Phillip Adams; The Australian, 26/7/08; Some of the juiciest tidbits in this column came from a chat with Jeff Sharlet, a contributing editor to Harper’s and Rolling Stone who has been studying the Family for years. For a detailed dossier, read his book The Family: Power, Politics and Fundamentalism’s Shadow Elite; UQP.
The Family. A comforting name for an organisation – until it’s appropriated by a Charles Manson. Or a Doug Coe. Manson was content to surround himself with a “family” of young women whom he’d send off to kill people – most famously Roman Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, and some Hollywood friends. And Manson did hand-stands in the spotlight his notoriety provided. The reclusive Coe is no killer, but he surrounds himself with US presidents as part of his plan to turn the US into a theocracy. As such he represents as great a threat to sanity. Coe’s “family” dates back to the 1930s at Oxford, when the US-born Reverend Frank Buchman began his Oxford Group. With the world rapidly rearming for World War II, Buchman called for “moral rearmament”. MRA became a brand name, bought by many talented people intent on being “holy Crusaders in modern dress”.
The Australian; No Internet Text
First you had to sign up for the “four absolutes”. Absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness and absolute love a very big ask. Yet Buchman attracted a significant group of followers. The likes of morals crusader Mary Whitehouse and the Kim Beazleys, Sr and Jr.
Though tainted by some pre-war enthusiasm for Hitler, MRA built up a head of steam. Alcoholics Anonymous is a famous byproduct. Though based on a fervent, feverish view of Christianity, MRA evolved into an ecumenical organisation that 70 years later is known as Initiatives of Change.
The Family, a fundamentalist elite, is a bastard American child of Buchman’s movement. It was introduced to the US by Abraham Vereide, a Norwegian immigrant intent on wreaking havoc on what he regarded as the embodiment of Satanism, the trade union movement.
Veriede’s theology went something like this: for 2000 years, Christianity has directed its energies to the poor, the sick, the starving. Wrong! What has that achieved in the 2000 years since Calvary? Better to create a religion for the elite – and have, in the words of journalist and academic Jeff Sharlet, “a trickle-down faith”. Only big men could change the world.
Vereide called this The Idea. Instead of challenging power, embrace it, with the intention of recruiting “a ruling class of Christ-committed men bound in a fellowship of the anointed, the chosen, key men in a dictatorship of the divine”. Vereide saw The Idea spreading like an epidemic among his big men. And to an alarming degree, it seems to be working.
In contrast to those rowdy, vulgar televangelists, Coe, the Family’s current father, keeps a low profile, believing that secrecy increases his power. Yet he holds one of the big events of the US religious calendar, Washington’s National Prayer Breakfast. Invariably addressed by the incumbent president, the events have occurred every February for 55 years.
The 2007 guest list included 3000 local political and corporate heavies, some Eastern European defence ministers, Benazir Bhutto and a genocidal Sudanese general. President Bush arrived early for a meet-and-greet with perhaps 10 heads of state from small nations – people who can be persuaded to vote with the US at the UN.
Keynote addresses traditionally came from Billy Graham, but lately have been delivered by Saudi’s Prince Bandar, Al Gore’s presidential running mate Senator Joe Lieberman and, in 2006, Bono.
This is the tip of a very large iceberg – with follow-up meetings for senior executives in oil, defence, insurance and banking.
One president was known to be a fully fledged Family member: the hapless Gerald Ford, whom the other “family” – Manson’s – also had in their sights. Literally. Manson sent a member of his homicidal harem, Squeaky Fromm, to assassinate Ford. He narrowly escaped her attempt to shoot him at close quarters (yes, a narrow squeak) and Fromm is serving a life sentence. When agonising over whether or not to pardon Richard Nixon, Ford asked the Family, “What would Jesus do?”
Given that Coe and co. praise Hitler, Mao, Stalin and bin Laden, the Family’s top-level following may seem astonishing. Why are such monsters admired by the Family?
It’s for their focus, their determination in reaching an objective, their organisational skills. Coe believes they’ve much to teach his crusaders for Christ. Nonetheless, members of the Washington political elite form queues to be close to Coe.
Not only does a who’s who from Congress and the Senate attend his big breakfast but the likes of Al Gore and Hillary Clinton express pride in their personal friendships with this ratbag. Yet it’s Barack Obama who gets into trouble with his local pastor.