The Family: the secret fundamentalism at the heart of American power

an occasional book review

Jeff Sharlet must have a debt of gratitude to Rachel Maddow.  and Rachel back to Jeff.  about the time this past summer that the John Ensign ( R. senator from Nevada – having an affair with a married woman in his staff) and Mark Sanford (R. governor from South Carolina – missing for five days in a 'hike') – it was Jeff Sharlet who in a series of appearances in the Rachel Maddow show acquainted Americans with the shadow organization known as "The Family".  "The Family" is a secretive fundamentalist organization, now famous for owning a house in C street Washington D.C. where several members of Congress (Ensign and Sanford among others) lived while Congress was in session.

Sharlet has been following "The Family" for several years now.  a few years back he spent several months in Ivanwald, one of the houses owned by "The Family" as one of a group of brothers – young men selected to be trained for future leadership positions in support and behalf of "The Family" and its principles of driven Christianity, "biblical capitalism" and  "Jesus plus nothing".

The first chapters of the book are interesting, when Sharlet writes about what was it was like to be a brother at Ivanwald and describes the weekly breakfast meetings at the C street house, attended by  several members of Congress, the Administration, lobbying groups and other powers around D.C.. Sharlet describes how while publicly supporting inclusive gatherings such as The National Prayer Breakfast, in private The Family has been closely involved with repressive regimes around the world in support of American fundamentalist supremacy.

The book lags a bit after these few chapters – Sharlet dives into a discussion of the beginnings of American fundamentalism, followed by narratives of how different persons have gained leadership within The Family, up to the current leader, Doug Coe.  several of these chapters had their beginning in Sharlet's articles in Harper's and elsewhere 

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11 thoughts on “The Family: the secret fundamentalism at the heart of American power

  1. i should add that I 1st met Family members in the early-mid 80s. there are lots of names that haven't been named yet (by Sharlet or any other reporter), but I keep wondering when the names of people I knew are going to become public – and I'm neither joking nor exaggerating about that. D.C. is a VERY strange place, on the whole.

  2. I was thinking about the Ugandan proposal to make it a capital offense to be gay as I was writing this. didn't include it as the book doesn't cover it, but you are correct, e2c: The Family is all over it. they are trying to distance themselves, but no way.

  3. Sharlet and a number of othr people have been following the money trails to Uganda and back; he talked about concrete evidence re. Fellowship involvement on Fresh Air last month, but also said that reporters from an evangelical magazine have actually done FAR more than he has in terms of investigative journalism and digging into the financial stuff – problem is, I can't recall the name of the mag!Now, if you really want to see how the gay thing unfolded, go to and read *all* of the posts on Uganda, starting early last year – there's an incredible amount of documented evidence (including videos taken at a conference sponsored and led by several highly questionable Americans) that will give you a VERY good idea of some of the other players involved in this.fwiw, I used to belong to a church in D.C. that has very close ties to people who are in Uganda – and who are in the same network of people as those who are Sarah Palins "spiritual advisors." To which I can only say, RUN AWAY!!!I am scared of these folks because I know their MO all too well. I never believed many fo the things they're professing, but I was on the fringes of it all for a long, long time.

  4. two highly place politicians who are also Fellowship/Family members co-authored an article trying to debunk Sharlet's book – it was published by Christianity Today last fall, and it's absolutely ludicrous. You might try Googling that, just for kicks.I'd also strongly recommend this series of articles on Palin and the so-called "New Apostolic Reformation". They're the real deal! (And were very helpful to me personally in putting a lot of pieces together re. people I've known and things I've been around in the not-so-distant past.)I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist; in fact, I tend to be extremely skeptical of that kind of thinking. But I DO believe that some very frightening things are happening in this country – most of them not reported on by the mainstream media. It's easy to dismiss lots of these folks as cranks and crazies, but they have serious followings, and I can see this all as a base for a right-wing religio-fascist movement – particularly because I live in an area where there are LOTS of people who believe and endorse an awful lot of the far-out-ness espoused by people in the various "dominionist" schools of thought. (If thought it can be called.)to my mind, this has nothing to do with actual Christianity: it's a kind of dualist system in which God and the devil are viewed as equal and opposing forces; where human beings must "take territory for God" and drive the devil away. Now… they say that here, in the US, as a "spiritual warfare" thing that supposedly isn't political. But it already HAS translated to the political sphere in a number of other countries – like Uganda – and I think there are very grave dangers in store for us, here.also – have you read Sharlet's recent Harper's article on dominionists in the miltary? it's a must-read!

  5. Ugh. Scary scary stuff. While out to dinner with my parents on Saturday my mom told me that she had received Sarah Palin's book for Christmas. She said she's barely started it, but Palin is obviously running for Pres in 2010 and "will make a great president".I just said "Mom, please, I'm trying to eat." But, mom has fallen for this stuff hook line and sinker.

  6. …they say that here, in the US, as a "spiritual warfare" thing that supposedly isn't political.right. not political at all. no siree bob. long as you are game, white, capitalist, heterosexual, and jesus-centric.otherwise, hell no.

  7. have you read Sharlet's recent Harper's article on dominionists in the miltary?I may have. is it this one?

  8. again, I'd recommend the articles and vids on the New Apostolic Reformation/Palin that are published and/or linked to at the talk2action site. It's important stuff to know about… because Palin was -and possibly will again – be *their* candidate.

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