What Fresh Hell Is This?

July 16, 2009

The Family's Local Connection

Last night on Rachel Maddow:

Here's the piece she mentions from the Chattanooga Times Free Press. It begins:
For a dozen years, a three-story, brick rowhouse near the U.S. Capitol has served as the Washington home and spiritual sanctuary for the likes of U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., along with a number of other Christian conservative politicians.

But the sex scandals of U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., and Republican South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford have thrust the home known as the C Street Center, its residents and the secretive Fellowship Foundation, a conservative Christian group with ties to the center, into the national limelight.

The story about The Family all stems from the reporting of Jeff Sharlet (indeed he's the one interviewed by Rachel in the clip) and his book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. Excerpts of the book have been published in Mother Jones.

Sharlet's been reporting on The Family for a few years - here's something from Harper's in 2003, for instance.

From Sharlet's piece in Harper's:
The Family's only publicized gathering is the National Prayer Breakfast, which it established in 1953 and which, with congressional sponsorship, it continues to organize every February in Washington, D.C. Each year 3,000 dignitaries, representing scores of nations, pay $425 each to attend. Steadfastly ecumenical, too bland most years to merit much press, the breakfast is regarded by the Family as merely a tool in a larger purpose: to recruit the powerful attendees into smaller, more frequent prayer meetings, where they can “meet Jesus man to man.”
Sharlet spent some time at C Street and met Doug Coe, the group's leader (if that's the right word) and his son. Some insight into the theology of the group can be gain, perhaps, by this interaction between David Coe, Doug's son and some of the groups members:
“Hey,” David said, “let's talk about the Old Testament. Who would you say are its good guys?”

“David,” Beau volunteered.

“King David,” David Coe said. “That's a good one. David. Hey. What would you say made King David a good guy?” He was giggling, not from nervousness but from barely containable delight.

“Faith?” Beau said. “His faith was so strong?”

“Yeah.” David nodded as if he hadn't heard that before. “Hey, you know what's interesting about King David?” From the blank stares of the others I could see that they did not. Many didn't even carry a Hebrew Bible, preferring a slim volume of just the New Testament Gospels and Epistles and, from the Old, Psalms. Others had the whole book, but the gold gilt on the pages of the first two thirds remained undisturbed. “King David,” David Coe went on, “liked to do really, really bad things.” He chuckled. “Here's this guy who slept with another man's wife—Bathsheba, right?—and then basically murders her husband. And this guy is one of our heroes.” David shook his head. “I mean, Jiminy Christmas, God likes this guy! What,” he said, “is that all about?”

The answer, we discovered, was that King David had been “chosen.” To illustrate this point David Coe turned to Beau. “Beau, let's say I hear you raped three little girls. And now here you are at Ivanwald. What would I think of you, Beau?”

Beau shrank into the cushions. “Probably that I'm pretty bad?”

“No, Beau. I wouldn't. Because I'm not here to judge you. That's not my job. I'm here for only one thing.”

“Jesus?” Beau said. David smiled and winked.

He walked to the National Geographic map of the world mounted on the wall. “You guys know about Genghis Khan?” he asked. “Genghis was a man with a vision. He conquered”—David stood on the couch under the map, tracing, with his hand, half the northern hemisphere—“nearly everything. He devastated nearly everything. His enemies? He beheaded them.” David swiped a finger across his throat. “Dop, dop, dop, dop.”

David explained that when Genghis entered a defeated city he would call in the local headman and have him stuffed into a crate. Over the crate would be spread a tablecloth, and on the tablecloth would be spread a wonderful meal. “And then, while the man suffocated, Genghis ate, and he didn't even hear the man's screams.” David still stood on the couch, a finger in the air. “Do you know what that means?” He was thinking of Christ's parable of the wineskins. “You can't pour new into old,” David said, returning to his chair. “We elect our leaders. Jesus elects his.”

He reached over and squeezed the arm of a brother. “Isn't that great?” David said. “That's the way everything in life happens. If you're a person known to be around Jesus, you can go and do anything. And that's who you guys are. When you leave here, you're not only going to know the value of Jesus, you're going to know the people who rule the world. It's about vision. 'Get your vision straight, then relate.' Talk to the people who rule the world, and help them obey. Obey Him. If I obey Him myself, I help others do the same. You know why? Because I become a warning. We become a warning. We warn everybody that the future king is coming. Not just of this country or that, but of the world.” Then he pointed at the map, toward the Khan's vast, reclaimable empire.
In this piece from the Washington Post, we learn that our own member of the House, Congressman Mike Doyle, resides in the C Street residence:
People familiar with the house say the downstairs is generally used for meals and prayer meetings. Volunteers help facilitate prayer meetings, they said. Residents include Reps. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), Ensign and Coburn. None of the congressmen agreed to be interviewed for this article. But associates of some of Ensign's housemates privately worried that the other residents would be tarred by the scandals.
So I wondered how connected was my Congressman to the group? Contacted for a comment (specifically asking if the Congressman was a member of The Family and how closely he subscribes to the theology of Doug Coe, if at all. I also asked about the amount he pays for rent - $600/month - a question Fester over at NewsHoggers raised a few days ago) Doyle responded:
The only religious organization I’m a member of is the Roman Catholic Church, of which I’ve been a member all my life. The only religious teachings I follow are those of the Roman Catholic Church.

My living arrangements comply with all House rules and are perfectly legal and ethical. I rent a room – not an apartment – and the rent I pay falls within the range of what anyone could rent a room for on Capitol Hill.

I’m confident the people I represent will judge me on my behavior and my performance as a Member of Congress – not anyone else’s.
Someone's religious identity is extremely personal and indeed should be respected. We live in a secular society - no religious tests for membership in the Congress or in Government. Just because he lives there does not mean he believes all the stuff Sharlet reports.


Clyde Wynant said...

Yes, but...

...that doesn't make me feel any better.

The question you have to ask is, with thousands of other places he could be living in DC, why is he in that particular house? Was is just dumb luck, was he sought out by Family members or did he himself seek to cozy up to this cohort of crazies?

This is not over.

EdHeath said...

This kind of comes down to a question of how reliable Jeff Sharlet is. This is the sort of thing that, if verifiable, the Attorney General would have to assign a Special Prosecutor to.

Just taking a brief look, this is why I don't trust Christianity to be a spiritual guide to anyone. I mean, way before this family, you had Thomas Jefferson, whom I think was a very moral man, who still owned slaves. Robert E Lee, a very intelligent and moral man, put it in the hands of God to end slavery, and did not try to do so himself.

Again, not knowing whether I can trust Sharlet's reporting, that Genghis Kahn story and the statement he made that while you are in this group you are absolved of sin, these are very disturbing. It is one thing to be a member of a fellowship where you do feel free to confess you mistakes (like group therapy). I can even understand the secrecy in this context, as long as the members understand any actions illegal under US law will have to be reported if the member does not turn him/her self in. It is quite another thing to be told you are absolved of sins/illegal behavior because you are part of the club.

Mike Doyle needs to move, at least. I'd respect him even more if he narked on these people, at least specifically on how they condoned unethical behavior, if they did.

zak822 said...

Another yes, but.

My concern is that it seems to be a group with a very conservative orientation. Rep. Doyle (who is also my rep)has been very slow reponding to inquiries about where he stands on a strong public plan as part of the health care reform package being worked out.

The Family seems to be composed of very conservative guys. Conservatives have hated every aspect of the public plan.

I'm going to have to take a long hard look at whether I continue voting for him.

Sherry said...

i read the book a bit before this all came out. it explains a lot about the attitudes that these men and other republicans have been displaying for a LONG time now.

actually, it isn't a new concept.
kings and clergy have used it over the centuries now and again.

it's a dangerous belief system hidden in a false piety that makes me cringe.

gthing said...

Zak, he's an original cosponsor of ENDA, strongly supports and is an original cosponsor of single-payer, wants to end the ban on gays serving our country, is an original cosponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act, President Obama specifically called him out, saying he was critical in writing the Climate Change/Green Jobs bill. I must be missing where these guys have brainwashed him.

Maria said...


And yet, he's anti choice.