Doug Coe died last Tuesday at the age of 88. He suffered from recent “complications following a heart attack and stroke.” Who was Doug Coe? In 2005, Time magazine named him as one of the 25 most influential Evangelicals in the U.S. I think he was that for decades prior, but it was little known. Doug stayed out of the spotlight even though he lived next to our nation’s capital and ministered there to the most famous of people.
Doug Coe was like Jesus wherein the Bible says, “Now the Jewish festival of Booths was near. So his brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.’ (For not even his brothers believed in him.)” (John 7.2-4).
Doug Coe was a dear friend of mine since the late 1960s. Jim Hiskey introduced us. Doug and Dick Halverson sort of headed up what was known as The Fellowship that was centered in Washington, D.C. This organization–whose leaders didn’t believe much in organization–avoided publicity by quietly influencing leaders to believe in, and follow, Jesus and his teachings.
Doug and the other leaders in The Fellowship were mostly about befriending people, especially men, and then individually discipling them. These leaders of men learned early on that if you are going to minister to the rich and famous in the nation’s capital, you must maintain a confidentiality about peoples’ personal lives. Otherwise, such men will not reveal to others who they really are on the inside. And you can’t blame them for that.
But The Fellowship is most known for putting on the annual National Prayer Breakfast. (It used to be called the Presidential Prayer Breakfast.) Actually, it is the members of Congress who meet regularly in small Fellowship groups for prayer and Bible study who host this premier spiritual event in our nation’s capital. The first Thursday in every February, about 3,500 dignitaries from around the world gather for breakfast and to hear speakers deliver speeches which include brief remarks from the U.S. President.
Doug was such a friendly, outgoing, and quietly charismatic fellow. As soon as you met him, you just had to like the guy. He had a social warmth about him. Thus, you felt he was genuinely interested in you. Because of all this, Doug Coe influenced a lot of people for good.
Doug also liked to play golf. I played golf with him at least twice, maybe more. If Doug was ever competitive, it was only on the golf course. He liked to gamble at golf, if you could call it that. His only wager he would make was that whoever lost had to memorize certain Bible verses.
Doug Coe was all about Jesus. Doug loved to talk about Jesus and compare him to other great men in history. Sometime, Doug was so unorthodox in his remarks about Jesus that he surprisingly could be a little abrasive about it. For example, Doug often compared Jesus and his “band of disciples,” as Doug liked to call them, to the Mafia. Doug would explain that in the Mafia, you must be totally dedicated and loyal to its members, and that’s how he rightly described Jesus and his early disciples.
But that got Doug in trouble with especially the media. The problem with this comparison, of course, is that the Mafia (which means “family” in Italian) was known mostly for its lawlessness, including much murdering, whereas Jesus and his disciples emphasized living righteous lives and laying down their lives for their friends. Doug was often criticized by more than the media for making this comparison. More than once I sat in a meeting listening to Doug make this particular comparison, and I must say it made me feel uncomfortable. In fact, Doug tried to change the name of The Fellowship to The Family because of the Mafia. But that name never really stuck. Another name for The Fellowship has been The Foundation.
Nevertheless, you knew that Doug was all about following Jesus and thus living a life pleasing to him, which would be, of course, living righteously. Doug’s main program, and really that of The Fellowship as a whole, was the two commandments that Jesus taught: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. I have always fully endorsed The Fellowship and Doug Coe’s work in it because of this strong stand about Jesus and these two commandments that Jesus taught.
I played the regular PGA Tour full-time from 1964 through 1982. In 1983, I accepted an invitation by Jim Hiskey and Doug Coe to become a part-time associate staff member of the The Fellowship, which I did the remainder of the 1980s. It was because Jim and a mutual friend, Tom Flory, were in the early stages of establishing Golf Fellowship–a ministry under the umbrella of The Fellowship. It was a Christian (Doug didn’t like to use the word “Christian”) ministry to amateur golfers around the country. So, I worked with Jim and Tom in establishing nearly 100 of these Golf Fellowship groups by 1990. (After that, I went on the Senior Tour.) But to do this, that early spring in 1983 Doug ordained me for this ministry in his office, with Jim Hiskey present.
Doug Coe and The Fellowship have been known primarily as devotional Christians. That is, they emphasize being devoted to Jesus and leading others to do likewise. That is so needed in the Christian community–a people great and small who will now suffer loss without Doug Coe to show them by his life about how to be devoted to Jesus.