"And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men...But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." - Matthew 6:5-6
There's an interesting confluence of news, all centered around this house on C Street in DC. It belongs to a publicity-shy Christian group called The Family, or The Foundation.
A secretive group, The Family has been shoved into the sunlight lately by a series of sexual hijinks by some of its more prominent adherents, all good Christians who were caught offering a bit more than fellowship to women who were not their wives.
I was going to make snarky comments about John Ensign, Mark Sanford and now Chip Pickering (R-Unpleasantville). But then I thought, why bother. They're men who were led astray by the little demon in their pants, and if they weren't on record proclaiming that their Jesus love was better than your love or my love, it wouldn't be worth a mention even on cable news.
But The Family, now there's an interesting group.
For tax purposes, the house on C-Street is considered a church. It rents out rooms to Christian politicians, and holds prayer breakfasts for the powerful. The Family was the force behind the National Prayer Breakfast, an event that presidents attend. To say they have reach in Washington is like saying Michael Jordan could jump, Ted Williams could hit, and Fred Astaire could dance.
The Family was founded by a Methodist evangelist who detested FDR and the New Deal. He was an Ayn Rander before Ayn Rand, a free-market conservative who believed God's invisible hand controlled everything from the buying of bananas to the selling of Tijuana Bibles.
According to a 2006 article in The Atlantic, regular participants in weekly prayer confabs have included conservative GOPers like Sam Brownback, Rick Santorum, Don Nickles, Mike Enzi, Jim Inhofe, Tom Coburn and the aforementioned Pickering, Sanford and Ensign.
But in 2001, a new senator showed up, someone who was no stranger to men who stray. That was Hillary Clinton, detested by almost every right wing politico who has ever bent a knee on C Street.
The meetings begin with a personal testimony. When it was Brownback’s turn, he spotted Clinton and said, “I came here today prepared to share about this experience in my life that has caused great suffering...But I’m overcome now with only one thought.” He said he'd hated Clinton and had said horrible things about her, hardly a starting confession, but then he asked if she would forgive him. She said she would.
And the room went, "Awww."
Talk about meet-cute.
Landing in the middle of all this publicity gold is Jeff Sharlet, who by a lucky stroke has a book out titled, "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power"
Interviewed on Fresh Air, Sharlet told us that The Family's approach to religion is based on "a sort of trickle-down fundamentalism," which holds that the wealthy and powerful, if they "can get their hearts right with God ... will dispense blessings to those underneath them."
The wealthy and powerful, according to The Family, have been personally chosen by God (even Newt Gingrich, which shows very little discrimination on God's part, if you ask me).
What's worse, according to Sharlet, the Family supported the Indonesia dictator Suharto (like Oprah and Madonna rocking that one-name thing), and the man behind a purge that reportedly killed more than a million people. Suharto, in the eyes of The Family, was a leader and therefore, ipso facto, he was chosen by God.
That Indonesia sits on a great deal of oil may, or may not have, influenced the Family's support. Only God knows and he's not talking.
Not to little people like us, He isn't.
All this belief that God chooses leaders like Dick Cheney brings to mind the Tom Waits line: "There ain't no devil, it's just God when he's drunk."
Because religion, particularly secretive religion, tugging on the hidden levers of power makes me a little nervous.
And on that encouraging note, enjoy your weekend.