A couple of years ago, when Jeff Sharlet published his book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, I thought it was important enough that it deserved a separate column in The Kansas City Star.
I told readers that that "it's not possible to comprehend the entanglement of religion and politics in our country without reading The Family. In it, Sharlet fleshes out a story he told in 2003 in Harper's magazine about the intensively private organization that has gone by several names, including the Fellowship, the Family, International Christian Leadership, Inc., and. . .The Fellowship Foundation."
Sharlet now has followed The Family with his new book, C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy. It, too, is a must read if you are to have any hope of grasping some of the major behind-the-scenes religious powerbrokers who are helping to set the national agenda.
"C Street" is a reference to the dwelling on Capitol Hill operated by The Family at 133 C Street, S.E. It's registered as a church for tax purposes, as Sharlet notes, and it's where members of Congress and other big wigs live. C Street is connected to three recent major sex scandals involving politicians tied to The Family -- those of Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), Gov. Mark Sanford, a South Carolina Republican, and former Rep. Chip Pickering, a Mississippi Republican. The Family, writes Sharlet, helped each man cover up his extramarital affair.
Sharlet begins with those sordid affairs and what they say about the religious personalities who tried to hide them, but he moves from there into broader questions of how The Family and its members and friends try to influence public policy, including military matters.
This is both a necessary and distressing followup to Sharlet's earlier book and it should be required reading for all voters before these midterm elections. It is not an anti-Republican or anti-conservative screed. Not at all. Rather, it shines the light of facts on people who would use religion to take control of our nation as a way of furthering their own narrow theological vision.
Sharlet sometimes says things in overly provocative ways when the simple truth is provocative enough, but he nonetheless tells all of us things we need to know.
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IS GOD AN AMERICAN?
A three-night PBS series, "God in America," starts airing this Monday evening. It sounds like it's worth seeing, though given other commitments I don't know how much of it I'll get to see. But I'll be interested in your reaction. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me what you think of the show. I always worry a bit about the secular media (like me) dealing with religion because it often comes off too simplistic.