The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power


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Sharlet claims to have uncovered an old form of danger to world peace and understanding: the all powerful conspiracy. In fact, he himself represents a new and powerful challenge to global understanding: those who use their positions to pollute the ocean of truth. How can my Australian father-in-law have any idea if what Sharlet writes about events in the Washington DC area are true or not? Sharlet has broken faith with readers like my father-in-law, and millions like him around the world. Cantor made the phrase "The Religious Right" famous with this page study.

The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (Paperback)

Decter wrote that the Cantor's study "is intended to warn the country of the growth, in the words of Cantor's introduction, of an 'exclusionist religious movement' seeking to 'unite its version of Christianity with state power. View all 11 comments. Jun 16, Richard Bartholomew rated it it was amazing Shelves: politics , evangelicals-and-puritans. Rather, it is secret because it is discrete, and because it has been overlooked by journalists and the secular writers of American history. Abraham Vereide's name is familiar enough if you know modern evangelical history or read Christian books — Billy Graham describes him as "a remarkable man", Corrie Ten Boom sought out his endorsement when As Jeff Sharlet has been at pains to stress since The Family was published, the "Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power" is not a conspiracy.

Abraham Vereide's name is familiar enough if you know modern evangelical history or read Christian books — Billy Graham describes him as "a remarkable man", Corrie Ten Boom sought out his endorsement when she arrived in the USA after the war, and Norman Grubb of the World Evangelisation Crusade wrote a popular biography for Zondervan in the s — but his political significance remains under-appreciated and the motivation of his movement unscrutinized. For Sharlet, Vereide "stood at the vanguard of an elite fundamentalism that shaped the last half century of American and world politics in ways only now becoming visible".

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This "elite fundamentalism" — in contrast to the vulgarity of televangelists and mass revivalists — works quietly behind the scenes to bring together decision-makers and leaders in private fellowship and prayer under a simple — or vacuous — creed of "Jesus Plus Nothing". In public we see the Prayer Breakfasts, and in Al Gore's name-dropping of Vereide's successor Doug Coe in debate with James Inhofe, but in private there are prayer cells and retreat houses where Family theology facilitates a back-channel of influence and networking both in the USA and abroad.

The Family is divided into three sections: in Part One, Sharlet sets the scene with his own encounter with the Family before setting off on a background excursion into American revivalism, briefly exploring the worlds of Jonathan Edwards and Charles Finney. Throughout the book, Sharlet's research is interspersed with personal reflections and anecdotes, allusive references, striking turns of phrase, and unexpected diversions: depending on your temperament or your reason for reading the book, you will find this thought-provoking and original or slightly irritating.

Part Two tells the actual story of the Family, and is informed by material which Sharlet found in the organisation's archives before public access was recently withdrawn. We learn how Vereide, a Norwegian immigrant who became an executive with Goodwill Industries in Seattle, responded to labour conflict in his adoptive city with a plan — backed by local businessmen Walter Douglass and William St. Clair — to use the "Bible as blueprint" to take back the USA from irreligion and the communist threat. This meant a "cooperative" model of management-labour relations, in which labour would understand its need to behave responsibly.

Vereide's aim would be achieved by ministering to the "up and out" — bringing Christ to elites. Merwin K. The only figure from organised labour was James Duncan, whose main concern was stopping black Americans from joining the workforce at Boeing. Post-war, Vereide lobbied on behalf of Germans with questionable Nazi-era pasts.

Funding for Vereide eventually came from the William Volker fund, which also subsidised publication of The Road to Serfdom and the grim "theonomy" of Rousas Rushdoony. Sharlet is particularly troubled by Fellowship complicity with Suharto's bloodletting in Indonesia; Vereide described Suharto's coup as a "spiritual revolution", and Indonesia went on to develop its own "Prayer Breakfast". Coe himself has a public profile: most famously, he features in Charles Colson's autobiography one of those "as told to John and Elizabeth Sherrill" bestsellers Born Again playing a central role in bringing Colson to faith during the Watergate scandal, and Sharlet describes Colson as now being "one of the leading theorists of American fundamentalism".

The purpose of the original American Prayer Breakfast, Sharlet shrewdly notes, was "to lop oft the left end of the political spectrum and cauterize the wound", and today the Family enjoys influence across the political establishment in America; it is far bigger than the "Religious Right", and Hillary Clinton is a "friend". In Part Three, Sharlet looks at what he calls "the Popular Front", the broad network of popular conservative evangelicalism: megachurches and home churches; neo-Pentecostal spiritual warfare; anti-abortion activists, approaches to sexuality, and Bush's Office of Faith-Based Initiatives.

The Family largely disappears from view in this section, and instead we have the more familiar topic of how evangelicals in the Bush years developed and enjoyed access to power — only, in the last instance, to be used for electoral gain. Underlying this apparent diversion is Sharlet's interest in the how elite and popular fundamentalism intertwines or contrasts. But what is the "elite fundamentalism" which inspired Vereide and the Fellowship? Sharlet calls it "the Idea" — a flexible faith for an expanding American empire which is so lacking in content that even the Muslim General Suharto can come on board: Vereide valued submission to power rather than belief, and this concern with "power", Sharlet suggests, motivates the Family's strategy.

One aspect of Sharlet's research which provoked particular journalistic comment is the incredibly crass way in which Family leaders speak in awe of the leadership abilities of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. Of course, these men are reviled as evil, but each one — in a grossly simplistic reading of history — came from nowhere, and with the help of a small group of associates managed to change the world.

Apparently, they failed because their purpose was bad, not because the whole idea of realising a vision through putting trust in big men inevitably leads to disaster; as Vereide put it, today "is the age of minority control".

One critic of the Family Sharlet meets complains of a "moral vacuum". Although Sharlet avoids old-school academic theorising, we can detect the spectre, not of Marx, but of Weber. Sharlet is not the first to detect "power" as the operative motive in fundamentalism — Martyn Percy's Words, Wonder, and Power explores the concept as it relates to leadership in neo-Pentecostalism this book also provides a rationale for using the term "fundamentalist" in a general way, a gripe that Randall Balmer has made against Sharlet.

The links between American political elites and fundamentalism also reminded me of Colby and Dennette's doomed epic Thy Will Be Done: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil , which, although a great read, fails to make a conclusive and direct connection in more than pages. The Family highlights many areas that deserve further research, and the seam that Sharlet has struck is far from completely excavated: what exactly was the role of "the Twelve", a group which Vereide joined?

What did the "Havana prayer cell" get up to? Many clues remain unpondered in archives, in long out-of-print popular Christian paperbacks a genre often overlooked , and in private reminiscences. And of course, there is one question which Sharlet has asked but which we can never have a full answer to: what exactly is the scope of the Family today? View 2 comments. Mar 29, Scott Rhee rated it it was amazing Shelves: religion , politics , nonfiction , bad-christianity.

This book was read in March-April It is a fascinating book, chockfull of grand conspiracy theories that sound almost ridiculous, unless one watches the news or reads up on what is actually happening in the world. Jeff Sharlet is a better man than me. Nor This book was read in March-April Today, I have a hard time calling myself a Deist, let alone a Christian, not because I denounce the teachings of Christ on the contrary, I try my best to live by them but because, in my humble opinion, a portion of the people who call themselves Christians are not.

Sharlet seems to think this as well, although he is a little more eloquent about it. Also known as The Fellowship, this group is comprised of the Washington power eliteState Representatives, Senators, Judges, lobbyists, and, yes, Presidentswho use the home as a kind of Christian commune. Charles W. One could almost respect and admire them, and, for the most part, it seems, Sharlet does.

Focusing on The Family

Looked at another way, however, The Family is a frightening organization, working within the shadows and under the guise of piety and religiosity, bent on accumulation of power and world-wide domination. Our earliest literature is the sermons of the famous fire-and-brimstone preacher John Edwards. From him, we see the embryo of American fundamentalism. I have heard many Christians say that they oppose the concept of imposing their morality upon others, and I believe many of them when they say that.

If the Family had their way, Sharlet implies, abortion would be outlawed, gay marriage would be outlawed, homosexuality would be outlawed.

Focusing on The Family

Divorce, adultery, pornographythe list of things that they would most likely love to see abolished would be quite long. So, why does the more rational-minded liberal Christian and secular segments of the population not speak out more?

Jeff Sharlet/ C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy Pt. 4

One of the reasons is that very few people even know the Family exists, not because they are secretive but simply because they do not talk about it. The answer begins with one man. Somewhat annoyed by what he saw as an effiminization of Christianity, Abram longed for a faith made of sterner stuff. Christianity gave them fishes when it could and hope when it had nothing else to offer.

But what good had it done?


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What had been accomplished between Calvary and ? Only the big man was capable of mending the world. The questions were, where and when to begin. Thankfully, a dockworker strike in in San Francisco helped answer those questions. Destruction was not the word Christians used, however. They called it cooperation. Coughlin, as much as or more than the communists, seemed like he might call for blood one day, and soon.

Money was the key, something that the poor obviously lacked, which therefore made them insignificant.

He then turned his ax toward the fire department poor moral specimens and public school teachers indoctrinating the youth with godless notions. Eventually, Langlie ran for, and won, the position of mayor. He did what business asked: purged welfare rolls, abolished guaranteed wage laws, denounced Democrats as un-American.

In , he investigated the possibility of using martial law to suppress organized labor, but when his advisors told him it would be unconstitutional, he settled for ordinary strikebreaking. He governed, in other words, as a right-wing Republican. One of those students was Henry Ford. Power for its own sake is all that matters. Perhaps this is illustrated best in the most powerful man currently in the Family. In , those roundtables contributed to nineteen out of twenty victories in targeted races. Yet they are immune from prosecution and blame.

How is this possible? One reason is the dedicated work of one man: Doug Coe. Coe remains unapologetic. It is, according to him and the Family, all for the glory of God. They can get away with it because there is nothing to tie the Family to these dictators. Everything is done through private channels, and no documentation exists. That a group like the Family exists at all is terrifying, disgusting, but probably not that surprising.

That so few people know or even care is the shocking part. That is simply unforgivable. Then again, if I still considered myself a "born-again Christian" I may have walked away from Sharlet's book with a much different take-away message, too. Shelves: social-political-commentary , read The Family is known to most Beltway politicos and in the corridors of political powerhouses throughout the world. Known well, but little understood. This is an areligious, ultra-conservative, tightly-knit network of American political and economic power that operates on the basis of a single premise: its members are directly chosen by Jesus Christ as special emissaries of his mission.

Of course, this mission is defined by the Family itself: namely the expansion and concentration of political power that adheres to specific American conservative values. Sharlet describes the phenomenon of the Family as " American Fundamentalism : a movement that recasts theology in the language of empire.

The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power
The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power
The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power
The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power
The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power
The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power

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