The Fellowship: A Secret Christian Fundamentalist Organization

Written by Ralph E. Stone. Posted in News, Politics

Published on November 30, 2009 with 8 Comments

ivanwald.jpg
Ivanwald, the unofficial headquarters of the Fellowship.

By Ralph E. Stone & Judi Iranyi

November 30, 2009

There is a secretive group known as “The Fellowship,” or “The Family,” one of the most powerful, well-connected Christian fundamentalist movements in the United States. The Fellowship’s membership includes congressmen, corporate leaders, generals and foreign heads of state.

The Fellowship is anti-labor, anti-gay, and pro-life. It is also anti-communist, but not necessarily a firm believer in democracy. Rather, it favors a totalitarianism for Christ, a sort of Christian theocracy. In foreign policy, it promotes a “soft” U.S. expansionism.

Is the Fellowship a cult, cabal, or a right-wing conspiracy? Whatever it is, we should be concerned that a secretive, privately funded group — without public scrutiny — is profoundly influencing U.S. domestic and foreign policy.

Shedding Needed Light

Jeff Sharlet’s publications are the primary source of this article. Sharlet is a an author and journalist, who went undercover at Ivanwald, the Fellowship’s unofficial headquarters in Arlington, Virginia. His experience there plus interviews with insiders and research resulted in articles in Harper’s, Mother Jones, and Salon, and a New York Times bestselling book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. Recently, he was interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air.

Jesus Christ Superstar

Declaring God’s covenant with the Jews broken, the Fellowship’s core members call themselves “the new chosen.” The Fellowship, of course, possessed a weapon those Jewish leaders lacked: the “total Jesus” of a brotherhood in Christ.

“That’s what you get with a covenant,” said Doug Coe, leader of the Fellowship, “Jesus plus nothing.”

To Fellowship members Jesus is not some abstract, historical figure. He is here and now and he is an awesome guy, a man’s man. He would have made an excellent athlete. God loves a man who can hit a homerun, throw a touchdown pass, or hit a three-pointer.

The Fellowship opposes labor movements in the U.S. and abroad, and teaches that a laissez-faire, a deregulated private economic policy is “God’s will.” At the heart of the Fellowship’s spiritual advice for its proxies in Congress is the conviction that the market’s invisible hand represents the guidance of God. Senator Mark Pryor (D. Ark) remarked that the separation of church and state was a sort of exaggeration. “Jesus did not come to bring peace. Jesus came to take over.” And who are God’s foot soldiers? Fellowship members.

Organization

Besides Ivanwald in Virginia, the group also has a townhouse in Washington, D.C., a former convent (the “C” Street Center). Members can stay at this location at below market rates.

The Fellowship is privately-funded and generally practices strict secrecy about its members or activities and as such, avoids publicity and asks its members not to speak about the group; some members have denied that the Fellowship exists.

The Fellowship has operated under many names, some active, and some no longer in existence: National Committee for Christian Leadership; International Christian Leadership; the National Leadership Council; Fellowship House; the Fellowship Foundation; the National Fellowship Council; the International Foundation. These groups are intended to draw attention away from the Fellowship, and to prevent it from becoming “a target for misunderstanding.”

In a document entitled “Our Common Agreement as a Core Group,” members of the Family are instructed to form a “core group,” or a “cell,” which is defined as “a publicly invisible but privately identifiable group of companions.” A document called “Thoughts on a Core Group” explains that “Communists use cells as their basic structure. The mafia operates like this, and the basic unit of the Marine Corps is the four man squad. Hitler, Lenin, and many others understood the power of a small core of people.”

The primary purpose of a core group is not to become an “action group,” but an invisible “believing group.” However, activity normally grows out of agreements reached in faith and in prayer around the person of Jesus Christ.

Youth Corps formerly known as Young Life, is a network of Christian youth groups that attract teenagers with parties and sports, and only later steer them to Jesus. Most of the Fellowship members at Ivanwald had been among Young Life’s elite, and many had returned to Young Life during their college summers to work as counselors. The goal: “Two hundred national and international world leaders bound together relationally by a mutual love for God and the family.”

A document—“Regional Reports, January 3, 2002”—lists some of the nations where Youth Corps programs are in operation: Russia; Ukraine; Romania; India; Pakistan; Uganda; Nepal; Bhutan; Ecuador; Honduras and Peru.

Prayer Groups

The Fellowship is mostly known for organizing prayer groups throughout the U.S. and around the world, including the Presidential Prayer Breakfast, later renamed 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. Every sitting United States president since 1953 has attended the event including President Barack Obama who delivered his reamarks at the Prayer Breakfast this past February. This is the Fellowship’s only publicized gathering.

The National Prayer Breakfast is very ecumenical and in most years merits little press. The breakfast is regarded by the Fellowship as a tool to recruit the powerful attendees into smaller, more frequent prayer meetings, where they can “meet Jesus man to man.”

Regular prayer groups have met in the Pentagon and at the Department of Defense, and the Fellowship has traditionally fostered strong ties with businessmen in the oil and aerospace industries.

The Fellowship does more than praise Jesus and conduct prayer groups. It engages in backroom diplomacy, the full extent of which we may never know. In the process of introducing powerful men to Jesus, the Family has managed to effect a number of behind-the-scenes acts of diplomacy. Uganda is a good example.

The Family converted Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni to its anti-gay brand of Christianity. The Fellowship leader Doug Coe called Museveni their “key man” in Africa. He was once the poster child for African democracy, but lately, under his regime, horrific war crimes have been committed in the Great Lakes region of Uganda, and continuing human rights violations are claiming the lives of millions. Following implementation of one of Africa’s most successful anti-AIDS programs, Museveni came under pressure from America to use abstinence instead of condoms. Representative Joseph Pitts (R. Pa), a Fellowship member, wrote this into law, redirecting millions of dollars away from effective sex-education programs. The result was an AIDS rate, once dropping, nearly doubled.

More recently, the Fellowship used its influence and funds through its African outreach programs to support a proposed Ugandan law — The “Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009” — that would impose the death penalty on “repeat offenders” engaging in gay sex. David Bahti, a Ugandan lawmaker and a member of the Fellowship sponsored the antigay legislation. Uganda already punishes gay intimacy with life in prison. The proposed legislation would penalize anyone who “attempts to commit the offence” with up to seven years in jail. Additionally, a person charged would be forced to undergo an invasive medical examination to determine their HIV status. If the detainee is found to be HIV+, he or she may be executed.

Members of Congress, who are members of the Fellowship, have taken numerous trips abroad to promote U.S. interests and Fellowship interests. Some of these official trips are paid for by the Fellowship and some by the U.S. governement, thus possibly running afoul of the Open Government Act, which promotes accessibility, accountability, and openness in Government.

The Fellowship admires strong men. Doug Coe offered Pol Pot and Osama bin Laden as men whose commitment to their causes is to be emulated. Preaching on the meaning of Christ’s words, he said, “You know, Jesus said ‘You got to put Him before mother-father-brother sister? Hitler, Lenin, Mao, that’s what they taught the kids. Mao even had the kids killing their own mother and father. But it wasn’t murder. It was for building the new nation. The new kingdom.”

Membership

The Fellowship maintains a closely guarded database of its associates. It issues no cards, collects no official dues. Members are asked not to speak about the group or its activities. The Fellowship is mostly male and mostly Republican although there are some Democrats. The membership has always consisted mostly of public men. A partial list includes Senators Don Nickles (R.Okla.), Charles Grassley (R. Iowa), Pete Domenici (R. N.Mex.), 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.), and Zach Wamp (R.Tenn.). Reportedly, Hillary Clinton is also a member.

Representatives Bart Stupak (D. Mich) and Joseph Pitts (R. Pa), who chairs the House Values Action Team, are members. Stupak and Pitts co-authored the Stupak-Pitts Anti-Abortion amendment to the recent House health care legislation.

Senator John Ensign (R. Nev) and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford are also members. Ensign was a resident at the Fellowship’s Washington, D.C. residence; he recently admitted to an extra-marital affair with an employee. Sanford may possibly be impeached for visiting his secret trip to meet his mistress in Argentina. Ensign and Sanford received guidance from the Fellowship about their affairs and, in the process, shed unwanted light on Fellowship’s activities.

Former Representative Chip Pickering (R-Miss) allegedly met at the D.C. residence with his mistress, an executive in the industry for which he then became a lobbyist.

Other former members include Charles Colson (Watergate conspirator); Ed Meese (Attorney General under Ronald Reagan); John Ashcroft (Attorney General under George W. Bush); Robert “Bud” McFarlane (National Security Adviser under Reagon; Iran-Contra conspirator); former senator Absolam Willis Robertson (D. Va); father of Pat Robertson), and former senators Strom Thurmand, Herman Talmadge (D. Ga), John Stennis (D. Ms), all civil rights opponents.

Conclusion

Jeff Sharlet shed needed light on a secretive Christian fundamentalist organization engaged in backroom dealings effecting both domestic and foreign affairs with little or no public accountability. Their activities possibly violate the Open Government Act.

Because the Fellowship chose not to register as a lobby group, their domestic and foreign activities are purposely kept secret. At the very least, we as Americans should challenge our elective officials as to their membership in the Fellowship, what they do for the organization, and how the organization shapes their views.

Sharlet warns that Americans will not take the Fellowship seriously. We do so at our peril.

Ralph E. Stone

Ralph E. Stone

I was born in Massachusetts; graduated from Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School; served as an officer in the Vietnam war; retired from the Federal Trade Commission (consumer and antitrust law); travel extensively with my wife Judi; and since retirement involved in domestic violence prevention and consumer issues.

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