The Family

Here’s a bit more about the group that funds C Street, from Jeffrey Sharlet:

Ivanwald, which sits at the end of Twenty-fourth Street North in Arlington, Virginia, is known only to its residents and to the members and friends of the organization that sponsors it, a group of believers who refer to themselves as “the Family.” The Family is, in its own words, an “invisible” association, though its membership has always consisted mostly of public men. Senators Don Nickles (R., Okla.), Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), Pete Domenici (R., N.Mex.), John Ensign (R., Nev.), James Inhofe (R., Okla.), Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), and Conrad Burns (R., Mont.) are referred to as “members,” as are Representatives Jim DeMint (R., S.C.), Frank Wolf (R., Va.), Joseph Pitts (R., Pa.), Zach Wamp (R., Tenn.), and Bart Stupak (D., Mich.). Regular prayer groups have met in the Pentagon and at the Department of Defense, and the Family has traditionally fostered strong ties with businessmen in the oil and aerospace industries. The Family maintains a closely guarded database of its associates, but it issues no cards, collects no official dues. Members are asked not to speak about the group or its activities.

[…]

The Family’s only publicized gathering is the National Prayer Breakfast, which it established in 1953 and which, with congressional sponsorship, it continues to organize every February in Washington, D.C. Each year 3,000 dignitaries, representing scores of nations, pay $425 each to attend. Steadfastly ecumenical, too bland most years to merit much press, the breakfast is regarded by the Family as merely a tool in a larger purpose: to recruit the powerful attendees into smaller, more frequent prayer meetings, where they can “meet Jesus man to man.”

I also liked this incredibly creepy soliloquy from one of the guys at Ivanwald:

He walked to the National Geographic map of the world mounted on the wall. “You guys know about Genghis Khan?” he asked. “Genghis was a man with a vision. He conquered”—David stood on the couch under the map, tracing, with his hand, half the northern hemisphere—“nearly everything. He devastated nearly everything. His enemies? He beheaded them.” David swiped a finger across his throat. “Dop, dop, dop, dop.”

David explained that when Genghis entered a defeated city he would call in the local headman and have him stuffed into a crate. Over the crate would be spread a tablecloth, and on the tablecloth would be spread a wonderful meal. “And then, while the man suffocated, Genghis ate, and he didn’t even hear the man’s screams.” David still stood on the couch, a finger in the air. “Do you know what that means?” He was thinking of Christ’s parable of the wineskins. “You can’t pour new into old,” David said, returning to his chair. “We elect our leaders. Jesus elects his.”

He reached over and squeezed the arm of a brother. “Isn’t that great?” David said. “That’s the way everything in life happens. If you’re a person known to be around Jesus, you can go and do anything. And that’s who you guys are. When you leave here, you’re not only going to know the value of Jesus, you’re going to know the people who rule the world. It’s about vision. ‘Get your vision straight, then relate.’ Talk to the people who rule the world, and help them obey. Obey Him. If I obey Him myself, I help others do the same. You know why? Because I become a warning. We become a warning. We warn everybody that the future king is coming. Not just of this country or that, but of the world.” Then he pointed at the map, toward the Khan’s vast, reclaimable empire.

Update. And inevitably:

“It’s called a covenant. Two, or three, agree? They can do anything. A covenant is . . . powerful. Can you think of anyone who made a covenant with his friends?”

We all knew the answer to this, having heard his name invoked numerous times in this context. Andrew from Australia, sitting beside Doug, cleared his throat: “Hitler.”

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65 replies
  1. 1
    Dave S. says:

    Good thing Jesus never said anything like “My kingdom is not of this world…”

  2. 2

    In the previous C Street thread I linked to a piece by Barbara Ehrenreich that spells out Hillary Clinton’s involvement with this group. It is a creepy outfit but plenty has been written about it and some of it as recent as the last year’s Primary election season.

  3. 3
    The Saff says:

    These people aren’t just creepy, they’re sick.

  4. 4
    RememberNovember says:

    Can we just call these guys the Christian Mafia and slap a RICO charge on them?

  5. 5
    The Raven says:

    Christofacists, whee!

  6. 6
    Joe says:

    How do people listen to that shit, and what the fuck does it have to do with Jesus?

  7. 7
    SGEW says:

    I’d say that you should read the book, but I do so with a caveat:

    After reading it I turned into a kind of raving conspiracy nut for about a month. To tell the truth, I kind of still am.

    Crazy, crazy stuff!

  8. 8
    flounder says:

    And the Washington Post can’t even call them the Family, they call them “The Fellowship”.
    Anyone know why today’s WaPo article (I’m not linking) would prefer to not call them “the Family”?

  9. 9
    jayackroyd says:

    Jeff Sharlet’s book The Family is a fully fleshed description of this insidious group.

  10. 10
    matoko_chan says:

    Paging Dan Brown.

  11. 11
    garyb50 says:

    Seriously creepy. Sorry to say, I’ve worked with assholes like this. And they are assholes. They brag about being pre-forgiven because they’ve accepted Jesus as their lord&saviour. Doesn’t matter what they do, they’re always good to go after the misstep.

    And, “meet Jesus man to man.”

    That’s just too much.

  12. 12
    binzinerator says:

    Anyone know why today’s WaPo article (I’m not linking) would prefer to not call them “the Family”?

    Uh, same reason why they prefer to call torture ‘enhanced interrogation’?

  13. 13
    cfaller96 says:

    Oh crap, The Family is behind C Street? Lord…

    I first heard about The Family during the 2008 primaries. IIRC, Hillary Clinton is somehow associated with them, and I doubt she’s the only Dem.

    When I care to look closely, the people and the culture of Washington DC simultaneously scares and offends me. They really just want to rule over the rest of us.

  14. 14
    cfaller96 says:

    Anyone know why today’s WaPo article (I’m not linking) would prefer to not call them “the Family” [and instead call them “The Fellowship”]?

    Uh, because they’re all Tolkien fans?

  15. 15
    gbear says:

    Anyone know why today’s WaPo article (I’m not linking) would prefer to not call them “the Family”?

    Because then everyone would get them mixed up with Sister Sledge.

    To me, ‘The Fellowship’ doesn’t sound like any less creepy a euphemism than ‘The Family’.

  16. 16
    Bill E Pilgrim says:

    I liked the part where Jesus put the guy in the wine skin and smothered him while he ate dinner off of it.

    Wouldn’t that fall under rather non-“strict constructionist” reading of the Bible stories? I thought they didn’t like that.

  17. 17
    cleek says:

    Anyone know why today’s WaPo article (I’m not linking) would prefer to not call them “the Family”?

    first rule of The Family: there is no Family.

    … and WaPo’s part of it.

    [ cue scary music ]

  18. 18
    Paul in KY says:

    I’ve read a fine biography of Ghenghis Khan & the practice the wierdo in the post mentioned only occurred when that city had actively & violently resisted incorporation into ‘Khanland’. Most cities capitulated without resisting & those inhabitants were treated humanely (leaders as well).

    Also, when they did use that form of execution, they (Ghenghis Khan & his minions) could hear the person suffocating, as that was the whole point.

    Rolling them up in a carpet & letting horses trample them was another preferred execution method.

  19. 19

    @cleek: Rule # 2: See Rule #1.

  20. 20
    ...now I try to be amused says:

    That soliloquy is even creepier than the Bush staffer’s one quoted by Ron Suskind:

    “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create reality.”

  21. 21
    Karen S. says:

    I agree with the other posters who’ve said that this is creepy. I’d never heard of this “Family” until I read about it here on BJ. It just strikes me as the weirdest secret society-type stuff. Also, the Jesus-as-personal-savior-get-out-of-jail-free card thing has always irritated me. The “Family” really believe it can do whatever it wants because it “knows” Jesus.
    But the most important question I have is this: Do they have a really cool secret handshake? The answer to that might mitigate some of my queasiness. Also.

  22. 22
    binzinerator says:

    @Joe:

    How do people listen to that shit, and what the fuck does it have to do with Jesus?

    If you’ve ever heard evangelical missionaries talk to the locals when they’re ‘up country’ and they think only the locals are around, you’d know it’s about half-way to this kind of creepy asshole shit.

    edit:

    Just came across this in Sharlett’s piece:

    One night I asked Josh, a brother from Atlanta who was hoping to do mission work overseas…

    I am so not surprised there’d be a connection. Cause I’ve seen it on the other end.

    Fucking assholes of the worst kind, because as someone pointed out, they think they are pre-forgiven for what every they do or say.

  23. 23
    Brick Oven Bill says:

    Just yesterday, a member of The Family committed an act of violence against someone preaching counter to its Belief System. The Family has a long track record of using the threat of violence to spread its Belief System and, as in yesterday’s case, often times actual violence. It is very effective in this regard.

    This organization goes beyond Prayer Breakfasts, and should really be looked into.

  24. 24
    Laura W says:

    Very disappointing. I saw the all upper case post title and clicked through excitedly expecting to see a short video of John, Lily and Tunch all spooning in bed.

    BOB! I was just about to come looking for you. You survived the snake.

  25. 25
    jayackroyd says:

    SGEW is right about the tin foil hat effect.

  26. 26
    Notorious P.A.T. says:

    @The Grand Panjandrum:

    I was going to say, wasn’t Hillary part of that?

    Good thing Jesus never said anything like “My kingdom is not of this world…”

    Oh yeah, let’s all be shocked when people who abandon reason act inconsistently.

  27. 27
    SGEW says:

    Anyone know why today’s WaPo article (I’m not linking) would prefer to not call them “the Family”?

    The “Fellowship Foundation” is their current, official name, according to their 501(c)(3) documents. “The Family” is a more informal descriptor they use among themselves.

  28. 28
    b-psycho says:

    Why are people like this anywhere near power?

    Actually, lemme clarify that:

    Though I’ve personally rejected it by now, it’s reasonable to assume the majority of the US population still thinks representative government is possible in the truest sense of the term. So why does this type of group get largely ignored, when based on the information out there on them, their purpose contradicts those ideals that most people seemingly still believe in? Seriously, a bunch of bible-thumpers walking around comparing themselves favorably to history’s thugs, with connections to the more recent ones, that think they’re generals in a religious war? Shouldn’t holding membership in that organization, or being in any way supportive of it, basically guarantee that you lose elections?

  29. 29
    Notorious P.A.T. says:

    How do people listen to that shit, and what the fuck does it have to do with Jesus?

    “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple.”

    “I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword”

    etc.

  30. 30
    Notorious P.A.T. says:

    Shouldn’t holding membership in that organization, or being in any way supportive of it, basically guarantee that you lose elections?

    It would, if so many Americans didn’t just automatically think Bible=good.

  31. 31
    Brick Oven Bill says:

    Stretching to keep this on topic.

    Thank you for the thoughts Laura. The snake had apparently left, but was there waiting for me upon my return last night, so he has been granted garage privileges until this morning. Perhaps today we will have our final showdown. Fangs vs. Freedom Teeth.

    Thus, my Family of two will likely be a Family of one by sundown. This is necessary as my new Family member seems to have taken a liking to my garage, and is not very friendly. May the best Family member win.

  32. 32

    @matoko_chan:

    Paging Dan Brown.

    Robert Ludlum’s “Matarese Circle” already covered it quite well.

    This is why it is difficult to converse with my born-again brethren. I have no problem with their faith, and I have come to admire the devotion to family, God and community that goes with it. But when I mention cults like “The Family,” or the actions of those claiming to act in the name of faith, it goes off the rails as an attack on the faith.

    Hold your friends close, but hold these guys right where you can keep an eye on them at all times.

  33. 33
    Betsy says:

    That’s interesting about H. Clinton – I was about to note that all the members I’ve seen named are men, and to ask if it was an all-male society. But apparently not? It doesn’t sound like they have many women, though.
    What is it with rich powerful people that they feel a need to have secret treehouse clubs ? It’s like that Skull & Bones shit at Yale. Seriously people. You look like little boys when you do this shit.

  34. 34

    The Grand P:

    Sharlet’s book came out last spring. He had an article earlier than that specifically regarding Hillary Clinton’s long involvement with the group. As wife of the President she attended sexually-segregated prayer groups. Clearly, The Family provided the means for politicos to develop ties that later emerged in the public forum. The friendship she developed with Coburn led to coauthoring a religious freedom in the workplace piece of legislation.

    If any of this had been widely circulated Hillary’s feminist credentials would have been damaged, her base weakened and she would have had to have dropped out of the race sooner. That could have made the Democrats more unified and made their victory last fall even bigger. So by not reporting Hillary’s connections to The Family the media lessened the damage to the Republicans.

    I remember last year how while McCain had endorsements by weird religionists and Obama was tarred and feathered with Reverend Wright every hour, Clinton never got stung by her relationship with this crypto-Christian/fascist group. I don’t expect much reporting on this group in the current news cycle. They have been functioning for decades without the media paying any attention to them. Or, I should say, carefully avoiding mentioning them. They are protected. I sure don’t remember Jeff Sharlet making the usual stops on his book tour. Radio silence.

  35. 35
    binzinerator says:

    Another key part of the fundie mentality — a sanction from God to do what the fuck you want as long as its in his name:

    “King David,” David Coe went on, “liked to do really, really bad things.” He chuckled. “Here’s this guy who slept with another man’s wife—Bathsheba, right?—and then basically murders her husband. And this guy is one of our heroes.” David shook his head. “I mean, Jiminy Christmas, God likes this guy! What,” he said, “is that all about?”

    The answer, we discovered, was that King David had been “chosen.” To illustrate this point David Coe turned to Beau. “Beau, let’s say I hear you raped three little girls. And now here you are at Ivanwald. What would I think of you, Beau?”

    Beau shrank into the cushions. “Probably that I’m pretty bad?”

    “No, Beau. I wouldn’t. Because I’m not here to judge you. That’s not my job. I’m here for only one thing.”

    “Jesus?” Beau said. David smiled and winked.

    Pre-forgiven. As long as you work for Jesus.

    I noticed this (albeit on a non-felony level) among a number evangelicals I used to work with, I saw them use it to justify their lies so many times I made up my own name for it. I called it “Lyin’ for the Lord”. See, it’s OK to lie if you’re doing it for Jesus. They know it’s wrong, but they are already forgiven because it was done in the service of Jesus. Of course what constitutes serving Jesus usually serves themselves pretty darn well too. Funny how that works.

    It’s really the same justification these kind of christians used a thousand years ago when that millenia’s ‘soldiers of God’ went off to the Holy Land on the Crusades. Murder, rape, torture and robbery. It’s OK. You’re doing God’s work. He understands.

    Besides, he chose you to do His Will. To refuse to do His Will is to refuse Him. Carrying out His Will may cause other people lots of pain and anguish, but that’s only in the here and now, in this world. When they are all gathered up in His Kingdom they will all come to understand the righteousness of what you did, and that you did what you did not for yourself but for Him. How can they not then be grateful?

  36. 36
    SGEW says:

    I was about to note that all the members I’ve seen names are men, and to ask it was an all-male society. But apparently not?

    There’s an “inner circle” of “family members” who are exclusively men, and an outer circle of “friends of the family” who can be women (such as Mrs. Clinton). So no, Hillary was (is?) not allowed to sit at the big boy’s table.

  37. 37
    The Saff says:

    @Laura W:

    Very disappointing. I saw the all upper case post title and clicked through excitedly expecting to see a short video of John, Lily and Tunch all spooning in bed.

    I’m with you there. I always check Balloon Juice to see if John posts any Lily and Tunch threads. Of course, all the other content is good, too.

  38. 38
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    I’ve read a fine biography of Ghenghis Khan & the practice the wierdo in the post mentioned only occurred when that city had actively & violently resisted incorporation into ‘Khanland’. Most cities capitulated without resisting & those inhabitants were treated humanely (leaders as well).

    Funny how they don’t seem interested in talking about or emulating Chinggis Khan’s (and his grandsons’) extremely broad religious tolerance and willingness to adapt to an extraordinarily diverse set of cultures in pursuit of using all the possible human talent they could employ, which most historians of the Mongol conquests call out as one of the key factors in their success. Instead they are drawn to the sadistic stuff that makes for colorful stories.

  39. 39
    Betsy says:

    @SGEW:
    Ah, ok, thanks for explaining. Frankly, I would have been surprised if it *wasn’t* sex-segregated. This just confirms that it is consistent with such honored predecessor clubs as G.R.O.S.S.

  40. 40
    SGEW says:

    Just remembered this vialogue between Sharlett and Will Wilkinson, wherein Sharlett scares the pants off of the normally staid Wilkinson.

  41. 41
    Original Lee says:

    Pre-forgiven sounds an awful lot like predestination. You know how the Puritans rolled? You were obviously one of the Elect if you were wealthy and powerful, in Plymouth Rock-ville. The Family is just recycling 300-year-old ideas, minus the sin and guilt parts.

  42. 42
    Edwin says:

    Well, this explains why the Republican Party/conservatism seems more and more like a wacked-out religion. It is.

  43. 43
    Paul in KY says:

    Excellent point, ThatLeftTurnInABQ, about religious tolerance under Ghenghis Khan & his successors. All they wanted you to do was to acknowledge the Khan as supreme ruler & pay your taxes (which might be lower than what you were paying before).

    Do that and everything was cool.

  44. 44
    MikeJ says:

    Pre-forgiven sounds an awful lot like predestination. You know how the Puritans rolled?

    Except the puritans believed not only that you were predestined but that you could never know which way you were predestined to be. Hardcore antinomianists. You can’t choose to be saved, only god can do it. Also.

    Sorry to sidetrack. Carry on.

  45. 45
    Svensker says:

    @MikeJ:

    Yup.

    Preforgiven doesn’t have anything to do with predestination. Two very different things.

    My SIL believes she cannot sin because she believes in Jesus. I doubt that Jesus would agree with her.

  46. 46
    Dan says:

    I don’t know that much about “The Family”, but I am somewhat familiar with “The Family Guy”, and that guy is a prick.

  47. 47
    Tsulagi says:

    I also liked this incredibly creepy soliloquy from one of the guys at Ivanwald:

    Of course. Every good Christian after holding hands in prayer freshly imbued with the spirit of the Lord and fellowship should ask “What would Genghis Khan do?”

  48. 48
    Dreggas says:

    I remember reading about “The Family” they were led by that really charismatic dude they called “Charlie” weren’t they?

  49. 49
    lawnorder says:

    Genghis Kahn’s empire didn’t last long…. They should be going Roman Empire, not Genghis.

  50. 50
    R-Jud says:

    @Bill E Pilgrim:

    Wouldn’t that fall under rather non-”strict constructionist” reading of the Bible stories? I thought they didn’t like that.

    They don’t like it when YOU do it. When THEY do it, it’s because Jesus wanted them to.

  51. 51
    Original Lee says:

    @MikeJ: Except that the Puritans (unlike most other Calvinists) believed that you could tell who was probably Elect by their status in life. You had to be humble about being rich and powerful, because if you weren’t really Elect, you would get your comeuppance at some point, but the poor and devout widow living alone on the edge of the village must have done something really bad somewhere along the line. God does not choose losers, in other words.

    So if you take the Puritan version of predestination and subtract the sin and guilt parts of it, you get pre-forgiven.

  52. 52
    Betsy says:

    @Svensker:

    My SIL believes she cannot sin because she believes in Jesus. I doubt that Jesus would agree with her.

    Given that it’s exactly the opposite of what he preached, I’m guessing you’re right. What happened to the “we’re all sinners” part?

  53. 53
    asiangrrlMN says:

    Gah. My mind, it boggles. Some people never grow up. Sheesh. And they say we non-religious types are the immoral ones.

  54. 54
    Comrade Kevin says:

    @flounder:

    And the Washington Post can’t even call them the Family, they call them “The Fellowship”.
    Anyone know why today’s WaPo article (I’m not linking) would prefer to not call them “the Family”?

    It might remind people of Charles Manson?

  55. 55
    Trollhattan says:

    So, when the fundies and Republicans were aflutter earlier this year because the preznet “skipped” the prayer breakfast, it was these lunatics’ prayer breakfast?

    If so, well played, sir!

  56. 56

    I find it particularly creepy that a group that operates so much in the shadows is allowed the access that it does.

  57. 57
    Trollhattan says:

    BTW, how is a “covenant” as used by this person any different from a fatwa, as practiced by Shias?

  58. 58
    SGEW says:

    @Trollhattan: Sadly, no. That was the National Day of Prayer, which has no documented affiliation with the Family (afaik).

    In fact, Obama did, indeed, attend the official Family controlled National Prayer Breakfast back in February.

    If I could ask Obama one question, and get a truthful answer, it very well might be what he thinks about the Family.

  59. 59
    priscianus jr says:

    There is a classic work of literature exploring this mentality. I quote the opening paragraph of the Wikipedia article that discusses this novel by James Hogg:
    “The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner: Written by Himself. With a detail of curious traditionary facts and other evidence by the editor” was published by the Scottish author James Hogg in 1824. Considered in turn a Gothic novel, a psychological case study of an unreliable narrator, and an examination of totalitarian thought, the ultimately unclassifiable novel, set in a pseudo-Christian world of angels, devils, and demonic possession. It has been the subject of increasing critical attention in recent years, and has received wide acclaim for its probing quest into the nature of religious fanaticism and Calvinist predestination.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T.....ied_Sinner

  60. 60
    Trollhattan says:

    Thanks SGEW, hard to imagine how I could have mixed those two up :-)

  61. 61
    Bulworth says:

    “If you’re a person known to be around Jesus…”

    Since my transition, or escape, from Christian Fundamentalism, I’ve started realizing just how creepy much of this Jesus talk is. “Being around Jesus?” I don’t know if Jesus is in heaven or not, but I am pretty sure he isn’t here, or anywhere around any of those people.

    Anyway, the invisible friend stuff is just pretty weird.

  62. 62
    debit says:

    Is this the same Family that was featured on an MSNBC documentary/special? If so, Christ on a crutch, you’d think politicians would run fast and far from any association with it. The special focused on how pedophilia was an accepted practice and how it drove the founder’s adopted son to attempted murder and then suicide.

  63. 63
    Batocchio says:

    A few thoughts. One, Genghis Khan was not a humanitarian by any means, but western portrayals of him are often inaccurate and recycled propaganda from the era, some further fueled by bigotry. I’d like to see a citation for that claim, since Genghis Khan actually recruited many defeated foes and allowed freedom of religion, among other things. Two, this wanker admires the evil Genghis he’s presenting. Three, with that admiration of ruthlessness he simultaneously claims (and apparently believes) he’s a good Christian.

  64. 64
    Joe says:

    Yeah, this clown knows abso-fucking-lutely nothing about Genghis Khan. Check out Jack Weatherford’s “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World” if you want the real deal.

  65. 65
    Nemoudeis says:

    @Bill E Pilgrim: Oh, Dear God, Bill, yeah. What a loop-knocker that one is.

    I did a spit-take when I first read that part over five years ago. And I did it again when I re-read it just last night.

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