The New Chosen
April 22, 2003 5:53 AM   Subscribe

The New Chosen. After reading about six Congressmen living in unbelievably cheap housing owned by a religious organization called "The Fellowship Foundation" (or "The Fellowship" or "The Foundation") (via Fark), I became curious about the group. They sponsor the National Prayer Breakfast, but they'd rather you didn't know that - they go to great pains to give the impression that it's an official government function. (President Bush's remarks from 2002, and Rev. Rob Schenck's take on missing the same breakfast.) In March, Harper's Magazine ran Jeffrey Sharlet's first-person account on being a Fellowship neonate, in which he describes the group's organizational structure (which takes its clues from terrorists, Hitler, and the Mafia). In 2002 the Los Angeles Times published an examination of the Foundation's political activities (hosted at, which recounts an interesting episode in which three Congressmen, all Fellowship members, take the opportunity to proselytize to a foreign head of state while on official government business. [more inside]
posted by UKnowForKids (35 comments total)
So what is this group - an Illuminati-like cult, or a bunch of wealthy yahoos with wealthy friends who like to pretend they run the world? My guess is that they're closer to B than to A, but when the yahoos start recruiting members of Congress and have the ability to arrange meetings for foreign heads of state with the President, it becomes closer to A than I'd like to see in my government.
posted by UKnowForKids at 5:57 AM on April 22, 2003

The Harper's piece is where I first heard about them. I would recommend it highly. The writer is there "undercover" and sometimes his tone when he describes the group takes on a snarkiness about Christianity that reminds one of MeFi.
posted by vito90 at 6:13 AM on April 22, 2003

Eerily reminiscent of the Sons of Jacob (in The Handmaid's Tale)...
posted by plep at 6:16 AM on April 22, 2003

I remember reading this in Harper's and almost falling out of my chair when I read this:

"A man I didn't recognize, whom Charlene identified as a former senator, suggested that negotiators from Rwanda and Congo, trapped in a war that has slain more than 2 million, should stop worrying about who will get the diamonds and the oil and instead focus on who will get Jesus. 'Power sharing is not going to work unless we change their hearts,' he said.

[Rwandan representative] Sezibera stared, incredulous."

posted by mkultra at 6:33 AM on April 22, 2003

Wow. You found the one major organization left that doesn't have its own web page.

My take: this is a white version of Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition. It's a group that feels it needs to insert itself into every single international dustup (cf. Jesse Jackson frees the POWs in Serbia, gets western hostages in Kuwait released in Gulf War I, volunteers to talk to the Taliban in Afghanistan, etc).

That said, I don't want to be too hard on these guys. Another apt comparison would be a Protestant version of Opus Dei. Not my kind of people, but if they help get Rwanda and Congo to the negotiating table, more power to 'em.

The only people I'd take issue with are the Congressmen who seem to lack the spiritual grounding which causes them to come to depend on this nebulous "Fellowship" organization and the other government officials that used the Fellowship to produce the anti-Communist propaganda films. We basically subcontracted a government media function out to a shadowy religious organization. What if it turned out that the government used one of Al Sharpton's groups to produce films about civil rights?
posted by deanc at 6:41 AM on April 22, 2003

identified as a former senator, suggested that negotiators from Rwanda and Congo, trapped in a war that has slain more than 2 million, should stop worrying about who will get the diamonds and the oil and instead focus on who will get Jesus





posted by thanotopsis at 7:35 AM on April 22, 2003

I'd like to be hard on these guys, then. We wonder why the world perceives us as a bunch of racist, ignorant, Christian fundamentalists? I'd start with this group.
posted by FormlessOne at 7:39 AM on April 22, 2003

Hey, if this Christ-inspired cabal had something to do with ending bloodshed in Rwanda, props to them. Whatever their larger designs, ending slaughter is a praiseworthy achievement.

Just because it's a secret organization whose membership has included hard-right Congressmen, arms manufacturer CEOs and mass-murdering dictators doesn't mean it's all bad.
posted by sacre_bleu at 7:47 AM on April 22, 2003

"... the Family's leaders consider democracy a manifestation of ungodly pride"

-- the most interesting quote, from a political standpoint, in the Harper's article

[members are urged to] "throw away religion" in favor of the truths of the Family. Declaring God's covenant with the Jews broken, the group's core members call themselves "the new chosen.""

-- most interesting Harper's quote, from a religious perspective
posted by sacre_bleu at 7:51 AM on April 22, 2003

I find this dialog from the Harper's article most disturbing, myself:

"Beau, let's say I hear you raped three little girls. And now here you are at Ivanwald. What would I think of you, Beau?"

Beau shrank into the cushions. "Probably that I'm pretty bad?"

"No, Beau. I wouldn't. Because I'm not here to judge you. That's not my job. I'm here for only one thing."

"Jesus?" Beau said. David smiled and winked.

posted by dragstroke at 8:07 AM on April 22, 2003

I was most troubled by their admiration for the organizational methods of terrorist groups, the mafia, subversive spy cells, and the like. Oh yes, and Hitler and Nazi Germany seemed to elicit mostly admiration, at least for his methods if not necessarily for his outcomes.

People like this have always been around. But the fact that members of Congress, the SCOTUS, and the POTUS all are influenced by or members of this group seems potentially disasterous to me.

But then again, I don't believe in Jesus (see Freke and Gandy, The Jesus Mysteries ) so what do I know?
posted by mooncrow at 8:09 AM on April 22, 2003

there really is no better proof of species-wide insanity than religion.
posted by quonsar at 8:13 AM on April 22, 2003

Also discussed at length over at Plastic.

sacre_blue must've read my comments there. 8)
posted by Cerebus at 8:33 AM on April 22, 2003

sort of chilling.

one day when they find the author drowned in his bed or something bizarre, i hope everyone remembers.
posted by th3ph17 at 8:42 AM on April 22, 2003

I had read this yesterday and found it chilling. I think the influence they have on our government is absolutely terrifying. They are a simple cult, nothing more. But if you say Jesus enough then hey, you're okay. Sorry, if I'm not being fair, but this atheist and skeptic gets very upset when the people entrusted to make the most important decisions in our world claim to be consulting fairy tales rather than the strictly rational terms our (religiously) diverse people demand.
posted by McBain at 8:50 AM on April 22, 2003

the people entrusted to make the most important decisions in our world claim to be consulting fairy tales rather than the strictly rational terms our (religiously) diverse people demand.

I think it's wrong to presume rationality for the non-religious. Further, I don't really care why people hold the politics they hold (against abortion, pro death penalty, pro humanitatian intervention, whatever), just with what those beliefs are. Throw dice, read the Bible, call it rationality, whatever.

What I don't like is the secrecy and the insularity that it sounds like these people live under. Essentially, it seems to me that this is a system for getting people who are in office to have as little contact with other points of view as possible by surrounding them with a single ideology all the live-long day. That--the secrecy and the insularity--are antithetical to democracy, and ought to be an anathema to the people who elect them.
posted by claxton6 at 9:13 AM on April 22, 2003

First of all, "Godwin" on your FPP -- that wasn't really necessary.

This is the kind of thing that (a) flies in the face of what Christ taught us and (b) makes me embarrassed to be Christian.
posted by alumshubby at 9:13 AM on April 22, 2003

This is way creepy. Anyone else notice that women are aren't part of this? The only women I've seen mentioned in the Harper's article are in servant-type positions.
posted by eilatan at 9:19 AM on April 22, 2003

You can't invoke Godwin on this one, because the Family/Fellowship *itself* is drawing the parallel. You should read the Harper's Monthly article.
posted by Cerebus at 9:35 AM on April 22, 2003

I think it's wrong to presume rationality for the non-religious.

Claxton- I'm not making that presumption, only pointing out that because we as human beings are religiously diverse (including atheists), it is unfair to inject one's arbitrary choice over strictly rational terms.

And yes the methods do matter. Answering 1 + 1 with a role of the dice will be right 1 out of 6 times, but I don't won't anyone in a position of power deciding like that, even if they get snake eyes pretty often. (I know, snake eyes is on 2 dice but it sounded good.)
posted by McBain at 9:50 AM on April 22, 2003

Not scary today. Probably not scary tomorrow. Ten years from now?

Let's see what happens when the senior Coe passes to the great beyond and the two sons wrestle for control.

When they say it's not about the money, (it's about Jesus?) it's always about the money and the power. Money and power don't divide evenly by two.
posted by mygoditsbob at 10:09 AM on April 22, 2003

Isn't "The Foundation" one possible translation of the Arabic Al Qaeda?
posted by mr_roboto at 10:14 AM on April 22, 2003

Subscribed to Harper's yet?

No better time than the present.

Nofundy is vindicated for his paranoia regarding the role of religion in politics. (I hate when I talk about myself in the third person like that.)

"... the Family's leaders consider democracy a manifestation of ungodly pride"

Nothing more need be said.
posted by nofundy at 10:20 AM on April 22, 2003

I'm a Christian, and I think that while strongly held religious beliefs can help make a better leader (and have often been core values of leaders I have respected) it's not absolutely essential. Plenty of terrible people have been self-declared Christians, or otherwise religious, too.

What's most striking about this group is not its admiration of the discipline of the Mafia and explicit embrace of the organizing fundamentals of Adolf Hitler's National Socialists.

It's the way the cadre allegedly shrug off the strictures of organized religion while interpreting Biblical verses to justify plans to have its members rule the world.

Tell your followers to reject organized religion and follow the word of God as you explain it to them, and you're telling them to follow you. The worst-case scenarios for that sort of vision are well known: David Koresh and Jim Jones.

Those two cats had some real sustainability issues, but this Family is not so self-defeatingly apocalyptic, apparently.

They're well-groomed, well-financed, and seriously connected. They're hunkered down for the long haul and ready for prime time. If I was a freshman Congressman, I would welcome their invitations.
posted by sacre_bleu at 10:36 AM on April 22, 2003

I dug up a few more odd things on this group that I posted at warfilter last night for any who may be interested in trying to learn more. Doug Coe, the Fellowship's leader, is a shadowy figure who shuns the spotlight.

This group and other behind-the-scene religious influences were metnioned in nofundy's An Insider's Look.

Tracking this group and its members would be a good project for Mojo (or whatever it's suppposed to be called!)
posted by madamjujujive at 10:38 AM on April 22, 2003

only pointing out that because we as human beings are religiously diverse (including atheists), it is unfair to inject one's arbitrary choice over strictly rational terms.

I think at the bottom of any rationality is some (and I would actually say more than just some) arbitrariness. My point is: I don't really care what it is that motivates these people; if they were historical materialists (i.e., claimed rationality) but operated under the same system of secrecy and insularity, it'd be no different. Further, you're privileging your own preferred method for looking at the world at the expense of others. What you call rationality, someone else could equally turn around call sophistry; empty logic that can be culled to justify any position.

I guess another way of saying this is: It seems to me you're doing exactly what you're complaining about. Namely, imposing one way of doing things (i.e., materialist rationality) on a religiously diverse population.
posted by claxton6 at 10:47 AM on April 22, 2003

One synonym for "fellowship" is "fraternity".
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 11:06 AM on April 22, 2003

one union boss joined the group, proclaiming that the prayer movement would make unions obsolete. He said, "'I got down on my knees and asked God to forgive me . . . for I have been a disturbing factor and a thorn in Your flesh.'" A "rugged capitalist who had been the chairman of the employers' committee in the big strike" put his left hand on the labor leader's shoulder and said, "'Jimmy, on this basis we go on together.

Christ as Union Buster?

These people are insane.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 11:26 AM on April 22, 2003

Christ as Union Buster?

Maybe God gave us the Sabbath but unions gave us the weekend--Jesus H! This is sacrilege!
posted by y2karl at 12:09 PM on April 22, 2003

The real reason these congressmen are getting cheap rent...
posted by insomnia_lj at 3:11 PM on April 22, 2003

I refuse to click that link.
posted by homunculus at 3:40 PM on April 22, 2003

Thanks for the heads-up, H, must remember to look down at that status bar more often.. chrsit does not approve.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:11 PM on April 22, 2003

The in-town location is literally across the street from my office, and I, too, live in the neighborhood (though not literally across the street). $600 to rent a room is not outlandishly cheap, really. But the article makes clear that they get the run of the whole house, with reception rooms, etc. I took a picture of the house this morning.

There are apparently quite a few of these mansions that are owned by lobbying groups. They get someone to live there so they can register it as a residence, but then they use it almost exclusively for receptions and parties. It's a minor scandal here--they drive up real estate prices without contributing much to the neighborhood. Anyway, that's my local perspective.

If I could find an address for the other houses mentioned in the article, I'd go take picutres of them, too. But "Twenty-fourth Street North in Arlington," even on a cul-de-sac, isn't enough information. Any other clues?
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:45 AM on April 23, 2003

Oh, and it is, as the article says, two blocks from the Capitol. But it's a half block from the House office buldings, which is where the real business takes place.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:47 AM on April 23, 2003

I found The Cedars! Arlingon's roads are famously (locally, at least) non-continuous. That means 24th St is broken up into many different pieces, and could (and does) have multiple culdesacs. But one of the articles mentions that it overlooks the Potomac. I drove out there last night, and there was a sign at the beginning of a private drive proclaiming it was, indeed, "The Cedars." I couldn't get close enough for a picture, though, dangit.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:22 AM on April 24, 2003

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