All In the Family?

When I read Lucy Bryan Green's account of her time with the D.C.-based fundamentalist group "the Family" (aka The Fellowship) in the June 2011 issue of Sojourners, I found myself slipping back to my 20s. During this time, I rebelled against my hippie childhood by aligning myself with organizations such as Young Republicans and Executive Ministries. I bought into the party line that Christians can use their proximity to power and money in the service of enacting God's will here on earth. (Though unlike Green, who seems to have fully embraced the inner circle, I found myself on the outs more than once for questioning the status quo.) I've since realized that all too often those who play this game end up becoming co-opted into serving the idols of power and money instead.

Even though the 1980s-era Religious Right icons have faded into the sunset, this movement remains embedded at the grassroots level. Through the power of the electronic media, they tug at America's heartstrings like a well-worn country song pining for the return of this imaginary Americana that only exists in TV Land. But check out their flight patterns and funding streams, and it's utterly creepy to see who functions as the wingmen besides these wingnuts. Those looking for a detailed analysis of these financial dealings should delve into religion scholar Jeff Sharlet's work uncovering "the Family's" work as the secretive heart of American fundamentalist power. Also, Frank Schaeffer's latest book Sex, Mom, and God offers an insider's glimpse into how fundamentalism became the dominant voice in the U.S. political area.

As I reported in The Guardian and The Washington Post's On Faith column, despite evidence linking "the Family" to the anti-gay legislation in Uganda, "the Family" hosted the 2010 National Prayer Breakfast as though they were conducting business as usual. While all religions are welcome at this event, the underlying message at this ecumenical gathering remains that Jesus is present. However, their version of capitalist Christ bears no resemblance to the crucified Christ, who was sent by God into the world to save the world (Jn. 3:17).

Obviously a religious satirist would never be invited to such a high-profile soiree. But from what I've been told, invitations are issued on congressional letterhead and members of the press RSVP through the White House. Lest anyone feel the Republican Party has devolved into a Palinesque parade of loonies, these elite power brokers operate well under the religious radar, welcoming those Beltway believers who seem all too willing to water down the Beatitudes in the hopes of scoring a seat at this unsecured table.

What kind of political pork could they be serving at this breakfast that would cause religious leaders to get so juiced up on java and Jesus that they forget to follow the First Amendment? While we can long for that promised day when the lion lies down with the lamb, these lions of industry dine on lamb chops. In some progressives' quest to find "common ground," they seem to have fallen into quicksand. That thunderous roar you hear is Roger Williams and the Founding Fathers rolling over in their graves so fast they're liable to cause a nor'easter.

While Green appears to be genuinely horrified by the Family's involvement in atrocities happening in places like Haiti, Uganda, and Indonesia, she notes that she's learned not to draw lines in the sand, not to see the world in terms of 'us' and 'them.' "For those things, I have the Family to thank." Evangelist Tony Campolo concurs and offers this reflection on the National Prayer Breakfast, the only public event hosted by "the Family":

There is no need to get upset over the fact that a homophobic president of Uganda is as likely to be in attendance as someone like Mother Teresa. What the Fellowship tries to do is to get all of these people to take a good look at the teachings of Jesus—those words that are highlighted in red in many editions of the Bible.

6/16/2011 4:00:00 AM
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