Monday, July 20, 2009

The Fellowship is more than fellowship

MAUREEN DOWD'S reference to the "C Street house" in D.C. didn't quite identify it as a house of sinful repute, but played it on a broader scale as a "monument to Republican hypocrisy." In case you missed the column, the place in question is a darkly created religious/political safe house for true believers, straying Capitol Hill pols and whatever else the traffic will bear. Taken altogether, the clan is familiarly known as The Fellowship and its disciples have some important adhesives for their cause: they seek unlimited power, worldwide influence and the daily double of Jesus and political conservatism.

Among the current residents of the right-wing warren are Sen. John Ensign, who sought shelter from the locusts of adultery, and Sen. Tom Coburn, of Oklahoma, a deeply religious conservative ob-gyn and deacon who was on hand to counsel the Nevada senator, or whatever went on. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who strayed from the path of righteousness to saunter south of the border, is also a member of The Fellowship. So are countless other Washington evangelically-inclined achievers. There have even been reports it is a great place to bring your lady when day is done as though it were a far-from-home Waikiki Beach house. As a senator, even Hillary Clinton reflected favorably on the group's mission to spiritualize the world in the context of its own fervid dogma. President after president, including Barack Obama, have shown up at the annual prayer breakfast sponsored by The Fellowship. To ignore it is to expose yourself to disdain or worse in your critics' prayers.

The Fellowship is headed by an influential evangelical operative, Doug Coe, who has been aided in the movement by such household Nixon/Reagan luminaries as Chuck Colson and Ed Meese. The group has served as a conduit for young college-fresh evangelicals to enter government at various levels and also as a guest stop for world leaders. It makes allowances for dictators who have no interest in Christianity but are drawn to the tactics and the kind of covenants the Fellowship's leadership finds effective in the Mafia, Hitler and their fellow-travelers.

Although it has been around for decades, it's reasonable to ask why the Fellowship is becoming a topic du jour on the Potomac. For one thing, it has obviously increased its clout on Capitol Hill with folks who carry its banner. The breath and depth of the movement far exceeds normal church involvement. That much was made clear enough in a book published last year titled: "The Family: the secret fundamentalism at the heart of American Power." Its author is Jeff Sharlet, an associate research scholar at New York University's Center for Religion and Media. Sharlet lived at the Fellowship's estate in Arlington. Va., to witness a remarkable religious movement that is organized in prayer cells at the highest governmental and corporate levels, meeting secretly while luring likely prospects to what the movement calls "Biblical capitalism".

Sharlet writes: "The Family (fellowship) maintains a closely guarded database of associates, members, and key men, but issues no cards, collects no official dues. Members are asked not to speak about the group or its activities." But there is evidence that in its carefully guarded way, it has demonstrated considerable political influence in its lifetime, often without fanfare. One example: Former Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird helped convince Gerald Ford that, Sharlet tells us, "Richard Nixon deserved not just Christian forgiveness but also a legal pardon." On the other hand, some of the members' lifestyles are deliciously bizarre, as was that of one religiously dutiful chap who wore a plastic get-up on his wrist that he called a "masturband". Sharlet writes that the fellow allowed himself to wear the band to tell him how long he had refrained from masturbating.

The author gives us detailed view of The Fellowship behemoth and it qualifies as recommended serious reading by anyone who wants a much closer look at its intricate subterranean quest for worldwide power that can only be achieved by recruiting the already-powerful. And, as Sharlet
writes of The Fellowship, "it is the story of an American fundamentalism, gentle and militant, conservative and revolutionary, that has been hiding in plain sight all along."


PJJinOregon said...

Here's a test of the Fellowship's power. If the Fellowship and C Street have both dropped out of daily news reports by next week, they've got a lot of power. If the media is still carrying the topic two weeks from now, the Fellowship exercises little power. My bet? The story disappears quickly and quietly.

Grumpy Abe said...

You're right. The story may disappear, but the Fellowship is too entrenched to go away. After all, the Beltway media have a short interest span in this topic. As evidence, the house on C street has worked its magic under the radar for years, leaving it to Sharlet, Bill Moyers and a few others. to expose the group.

Mike Licht said...

The Congressional Recess is coming. Don't forget to sign up for the Fellowship's Vacation Bible School.


PJJinOregon said...

Mike Licht -- Thanks for directing me to a website that is almost as irreverant as I, but much more articulate. Somehow, Miss Piggy just seems to fit in with the Cesame Street crowd.