After posting Religion, Spirituality, and the 2020 Election, which includes praise for Senator Cory Booker, I watched “The Family,” a five-part Netflix documentary about The Family — the authoritarian, evangelical organization that owns luxurious residences in D.C. where elected officials are invited to live communally at bargain rents and convenes the National Prayer Breakfast, which has been addressed by every U.S. President since Dwight Eisenhower. After viewing that film, I discovered that Booker participates in a Bible study group led by Senator James Inhofe, a leader in The Family.
Given these discoveries, later today at a gathering for his Presidential campaign, I hope to ask Booker: How do you evaluate Senator’s Inhofe’s theology?
The Atlantic’s “The Patriarchal Allure of The Family” by Sophie Gilbert addresses, “Is it [The Family] as powerful as the show suggests?” Based largely on Jeff Sharlet’s 2008 book of the same name, the documentary, as Gilbert reports, “makes the case that this shadowy religious organization...is actually one of the most nefarious operations in American politics.” (Sharlet’s book was followed by a lengthy 2010 New Yorker feature that likened the group, which is also known as The Fellowship, to “a kind of theocratic Blackwater.”)
Gilbert writes that “Moss embraces the stylistic trappings of conspiratorial exposés to tell his story” and at times reflects a “willingness to buy into the Fellowship’s mythology.” The film reveals that The Family “has only minimal interest in the Bible” and “seems uniquely motivated by power” in its “overtures to world leaders.” Under the guise of advancing a supposed Christian agenda, it aims to “expand and project patriarchal power” and embraces “Trump not because of his principles, but because of the brute force that he represents.”
In the end, however, Gilbert concludes:
It’s hard to believe after five episodes that the Fellowship has more political influence than any K Street lobbying shop or Christian coalition…. What’s almost more interesting about the Fellowship are the elements that Moss notes but doesn’t dig into. This is a group that sees privilege as potential, whiteness as power, masculinity as proof of leadership prospects.
[The film] seems to think it’s only telling a compelling story if the Fellowship is actually a potent political force. But there’s something fascinating, and tragic, in the way it documents a group of ordinary men so easily convinced that they’re exceptional, even to the point of being handpicked by God like ripe fruit in a celestial grocery store.
The Guardian’s review, “The Family: inside the sinister sect that has infected western democracy” by Jack Seale, concludes that for decades the Family has “secretly swayed US politics ... all the way to the top.” But Seale rejects the film’s implied “premise” — that a “clandestine religious sect secretly controls the US government!”
Nevertheless, Seale says the film “does tell us a lot about a particular kind of elite mindset that has caused an awful lot of damage” — “a portrait of the whole ‘Christian’ right wing in the US – as well as the type of (white) man who has thoroughly infected western postwar politics.” The film reveals that The Family’s “faith and devotion are perfunctory, a means to an end, an excuse”...to advance “their sense of entitlement to power. The Family’s biggest lesson is probably how that entitlement has evolved” and developed an approach that has “mirrored the politics of opaquely funded thinktanks and wealth secreted offshore.”
Of particular interest to me is a point not fully discussed by either of these reviews. The Family has developed a large, global network of small prayer groups that are non-hierarchical and self-regulating. As such, even though The Family’s long-term leader recently died, its community may prove to be self-perpetuating.
Neither the film nor those reviews really examine how The Family’s worldview affects more than the power elite. It permeates society throughout the world. Christian rhetoric is used to legitimize power in every arena, on every level, regardless of how that power is exercised. Winning is everything. Right makes right.
The same rationale applies even when the language is largely secular, as with the Prosperity Gospel, or entirely secular, as with Norman Vincent Peale’s argument, “What the mind can conceive and believe, and the heart desire, you can achieve.” Parents everywhere teach that lie, which avoids any consideration of ethical constraints.
Our society encourages everyone to climb social ladders and look down on and dominate those below. Until we establish another, more compassionate, central purpose for society, fragmentation will continue to send us down the spiral we suffer today.
So, if I get the chance, I’ll also tell Booker, "I appreciate it when you encourage people to pay attention to how they treat each other," and ask him: “Might you consider using your office and your campaign as a tool to help organize a democratic, grassroots network of self-regulating, peer-to-peer, spiritual support groups rooted in universal values and principles?”
ADDENDUM (text to organizer):
Hello Mark. Cory gave a great speech! Thanks for inviting me. I was unable to connect with him. The question I wanted to ask is posted in “An Open Letter to Cory Booker” at systemopedia.org. If he can respond there, I’d appreciate it.