent the historical

    context — available to anyone who cares to do the digging in

    collection 459 of the Billy Graham Center Archives. I spent years

    sifting through tens of thousands of documents from the archives, and

    I’ve interviewed and spent time with dozens of current and past

    members of the Family. Based on that context, here’s what I think Coe

    misrepresents:

    1. The Fellowship is anything but an “informal association,” as the

    592 boxes of documents — budgets, minutes, flow charts, membership

    lists, and tax forms — attest. Another Fellowship leader, Dick Foth,

    said the same thing to a producer for NBC News, insisting that there

    was no organization at all — fortunately, the producer had already

    reviewed the Fellowship’s 990 tax forms. Why the Fellowship denies its

    own organization is a mystery — by simply being up front and open

    about it, as most evangelical organizations are, they could dispel 90%

    of the concern about their operations.

    2. Coe says they “find through Jesus Christ ‘the better way’ of

    everyday living.” That’s fine. But there’s some context to the phrase

    Coe puts in quotes. It’s the title of one of the founding documents, a

    1942 pamphlet called “Finding the Better Way.” The pamphlet does

    indeed describe the Coe approach, “an informal association of men in

    positions of responsibility” for the sake of “political betterment.”

    And what counts as that? Leaving aside the many historical examples of

    the men they supported that I document in my book, here it is in the

    bluntly elitist words of “Finding the Better Way”:

    “Our people as a whole have become the most highly organized in the

    world. All the vital activities of industry, commerce, and government

    are carried on by corporations and other formal organizations. Such

    bodies are continually growing in size, and hence the top leadership

    is continually growing in power and influence… We have entered an

    era when the masses of the people are dependent upon a rapidly

    diminishing number of leaders for the determination of their pattern

    of life and the definition of their ultimate goals. It is the

    age of minority control. [Emphasis mine.]”

    The pamphlet goes on to note the downside of “minority control” in

    fascist Germany and the Soviet Union, but reassures that “minority

    control” can be positive, too: “Fortunately, just as surely as a

    minority can wreck a nation, so surely can a minority redeem a whole

    people. It is to a ‘righteous remnant’ or minority that God has

    entrusted the salvation of nations in all ages of history.” The

    founding fathers, it continues, were such a remnant, committed not to

    democracy–which the Fellowship has always been critical of–but to

    “an aristocracy of service.” The document declares that the founders

    were all Bible-believing Christians (not by a long shot) but that by

    separating church and state, modern America has fallen into “economic

    depression and moral decadence.” The solution, it proposes, is a new

    elite: “AN EPOCHAL OPPORTUNITY IS OURS TO CONTROL THE FUTURE OF

    AMERICA BY THE SIMPLE STRATEGY OF CONTROLLING THE CHARACTER AND IDEALS

    OF THIS RELATIVELY SMALL MINORITY OF 1,000,000 YOUNG MEN AND WOMEN.

    HITLER LONG AGO PERCEIVED THIS STRATEGY…”

    Relax — they weren’t Nazis. It was Hitler’s political methods, not

    his ideological ends, that they admired. Coe often cites Hitler as a

    sort of model (you can see video and hear audio of him online doing

    this on at least two occasions), but again, not for his murderous ends

    but for his organizing methods. Just like Fox News, I’m merely

    reporting; you decide whether that’s a good model for followers of

    Christ.

    3. Coe told Warren “Each group, city, and nation is autonomous and

    independent.” Based on the documents and interviews with past and

    present participants, that’s true and not true. Coe doesn’t give

    marching orders. But the Washington Core, as the leadership is known,

    does decide who gets invited to the main event in Washington, who gets

    to meet who, who gets hooked up for financial support, and who gets to

    lead the meetings at which the Fellowship’s functional doctrine is

    determined. The most potent platform the Fellowship controls is the

    dais at the annual National Prayer Breakfast. Here’s how Rev. Rob

    Schenck, a self-described fundamentalist activist, admirer of Coe’s

    and a participant in Fellowship activities, puts Coe’s authority: “”I

    think literally of the guy in the smoky back room, you can’t even see

    his face. He sits in the corner, and you see the cigar, and you see

    the flame, and you hear his voice-but you never see his face. He’s

    that shadowy figure. Nobody ever sees him. At the Prayer Breakfast,

    he’s never on the dais, but he puts the whole thing together. Nobody

    speaks from that podium, including the president, without Doug’s nod

    of approval. It’s a delicate play: He brings everyone together.” In

    recent interviews, members of the Ugandan branch of the Fellowship

    affirmed that they considered themselves autonomous; but they also

    said their group was organized and facilitated by the Washington

    Fellowship. Schenck’s right: it’s a delicate play.

    4. Writes Warren: “Invoking the Golden Rule, he said Jesus taught that

    we should “do for others what you would like others to do unto you.””

    I believe Coe when he says this, and I believe his intentions are

    good. But the historical record is long and intensely documented, and

    time and time again what the Fellowship has done for others has been

    to build more power for the already powerful, in the hope that they’ll

    do right by the poor. Curious readers can google Haiti’s Papa Doc

    Duvalier, Indonesia’s Suharto, the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos,

    Brazil’s Costa e Silva and Medici, Chile’s Pinochet, Spain’s Franco,

    El Salvador’s Colonel Lemus and General Casanova, General Alvarez

    Martinez of Honduras, Selassie of Ethiopia, Barre of Somalia, Abacha

    of Nigeria, Park of South Korea, Kenya’s arap Moi, Sudan’s Gaafar

    Nimeiry, Libya’s Quadaffi, Uganda’s Museveni, Congo’s Kabila, South

    Africa’s Buthelezi, Angola’s Savimbi – etc., etc. – to decide whether

    they would like to have done unto them as these “brothers” of the

    Family have done for their people. “Doug is perhaps naïve,” one of his

    supporters recently told me in his defense.

    5. Warren writes: “Coe explained that in the past, he often used

    [Hitler and Mao] as an illustration of how some of the most evil

    people in the world use God and the Bible for their own purposes; they

    often quote from the Scriptures, but use them contrary to the way God

    intended them to be used.” If this is true, it’s not represented in

    Coe’s extensive citation of Hitler and Mao in the archives, on video

    and audio, in the two talks I heard him give on lessons to be learned

    from the dictators, or in the examples repeated by members of the

    organization. The emphasis has always been on the power of

    organization. I don’t believe Hitler quoted scripture much, and I’m

    quite certain that neither Mao nor Lenin nor Stalin-often cited-used

    God and the Bible. Coe, on the other hand, does merge his models with

    scripture, as in this example from one of Coe’s sermons: “You say,

    hey, you know 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.”

    6. Writes Warren: “According to Coe, Joseph Stalin went to seminary to

    prepare to be a priest, but then he used thoughts from the Scriptures

    in a way just opposite from how they were used by Jesus and others

    down through the centuries.” I’m no scholar of the Soviet Union, but

    fortunately, I have one close by – my father, Robert Sharlet, was a

    Cold War political scientist who published numerous (very critical)

    books about the Soviet Union. It’s true that Stalin trained to be a

    priest (young Stalin was also a poet and a bank robber); as for the

    notion that Scripture or God played any significant role negative or

    positive in Stalin’s politics, public rhetoric, or extensive writings,

    Robert Sharlet says: “absolutely not.”

    7. Warren quotes Coe: “What unites all the major religions is Jesus.”

    Tell it to the rabbi, Doug.

    It’s this theological point that I find most problematic, and not just

    because I’m Jewish. I’ve the utmost respect for my Christian friends,

    liberal, evangelical, Pentecostal, Catholic, Orthodox, and

    fundamentalist, who insist that Christ is the truth and the way. The

    reason I respect them is that they acknowledge that others believe

    differently. They may think those others are wrong, but they don’t

    deny the differences. But the Fellowship does, in the name of an odd

    universalism that for 70 years has favored the powerful over the

    powerless. That should disturb everybody, including Christian

    nationalists, since the Fellowship’s preference for the powerful

    trumps even loyalty to Christian doctrine, debate, and history — in

    short, accountability. Coe claims the ability to dub anyone a follower

    of Jesus — Somalia’s butcher, Siad Barre; Indonesia’s genocidaire,

    Suharto; Haiti’s Vodoun killer, Papa Doc — and thus a part of his

    “worldwide family of friends,” for whom he makes powerful

    introductions. Maybe because Coe’s commitment to a literalist reading

    of Romans 13 — “the powers that be are ordained of God” — not only

    inverts the meaning of Paul’s words, it also does away with what to

    me, is the heart of Christianity’s compassion: the problem of

    theodicy, our centuries-long struggle to understand why God allows

    awful things to happen.

    Coe doesn’t really deal with that question. He doesn’t see it as a

    puzzle of what God allows, but rather a certainty of what God wills.

    Thus, a mass murderer like Suharto becomes not a problem of theodicy

    (much less human rights and justice), but the embodiment of God’s

    will, a leader of what the Fellowship called a “spiritual revolution”

    in Indonesia for which it organized congressional support, right on

    through the murder of more than a million Indonesians. Is Coe a

    sociopath? Or is he naive? I’m guessing the latter, but does it matter

    to the dead? And from a spiritual perspective, the one that both

    recognizes that we all have failings and yet also holds us accountable

    for our struggle to follow our understanding of the divine: does it

    matter to God? “Forgiveness,” goes a sermon distributed by Coe at one

    point, “is forgetting.” No, it’s really not. True forgiveness is

    something close to a miracle; but absent justice–absent memory–it’s

    cheap grace.

  • Pingback: National Prayer Breakfast travelogue — Warren Throckmorton

  • Bob Hunter

    Doug Coe, one of the finest men I have ever met, hardly needs any defense against the startling diatribe that Jeff Sharlet posted here. Doug’s interview by Warren and published by Christianity Today (CT) shows love and openness; Jeff’s reaction shows remarkable and inexplicable anger and venom (Doug Coe is a sociopath?).

    Jeff’s post boils down to three main areas:

    1. Attack the messenger: An attack on CT for having the audacity not to include Jeff’s voice in the same space as Doug’s interview and, in an backhand way, attacks Warren for letting CT, as Jeff put it, muddy the waters by printing the interview without Jeff’s counter attack alongside.

    2. Create a diversion: A long, and strained, linkage of a single phrase Doug used in the 2010 interview to an ancient and irrelevant 1945 document.

    3. Guilt by association to create a false dichotomy: Here Jeff declares Doug to be either a sociopath or naïve. This bizarre conclusion is “justified” by listing many “bad” persons Doug has mentioned or ministered to in his almost 60 years of ministry without ever mentioning even one of the tens of thousands of “good” persons Doug has mentioned or met during that time period.

    I will respond to each of the three main attacks and then touch on some of Jeff’s specific errors.

    The first line of attack is to blame the messengers who would deign to print the Coe interview. This is particularly odd, given Jeff’s repeated demands over recent years that the Fellowship be more transparent. Instead of a word of gratitude or even an “at last” or “I appreciate some candor,” there is relentless criticism. Jeff has begged that Doug do interviews and even asked me to gain him access for such purpose. So when Warren Throckmorton got the access Jeff said the Fellowship needed to provide, Jeff’s response was this vicious attack.

    The second line of attack (found at Point 2 of Jeff’s seven numbered points) is to pick out three words (“a better way”) of Doug in the 2010 interview and to try to link that to a single 1945 document Jeff found in the archives. This guilt-by-similar-words-to-some-old-document-I-discovered is absurd. I have been involved in the Fellowship for 30 years and I have never seen the document Jeff cites. More importantly, the ideas in the document are totally foreign to any ideas I have ever heard at hundreds of Fellowship meetings.

    The thrust of the 66-year old document is that the Fellowship would exercise some sort of “minority control” of America. The Fellowship has no command and control ability and Jeff admits it. Here is what a transcript of a conversation Jeff had with me on December 9, 2009 that we both recorded reveals on that subject:

    Bob Hunter:

    I’m not quite sure how the Fellowship produces a result — a specific result somewhere just by these relationships. It’s tricky. There certainly is no control and command going on to organize — there’s so many atomistic groups around –

    Jeff Sharlet:

    I don’t suggest there’s been control and command. I’ve always argued that this is — again, it’s a social movement, and it’s a culture, and I think this is the broader function.

    Doug Coe is not interested in controlling the future of America or anything else, other than encouraging each person involved to seek to control himself or herself – to live better lives through a closer walk with Jesus. As an example of our lack of control, if we in Washington could control actions by people with whom we have relationships, the Uganda Anti-homosexual Bill would have been withdrawn months ago.

    The third line of attack (found at Points 4, 5, 6 and 7 of Jeff’s seven numbered points) is to create a false dichotomy through tying Doug to evil people and concluding that, therefore, Doug must be either a “sociopath” or “naive.” This sort of charge has echoes of the Pharisees murmuring against Jesus for hanging out with sinners. (See, e.g., Matthew Chapter 9)

    Jeff lists names of individuals that Doug has either mentioned (Hitler, Mao, etc.) or met (Quadaffi, Moi, etc.). But where are the good people Doug far more often meets with? Where does Jeff discuss Doug’s relationship with Mother Theresa, Bono, the Dalai Lama, every President since Eisenhower, friends working with the poor, friends working with those in prison, the relationships with kids everywhere in the world through the Youth Corps program and the thousands of others Doug has been with? Where is the mention of those Doug has used as examples who were leaders in the mode of Jesus like Wilberforce, Lincoln, and many of the saints? Jeff is not interested in the good things the Fellowship does or the good people we know or the good people we hold up as exemplars. He is very happy to cherry pick a bad document, a “bad” name Doug mentioned or a “bad” person Doug ministered to and let all the good, which by my reckoning is thousands of times greater than any bad the Fellowship fell into, to be ignored.

    By the way, I think the fact that Doug met with bad guys hardly means he approved of what they did. Doug spoke to me about meeting some of these guys. He is not naïve as Jeff says, he is very aware of the evil in people, even in himself, as Warren’s interview makes clear. He wants to try to encourage something better in each person he encounters, be that person a sinner or a saint. Doug is a very brave man, trusting God’s Holy Spirit as he ventures into some difficult places and seeks to plant seeds that the Holy Spirit might use to change people’s hearts. Quadaffi apparently changed after Doug went there. Doug claims no credit for that and no one can know the impact his visits there had, but who knows? Is it wrong to reach out to a leader, even one seen as “bad,” and ask them to review their lives and perhaps turn and look at the hurting people in their countries? (One leader was so mad at Doug for raising the plight of people in his nation, Doug wondered if he would get out of the country alive) Is it wrong to reach out to several “bad” leaders in hopes that even just one might be impacted and, thereby, a war ended or repression relieved? I don’t think so, but maybe I am naïve too.

    One thing about Doug where Jeff is certainly wrong is this: Doug is not is a sociopath. This is an astonishingly outrageous thing for Jeff Sharlet to say. Here is the New Oxford American Dictionary’s definition of that word:

    Sociopath: a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience.

    I mean, really, does Jeff really believe that Doug Coe is a sociopath? Doug is a man that many people in the world revere and see as one of the great spiritual leaders of our time. How can anyone seriously use the word “sociopath” in defining Doug? Jeff should apologize for this unwarranted and over the top statement.

    Doug is neither naïve nor a sociopath; I would define him as a lover who reaches out, like Jesus did, to sinners as well as saints. The sociopath/naïve dichotomy is a straw man used to mask Doug’s true motivation of love.

    At Point 1 of Jeff’s seven numbered points, Jeff apparently misunderstands how the Fellowship works. The “essential “work” of the Fellowship is not done by an organization, it is found in the relationships between people in autonomous small groups all over the world, perhaps thousands of such groups, who meet periodically (usually weekly) to read about Jesus in the Scripture and to build closer friendships and then to see what happens. These relationships that are built involve not only leaders from government but from business, from courts, from journalism, from other professions, from prisoners, from every walk of life in nations around the world. They are not an “organization” at all but simply friends meeting together in these autonomous small groups. These small groups sometimes decide to undertake things like the mission work in Africa that I am involved in or putting on a prayer breakfast for the city, state or nation where the particular small group in located. This requires money and some organization to accomplish. There are, in Washington, organizations — the largest called the “International Foundation” – that does such things here. It is composed of over 200 ministries, such as helping hospitals in South America and Africa. The Fellowship is required to have such an organization as a place to put money that is raised and for tax, distribution, accountability and other practical reasons. An organization also exists to coordinate volunteers who help Congress put on the American National Prayer Breakfast each year. But these functional organizations are not the center of the Fellowship at all. The center is many small groups meeting, praying and reacting to what they perceive the Holy Spirit is saying in their midst.

    At Point 3 of Jeff’s seven numbered points Jeff concludes that, somehow, Washington’s Fellowship controls the world via the National Prayer Breakfast held here each February and through some “functional doctrine” established here. First of all, if there is a “functional doctrine,” I have never been given it or told it in 30 years of relationship with the Fellowship. There are teachings and documents like the eight points that Warren posted but that was (a) developed in Africa and (b) only used by some people as a way to understand and remember some basics. Most people in the Fellowship do not use the document.

    The idea that the Washington National Prayer Breakfast is central to worldwide control is really a neo-colonialist concept. People involved in small prayer groups in, say, Kenya, or Korea or Oregon do not view the D.C. event as more important than their own local state or national events. When Kenya has a National Prayer Breakfast, people come from all over the country and also from many other nations, particularly African nations. Does that make Kenya the command and control center for Africa or the world? The same thing happens at the Burundi National Prayer Breakfast. Does that make Burundi the center of it all? The same occurs around the globe and in most states here in the USA.

    I can tell you from personal experience that the people involved in the Fellowship are much more focused on and invested in their own weekly small group than on any NPB. It is the day-to-day deep friendships that are critical; the big events are simply celebrations of the love that the small groups produce. Without love undergirding it any NPB becomes simply another meeting (and I have been to NPBs that were just that and they were deadly). The love makes the NPB work, not the other way around. Jeff misses the key way the Fellowship functions: in small, atomistic, independent groups, thousands of them, all over the world. There is simply no devious “delicate play” to control the world from Washington. The Uganda group feels autonomous because they are.

    When I started the African prayer group here in Washington 30 years ago I was young, naïve and arrogant enough to call it, “The African Core Group.” I then traveled to Africa several times with friends who had joined the group. We realized we were not the center of anything going on in Africa, that God was way ahead of us in what was going on there and that the Africans were way more advanced than we were in relationship building. We realized quickly that our role was to come alongside of friends there and simply try to support what they were doing and learn from them about forgiveness, relationships and many other things. We came to our senses and changed the name of the Washington group that prays for Africa to the “Africa Support Group.” In many ways, in our intercontinental relations, the groups in Africa are the “Washington Support Groups.” We have mutual love and respect in these wonderful relationships. There is no Washington control of any group anywhere in the world.

    At Point 7 of Jeff’s seven numbered points, Jeff attacks Doug for saying Jesus unites religions by flippantly saying “Tell it to the rabbi, Doug.” Doug’s simple point is that Jesus is admired across religions and even among the non-religious. It is undeniable that Jesus is a great rabbi to many Jews, a great Prophet to many Muslims, a great teacher/man to many others, including the non-religious. He can be a bridge over troubled waters, and I have personally seen that it is true in events as small as a personal misunderstanding between two friends to as large as an avoided border conflict in East Africa. We in the Fellowship understand with great clarity the differences between religions, but we believe we can love each other through the differences just as Jesus loved the Samaritans with whom the Jews of the first century were taught to have no dealings. (See, e.g., John’s Gospel, Chapter 4)

    We do minister to the powerful (e.g., I have worked with several African presidents over the years) as well as the powerless (I have helped the poor in Uganda for decades as itemized somewhat near the end of this blog). It is clear to me that Doug’s motivation in both of these aspects of the Fellowship’s mission has always been to help the poor either directly through mission or indirectly through encouraging leadership to focus on Jesus (who teaches us that the ultimate test of the quality of a life is how we help the least among us).

    Jeff’s errors in this blog are simply an extension of the fundamental errors throughout his deeply flawed book, “The Family.” The book, like his response to the CT interview, is based on antiquated documents, contains little current information and leaves readers with a deeply false impression of the Fellowship. The book is “dedicated” to 1935 to the 1980s, according to Jeff. Quoting again from our discussion of December 9, 2009:

    Jeff Sharlet:

    It goes up — and you know, it’s hard for me to know what’s going now, because the other thing I try to say to people is, “Look, I’m working from an archive and from some people like Brownback who talked to me a lot, but most of the book is dedicated to 1935 to the 1980s.”

    This use of old documents led to a distorted understanding of the Fellowship on the point of our good works:

    Bob Hunter:

    Okay. You know, one of the things you mentioned, somewhere in your book, that there were a lot of good things coming out of it, I mean, there were 200-some odd ministries that are funded through the international foundation. And a lot of really good works. That somehow, that gets lost a little bit.

    Jeff Sharlet:

    To say — there’s a fair critique of the book in that. The two things I would say to that is that, one, this will sound cynical but it’s not, that’s not news. Someone has an orphanage somewhere? Good. There were orphanages before –

    Bob Hunter:

    It’s not news, you don’t want to paint a picture that the Family is just all bad.

    Jeff Sharlet:

    When I looked at — thing –

    Bob Hunter:

    I don’t call it The Family, but you do.

    Jeff Sharlet:

    This is another thing — I mean, The Fellowship. Fellowship Family. There’s that distinction, the good works that I found in the archive, and there were, right? Were mostly at the level of a program for kids, an orphanage. Wholly admirable, but small-scale.

    To be fair, Jeff claims that repeated requests for interviews were not accepted which may be the case. But there were people involved in the Fellowship, like me, who would have been happy to talk but we were not contacted. For example, Jeff should have sought my input relative to pages 53 and 54 of his book where, by name, he discusses my role in Uganda. In our interview, I challenged Jeff about what I felt were errors, like falsely saying I went to Uganda “representing the interests of American political figures” to “influence” Uganda rightward. He replied:

    Jeff Sharlet:

    Well, what if — fair enough, but what if there was transparency? What if, instead of having to go to these documents — which, when you look at that document in record, that’s what it looks like.

    Bob Hunter:

    You could have called me. You never did.

    A prime example of how far from the truth Jeff’s book is can be found on in this enlightening exchange from the July 10, 2009 Rachel Maddow Show:

    MADDOW: Wow. When I—when I read your book, “The Family,” when it first came out in hardback, Jeff, I—my notes on, I write notes in the fly leaf about I‘m thinking about it. And my notes about it, I went back and looked for that. It was essentially to promote—its role (ph) is promoting American power worldwide, unfettered capitalism, no unions, no programs to help poor people—all with this idea that godly, powerful rich men should get at many resources as possible personally and they should just privately help everyone else. That was the impression that I was left with. Was I close?

    SHARLET: That‘s dead on the money.

    Unfortunately, Ms. Maddow’s understanding of the Fellowship based on the book is (a) totally in error and (b) the same sort of impression a lot of people have of the Fellowship if all they know us by is the book. While some specific parts of the history may be accurate, the overall picture Jeff paints bears absolutely no relationship to the Fellowship I have known for 30 years. I have never heard anyone ever speak about capitalism, unions, American power and helping the rich get richer for instance. Not once in hundreds of meetings. However, I have heard a lot of discussion about helping the poor and I have personally worked to help the poor in Uganda raising significant resources to assist two hospitals there, by raising funds for returned abducted (by the Lord’s Resistance Army) children in several homes in Northern Uganda as well as for the care for 400 returned abducted raped girls with unwanted children and their babies and no education in Gulu and Atiak, Uganda). The later work, helping returned abducted raped young women, is a work headed by Sister Rosemary, who has won the CNN Heroes’ Award (nominated by Rabbi David Zaslow for that honor!). One of the great honors in Carole (my wife) and my life is the exalted title Rosemary calls us: “Mom and Dad.” If this is the power Jeff fears, the power of the love of deep friendships and the help it brings to hurting people, please relax Jeff! This “power” saves lives and souls and is of no threat to you or to America.

  • Jeff Sharlet

    The quickest response to Bob is to say that I’m glad that his wife is ok. I contacted Bob last week to ask him about some allegations made by Ugandans. We were scheduled to talk, but then Bob said his wife had fallen gravely ill. I told him I’d put her in my prayers and hope to hear from him when things were better. I’m assuming they must be, since Bob has time to attack. I still haven’t heard from Bob. So, in response to the allegations made by Ugandans, I’m going to have to put down “no comment.” What’s been startling about my dialogue with Bob over the last seven months is that he seems to have only time to attack me, not address real issues. Maybe this is what he means by love. It sure is a puzzle. I’ll try to answer his points below.

  • Bob Hunter

    Thanks, Jeff. I just got home with my wife from the hospital at 6 PM tonight. More than all the prayers she received from around the world I am most grateful for yours. She is still very sick but much better.

  • Jeff Sharlet

    I’m glad to hear Bob’s wife is getting better. In case anyone else is reading this: I wrote a long response to his points above, but then decided that before I get into tit for tat, I’d better try practicing what Bob preaches, and take my concerns to him personally. We clearly disagree on a great many things–the importance of history, the meaning of Jesus to Jews, the balance between justice and reconciliation, the definition of candor, etc.–but those debates are better saved for a day when Bob can fully engage. In the meantime, I’ll keep Carole’s health and recovery in the questioning conversation with God that passes for my prayers.

    The only thing that must be clarified now: I certainly did not, as Bob suggests, intend some kind of sneak attack on Warren. I discussed my points with Warren before I posted them. I’m incredibly thankful for the forum and reporting he provides, and as a pro-gay person I consider him a brave man of conscience, a rarity regardless of one’s views.

  • David Blakeslee

    Are we all writing documents to reinforce the beliefs of our friends?

    As a conservative with a liberal education, I thought we were supposed to collect the facts, as best we could and lay them out for discussion so people could make informed decisions.

    There are very bright, articulate people on all sides skewing facts to make the discussion process a forgone conclusion…

    Is a quality education a moral obligation to speak and write thoroughly and perhaps, to persuade thoughtfully; or is it a means to coerce conclusions through artful articulation of selective data and subtle fears?

    Fears of religion, fears of homosexuality…

  • Fiona Mackenzie

    What a bunch of backpedaling balderdash. I don’t suppose ANYONE remembers that it was only after not one, not two, but THREE admonitions from President Obama that Family members in the U.S. Congress promoting murder of gays in Uganda reluctantly pulled back their support. Before that they tried claiming it had nothing to do with them (because Republicans don’t believe in the power of videotape), even though they instigated it by arranging and importing a “cure the gay” speaker to address the parliament and persuade them that (a) homosexuality is a choice, and (b) gays spend all their time trying to convert children, and (c) killing them would either persuade them to make “a better choice” or, at the least, save their immortal souls which would burn forever in hell if they died unrepentant of natural causes. I am not making this up.


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