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Friday, February 28, 2003  

Preacher George and the Modern Theocracy

You’ll recall the emergence of Preacher George, that Christian Warrior cum Free World Leader, who first made his appearance during the January State of the Union Address. I called it a personal transformation that we were privileged to be able to watch on the world stage. Although further incarnations are possible (he’s only got 9 years of political experience under his belt), this surely was a late development, a near-completion.

There was some dissent. In comments and emails, some folks felt Preacher George was still General George—with a hearty dose of religious rhetoric. It was the same deity-invocation politicians have engaged in for generations.

Well, it looks like we were all wrong.

In an absolutely amazing article in Harper’s Magazine, writer Jeffrey Sharlet details a secret society of Christian politicians called “the Family.” According to Sharlet, the Family has for decades been a highly organized “invisible” organisation whose members have tried to convert or recruit world leaders for a “covenant of Christ.”

“In the process of introducing powerful men to Jesus, the Family has managed to effect a number of behind-the-scenes acts of diplomacy. In 1978, it secretly helped the Carter Administration organize a world-wide call to prayer with Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, and more recently, in 2001, it brought together the warring leaders of Congo and Rwanda for a clandestine meeting, leading to the two sides’ eventual peace accord last July. Such benign acts appear to be the exception to the rule. During the 1960s, the Family forged relationships between the US government and some of the most anti-Communist (and dictatorial) elements within Africa’s postcolonial leadership. The Brazilian dictator General Costa e Silva, with Family support, was overseeing regular fellowship groups for Latin American leaders, while, in Indonesia, General Suharto (whose tally of several hundred thousand “Communists” killed marks him as one of the century’s most murderous dictators) was presiding over a group of fifty Indonesian legislators. During the Reagan Administration the Family helped build friendships between the US government and men such as Salvadoran general Carlos Eugenios Vides Casanova, convicted by a Florida jury of the torture of thousands, and Honduran general Gustao Alvarez Martinez, himself an evangelical minister, who was linked to both the CIA and death squads before his own demise. ‘We work with power where we can,’ the Family’s leader, Doug Coe, says, ‘build new power where we can’t.’”

Those directly linked to the Family include senators Nickles, Grassley, Domenici, Ensign, Inhofe, Nelson, and Burns, and representatives DeMint, Wolf, Pitts, Wamp, and Stupak. And George W? Sharlet doesn’t identify him directly, but he gets pretty close:

”At the 1990 National Prayer Breakfast [a Family-sponsored event in Washington] George H. W. Bush praised Doug Coe for what he described as ‘quiet diplomacy, I wouldn’t say secret diplomacy,’ as an ‘ambassador of faith.’”

So I think Preacher George has a little backing here. What’s really alarming isn’t just that this is a secret society, nor that it pushes fundamentalist Christian views. What bothers me is that fundamentalism of any stripe does not consider itself beholden to any authority on earth.

Sharlet describes a scene at the Family’s residential house in Virginia (where he was, for a time, a resident) in which Ed Meese, conservative Christian businessmen, and politicians were meeting with ambassadors from Rwanda and Benin. A former senator told the Rwandan that participants in the Rwanda-Congo war should “stop worrying about who will get diamonds and oil and focus on who will get Jesus.” When the Rwandan responded with incredulity, the Family smiled, rubbed their bibles and murmured “Thank you, Jesus.” They weren’t worried about the war in Africa—it was a terestrial concern. They pitied the poor Rwandan who had not the faith in something larger than the small little events on planet Earth. And so they gave thanks to Christ for their own certainty that things like wars were insignificant. That kind of belief may be a wonderful thing in some contexts—but it’s patently anti-democratic, and to tell the truth, gives me the heebie-jeebies.

The whole article is a must-read, but you’ll have to go to a newsstand, because it’s not online. The best six bucks you’ll spend. (Oh, and there’s an argument about why the war is futile, as an added bonus.)

posted by Jeff | 1:23 PM |
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