Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to easily contact and talk to ranking U.S. government officials, ambassadors, high-ranking foreign politicians, corporate executives, and leaders of religious and humanitarian organizations? Wouldn’t it also be nice to work closely with senators and congressional representatives to pass or influence legislation?
I know, you think I’m talking about lobbyists, but I’m not. I’m talking about not only one of the most politically well-connected, but also very secretive, organizations in the U.S. and you can find one of their houses on C Street, very close to the Capitol.
If you guess The Fellowship, you’re right. If not, read on. The Fellowship, informally called The Family, is that politically well-connected, secretive, publicity shunning organization that requires a vow of secrecy among its members. Among other things, The Family is extremely interested in forging strong ties with businessmen in the oil and aerospace industries.
You see, the leader and other folks have explained the vow of secrecy—the bible says public display of good works isn’t nice and they can’t take on those sensitive missions that require discreet diplomacy.
OK, now we know The Family is doing good works (at least that’s what they tell us), but we don’t know what they are because they’re secret, as are their other activities such as influencing legislation and working with like-minded individuals (members, if you will) here and internationally. But who are some of the members doing these good works?
Wikipedia has a very interesting article (recommended reading) about The Family that includes an incomplete list of some current and former members, seven of which I’ve listed here and good background on their activities—
- John Elias Baldacci (born January 30, 1955) is an American politician who served as the 73rd Governor of the U.S. state of Maine from 2003 until 2011. A Democrat, he also served as a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003.
- Tony Patrick Hall (born January 16, 1942) is an American politician who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for more than twenty years representing the state of Ohio. He then served from 2002 to 2006 as United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture and as chief of the United States Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome, which includes the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the World Food Programme, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. Subsequently, Hall worked on a Middle East peace initiative in collaboration with the Center for the Study of the Presidency.
- Melvin Laird (born September 1, 1922) is an American politician and writer. He was a U.S. congressman from Wisconsin before serving as Secretary of Defense from 1969 to 1973 under President Richard Nixon. Laird was instrumental in forming the administration’s policy of withdrawing U.S. soldiers from the Vietnam War; he invented the expression “Vietnamization” referring to the process of transferring more responsibility for combat to the South Vietnamese forces.
- Clarence William “Bill” Nelson (born September 29, 1942) is the senior United States Senator from Florida, in office since 2001. A member of the Democratic Party, Nelson served in the Florida House of Representatives from 1972 to 1979, in the United States House of Representatives from 1979 to 1991 and as Treasurer and Insurance Commissioner of Florida from 1995 to 2000. In January 1986, Nelson became the second sitting member of the United States Congress to fly in space. He flew as a Payload Specialist on the Space Shuttle Columbia. In 2000, Nelson ran for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by retiring Republican Senator Connie Mack. In the Senate, he is generally considered a social moderate and economic liberal.
- Marshall Clement “Mark” Sanford, Jr. (born May 28, 1960) is an American politician and member of the Republican Party. He currently serves as the U.S. Representative for South Carolina’s 1st congressional district after winning a special election on May 7, 2013. He previously represented the same district from 1995 to 2001, before being elected Governor of South Carolina, a position he held from 2003 to 2011.
- Joseph Heath Shuler (born December 31, 1971) is an American businessman and former NFL quarterback who was the U.S. Representative for North Carolina’s 11th congressional district from 2007 to 2013. He was a member of the Democratic Party and of the Blue Dog Coalition.
- Bartholomew Thomas “Bart” Stupak (born February 29, 1952) is an American politician and lobbyist. A member of the Democratic Party, Stupak served as the U.S. Representative from Michigan’s 1st congressional district from 1993 to 2011. Stupak chose not to seek re-election in 2010. He departed Congress in January 2011, and is now a lobbyist with Venable LLP.
Members describe themselves as Christians and meet in prayer groups, or “cells”, for the purpose of bible study. Members share a common love for the teachings of Jesus, no matter the approach. On the other side, Jeff Sharlet, who served an internship in the Fellowship, has stated that the organization “fetishizes” power. In his book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. Sharlet tells us that members view their strength through the covenants forged with fellow members. Members compare Jesus to Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, and Bin Laden as examples of leaders who have changed the world through the forged covenants with fellow members.
A confidential mission statement tells us that they “desire to see a leadership led by God,” and to see “Leaders of all levels of society who direct projects as they are led by the spirit.” Members attempt to avoid the Christian label because people might catch on to the advance of their style of Christianity. They do things quietly, behind the scenes, in making use of leaders “in the work of advancing His kingdom.”
The Family cells are safe places for men of power. Member documents tell us that “God will give you more insight into your own geographical area and your sphere of influence.” Cells, though, should be invisible and work to reach agreements “in faith and prayer” that will lead to an action that will appear to the rest of us as unrelated to any centralized organization. The Family members don’t commit things to writing because those tend to leak out and we find out what they are up to. They like to work quietly and behind the scenes to accomplish their objectives, politically and otherwise. Secrecy is the key word. So where do these cells meet?
Regular prayer groups have met in the Pentagon and at the Department of Defense. They also use the Family’s C Street House. The C Street House is a former convent The Family owns and is registered as a church. The house has 12 bedrooms, nine bathrooms, five living rooms, four dining rooms, three offices, a kitchen, and a small “chapel”. Here the Family holds their Tuesday night dinners for members of Congress and their Wednesday morning prayer breakfasts for Senators. In addition, the house provides Family-subsidized housing for politicians supported by The Family.
“The Fellowship’s reach into governments around the world,” observes David Kuo, a former special assistant to the president in Bush’s first term, “is almost impossible to overstate or even grasp.”
If you’re getting nervous about this organization, join the club. I’ve been nervous about them since I first heard of the organization. Let’s see, politics, diplomatic missions, legislation, high-ranking government officials, and corporate executives…wow! The Family has the capability and power to influence and affect every aspect of our lives and they are working on those. Forget the NSA, worry about The Family! I see The Family members, in and out of government, as the people chipping away at our rights and lives in secret, and that isn’t good. We can’t shine lights on all the members because we don’t know who they are, or where they are, but we do know that their political thinking is on the right. All we can do to protect our lives and society is stay politically motivated and involved, and, especially, vote.
The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, Jeff Sharlet (2008)
C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy, Jeff Sharlet (2010)