I have finished reading Jeff Sharlet's book The Family. I always list "The Top of the Pile" book--that is the book I am currently reading--along the sidebar of this page.
Sometimes, a book stays up for a good long time, until I either finish it or set it aside for another day. For a while, I had the biography of Andrew Jackson--American Lion--gracing my sidebar. That one I gave up on, at least for now. I will no doubt return to it. I gave up on it, partly because the contentious interaction in Washington while Jackson was president sounded too much like...today!
I then went off and read a bunch of easier reads--such as Marilynne Robinson's Home. Then, I tackled Jeff Sharlet's The Family. The subtitle tips the content--The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.
I first heard about the subject of Sharlet's book while watching MSNBC's coverage of the Governor Sanford story. You remember Governor Sanford? He went missing around Father's Day last year to . . .hike the Appalachian Trail. Um, no. To fly to Argentina to spend time with his mistress. He had an affair with an Argentinian woman. Following his return to the U.S., and his rambling tearful admission that he really wasn't hiking, Sanford sought spiritual guidance and counsel from fellow political folk at the C Street house in Washington, DC.
What's the C street house? Well, so glad you asked. Here's where The Family enters the picture. The C street house is owned by a secretive group called alternatively the Family or the Fellowship. The house is listed as a church, and thus is tax exempt property. It is also the place where, in addition to Governor Sanford, Senator Ensign was counselled about his on-going affair with the wife of his chief of staff. As if that wasn't bad enough, Senator Ensign then tried to buy off the woman and her husband. It is indeed a sordid story.
As if that twosome weren't enough, it is also where Representative Chip Pickering lived, while he had an affair. Interestingly enough, all three of these politicians thought it proper that President Bill Clinton should be impeached for his affair.
The story of the Family (or the Fellowship) is the subject of Jeff Sharlet's book. He did the kind of research that is almost unduplicatable--he lived in one of the Family's houses where they sort of indoctrinate people into their tenets. They do not advance a specific church theology, but they advance a specific Christian point of view--they hold Bible studies and prayer sessions. They seek to influence American, and for that matter international, politics.
That doesn't seem too bad, does it? Or does it. This is the group that is behind the recent bill introduced in Uganda that has made international news. Basically, the bill called for the death penalty for people who are found out to be gay. After the news began to emerge about this draconian bill, U.S. legislators affiliated with the Fellowship began to fall all over themselves disavowing any connection to the Ugandan bill.
It might to tempting to think--what's the problem with a group, even if it is secretive, that wants to infuse Christian concepts into our legislative process. I have thought long and hard about this question. And here's what I have come up with--first, I put forward the notion that a democracy and a theocracy cannot co-exist. If we were to be guided in all our legislative dealings with strictly Christian ideals, we would no longer have room for the portion of our population which is not Christian, or guided by Christian ideals.
Second, whose definition of Christian ideals would be used? Not all Christians agree, even on some essential tenets of faith. So who would decide? The current leaders of the Fellowship that Jeff Sharlet writes of eschew traditional organized religion. Instead, they call for Jesus + nothing. What does that mean?
Yes, it took me a long time to finish this book. Part of the reason, in addition to somewhat confusing content, was the dense writing style that Sharlet has. But, I made myself read through to the end. After all, a secretive group that has as its goal to change the fundamental way that we govern ourselves in this country is not something to be taken lightly. And it certainly isn't something that my wandering inattention should deter me from knowing about.
For the record, I am now reading Karen Armstrong's The Case for God. Much lighter reading, I assure you.