Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Family and Lebanon, 2009, unverified

Here's a fascinating comment posted below. The poster was anonymous -- apparently inadvertently. If he reads this, I hope he'll contact me. What he describes, however, sounds like it could be believable -- while Tom Coburn is a relatively high profile associate, Mike Doyle is less well-known and Tim Coe, one of Doug Coe's sons, is generally known only to Family members.

I started searching for information concerning Doug Coe and his Fellowship Foundation about a year ago. I also obtained your book "the Family". I must say that all the allegations that I came across in my research, including those adduced in the book "the Family" fit like a glove.

I happened to be in the thick of things when Douglas Coe dispatched a delegation to travel to Israel, Lebanon and Jordan in April 2009. The mission to Lebanon was, among other things, to provide support to the so called "charitable youths learning centers" in Jordan and Lebanon. The visit was not official and did not take place under the auspices of the US government.

I find it amazing that Senator Tom Coburn along with Rep. Mike Doyle, Tim Coe and other distinguished Americans, appear unannounced in a remote Sunni village in Northern Lebanon to tour a small youths training center called DCL established on the behest and under the guidance of Douglas Coe. The overt purpose of the youths center is to provide English language training to the youths of the little village. The covert purpose is to introduce the principle of Jesus to the youths and thus expand the circle of influence of "the Family". However, the underlying purpose has been uncovered due to a chain of local events in the village. The two local lieutenants of Doug Coe denied insisted that their purpose is merely charitable. The statuesque in the village is a divided community and a brewing problem with unpredictable consequences.

My question is this: How could elected officials be involved in such counterproductive activities on the world stage? I was present in the little village when the US delegation arrived without prior notice in an unofficial visit to a remote village in north Lebanon. I have a number of photos taken with members of the delegation. Later on I was sick to my stomach when the two local Lebanese "lieutenants" of Douglas Coe falsely stated before the US delegation that the center caters mainly to sunni orphans. It became apparent to me later on that the false statement was made in a pitch to raise funds from wealthy "men of Jesus" dispatched to observe the wonderful work of the foundation all over the world to prepare a new generation able to govern the world in accordance with the principles of Jesus. There were a number of US wealthy visitors to this small village in North Lebanon. The sad thing is that only the two local Lebanese front persons have been prospering! They managed to establish a meager center and recruit a few trainees. US wealthy "men of Jesus" donate hefty amounts for land acquisition and building a center in this Sunni remote Lebanese village. What does Douglas Coe want with this tiny village is truly mind boggling.

We would like to see a more productive relationship with the US people. We would like the US people to reach out to us and help our communities and children to be more productive participants within the international community. We don't want people to come and take advantage of our deprived communities.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Family and Uganda's "Anti-Homosexuality Bill," part 2.

Not long ago, I spoke about the Family's connection to Uganda's proposed gay death penalty bill with Terry Gross of NPR's "Fresh Air." To my surprise, the Family man who'd established the Family's relationship with Ugandan dictator Yoweri Museveni demanded the right to respond. I supported him; if the Family wants to go public, I'm all for it.

I went down to Hunter's house, across the street from the Cedars, and spent an afternoon talking with him. Hunter's part of a small liberal faction within the Family. More importantly, he's part of a faction that would like to move toward greater transparency. Most important, he's opposed to the gay death penalty bill, and was willing to break with the Family custom of secrecy to make that known. Below is a link to the entire transcript of "Fresh Air"'s interview with Hunter. But first, I want to highlight what I think are some important points:

1. Hunter acknowledges the Family's secrecy: "We are little too secretive. There are some things have to be secret, you know.

2. He thinks the secrecy should end and reports that there was recently a meeting about doing so (the verdict, for now, is that the secrecy will continue; but Hunter is clearly going in a different direction):
"GROSS: Why now? What was that meeting the reaction to?

Mr. HUNTER: Well, it was part reaction to Sharlet's book and this history, you know, troubles and the inability for anyone to be able to respond because they just don't have a mechanism for responding. And so the media looks for a Web site, I would too. And there is nothing there and so the media goes, well, it must be a secret organization even though Jeff Sharlet found 273 footnotes in his book. So, it isn't totally secret. And so, it's - I think the secrecy will end.

3. Hunter says I acknowledge that nobody in the Family is involved in the bill. In fact, in the short article I wrote about my conversation with Hunter -- which I cleared with Hunter before publishing -- I noted that the three Ugandans most discussed in relation to the bill, MP David Bahati, Ethics Minister Nsaba Buturo, and President Musveni, are all linked to the Family.

4. I did acknowledge that none of the Americans involved with the Family seems to support the bill. But it's just as important to acknowledge that men such as Senator James Inhofe, Senator Chuck Grassley, Rep. Joe Pitts, and Senator Tom Coburn condemned the bill only after a concerted campaign of public and private pressure. None of these men presented any kind of profile in courage. But I'll give Hunter credit: He's gone public in a much more effective way than his better-known brothers in Christ.

Here's the whole transcript.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Family and Uganda's "Anti-Homosexuality Bill"

I spoke to Andrew Harmon of The Advocate, America's oldest LGBT magazine, about the Family and Uganda. Writes Andrew:
With mounting international pressure on Uganda to table the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, even key members of the Family — the secretive evangelical group with extensive links to Capitol Hill that has dominated headlines in recent weeks — has spoken out against the draconian legislation authored by one of its own Ugandan members.

Whether the plea falls on deaf ears is unclear. But passage of the bill could mean death sentences for gays and lesbians in one of Africa’s most homophobic countries — as well as severe restrictions for nongovernmental organizations working to combat HIV/AIDS in the region.

A near-nightly subject of cable news programs led by MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, the Family has cultivated relationships over decades with Ugandan political leaders, ostensibly in order to export its brand of fundamentalism to the developing nation. David Bahati, a Ugandan politician and the author of the bill, is a Family member who organizes the Ugandan equivalent of the U.S. National Prayer Breakfast — the latter being an annual event that’s become a staple of Beltway politics and has been attended by every sitting U.S. president since 1953.

With the bill currently before a Ugandan parliament committee, Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, talks to Advocate.com about why some Family members have spoken out and why President Obama should finally stare down the Christian right by skipping the yearly prayer event that President Dwight D. Eisenhower hoped would never become a tradition for sitting presidents.

You can read the rest of the interview at Advocate.com.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Family and Taiwan

Since I've decided to make this blog a sort of record of "outtakes and bonus materials" to The Family (at least for the time being), I'm keeping my eye out not just for documents from my archives but for news from the world that illuminates the function of the Family. In that regard, I'm recommending this post on the Taipei Prayer Breakfast, by the brilliant religion blogger Richard Bartholomew:

...as with “prayer breakfasts” in other countries, the event was useful to all concerned; the political leader gets a boost, while the church leaders get a national pulpit:

The sermon in Taiwanese was delivered by Rev. Hsiao Shiang-hsiu, who reminded the audience through his sermon that God wanted Taiwan to become a country that loved justice, mercy, and peace. He also lauded President Ma’s moral integrity and urged him to continue leading the country in the way of righteousness.

It should come as no surprise that the Republic of China has a strong relationship with the Family, which has always provided a veneer of piety for U.S. allies on the front lines of any struggle -- in this case with China. A 1942 Fellowship pamphlet titled "Finding the Better Way" explained that God worked not democratically but through powerful individuals, noting, "In China, a single indiviual in a post of authority, Chiang Kai-Shek, has done more to Christianize that heathen country than thousands of equally sincere but obscure fellow worshippers." (This pamphlet can be found in the periodicals section of collection 459 at the Billy Graham Center Archives.) The Fellowship worked to build relationships with Taiwanese politicians over the year, but it wasn't until the 1960s that the effort started paying off. In 1965, the Fellowship's German leader, Gus Gedat -- a prominent writer and public speaker who at the beginning of the Nazi regime had tried to "find a synthesis between the new party and Christianity" -- toured Taiwan on a goodwill tour. It evidently worked. A Fellowship briefing (the term "Family didn't come into usage until the 1970s) for members of congress associated with the movement, by then-Rep. Al Quie (R.-Mn.), dated December 12, 1966, notes that Taiwan -- along with Indonesia and Seoul, two other Cold War allies -- has instituted regular Fellowship prayer meetings for Taiwanese politicians. (folder 2, box 362, collection 459, BGCA)

On October 5, 1967, Fellowship leader Senator Frank Carlson (R.-Ks) writes to Taiwanese contacts that Vice Admiral William E. Gentner, Jr., Commander of the U.S. Taiwan Defense Command, has sent a "report" informing the Fellowship that "you [the Chinese] are perhaps ready for a Presidential Prayer Breakfast with your great leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek." Carlson asks that all accommodations be made for the Fellowship's "field associate" for Asia, who will be coming to Taiwan to meet with national leaders. "This service will be deeply appreciated." (Folder 16, Box 365, Collection 459, BGCA).

On October 21, 1968, Fellowship leader Doug Coe requests from Chiang Kai-Shek (along with Ferdinand Marcos, Heilee Selassie, and Napolean Alcerro, an accessory to the Honduran dictatorship) a special congratulatory letter for the new Brazilian dictator General Costa e Silva, who'll be presiding over Brazil's new Fellowship Prayer Breakfast despite the fact that he's Catholic. Coe makes these requests through "key men." In France, for instance, the key man responsible for organizing support for the dictator is Jean Fernand-Laurent, who had distinguished himself before the war by pressing for anti-Semitic Vichy-style reforms before the Vichy government had even taken over. In Taiwan the key man is businessman John K.C. Liu, president of the United Orient Corporation, a member of the "international planning team." Liu doesn't come through -- Chiang Kai-Shek wants to send a proper letter instead of a cable, and it won't make it in time. (I believe this document is located in folder 1, box 183, collection 459, BGCA.)

A tape recorded message to Fellowship members dated January 4, 1971, by Doug Coe and Fellowship field associate Clif Robinson, tells of meetings with the leadership of South Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Taiwan. Reports Robinson: "We went to meet American Ambassador Walter McConaughy, a model of the way a diplomat of responsible trust can also become a part of this message. A unifying force, a catalyst for God. ... then to the head of the head of the state bank of China, comparable to Federal Reeserve, a man who was so completely open to the concept... with John Liu taking responsibility in a personal way... Secretary General of what we would call the Security Council. Full session middle of the day, the generalissimo and all the others were there. Felt awkward walking up that red carpeted stairway, ushered into next room, Secretary-General gave his gavel over to another man to come out and spend time with us. Said 'I think what we’re doing in this room is far more important than what we’re doing in this other room.'"

Robinson, who believed that the Fellowship should fight a sort of spiritual guerrilla warfare in S.E. Asia, got more excited as he spoke of meetings with Cambodians and Vietnamese. "As men go, and BECOME a part of this LIVING outreach of the unknown, of this living God that we know, God that we know but he’s part and parcel of the great God beyond him, not two gods, not three gods, not 1000, One! We know a little bit, we have seen a little bit of him and what we've seen we want to throw our lives away on behalf of... And so as we do this we don’t do it in the POWER of men. We don’t, don't do it because we have a program that WORKS. We don’t do it because ....Who can we send? Who can we have to go to Manila? Who can we have to go to Saigon? Who can we have to go to Jakarta? We’ve only got this man and this man and this man who knows the score. Isn’t that sort of ridiculous. I believe that somehow GOD has got his men who knows the way. ... This is where we come in... WE must pray into being THIS LIVING MESSAGE. The Word become flesh. Maybe the man doesn’t have to go from the United States to Manila. Maybe he needs to go from China [Taiwan] to Manila. Or from Manila to China. Maybe there’s already somebody right there... just waiting for this RELEASE of spiritual ENERGY that in some mysterious way has been committed to OUR keeping. We can unlock it if we will..." (tape 109, collection 459, BGCA)

The March 1971 briefing for Fellowship-linked members of congress, sent by Senator B. Everett Jordan, a North Carolina segregationist Democrat notes advances in the overseas Prayer Breakfast circuit, with the U.S. military producing 1,400 prayer breakfasts, simultaneous with the main event in Washington and "including all units in South East Asia" -- treated to tapes messages from President Nixon and Defense Secretary Melvin Laird, on the "moral and spiritual values which undergird our way of life." These same sentiments, reports Jordan, found foruns in Fellowship prayer breakfasts in South Korea, the Philippines (again, Marcos), and Taiwan, where Vice-President and Premier Dr. CK Yen had begun working with Liu on an event to simultaneously pray for Nixon and Yen. (Folder 2, box 363, collection 459, BGCA)

In late 1980, Doug Coe wrote Liu, then in the National Assembly of the Republic of China, that he would be dispatching Senator Sam Nunn (D.-Ga.) to meet with him. (folder 2, box 411, collection 459, BGCA).

And so the relationship continued. The most recent dispatch from behind-the-scenes came in 2000, when Sara Fritz, an Asian correspondent, reported for the St. Petersburg Times on the Taiwanese connection. I'm pasting in her article, dated April 10, 2000, below in its entirety, a fine example of reporters doing what reporters are supposed to do:

Not even prayer breakfast immune from power game

When voters in Taiwan recently elected a leader of the opposition party as their president, they also may have dealt a blow to a traditional Washington ritual: the annual National Prayer Breakfast.

What, you may ask, do the Taiwanese have to do with the National Prayer Breakfast? The answer is money. In past years, Taiwan's long- ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party has been a major financial backer of the prayer breakfast and many other such events in the United States.

The party contributes to the prayer breakfast as part of an unpublicized, but highly effective effort to maintain Taiwan's influence with Washington politicians. The KMT's strategy was developed after then-President Richard M. Nixon broke off formal diplomatic relations with the tiny island nation in the early 1970s.

In addition to funding the annual prayer breakfast, which is usually attended by the president and hundreds of members of Congress, the Kuomintang also has funded numerous travel junkets for politicians in Taipei and celebrity-political events, such as the annual Danny Thompson Memorial Golf Tournament in Sun Valley, Idaho, and the annual festival of the Very Special Arts organization founded by Jean Kennedy Smith.

For their donations, Taiwanese officials get to participate in these functions, where they can rub elbows with influential U.S. officials who are not easily accessible to a country that does not have formal diplomatic relations with the United States.

After the annual prayer breakfast earlier this year, for example, Hsu Shui-teh, president of the Examination Yuan in Taipei, boasted to reporters that the event allowed him to have a private chat with President Clinton.

These strategic acts of charity by the Taiwanese have been so successful, in fact, that rival Chinese leaders in Beijing have in recent years tried to use a similar strategy to develop friendships with influential people in Washington. Their copy-cat strategy is surprising when you consider that Beijing enjoys full diplomatic relations with the United States.

Most of the people who attend the prayer breakfast apparently don't know about the Taiwanese connection, which I first learned about several years ago while interviewing KMT leaders on an assignment in Taipei.

I was told the Taiwanese ruling party's contribution in 1997 was $10,000. At that time, prayer breakfast organizers refused to confirm it, saying only that prayer breakfast financial records are not available to the public.

When I began to inquire about these matters again recently, I received a telephone call from a man who identified himself as a volunteer press spokesman for this year's prayer breakfast in February. He said he did not know how the prayer breakfast was funded, but he doubted it had received Taiwanese support.

"I can't imagine a foreign political party making a contribution to the National Prayer Breakfast," he said. He promised to check into the matter and get back to me. I never heard from him again.

Nevertheless, Taiwanese support for the prayer breakfast and other charitable activities could come to a screeching halt when President- elect Chen Shui-bian takes office May 20. Chen's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) does not have the vast financial resources of the KMT, which is said to control bank accounts containing billions of dollars.

"We are not as rich as the KMT; KMT is the richest party in the world," conceded I-Chung Lai, director of the DPP's office in Washington.

Lai said that while DPP leaders recognize that the KMT's generosity to institutions and causes in the United States has been good for promoting Taiwan's interests, some things may have to be curtailed. He said his party would review all such contributions as part of the transition of power from KMT to DPP.

"We have to reassess how effective and appropriate they are," Lai said.

Of course, winning has been good for the DPP treasury. Many Taiwanese business executives who once supported the KMT have begun making contributions to the DPP, according to Lai. Contributing to the winner is a political tradition in every country - East and West.

My purpose in writing about this matter is not to lament the potentially precarious funding of next year's National Prayer Breakfast, or any of the other causes that receive Taiwanese support. In fact, I assume that if the Taiwanese withdraw their money, other groups will fill the void.

I am interested in the funding of the National Prayer Breakfast primarily because I think it reveals the double-edged nature of virtually everything that happens in the nation's capital. Nothing that goes on here - not even something as worthy and other-worldly as a prayer breakfast - is completely divorced from the influence game.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

"Politicians and the Underground Prayer Movement," LA Times, 1974

Defenders of conventional wisdom occasionally respond to The Family by asking, "If this group has so many powerful friends, how come we pundits have never heard of it before?" Perhaps because you weren't paying attention. I'd love to say that I'm the first person to break this story, but I'm not. In 2002, the Los Angeles Times ran a long front page story by Lisa Getter linking the Family to Central American death squads, outing Family associates such as Rep. Bart Stupak, Senator Jim DeMint, and Senator Sam Brownback, and revealing the group's secrecy policy. Not long after that, AP journalist Lara Jakes Jordan reported on the Family's C Street House. Reach back further into the press morgue -- easy enough to do now with Proquest -- and we find coverage of the Family and its secretive ways in Time, the Washington Post, and even Playboy, which in the early 1970s published an exhaustive investigative report focusing on the group's policy of making off-the-books loans to congressmen.

And then, every now and then, there was a positive story, such as this January 1974 column for the L.A. Times Syndicate by Nick Thimmesch. What's remarkable about this piece is that's positive not despite the Family's lack of transparency but because of it.

Below are some excerpts, followed by a few other documents for context. Emphases are mine. The original draft of this article is available in folder 8, box 102, collection 275 -- the papers of Watergate felon and Christian Right leader Charles W. "Chuck" Colson -- in the Billy Graham Center Archives.

Politicians and the Underground Prayer Movement

by Nick Thimmesch

Washington – This city is often cynical, and it can be vicious and merciless, too. But there is an “underground” movement here, spurred by Watergate, which might surprise some of our jaded folks when it shows results in the future. It is the growing inclination among troubled souls here to find serenity and strength through belief in God.

Now this kind of statement can cause even more cynicism, and loud guffawing as well. I know. Particularly when the story broke that Charles W. Colson, the White House’s one-time tough guy and wheeler-dealer, said that “I have found in my own life the relationship with Christ.” Colson might have found God, but it will be a long time before many here will believe it.

It is more believable to learn that two other Watergate figures, Egil (Bud) Krogh, indicted for the break-in of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, and James McCord, convicted in the Watergate burglary, have both gone through profound spiritual experiences.

Anyway, Colson, Krogh and McCord now regularly counsel and pray with other so-called “big” men in this town who have also gone through trials of the spirit. These are usually highly successful political, government and executive figures who woke up one day in middle age to discover their lives were empty and that, in reality, they had earned little or no respect from their associates, their wives and families.

They meet in each other’s homes, they meet at prayer breakfasts, they converse on the phone. They are a brotherhood in belief; are slow to accept quick “believers”; are secretive and guarded in discussing their experiences or activities. Unlike most public figures here, they genuinely avoid publicity. In fact, they shun it.

It appears Colson’s story broke by accident. Long troubled over the way his life had gone, and the way he had become involved in high-powered dealings here, Colson sounded out a friend who was deep into the prayer movement [According to Colson's memoir, Born Again, it was actually Family man and CEO of defense contractor Raytheon who sounded Colson out.] Soon, Colson was invited into the home of a prominent congressman and met others there, including Sen. Harold Hughes of Iowa, the anti-war liberal, whose story was made public many years ago…

… The men who go through spiritual ordeals often meet at prayer breakfasts, and wish there wouldn’t be so much publicity about the National Prayer Breakfast, which features the President of the United States, foreign dignitaries and other celebrities. It looks like affected holiness under “the big tent.”

“I don’t spend more than five hours’ times in preparing for it,” says Doug Coe of the Fellowship Foundation of Washington, who quietly helps groups form their own prayer breakfast groups.

“It is only one-tenth of one per cent of the iceberg and doesn’t give a true picture of what is going on.”…

Colson, to whom I devote much of a chapter in The Family, went on to serve less than a year for his Watergate felony, at which point he was paroled into the Family's care, which wrote the warden that he was needed for religious work. Senator Harold Hughes was waiting for him. It was a friendship that startled many, since on most issues Hughes was liberal. He was also a sentimental man, mostly oblivious to the details of allegations against his Family friends -- the Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos was another subject of Hughes' spiritual and political patronage -- and a deeply religious one for whom divine law, as he understood it, trumped the law of the land. Another column by Thimmesch, "Why Hughes Shocked Liberals" (by breaking with Democrats and many Republicans to reject a sense of the Senate motion against more Watergate pardons), includes this nugget, which can be found in folder 7, box 102, collection 275 of the Billy Graham Center Archives:

Hughes voted “nay” because he feels that the Senate has no business even implying to any President that he doesn’t have, “in his own wisdom and conscience, the final decision-making process rightfully guaranteed to him by the Constitution, and actually going back in history coming from divine inspiration, or granting mercy to those he may deem proper to receive that mercy.” Amen.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Family, Joe Pitts, and Abortion

This fall, anti-abortion activists cheered for the Stupak-Pitts Amendment -- or, the Pitts-Stupak Amendment, as Rep. Joe Pitts' office called it. The amendment nearly derailed health reform and threatened to roll back abortion rights. In Salon, on NPR's "Fresh Air," MSNBC's "Rachel Maddow Show," and in other venues I reported on the Family's relationship to the amendment. Representative Bart Stupak has been enjoying subsidized rent at the Family's C Street House since at least 2002. Rep. Pitts' relationship goes back much further, to the late 1970s. Pitts didn't respond, but Stupak has been vocal in denying any connection between the Family, which he characterizes as apolitical, and anti-abortion activism.

The following letter, from Family organizer Fred Heyn to Pitts -- then a state legislator and national anti-abortion activist -- and an associate, Glenn Cunningham, is just one of the many documents contained within the Family's archives that prove Rep. Stupak wrong. It can be found in folder 8, box 386, collection 459 of the Billy Graham Center Archive. It represents the early days of Pitts' anti-abortion activism through the Family.

September 2, 1980

Dear Joe and Glen,

The dinner at the Cedars [The Family's $4 million Arlington mansion] recently with you and your invited guests was a great pleasure. We appreciate the way in which you are working together and, although as a fellowship we do not officially become involved in issues, we're grateful when men like yourselves take the leadership on a national issue as important as the one on which you're working. We pray for you and God's leadership in the days ahead as you work on it.

Also, Doug Coe, Stu and I have visited and we are agreed to help with this work as much as we're able.

Thanks again for being here and for including us...

Yours Sincerely,
Fred Heyn

Friday, July 10, 2009

Jeff Sharlet, The Family, 2008

"Just when we thought the Christian right was crumbling, Jeff Sharlet delivers a rude shock: One of its most powerful and cult-like core groups, the Family, has been thriving. Sharlet's book is one of the most compelling and brilliantly researched exposes you'll ever read -- just don't read it alone at night!"
--Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed, Bait and Switch, and Dancing in the Streets

From the bookjacket:

They are the Family—fundamentalism’s avant-garde, waging spiritual war in the halls of American power and around the globe. They consider themselves the new chosen, congressmen, generals, and foreign dictators who meet in confidential cells, to pray and plan for a “leadership led by God,” to be won not by force but through “quiet diplomacy.” Their base is a leafy estate overlooking the Potomac in Arlington, Virginia, and Jeff Sharlet is the only journalist to have written from inside its walls.

The Family is about the other half of American fundamentalist power—not its angry masses, but its sophisticated elites. Sharlet follows the story back to Abraham Vereide, an immigrant preacher who in 1935 organized a small group of businessmen sympathetic to European fascism, fusing the Far Right with his own polite but authoritarian faith. From that core, Vereide built an international network of fundamentalists who spoke the language of establishment power, a “family” that thrives to this day. In public, they host prayer breakfasts; in private they preach a gospel of “biblical capitalism,” military might, and American empire. Citing Hitler, Lenin, and Mao, the Family's leader declares, "We work with power where we can, build new power where we can't."

Sharlet’s discoveries dramatically challenge conventional wisdom about American fundamentalism, revealing its crucial role in the unraveling of the New Deal, the waging of the Cold War, and the no-holds-barred economics of globalization. The question Sharlet believes we must ask is not “What do fundamentalists want?” but “What have they already done?”

Order yours now.


"Of all the important studies of the American right, The Family is undoubtedly the most eloquent. It is also quite possibly the most terrifying. This story of a secretive and unmerciful church of 'key men' goes way beyond Jesus Christ, CEO—it's Jesus Christ, lobbyist; Jesus Christ, strikebreaker; and maybe even Jesus Christ, fuehrer."
--Thomas Frank, author of What's the Matter with Kansas?

"Forget what you think you know about the Christian Right; Jeff Sharlet has uncovered a frightening strain of hidden fundamentalism that forces us to revise our understanding of religion and politics in modern America. A brilliant marriage of investigative journalism and history, an unsettling story of how this small but powerful group shaped the faith of the nation in the 20th century and drives the politics of empire in the 21st. Anyone interested in circles of power will love this book."
--Debby Applegate, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for biography for The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher

"Jeff Sharlet has an incredibly rare double talent: the instincts of an investigative reporter coupled with the soul of a historian. He has managed to infiltrate the most influential and secretive fundamentalist network in America, and ground his reporting in the most astute and original explanation of fundamentalism I've ever read."
--Hanna Rosin, former religion reporter for the Washington Post and author of God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save the Nation

"A gripping, utterly original narrative about an influential evangelical elite that few Americans even know exists. Jeff Sharlet's fine reporting unveils a group whose history stretches from the corporate foes of the New Deal to the congressional lawmakers who gather each year at the National Prayer Breakfast. The Christian Right will never look the same again."
--Michael Kazin, author of A Godly Hero: the Life of William Jennings Bryan

"The organization of influence these men constitute may remind readers of a Rotary Club—but it is a Rotary Club equipped with nuclear weapons. When the Family's members say 'Let us pray,' they are not just making a suggestion."
--Michael Lesy, author of Wisconsin Death Trip

“Un-American theocrats can only fool patriotic American democrats when there aren’t critics like Jeff Sharlet around -- careful scholars and soulful writers who understand both the majesty of faith and the evil of its abuses. A remarkable accomplishment in the annals of writing about religion.”
--Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America

"Jeff Sharlet is one of the very best writers covering the politics of religion. Brilliantly reported and filled with wonderful anecdotes, The Family tells the story of an influential group that you haven't previously heard of, and need to know about."
--Ken Silverstein, Washington editor of Harper's and author of The Radioactive Boy Scout

“I was once an insider’s insider within fundamentalism. Unequivocally: Sharlet knows what he’s talking about. He writes: ‘Our refusal to recognize the theocratic strand running throughout American history is as self-deceiving as fundamentalism’s insistence that the United States was created a Christian nation.’ Those who want to be un-deceived (and wildly entertained) must read this disturbing tour de force.”
--Frank Schaeffer, author of Crazy For God: How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back

The Family offers the reader an astounding entrée to a fascinating Christian network unknown to most Americans. Jeff Sharlet has managed to peel back the curtain and reveal an elusive organization that wields an unsettling amount influence over our country’s lawmakers as well as business and political leaders worldwide. The Family is a must-read for any American who wants to know who is actually pulling the strings at the highest levels of power.”
--Heidi Ewing, co-director of Jesus Camp

“Jeff Sharlet provides a fascinating account of how part of American Christianity has gone off on a dangerous tangent. It should worry everyone -- maybe especially those of us who understand the Gospels to be a call to help the powerless, not prop up the powerful. In the last few years evangelicals have begun to reconsider their automatic support for the status quo; The Family will help accelerate that important renewal.”
--Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and The Bill McKibben Reader

"The author of that Harper's piece is the fearless and fantastically talented Jeff Sharlet, who just came out with a book about [the Family]. I can't recommend the piece or the book strongly enough."
--Noam Scheiber, The New Republic

Friday, February 6, 2009

Spring Books

Some good friends are publishing some great books this spring. As it happens, they're all about bodies, dead, alive, or yet to be born.

I blurbed Peter Manseau's Rag and Bone: “Dry bones dance in Rag and Bone, as Peter Manseau brings death to life through his fascinating exploration of religious relics: the skull fragments, detached digits, and ashes of the holy. This is a book that might have been written in the 15th century just as easily as now, but we're lucky to have here the unique 21st century voice of Manseau--a Yiddish-speaking, Buddha-curious son of a Catholic priest and a nun--and one of the most peculiar and most entertaining travelogues in years.”

I also contributed a jacket blurb for Kathryn Joyce's Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement:"'Prairie muffins,' hayrides, and babies -- lots of babies -- don't sound like the stuff of fanaticism, but in Quiverfull Kathryn Joyce brings us the news from the most militant frontier of fundamentalism -- a 'patriarchy movement’ of right-wing women who embrace a caricature of 19th century womanhood as a strategy for culture war. At turns funny, terrifying, and heartbreaking, Quiverfull is a necessary book, an empathetic and brilliant analysis of how this small group of believers shape mainstream ideas about motherhood, marriage, sex and gender.”

Then there's Ilana Stanger-Ross's Sima's Undergarments for Women. I've heard and read little bits and pieces of it over the years, but I'm eagerly waiting for my copy like everyone else before I can say anything substantive about it. In the meantime, though, I'm happy to report that Entertainment Weekly gives Sima an A-.

Here's Michelle Goldberg's second book, The Means of Reproduction: Sex, Power, and the Future of the World. I know Michelle through her reporting on Christian fundamentalism, so I was glad for the opportunity to read an advance copy of her new work, which, as the subtitle suggests, is big in scope. Here's the blurb I contributed: The Means of Reproduction is a bold and vital book, a story about life and those who twist that word to front for agendas of sexual control around the world. We're lucky that we have Michelle Goldberg, a brilliant and clear-eyed journalist, to bring us news of how the struggle over reproductive rights has gone global, as the American Right teams up with reactionary forces abroad. Goldberg calls it one of the most important fights of our time; after you read The Means of Reproduction, you will, too. A landmark book."

I notice I used "brings the news," a cliche to begin with, in two different blurbs. Don't hold that against the books.

Last, latest, and, admittedly, least, is Believer, Beware: First Person Dispatches from the Margins of Faith, selected by the editors of KillingTheBuddha.com -- that is, me, Manseau, Paul Morris, Laurel Snyder, Meera Subramanian, Ashley Makar, and Marissa Dennis. I say least only because this is an anthology as opposed to a new piece of work, although there are several new essays in it. The book began one night when I was avoiding work on my most recent book, The Family. Instead of pushing through to a deadline, I stayed up til dawn reading through the hundreds of essays published on KillingTheBuddha.com since Peter and I founded it with designer Jeremy Brothers back in 2000. I came up with a rough draft of a manuscript, then let it sit for months -- until a new crop of editors -- Meera, Ashley, Marissa, and now Nathan Schneider -- resurrected the webmagazine and grabbed hold of the manuscript's first draft, ready to make it real. To round out the book -- which includes terrific work by established writers such as Bia Lowe, Timothy Tyson, Rebecca Donner, and Steve Prothero, and new stars such as Irina Reyn, Danielle Trussoni, and Laurel Snyder -- we rounded up several new essays -- including Meera's "Banana Slug Psalm," Jeff Wilson's "Barbershop Dharma," Mark Dery's "Jesus is Just Allright," my "The Apocalypse is Always Now," Manseau's "Revelation Road," and, my most favorite of all, Quince Mountain's "Cowboy for Christ," a tale of transgendered Bible camp. Here's a sample:

Just like the cowbois in the more interesting queer porn mags, I wore leather chaps and carried a rope everywhere I went. These should have been clues, but I was oblivious to my slant. Perhaps many otherwise curious adults are too horrified to partake in such pleasures, are not ready to see in themselves what they’ve been told is perverted. I know I was spared for a long time from self-effacement or self-denial largely because of my ignorance of such terms as flogging, caning, BDSM, power play, FemDom, and the like. I didn’t know a schoolboy scene from a shoe fetish, and was thus free to engage in all manner of erotic indulgence.

Until the one of the deacons caught me lavishing Whitney’s bare and salty beltline as she leaned back against a pile of sweaty saddle blankets polishing leather in the tack room, I was quite free, indeed. During the ensuing interrogations, I publicly denied any kind of sexual interest in girls (What?! She’s like a sister to me—my sister in Christ!). I recounted my devotion, my service, their lack of solid evidence. The director, who called me out on the back barn porch and addressed me with his arms crossed, could hardly prove a longstanding sexual relationship. Still, my welcome at Bible camp was clearly limited to the end of the summer at best.

Privately, I had to agree with the director. I held up my desires to the holy light of God’s word and, yes, they were out of line with His will. I may have failed as a camp wrangler, but I could get right with God.

When Whit and I left the camp without plans to return, we didn’t tell our friends we’d been caught getting it on in the barn. We cited frustration with transient staff and milky sermons. We said we wanted community; we craved meat and potatoes. So the following summer—after I finished high school and Whit dropped out of missionary school—we moved to Whit’s hometown, where we joined an even more conservative church. That’s what I needed in order to be the God-fearing woman I was meant to be: more rigidity...

Monday, January 19, 2009

Joss Whedon and James Marsters, "Spike," Buffy the Vampire Slayer

The new season of Battlestar Galactica just launched, and Lost will soon be found again. There’s even another Flight of the Conchords coming. To prepare, I returned to the source of the new golden age of television: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I re-watched season five. After Lost, the pacing seems positively stately, with impossibly long scenes for TV. Buffy's still much better writing about, you know, human beings, but the flab within it, the exchanges that are simply pedestrian means of transporting us onto the next interesting moment, is more visible. And yet, Buffy was a deeper character study than even that of Tony Soprano. The Sopranos was brilliant right to the end, but it stopped seriously developing its characters after the fourth season. By then, we knew all we were going to know; what remained was to watch Tony and his associates come to the same realization.

Buffy creator Joss Whedon and his writers (and actors) not only created truly complex characters, but also truly complex people. There was no end to their "development," because there was no end to their lives (until, of course, there was).The character who interested me most in this regard as I re-watched Season 5 (and parts of the subsequent seasons) was the absurdly vain vampire Spike (James Marsters), a cartoon bad guy to begin with who slowly claws his way out of the grave of cliched villainy. Of course, Spike was created to be the most interesting character; but the first time I saw Buffy, back in re-runs on FX years ago, I resisted. Like most nerdboys, my favorite character was Willow, the nerd-witch; but the most interesting character to me was Tara, her shy, clumsy girlfriend. Spike was just too obvious.

Or so I thought. Now, I think Spike may be the emblematic character of the new golden age of television, a character who simultaneously embodies the limits and the possibilities of sequential drama on a small screen.

In season five, we see Spike becoming more and more infatuated with Buffy. He puts a blonde wig on half a mannequin, dresses it up in a turquoise top, and begins developing a relationship. In episode 11, he buys a box of chocolates and practices presenting them to the mannequin in preparation for an apology to Buffy, for revealing to her that her human boyfriend, Riley, is cheating on her with vamps. He imagines her response, and answers; imagines another response, and snaps at her; again, and he smashes the chocolates over the mannequin’s head.

The scene presents a subtle mockery of Buffy and of television. Spike has no difficulty imagining Buffy’s predictable responses; his angry retorts are those of the show’s writers pushing back at the conventions of TV drama. But they’re also signaling a more interesting development. Spike, the buffoonish bad boy, both understands Buffy well enough to play her part in his mind and hates this impotent knowledge enough to react with psychotic rage. Viewers seeing the episode with no knowledge of the show’s future might have thought, “cute, weird, and foreboding.” And all three adjectives are on the mark, but not as one might expect.

Well, one might expect that Buffy and Spike are bound for romance. And they are. But it’s not going to be as simple as the TV conventions Spike tries to smash. Yes, he makes an effort at being a good vampire, but it never really works. He’s not a good vampire. He’s the bad boy character. Granted, in a less imaginative show — The O.C., for instance -- the bad boy would turn out to be misunderstood and fundamentally noble. But the Buffy/Spike romance will evolve because Spike’s essential wickedness reflects Buffy’s resentment of her responsibility as the slayer and what we are told are the “dark” sources of her powers. Spike is Buffy’s dark side – “the monster in the man” – as Spike tells Riley, the now-displaced good guy boyfriend.

And yet, their romance is real. That’s what makes Buffy, the show, brilliant – Joss Whedon and co. don’t try to defy convention, they dive into it and come out the other side in a weird world where Spike and Buffy can be lovers, a world so strange that it’s more familiar than anything else on television. The Spike and Buffy pairing doesn’t simply mimic emotional truths we all know in greater depth in our own lives, it adds to our store of knowledge about the human condition.

“The human condition,” with its echo of disease, is an especially apt phrase for what drives Spike to woo Buffy and to respond with demonic anger when he fails to win her. It’s not that he’s a caricature, but rather that he’s rusty – it’s been 100 years since he actually was human. Like Anya, the vengeance demon who becomes mortal so she can be with nerdy Xander, Spike is learning how to be human. Not how to feel – he already does that – nor how to crush his feelings into conventional expression, but to express his feelings within the conventions of human behavior, the genre confines of being a person, without reducing them to clichés. The result is a bad boy who, when he finally does make a noble sacrifice at the end of the series, surprises us – astonishes us – with a goodness that was in no way predictable, nor even quite explainable. It’s neither in character nor out of character; it’s the irreducible complexity of free will exerting itself within the structure of a story.

(Counterpoint: Jaime J. Weinman, writing in Salon, thinks Spike ruined the show, by becoming its Fonzie.)