I’m currently reading “The Family,” Jeff Sharlet’s new book about the shadowy and incredibly influential organization behind the National Prayer Breakfast. Sharlet, who is Jewish, was, quite oddly, invited into The Family’s fundamentalist fold a few years back, from which he produced this Harper’s exposé. (The book is a scary read that expands heavily on that article, and which I’ll be reviewing for The Jewish Journal.)
Sharlet describes the organization’s theology as built upon Jesus the strongman and revolutionary, not the savior and street preacher. What seems to trouble him most is how this organization and its friends, which include many members of Congress and foreign leaders, often those with less than stellar human-rights records, combine religion with capitalism, fundamentalism with power. For example, this conversation between Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., and The Family’s longtime leader Doug Coe:
God’s law and our laws should be identical. “People separate it out,” he warned Tiahrt. “‘Oh, okay, I got religion, that’s private.’ As if Jesus doesn’t know anything about building highways or Social Security. We gotta take Jesus out of the religious wrapping.”
“All right, how do we do that?” Tiahrt asked.
“A covenant,” Doug Coe answered. The congressman half smiled as if caught between confessing ignorance and pretending he knew what Doug Coe was talking about. “Like the Mafia,” Coe clarified. “Look at the strength of their bonds.” He made a fist and held it before Tiahrt’s face. Tiahrt nodded, squinting. “See, for them it’s honor,” Coe said. “For us, it’s Jesus.”
Doug Coe listed other men who had changed the world through the strength of the covenants they had forged with their “brothers”: “Look at Hitler,” he said. “Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, bin Laden.” The Family possessed a weapon those leaders lacked: the “total Jesus” of a brotherhood in Christ.
“That’s what you get with a covenant,” said Doug Coe. “Jesus plus nothing.”
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