In an article published in Harper’s last March, Jeffrey Sharlet brought the activities of a group called “The Family” out into the open for the first time. What is “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.
For several weeks, Sharlet masqueraded as a “member” of The Family, living with them, eating with them, praying with them–and learning their checkered history playing kingmaker in the halls of power.
During the 1960s the Family forged relationships between the U.S. 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 U.S. government and men such as Salvadoran general Carlos Eugenios Vides Casanova, convicted by a Florida jury of the torture of thousands, and Honduran general Gustavo 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.”
It was one of the few times that one of the largely unseen and unknown groups knitting religion into govt has been outed publicly, yet many of these groups exist–and flourish–all across the country. They have many goals, ranging from The Family’s goal of influencing policy–domestic and international–in a direction consistent with what they have decided are “Christian” objectives to the long-range goal of making the US a “Christian” government. For some 30 years, fundamentalist Christian groups have been meeting, planning, and forging alliances with that single aim, yet their efforts have remained mostly under the radar of the national media. Only occasionally, as in Sharlet’s piece, are they briefly exposed to the light of day before being ignored again, yet their influence, their power, grows daily.
Since Junior’s election 3 years ago, these groups have, for the first time, begun to bring their aims and agenda into the open, moving to try to force govt to conform to “Christian” values. The opening shots were fired when Fundamentalist groups in several states began agitating to place plaques or statues representing the Ten Commandments prominently in state and county courts, insisting–inaccurately–that they belonged there because they were the basis of our whole legal system. It was a tactic designed to be the “thin end of the wedge” in the battle to dismantle or undercut the Constitutionally mandated separation of church and state by conflating the two and demonstrating to the public that the so-called “separation” is bogus. The strategy peaked when Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, under cover of darkness, installed a massive monument dedicated to the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the Alabama State Supreme Court building and then successfully defied a Supreme Court ruling to remove it for weeks until the Alabama SC was finally forced to remove him from office.
Now, in Georgia, the second phase of the battle has been initiated: the attempt to remove the separation clause from each state govt’s constitution.
In a debate last week, state Sen. Tommie Williams suggested that separation of church and state was little more than a Communist plot. The only constitution in the history of the world that even mentions a separation of church and state was that of the Soviet Union, Williams claimed.That’s very, very wrong.
In fact, proof of Williams’ error lay almost literally beneath his nose. At the time, he was speaking in favor of gutting Article 1, Section II, Paragraph VII of the Georgia Constitution. That paragraph reads, in its entirety:
“Separation of church and state: No money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, cult or religious denomination or of any sectarian institution.” That language was adopted by the people of Georgia in 1877, more than 40 years before the founding of the Soviet Union.
The effort to gut that restriction is part of a larger movement by Republicans to strip such guarantees from state constitutions all across the country. The eventual goal is to let conservative Christian groups tap into taxpayer money, giving them enormous resources to help spread their faith. In many cases, that crusade has followed an approved script….
That script includes equating the doctrine of the separation of church and state with Communism–an effective argument with the gullible and the history-impaired. The right wing has had enormous success since the end of WWII with destroying the lives and careers of their opponents simply by labeling them “Commies” or “fellow travelers”; they have been applying the term to liberals for a decade, and their rhetoric has reached the point where Ann Coulter could write a popular book labeling any liberal or Democrat a “traitor” because, after all, we’re all “Commies” and that makes us “enemies of America.”
Jay wrote a good column but his contention that the goal of the movement is “to let conservative Christian groups tap into taxpayer money” is badly off-the-mark. It isn’t wrong but it is short-sighted; the money is nothing but a helpful perk. The real goal is to begin the process that will lead to making the US a theocratic govt run by and for fundamentalist Christians along Biblical lines whether the rest of us like it or not. The groups leading the charge have made it clear they will settle for nothing less.