Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Family: Reader Mail

Mr. Sharlet,

I am in the midst of reading "The Family" and finding it a fascinating read. I commend you for the obvious thorough and painstaking research, but also for the very enjoyable style in which it is written.

Having spent several of my younger years as an evangelical preacher I was intrigued by what I knew of the subject matter of the book prior to actually reading any of it. In that I was "grafted in" to fundamentalism so to speak, I was always viewed by colleagues with a certain degree of suspicion. I was continually confronted with the difficulty of trying to keep my left-leaning political points of view separate and distinct from anything related to my personal spirituality. Unfortunately, any and all of the religious institutions to which I was formally or casually associated with would have none of it and was often pressed to justify my political ideology with what was assumed to be the more Godly right winged approach. Ultimately this and several other issues caused a slow but continual erosion of my desire to serve God as a fundamentalist.

That being said, I was amazed, while reading your book to happen upon a reference to an old acquaintence of mine, Mrs. Marian Aymar Johnson.* In the early seventies I was newly "born again" and with two years of bible school under my belt I returned to my hometown of East Islip, Long Island and began street preaching. It wasn't terribly long before I had amassed a following of well over one hundred converts, mostly teens and young adults.

I soon became the darling of the established ministers in the area. They saw me as someone who had a way with young people and could reach them with the gospel message in a way they couldn't. It was at just such a place, Sayville Community Church, that I met Marian Johnson for the first time. Being somewhat itinerant and in obvious need of financial support I soon found myself on the receiving end of her generosity. In addition to straight cash gifts, she bought me a watch and gave me a car. Though not a new car, it was a late model in fine condition and I drove it for several years.

After I moved on to take an associate pastorate position in New York City I lost contact with Mrs. Johnson and had not so much as heard her name until reading it in your book a few nights ago.

Chappy Valente

* From The Family:
During the war years, [Family founder] Abram had acquired a new patron, a youngish widow named Marian Aymar Johnson, heiress to the fortunes of both her late stockbroker husband and of her old, Hudson River family.
A lovely if empty-headed beauty raised between Newport, London, and Manhattan, she was a second cousin to FDR, but her isolationist politics were far to his right. Before the war, she’d been fond of Buchmanite ["Moral Re-Armament, fascist-friendly until the outbreak of the war] house parties, hosting one herself at her Long Island estate—an event of sufficient gossip value to rate an article in Time. Tall and blue- eyed with a broad, open smile, after her husband died she resolved to develop greater gravitas. She gave up the life of a social butterfly for what she called Abram’s “total Christianity.” Her goal was the establishment of “spiritual beach heads” from which to evangelize leaders. Only by accepting the same Christ, the “Supreme Leader” she had come to serve, could they save America from communism.18 With her help, Abram bought a four-story mansion on Embassy Row in Washington at 2324 Massachusetts Avenue. He hoped it would be a headquarters for politicians and diplomats of all denominations, a place for businessmen visiting Washington (by this point, Abram’s inner circle
included the president of the National Association of Manufacturers) to share their concerns with brothers- in-Christ in spiritual, not material, terms. A “Christian Embassy.”19

18. Harriet French, “To Make Christians Leaders, and Leaders Christians,” in unidentified newspaper, box 411, folder 4, collection 459, BGCA.

19. An undated brochure produced by the Fellowship shows on its front page just such a conversation between two men walking down the stone steps of the mansion. The man on the right, dressed in light gray and a dark tie, seems to be trying to persuade his companion, an older fellow with gray hair and black brows and an impatient air. The persuader, we learn in the
caption, is Commissioner Sigurd Anderson of the Federal Trade Commission; the skeptic, Howard Blanchard of Union Pacific Railroad—two men with more than Christ in common. “The Bible,” declares the brochure, “contains inexhaustible resources for the businessman fighting the economic battle in a two-fisted business world,” like a vein of coal or a pool of oil “deposited” by God, awaiting refinement into a spiritual offensive against “materialism.”

Some additional documents referencing Marian Aymar Johnson:

1. In the 1948 August-September edition of the National Committee for Christian Leadership's internal newsletter. Aymar Johnson writes of “Our Supreme Leader and Living Contemporary.... If we link up with this Power we project it. Results will be had just as fast as we are willing to invest and hurl our lives and resources back of our convictions. World economies will follow…. infect the rest of the world… We must have a clear, committed, self-sacrificing minority in every strategic situation." This same issue features an essay arguing that the "The totalitarianism of God is the only answer."

2. An August 2, 1949 letter from a German industrialist associated with the Family (then known as International Christian Leadership -- ICL) to Aymar Johnson begged for her help in preventing the Allied dismantling of a German factory linked to Germany's war machine. Aymar Johnson was evidently moved to help, as indicated by an August 31, 1949 letter to Aymar Johnson from Donald Stone, a Marshall Plan administrator who, through his connection to ICL, had concluded that American foreign aid should promote evangelical Christianity. But Stone drew the line when it came to the particular factory Aymar Johnson had attempted to preserve for their German Christian friends, noting that its dismantling had been agreed upon as "a result of international action and formal international agreements," related to "the effort of the Nazis to dominate the world and to perpetuate heinous crimes." (Folder 21, Box 474, Collection 459, BGCA)

3. Aymar Johnson's efforts on behalf of Nazi sympathizers were not limited to economic concerns. In an October 10, 1951 letter to German ICL leader Gustav Adolf Gedat -- a minister who'd been an early Hitler supporter but who'd turned against the Nazis by war's end -- Aymar Johnson notes that along with the men traveling on ICL's behalf there would be a Mrs. Perle, evidently available for romantic consideration: "Auntie and I do not feel that she would be the right type for Prince Hohenlohe... be sure to include my delightful cousin, Colonel Hoffman, who is her right hand there."

4. A December 27, 1967 letter from Family leader Doug Coe to Aymar Johnson and another associate illustrates the Family's longstanding relationship with the oil industry: "perhaps the most tremendous thing that has happened this year is indicated in a copy of the letter from the Executive VP of Continental Oil. They are leaving Ken White on staff but making available to the nation as a public service his time to work with us in the work." (Folder 4, Box 204, Collection 459, BGCA)