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.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

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.

Jeff Sharlet said...

Anonymous: I'd very much like to learn more about this. How can I contact you? You can contact me at jeff.sharlet@gmail.com.

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