Friday, January 1, 2010

The Family, College Style; and Some Hope for Tiger Woods

Since I published The Family, I've received hundreds of emails from readers, including a number who report personal experience with the Family/Fellowship. Here's a fairly straightforward one from a Christian who took a look at the Family's theology and kept on going.
Mr. Sharlet:

I read The Family in 2008 with great interest and listened to all your interviews on Fresh Air. I was part of an Intervarsity Fellowship at Emory University from 1987-1991. After graduation one of my friends lived in a mens house in the Arlington area. I enrolled in graduate school in Philly and stopped there a couple of times to spend the night. I even went to an evening worship service I think at the home of the Senate chaplain, Halverson,* I think was his name. He gave a short message which I thought was theologically light. The "let go, and let God" message.

In the fall of 1992 one guy from the Fellowship enrolled in my graduate program at Eastern College. This guy started bible studies and recruiting folks to go down to DC on ocassion. It all had the feel of a fraternity and less of a BIble study. Several guys went, but I always had this feeling of doubt. I asked a couple of professors and faculty about the group including a older woman who had lived in women's house around the time Chuck Colson was released from prison. She told me she was a yellow dog Democrat and she refused to serve breakfast to man who had so violated the Constitution.

They told me it's a strange thing and not to get to mixed up in it. Their theology is very nebulous. I had a classmate from Kenya who knew some fellowship members and he said it's a club for very wealthy Christian people. There a very few Democrats and they are very anti-church, but they project an aura of elite evangelicals. Definitely not for me.

I was told in the early 90s they lead Bible studies on the PGA tour and provide spiritual counsel perhaps through Payne Stewart. I would not be surprised if they reach out to Tiger Woods.**

Keep up the good work.

[Name withheld at request]

*Richard Halverson was indeed chaplain of the U.S. Senate, a beloved figure who blended bonhomie and hard right sophistication in the person of a pastor for the Presbyterian Church of the USA, the more liberal of the two major Presbyterian denominations in the U.S. Halverson believed in a complete transformation of U.S. government, but he took the soft sell approach. “A revolution can be anarchy," he wrote a rival within the Fellowship who favored a more public style, "or it can be tyranny. It can be noisy and rambunctious and spectacular like a Fourth of July fire-works celebration, or it can be quiet and penetrating and thorough like salt, like benevolent subversion." (Emphasis mine; Halverson to Clif Robinson, May 22, 1963, folder 2, box 232, collection 459, Billy Graham Center Archives.)

**Here's an ironic little excerpt from a conversation I had recently with Bob Hunter, the Fellowship associate who's been in the news lately for his involvement with Uganda. Bob and I both recorded our conversation, and Bob was kind enough to share with me the transcript he had professionally prepared. In this excerpt, Bob is referring to a personal crisis that led him to his faith and his long work with the Fellowship:
Bob Hunter: I went through a crisis, and I felt like I -- you know, I felt like I got blessed out of the crisis, kept my family together. And then, you know, maybe a Tiger Woods type of moment. I don’t think I have to give you all the details, but --

Jeff Sharlet:
Now, there’s a story. Tell me that Tiger Woods is over at the Cedars right now. We’d get front page in a hoot.

Bob Hunter:
I wouldn’t be surprised by that, actually. They do tend to do that.