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The Family: Secretive Christian Group of Conservative Lawmakers Building a 'God-Led' Government

Jeff Sharlet, the journalist who helped expose a cohort of powerful lawmakers promoting a Christian Agenda at home and abroad, discusses his new book.

The Family, also known as the Fellowship, is a cohort of powerful lawmakers seeking to create a "God-led government" at home and abroad. Chief among the journalists who brought the Family to light is Jeff Sharlet, author of the new book, C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy. (The title of the book refers to the Washington townhouse that serves as the gathering place and sometime residence of Family members.)

While Sharlet has been digging into the secretive Family for years, it wasn’t until last year’s trio of sex scandals that a glaring spotlight was cast on the group. The adulterous affairs of Sen. John Ensign, R-Nevada, Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, and Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Mississippi, revealed their common membership in the secretive group.

The Family was founded in 1935 by Abraham Vereide, who believed that Christianity made a 2,000-year-old mistake by focusing on the poor. Vereide believed God told him to minister to the powerful; the modern-day "kings" chosen to enact divine will. Since then, these “key men” -- powerful politicians, well-placed executives and influential global leaders -- meet for Bible studies and "prayer cells." Members of the family try to cultivate powerful leaders around the world -- many of them despots -- to enact their Christian agenda globally.

The Family has always operated in secret; for more than 70 years, the group has influenced policy and business deals in the U.S. and abroad almost entirely without the public’s notice.

Family members have advocated for the violently anti-gay legislation currently before Uganda’s legislature; David Bahati, MP who introduced the bill to Uganda’s parliament, has been a longtime darling of the Family and a guest at the group’s only public event, the National Prayer Breakfast. Their involvement in the Uganda anti-gay bill isn’t an outlier: in the past, the Family has done business favors and supported dictatorships in Indonesia, Somalia and Haiti, among other nations under authoritarian rule. Meanwhile, Family forces connected to the U.S. military seek to spread fundamentalist Christianity. An organization of 15,000 officers is dedicated to what is described as “reclaiming territory for Christ in the military.”

While elected leaders in the U.S. ostensibly represent a democracy, with ideals of transparency and the separation of church and state, the Family urges its members to choose secrecy and consolidated power. Journalist Jeff Sharlet has managed to break through the Family's secrecy, writing two books that dig deep inside the shady organization. AlterNet spoke to him by phone.

Anna Clark: Do you believe members of the Family sincerely believe they are doing God's work, or is that language consciously used by them as a cover?

Jeff Sharlet: Not all of them, but most of them do sincerely believe it. One guy—whose name I can't put on record, but who was very intimately involved—I went to sit down with him because he wanted to know what I was working on. I told him that I'm not attacking religion at all. He told me ‘I don't care. It's about money.' There are a lot of people there just using it, definitely.

But the more disturbing thing is that move you get with someone like Sen. Inhofe. He travels the world and talks to these oil-rich dictators, telling them he loves them, they melt his heart, their brothers in Christ. He becomes their champion back in America. Well, the oil industry likes that, they like that he's speaking out on sanctions on the industry in Nigeria. Inhofe gets a lifetime achievement award from the petroleum industry, and the industry donates heavily to his re-election campaign. Inhofe doesn't experience that as cynicism or corruption. He experiences it as that he's doing God's work.

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