(Note: See my previous post for explanations of what the initials mean next to my references or quotes. Also see those previous posts for Sharlet’s assertions about the Family, as a Christian political group. This is, after all, the fourth is a series. To catch up, first read part one, then two, then three.)
Though Sharlet’s book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power identifies (wrongly, I think) the Family as a Fundamentalist sect that has infiltrated Washington Politics, use of his material is also pointed at “the Christian Right.” This identification is not made as consistently by Sharlet (who is a nuanced and careful writer) as it is by those who endorse and review his books. I gave some examples of this “guilt by association” in my first post. As another, here is a review as posted on Amazon:
The Family is the best book available on the Christian right precisely because it unpacks the ways in which the people often described as such are neither Christian nor right. I don’t mean that in the bumper sticker sense – I don’t buy (and Sharlet does not suggest) that this elite group of religiously motivated power players are not real Christians because of their political interests (even if the group itself sometimes prefers not to use the word). Rather, he makes the case that such easy categorization does not do justice to, or sufficiently warn against, their actual influence and reach.
Yet what is normally perceived as “the Christian Right” has little to do with the group Sharlet describes in his book. Like his assertion that the Family is another kind of fundamentalism, Sharlet asserts that it is also another kind of Christian Right. He gives some examples of crucial differences between the Family and what he calls the “regular Christian Right.”
They are not the traditional right wing bad guys.(RDL)
They are very different than the regular Christian Right in that they are very internationalist. They are interested in recruiting members around the world. (LLS)
But one of the things again that distinguishes them from the Christian Right, is as Doug Coe expresses it like so, we work with power where we can; build new power where we can’t. It’s a country club fundamentalism. (LLS)
One of the important things that separates them from the popular Christian Right—we know about the rapture: Jesus is going to come and. They don’t believe in the rapture. (LLS)
However, though these ideological differences should make one pause before using the antics of the Family to cast further dispersions on the Christian Right, they are not the more convincing proof. What is more telling are the more famous names within the Family itself. Rarely do the “friends,” “members,” “associates,” or “Core” square with those the public most associates (and dislikes) within the Christian Right.
For example, the Family does not include those whose names more readily come to mind when the Christian Right is the topic of conversation. For example, James Dobson and his Focus on the Family organization is an outsider to the Family (LLS). At the same time, though many readers describe members of the Family as “Pat Robertson-types,” Pat Robertson himself is not affiliated with the group. According to Sharlet, Pat “became too ‘charismatic’—in the religious sense of the word—for The Family’s upper class tastes.” (RDL)
Another person is absent from the roles of the Family whom everyone would expect to be listed: George W. Bush. Per Sharlet, “he’s not terribly involved actually. That’s one of the interesting things.” (LLS). No kidding! The most openly Evangelical president in years is not involved with this right wing Christian Political organization. The president, who was pushed to victory in at least 2004 by the Christian Right, is not part of Doug Coe’s elite. The man whose victory caused many to label the parts of the country that voted for him “Jesusland” is unimportant in their eyes.
One would say that if the above three figures, the major heroes of the Christian Right, are not part of the Family, then the Family is not part of the Christian Right. Period. You have to the Family something else and put them in another category altogether. Using Sharlet’s book to smear the Christian Right would be like using the antics of the Skin Heads to smear all balding men.
Need further proof? Just check out the listing of those who are associated with the Family
- Hillary Clinton (RDL, ALT, LLS). According to Sharlet (and Mother Jones News), Hillary regards Doug Coe—the leader of the Family, as a “genuinely loving spiritual mentor and guide.” (RDL). Hillary Clinton. If you have even been remotely associated with anyone on the Christian Right, you would know that they regard Hillary—unfairly, in my opinion—as next the Jezebel in God’s ranking of women. (For those that don’t read the Bible, that’s pretty close to the bottom.)
- Al Gore (RDL, ALT). Yep, global warming Gore. Yet it is claimed that Gore lost the Presidential election due to two sources: the votes of the Evangelicals and the ruling of the Supreme Court. Nor was it until recently that those of the Christian Right bought into Gore’s thesis of Global Warming. Accordingly, to include Al Gore and the Christian Right in the same sentence only works if the relationship is adversarial, not cooperative.
- Gerald Ford (LLS). Wasn’t that the guy who lost to the Candidate who made “Born Again” a household term? Need I say any more?
- Chuck Colson (RDL). Actually, as a former aid to Nixon, this one makes some sense. However, it appears that Colson did not become a member until after he was kicked under the bus by Nixon. If the Family is after power, their timing stinks in Colson’s case.
- Cal Thomas, the columnist (RDL). This would be the closest connection the Family has to the Christian Right. However, Thomas has written at least one book decrying the Christian Right’s emphasis on politics. This change may be part of his “cover” to go back underground into the recesses of the Family, but I doubt it.
So in summary, it appears that Sharlet should and an adjectivial phrase to all of his major descriptions of the family. That phrase is “another kind of.” It is “another kind of” secret. It is “another kind of” Fundamentalism. It is “another kind of” Christian Right. I say, it is “another kind of” all of these things because it is not really any of these things.
I agree with Sharlet’s realization in Harpers: “Their faith and their practice seemed closer to a perverted form of Buddhism, their God outside ‘the truth,’ their Christ everywhere and nowhere at once.” (HARP1). This is not Fundamentalism, the Christian Right, or even generic Evangelicalism. To quote the man from the Emerald City, “This is a horse of a different color.”
Next: Just What Kind of Horse is it? How Sharlet’s Publishers Missed the Really Scary Subtitle