Friday, June 26, 2009


Interesting report a couple of days ago from U.S. News -- though it just scratches the surface, as I'll explain below (and yes, Hitler is involved):

Sanford Cites Secretive Christian Group's Role in Helping Confront Affair

Mark Sanford's news conference today was unusual for lot of reasons, but here's a less obvious one: The South Carolina governor referred to "C Street," a Washington dormitory for lawmakers funded by a highly secretive Christian organization called the Fellowship. (The Fellowship is the group behind the National Prayer Breakfast, where President Obama rolled out his Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships earlier this year.)

It's rare for elected officials to publicly allude to C Street or to anything affiliated with the Fellowship. But here's the exchange between Sanford and a reporter:

QUESTION: Did your wife and your family know about the affair before the trip to Argentina?

SANFORD: Yes. We've been working through this thing for about the last five months. I've been to a lot of different -- as part of what we called "C Street" when I was in Washington. It was, believe it or not, a Christian Bible study -- some folks that asked members of Congress hard questions that I think were very, very important.....

There's more about the group in this 2003 AP story -- which listed John Ensign as one of the six congressmen living in the Fellowship dorm -- and in this new story from The Washington Post. But I also want to point you to Lindsay Beyerstein's interview with Jeff Sharlet, author of a book on the group called The Family. (The Family is an alternate name for the Fellowship.)

...Sharlet spent nearly a month living at Ivanwald, a dormitory in Virginia where sons of the Family are sent to immerse themselves in Jesus and clean the toilets of congressmen and senators....

Lindsay Beyerstein What is the Family?

Jeff Sharlet: It's an international network of evangelical activists in government, military and business. The Family is dedicated to this idea that Christianity has gotten it all wrong for two thousand years by focusing on the poor, the suffering and the weak.

The Family says that instead, what Christians should do is minister to the up-and-out -- as opposed to the down-and-out -- to those that are already powerful. Because if they can win those people for Christ, they win the whole deal. That's what this network is dedicated to. It includes nonprofit organizations, it includes think tanks, it includes various ministries....

Lindsay Beyerstein: In "The Family," a lot of subjects explicitly state their admiration for Hitler and other authoritarian political figures. How much of that is admiring their style, and how much is admiring their substance?

Jeff Sharlet: I'd argue that there isn't a hell of a lot of difference. I spent a lot of time living with these guys, and I remember at one point asking them, "What's the deal with all this Hitler talk?" And they'd say, "Oh, it's not the ends, it's the means." But to most of us, the means seem pretty bad, too. The means are authoritarianism.

It's pretty close to the substance because it grows out of this very broad movement in the 1930s of elites concluding that democracy has run its course, that democracy was a temporary phase in world history. And so, these people were experimenting with all sorts of different alternatives. And remember, before World War II it was considered a perfectly legitimate and acceptable position to endorse fascism.

(Sharlet explains in the book that Hitler is admired not for his ideology but for his approach to organization and social influence. Admiration is also expressed for Lenin, bin Laden, and the Mafia. If you're registered at Amazon, search for some these terms in the book -- it's fascinating.)

The interview also talks about Hillary Clinton's ties to the group (sigh); about the group's belief in "small group sex confessions"; and about Family/Fellowship involvement in, of all things, the making of the cheeseball sci-fi film The Blob. Go read it.

(WaPo link via Balloon Juice.)

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