Doug Coe, The Fellowship, Hillary Clinton and Why You Should Care

This column was first published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on April 14, 2008.

By now we all know about Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s former pastor whose homiletical remarks have become a serious liability for the Obama campaign. Less known are the “pastor problems” of Hillary Clinton and John McCain. This week’s column is the first in a series of two columns that will look at the religious baggage being carried by Barack Obama’s fellow presidential candidates.

This has the potential of becoming a huge story: Doug Coe, a man Hillary Clinton has called a “genuinely loving spiritual guide and mentor for many” has been caught on tape praising the personal relationships shared by Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler. In the same speech Coe expressed admiration for the dedication of Chinese soldiers who, according to Coe, were forced to chop off the heads of their mothers as a demonstration of their commitment to the People’s Republic of China.

Doug Coe is the spiritual leader of an organization that uses many names but most commonly is known as “The Fellowship,” or “The Family.” Some, both within and outside the group, refer to Coe’s organization as “The Christian Mafia.” Whatever the name, the Fellowship is a loose affiliation of mostly rich, mostly powerful, mostly white, mostly men—a priesthood of rich white guys, according to one former member—with strong connections to corridors of political and economic power around the globe.

It is an organization that works quietly, preferring to remain unknown. The only public work of the Fellowship is the organization of the annual Presidential Prayer Breakfast, which is presented to its guests as an event sponsored by the Senate.

But the shroud of secrecy that has surrounded the work of the Fellowship is starting to be pulled aside. In May two significant media events will shine light on the work of Doug Coe and the Fellowship Harper Collins will publish a book on the Fellowship by Jeff Sharlet, a journalist who has been writing about the Fellowship for years; and in Europe, a documentary on American Christianity will examine the influence of the Fellowship in the United States and abroad. It will air on Germany’s ZDF/Arte, an affiliate of the largest European television network.

I’ve yet to read the book or see the documentary, but I was interviewed for both. Several years ago I wrote an article on the Fellowship for Beliefnet shelved the piece but it has had a good life on my church’s website and on my blog, and it has established me as something of a “Fellowship expert” among conspiracy theorists and serious journalists alike.

It’s hard, in the space of a web-based column, to express all of the reasons a person should be concerned about the work of the Fellowship and about Hillary Clinton’s involvement in it. It is an organization with eccentric beliefs—any group that tolerates the use of Nazis as positive role models should raise eyebrows—but its not just inappropriate heroes that are a problem. In my own personal experience as a former member of the Fellowship and through my research into the Fellowship’s work I have found strong evidence that the Fellowship can be spiritually abusive, particularly toward the young people who pay for the privilege of working long hours at retreat centers run by the Fellowship in and around Washington D. C. Hillary Clinton’s involvement notwithstanding, the Fellowship also has a deeply misogynistic bent.

One young Fellowship employee spoke to me about his marriage comparing his wife to the harlot God directed the Old Testament prophet, Hosea, to marry. A woman who dated a Fellowship member told me of being warned by the wives of older members to “get out while you can—it’s hell to be a Fellowship wife.”

When I was involved in a Fellowship-sponsored prayer and Bible study group in college we were encouraged to forsake our girlfriends in favor of our male friendships, and—without the knowledge or permission of our girlfriends—we were expected to share the intimate details of our loves lives with the other members of our cell group. This is typical behavior for spiritually abusive religious organizations.

This oddball behavior wasn’t just happening among Fellowship groups at Westmont College when I was a student there twenty years ago. Just last week I got a call from a young man, currently in his last year at a very prestigious East Coast college, who experienced the same thing on his campus and at a Fellowship retreat for college-aged people this past winter.

The Fellowship’s pattern of spiritual abuse is particularly insidious because of the secrecy that surrounds the Fellowship’s work. The Fellowship is so keen on remaining clandestine that they have used their proximity to power to instill a sense of fear among the members of the group. Again, this is typical spiritual abuse.

I have found it difficult to write convincingly about the Fellowship because nearly everyone I have interviewed has asked me to withhold their names. My sources have included regular Fellowship members, young people who have worked at the Fellowship’s retreat centers; prominent people in business, academia, and journalism. Everyone was scared. They feared the Fellowship’s members would use their influence to harm them or their institutions if they articulated their concerns publicly.

I don’t believe that fear is entirely well founded, but I do know that the Fellowship has used intimidation in an effort to stop people from writing about them. In my case, after members of the Fellowship somehow came into possession of a draft of my Beliefnet article, my former Fellowship mentor—a man I hadn’t seen in more than a decade—sought me out. While on a trip to California, he took me to lunch and applied a significant amount of spiritual, emotional, and psychological pressure in an effort to silence my work.

So, does it matter that Hillary Clinton has been deeply involved in the Fellowship and that Barack Obama and John McCain have been involved to a lesser extent? It matters to me. I doubt that Senator Clinton’s character has been compromised exactly, but religion can be a powerful and corrupting force. Religious institutions need the accountability of transparency. I’m troubled by any religious group that exercises influence and power without formal accountability, especially when the group boasts deep connections to the most powerful institutions and people on the globe and has shown a tendency to employ spiritual intimidation and abuse. I’d like to see Clinton publicly distance herself from the Fellowship—to renounce and repudiate it even—it would be a first step toward transparency, accountability, and healing.

Read my review of Jeff Sharlet’s book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.

Here’s the video I mentioned above

43 thoughts on “Doug Coe, The Fellowship, Hillary Clinton and Why You Should Care

  1. Ben:

    Another hat to wear: investigative reporter! Good for you (and boo for Hillary and the Fellowship for not living up to Jesus’ example). I assume next week you will examine John McCain’s strange embrace of Rev. John Hagee.

    Greg PLant

  2. I heard today that Doug Coe is seriously ill. While it doesn’t change my opinion about the work of the Fellowship, I am keeping Mr. Coe and his family in my prayers. May he be given comfort and and peace for his journey.


  3. Dear Ben,

    I question one key statement in your article: “Hillary Clinton has been deeply involved in the Fellowship.” I know that she was invited to a prayer meeting at The Cedars during the dark days of Monicagate and she attended. She received concern and support during those difficult days from the Women’s Prayer Group. You are free to use my name as one who is not a member of the Fellowship, but has done a service stint with them in Arlington at the Cedars. I do not fear any reprisal and if I experience some threats, I will immediately forward them to the Lion’s Den for publishing.

    The young people that I worked alongside of did the same kind of work and kept the same kind of hours that you would find at Malibu, Mt. Hermon, Forest Home, or Montreat. We call this ministry and service. I know you have done the same at Mattole and Westminster Woods.

    I never heard Doug Coe speak. What I did experience was some good Christian Fellowship, some great late night discussions of contemporary issues and a good blend of Red and Blue types sitting down together. Most of the folks at the Cedars attended various churches in the Greater D.C. area. The Cedars didn’t function as a worship center. Everyone seemed to have a somewhat different take on how to define The Fellowship. There was a good gender, racial, geographical, age, national mix, that I found to be stimulating. It is a Para Church organization with deep Evangelical roots. It’s alledged abusive behavior may be waning. I don’t think it is the Protestant Opus Dei. (POD)

    Dotti, who has a good nose for extirpating heresy or phoniness in the Christian Camp, came away feeling that they were doing the best they could for Jesus sake.

    I look forward to the expose. If what you say is true; I was hoodwinked. But it won’t be the first time. I have survived Campus Crusade for Christ, Jews for Jesus, the Second Blessing, Glossallalia, the Presbyterian Church, USA, the Episcopal Church, YWAM, the Shepherding Movement, The Jesus Movement, Dispensationalism, The Lord’s Land, Antioch Ranch, the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Council of Churches, the 700 Club, and all manner of Discipleship programs that just left me feeling guilty.

    God is good. He sent Jesus. I keep trying to follow Him. It ain’t easy.


  4. Ronn,

    Thanks for your post. Our experiences of the Fellowship are different, and it should be said that many people have positive experiences with the Fellowship. I don’t deny that, nor do I wish to pretend it’s all bad. My concern is the frequency of bad experiences and the nature of those bad experiences. The bad stuff I’ve come across again and again as I’ve spoken to people involved in the Fellowship has convinced me that there’s a real problem. The stuff I hear isn’t isolated, nor has it been limited to a particular era or to a specific place. The Fellowship’s spiritual abuse isn’t universal but it has been consistent over the last 20 years. I suspect it is the corrupting force of power.

    What I’ve seen in the Fellowship I have not seen among the staffs at Westminster Woods, Mt. Hermon, Malibu, or Forrest Home. The work is similarly hard, but the spirituality isn’t manipulative or controlling. At Westminster Woods Richard and Noreen Nazarian never asked me to empty myself for the sake of the ministry; nor was I shunned for raising questions when something made me feel uncomfortable. Both happened to me in my experience with th Fellowship, and I was a mere participant in a Bible study/prayer/covenant group at Westmont. I didn’t even make it to Ivanwald.

    Regarding the nature or intensity of Senator Clinton’s involvement, I offer you this article from Mother Jones (which I linked in the column) and the first part of this article from the Atlantic Monthly. Which isn’t even really about the Fellowship, but it starts by describing Hillary’s long-standing participation in the Fellowship.

    I’m glad you’ve survived the various manifestations of the Christian family. Thanks also for surviving my blog!



  5. Good column on Coe and The Fellowship.

    All the loony stuff aside — such as the guy who compares his wife to a Biblical harlot, or something — it strikes me that the real danger here is a powerful organization that provides back-channel access to the President and members of Congress, perhaps in ways that even powerful lobbyists can’t manage.

    Lobbying, in fact seems to be a major function of this outfit. It would be enlightening for all the candidates to distance themselves, but more to the point, how about The Fellowship simply be exposed to the harsh light of publicity. Requiring its principals to register as lobbyists would be a good start.


  6. Bill,

    You make a good point. When you think about all of the Brown Act regulations that prevent, say, more than three members of a local school board from socializing off hours, it’s remarkable the ways in which the Fellowship is able to fly beneath the radar.


  7. Pingback: John McCain and Rod Parsley: Sacrificing Peace for an Ohio Victory at Ben Daniel's Left Coast Lions' Den

  8. Sounds like the same kind of spin that the media spews out about anything that it doesn’t understand. It’s sad that the average population formulates opinions based on what the media says about so many religious and even non-religious movements. These are just sensational opinions, which are not necessarily based on all the facts collected from all sides. There is always a slant and what they say should always be taken with a grain of salt.

  9. Actually Richard, almost all of what I wrote here is based on personal experience, and conversations I had with people while researching the Fellowship.


  10. Sinclair Lewis said: “When fascism comes to America it will arrive wrapped in the flag and carrying the cross.” Looks to me like it is here, and has been for some time.

    I find groups like The Family to be extremely frightening in their worship of power, their certainty that they are right, and their disregard of those we might term “the common man”. The current administration is the clearest example yet of what these people are really up to.

    Thanks for you reporting and keep up the good work.

  11. Robert,

    Thanks for your comment. I think Sinclair Lewis was gifted with extremely keen insight. I’ll have to re-read his novels. Thanks for the reminder!

    Incidentally, I also find that John Steinbeck had a similar ability to name realities in American life that continue to affect us seventy years after they were written down, and I wonder which contemporary novelists have this gift. I suppose we’ll have to wait a generation to find out.


  12. Ben, the quote comes from “It Can’t Happen Here,” not necessarily Lewis’ best writing, but perhaps his scariest in its prescience. It’s out in a new paperback edition, and relatively inexpensive.

    Like one of your earlier respondents, I was for over a decade involved in that parallel universe: in my case, an ecumenical covenant community called “The Word of God” in Ann Arbor, which consequently gave birth to a world-wide family of communities known as “The Sword of the Spirit.” Heavily authoritarian (you were denied the opportunity to make what they called a “public commitment,” analogous to final vows, if you’d masturbated within the last year, for example. And yes: they expected you to ‘fess up about such matters, shared data about it among the leadership cadre, and kept written records of it–I’ve seen them). Scary stuff, indeed.

  13. Words taken out of context, particularly if they involve evil men like Mao and Hitler, can easily be used to malign someone. Saying Coe was “caught on tape” just helps you make the case that he said something bad. It is patently unfair to use words out of context to “prove” something that isn’t true.
    Doug’s point is this: Evil men like Mao and Hitler developed fierce loyalty among their followers, who would then commit unspeakable atrocities. If people are willing to follow evil men with such devotion, just imagine the good that can be unleashed when people follow Christ with all their heart.
    His argument is that faithful followers of Jesus can do amazing acts of mercy and kindness for the poor and hurting around the world. And the work of the Fellowship does just that.
    But you don’t hear about these works of mercy in the media, because these folks aren’t driven by fame and fortune like the jokers on television. It’s not about power. Not about secret political agendas. It’s the opposite. The supposed “secrecy” is actually just sincerity, which doesn’t seek the limelight, but strives to serve. That was the surprising attitude of the guy from Nazareth. But the world didn’t understand Him, either.

  14. Bo,

    OK, but throw me a bone here. I wrote this piece as part of a series of columns examining the “pastor problems” of Hilary Clinton and John McCain. You will remember that Barack Obama’s candidacy was almost derailed in in the media frenzy the followed revelations that his pastor had said “God Damn America” and various other inflammatory statements. Meanwhile Clinton and McCain got free passes when religious figures to which they had some attachment said things that were, in my opinion, worse.

    Which leads us to Coe’s praise of Hittler and Mao. You may be (and probably are) right that this praise was of a very narrow and essentially benign aspect of these leader’s otherwise evil existences, but should we not, at the very least, look into it? Doesn’t praise of two of the twentieth century’s worst characters by a man who wields significant influence in Washington merit a few raised eyebrows and a bit of investigation?

    Regarding the “secrecy,” you defend the Fellowship by appealing to a few verses out of the Sermon on the Mount. A few verses earlier, Jesus calls his followers to be a city on a hill that cannot be hid and a light that is not to be hid under a bushel. And as Jesus was giving this sermon he was surrounded by a cast of thousands. So Jesus’ teachings and the example of his earthly ministry are a little more complicated than you suggest.

    I’m of the opinion that the reference you site is about the avoidance of a hypocritical spirituality and not about the founding of a members’ only, secret society that wields great influence within the corridors of power but doesn’t preach good news to the poor, (which by the way, is how Jesus described his mission and ministry in Luke 4).

    Onward! Thanks for the comment. Let’s keep the conversation alive.



  15. I always find it amusing when someone of your alleged “Christian” background has no problem in defaming someone and a whole group of people when the man you should be modeling yourself after never did that! Do you know why Doug Coe is friends with so many Leaders in the world??? Because he doesn’t judge like the typical “Christian” leader. He, goes to them in the name of Jesus. Uplifting the name of Jesus and never pre-judges. I am sure you are way more scholarly than I in quoting scripture. But, it is painfully apparent to me that you have missed Jesus’ idea of the Kingdom and how you should conduct yourself. Try following Jesus’ example and perhaps you will understand. It may not build another Presbyterian Church for you, but it will certainly create more people willing to follow the teachings and principles of Jesus. Which we both know would make the world a better place.

  16. Well Greg, it’s complicated, isn’t it? You’ve just passed judgment on me for judging Doug Coe. It can be hard to avoid.

    I rather don’t think one has to be a scholar to notice that Jesus was friends with exactly no world leaders. He had a few rich friends and one or two religious leaders were willing to associate with him, but for the most part Jesus hung out with a rather blue collar crowd.

    Think about the message of the Christmas story in Luke: the angels appear not to the rich and powerful in Jerusalem but to Shepherds outside Bethlehem.

    I once went to the National Prayer Breakfast. I showed up to the event dressed in what I thought were nice cloths: an oxford shirt, pants that weren’t made of denim, and shoes that weren’t designed for athletics. I was told that I had to change into a coat and tie immediately. Then I got my shoes shined. As I waited in line I saw a lot of rich-looking white men sitting in the chair, reading Bibles or books by Charles Swindol. When I got to the chair I started talking to the man shining my shoes. Turn out he was a christian and so I asked him if he’d been having good fellowship with the people attending the Prayer breakfast. He gave me a quizzical look and said, “look at me!” I’m a black man who shines shoes. None of these folk talk to me.”

    That opened my eyes. As far as I could tell, there were no carpenters at the prayer breakfast, which is odd given Jesus’ profession.

    So I cannot accept your suggestion that I am the one who has missed the point of the Gospel’s promise of the Kingdom of God.

    I’m sorry if this sounds judgmental, but I cannot avoid speaking out on behalf of the biblical vision of the Kingdom of God as I see and understand it.


  17. Greg,

    In response to the suggestion that Christian leaders ought not be judgmental, I offer this passage from Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” These are words that have judged me and by their judgment I have been transformed.

    I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

    I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.

  18. Ben,

    I assure you that I did not judge you at all. It is not my position nor yours in this world to judge. I am leaving that up to the one man that was given that authority..Jesus. What I will do in the meantime is love those that I come in contact with, uplifting the name and person of Jesus regardless of who they are and what they do. That does not mean that I necessarily agree with what they say or do. It is through that brotherly love that Jesus can show up and open the eyes of the ones we come in contact with. Not by beating them over the head with a “Convert at all cost” agenda.

    One more footnote: Both of us as Christians or believers should be following the teachings and principles of Jesus. I can only imagine that it has to be difficult to do that from the “Religious Left” as it says on your site. I have been searching the scriptures and cannot for the life of me find one where jesus told us to be religious or left?? Maybe you can shed some life on that. Or, are you bringing both religion and politics into a movement started by Jesus when he never intended either to be the focus? Words to think on.



  19. Greg,

    Thanks for the note and the ongoing conversation.

    One of the things about the Fellowship that I’ve always found curious (including when I was involved in a fellowship cell at Westmont College) is the desire to separate Jesus from Christianity, as if it were possible to discover and follow a Pristine Christ unmitigated by religion.

    But that’s impossible. We only know Jesus through the witness of scripture, and the Bible is entirely a product of the Church. What’s more, if you believe that Jesus is God–co-equal, co-eternal and of one substance with the Father, and if you believe Jesus is part of a trinitarian Godhead (that he shares uniquely divine space with the Father and the Holy Spirit), then your faith is a product of historical Christian theology that is not found in the Bible.

    Now, you may not use such language to talk about Jesus, but you write with words that are entirely tied to religion. Let me quote your most recent post: “What I will do in the meantime is love those that I come in contact with, uplifting the name and person of Jesus…” These are the words of a very religious person.

    Anyone who speaks of “uplifting the name of Jesus” betrays a faith and a spirituality that are inseparably tied to the American Evangelical Protestant tradition.

    So I don’t know if Jesus intended to start a religion or not, but for two thousand years the Church has kept the story of Jesus alive. Without the the Christian Religion, we would not know the name of Jesus, let alone lift it up.

    Regarding politics, let me explain myself. When I read the Bible, I find very little about “family values,” or free markets or putting America first or lowering taxes. I do read an awful about caring for the poor, about welcoming the outcast and the stranger, about justice for aliens. Jesus tells us that the peacemakers will be blessed, and that we are to turn the other cheek. St. Paul speaks of racial and ethnic and gender equality before God. From where I sit, all these Biblical values line up on the left-hand side of the American political continuum, so that’s where I’ve decided to place myself ideologically. I cannot say if Jesus would join me, but my job is to be faithful, not to be Jesus.

    What do you think?


    PS I’d like to dedicate this last comment to my friend Tone the Bone DeRose, for it reflects many hours of fine conversation between the two of us.

  20. Well, since my name has been evoked, I guess it’s time to add my two cents…

    Ben, thank you for the dedication. Our conversations, theological and otherwise, make up the times that make life grand!

    The line of comment regarding this article has strayed quite a bit from the original topic; that being Hillary Clinton’s affiliation with Doug Coe, the leader of The Fellowship. I’ll comment on that first. You quoted Hillary as calling Doug Coe a “genuinely loving spiritual guide and mentor for many…” I am sure this is actually the case. And, I’m glad that Doug Coe and The Fellowship were there to support Hillary through the pain and humiliation of Monica-gate. As you acknowledged in your reply to Ronn Garten’s comment, people have different experiences with The Fellowship. My own sister met her husband while “working long hours” at one of The Fellowship’s retreat centers (it could be said that my neices and nephews, whom I adore, owe their existence to The Fellowship, and so for that reason, I’m grateful for its existence). While serving at “The Farm,” my sister was under direct mentorship of Doug Coe’s two sons, Dave and Tim. She looks back on her time there with fondness and still maintains many of her “Fellowship” relationships, while considering her current affiliation as loose, at best. I’ll reserve any further comment on her experience, and any correction of my interpretation of her experience, to her.

    That said, would I want a personal spiritual leader who uses Hitler and Mao as role models? No. Am I comfortable with such a spiritual leader having the ear of The President? No. Was Doug Coe merely using the relationships of Hitler and his buddies, and the dedication Mao inspired as metaphores? Of Course. But still, Doug, Buddy…isn’t there a better way to get your point across? Couldn’t you find a more positive metaphore for relational ministry and dedication, like…I don’t know…maybe Jesus and the Disciples? Ben, I know of your experience with The Fellowship; and I know of the research you, and others, have done which has revealed that The Fellowship has scarred many souls. When an organization (whether or not it actually admits to being an organization) seems to abuse that many people in the name of Christ, I think it warrants some questioning, if not judgement.

    To Greg, I offer this: Was Jesus not the ultimate judge of the corrupt and abusive religious establishment of his time? Was he not continually denouncing the priests and pharisees for their rigid theology and self-serving practices? Did he not throw a hissy fit when he saw how they allowed the Temple rituals to be used to make a profit through taking advantage of the devoted? Was that not the reason they ultimately conspired with the insecure political leaders to get the Romans to put him to death?

    I feel it is healthy and Christ-like to question, and perhaps even judge, a powerful arm of the church (again, whether or not it actually claims to be an arm of “The Church”) when it starts to wield its power in un-Christ-like ways. Aren’t we all (Catholic and Protestant alike) glad that folks like Luther, and Calvin, and Zwingli did?


    Tone the Bone

  21. I came across this quote from Carl Jung, which made me think about one of the threads of discussion on this post:

    “We Protestants must sooner or later face this question: are we to understand the “imitation of Christ” in the sense that we should copy his life and, if I may use the expression, ape his stigmata; or in the deeper sense that we are to live our own proper lives as truly as he lived his.”

    (from the essay “Psychotherapists or Clergy” published in Modern Man in Search of a Soul by Harcort, Brace & World, inc, in New York. My copy gives no copyright date.)

  22. trying to find out why an anti-democratic religious group is given such an unwarranted role in the running of the US’s political system I stumbled across this blog. Makes me proud to not be following Jesus anywhere. No wonder Jesus wept.

  23. CK–

    Thanks for stopping by. Just don’t confuse being a follower of Jesus with being a member of the Fellowship. Lots of people follow Jesus–or try to anyway–who have never heard of the Fellowship.


  24. Dear Ben,

    Thanks for the illuminating discourse on “The Family”, I had heard the last few minutes of the NPR interview following the Mark Sanford scandal and I was intrigued about his involvement. Moreover, it is nice to hear a Christian take up for what Jesus really appeared to stand for and live for during his life. I am Jewish (in a secular kind of way), and it is bewildering to me to observe what appears to be such an absence of compassion and empathy on the part of some members of the “religious right”. Please keep up the good work.



  25. Thanks, David.

    I didn’t catch the NPR piece, but I’m not at all surprised to hear that Sanford is involved in the Fellowship. I suspected as much when I read about some of what his “spiritual leader” had to say about Sanford.

    Fellowship folks will talk, for example, about marriage being a burden, something to be endured for the sake of procreation and sexual gratification. When Sanford found his soul mate in Argentina it never seemed to occur to him (at least not publicly) that developing a soul-relationship with his wife might be a good path toward healing. Marriage is just something you do, not something that brings you life-giving joy.

    Anyway, thanks for reading.


  26. if this stuff is for real it scares the hell out of me. i have often said the only difference between republicans and democrats is that the R’s borrow and spend and the D’s tax and spend. it also makes me wonder if there’s many ways to ask the old question of WWJD? I was always taught that Jessus told his followers to do to others as they would have others do to them. i guess the real question is who is Jessus and what did he teach?

  27. Hello. Have come across your piece while looking into Mark Sanford’s relationship to ‘The Family’. Great. Thank you. A question….is this a cult?

  28. I just went back up and read some of the posts again and the guy that stood out was Greg. I don’t propose to be a scholar god knows i am anything but. What i do know is what can be seen and felt by myself and i hope all. that to me is that Jesus lead by example and where he lead few rich and powerful would follow. the one huge lesson i remember most is that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. If you believe that is true then how can any of those that are members of “The Family” ever even dream they will get into heaven? I have another question how do the televangelist’s hope to get there? I grew up a Catholic and I still believe the same things as I did as a youngster but one day I had to balance what I was taught as a Catholic to what i believed the Catholic church was. My problem was and is that the Catholic church preached poverty but was one of the richest organizations in the world. If they wanted to they could help so many but if they did they would have to practice what they preach. I will catch all kinds of hell for saying this in public but I believe what Jesus taught us and that as they say is that. I try to help all i can and ask only that they help someone that needs a hand later in life. while i know i am more than likely damned to hell that won’t stop me from helping those that are in need the most. When that day comes when i am standing before God and he passes judgment I won’t have any excuses but I will more than likely complain when I end up where I will. I am only human after all.

  29. Larry,

    Thanks for your thoughts…keep the faith!


    Is the Family a cult? I suppose that all depends on how you define the word cult. It’s a loaded word, fraught with all kinds of baggage. I prefer a strictly technical definition in which a cult is a splinter group gathered around and following a charismatic leader. In that sense the Family/Fellowship is not a Cult. They have a leader–Doug Coe–but their theology, though goofy, is still more or less within the mainstream of Christianity.

    Having said that, my personal experience as part of the group, as well as the research and interviews I have done while writing about the group lead me to believe that the Fellowship/Family engages in the kind of abusive behavior we often associate with cults. For a good example, read the opening chapter of Jeff Sharlet’s book “the Family.”

    I’ve been particularly concerned about how the Family/Fellowship treats women. I think you see this with Sanford. Here the Governor says he’s found his soul mate in Argentina, but he’s getting back together with his wife because they have kids and he made some vows. He says he’s going to die knowing he has a soul mate in South America. I haven’t yet heard him or his Family mentor suggest (in public anyway) that part of reconciliation means becoming his wife’s soul mate. The idea that one should necessarily have such a relationship with one’s spouse just isn’t really part of their mindset. Tragically.

  30. Ben,

    While I agree that Sanford is acting in a very disrespectful manner toward his wife by staying with her, and at the same time, admitting that he loves someone else, I do not think it is possible to “become” someone’s soul mate by choice. Perhaps I don’t understand your statement correctly–but from my experience and observations, if two people aren’t able to function as a healthy, loving couple, choosing to become soul mates simply won’t work, no matter how well-intentioned. Furthermore, staying married for the kids can be a disastrous mistake, since it likely means that the children will grow up in a household that is empty of love and affection and that lacks a good example of a high-functioning marriage. Of course, I don’t know anywhere near enough about Sanford’s relationship with his wife to form any kind of opinion about what they should do. I don’t know if they ever were soul-mates in the first place, nor do I know her opinion about his affair. But he already broke their marriage vows in Argentina. I would hope the decision about whether or not they will stay married is hers, not his.

  31. Anna–

    I don’t disagree with you. My objection to the Fellowship/Family is that the don’t (in my experience) value the soul connection that can be part of a marriage. My personal opinion (for what it’s worth, knowing only what I read in the paper)is that reconciliation is a bad idea unless that soul connection can be made. Otherwise, for the sake of everyone involved the Sanfords should move on.

  32. Thanks you for your reply. I was not surprised.

    I look forward to reading the book. From what I’ve read online, the group dynamics seem to suggest cult-like adherence even if the group lacks a charismatic leader. Perhaps members are wedded around a group of ‘charismatic principles’ that in and of themselves provide the ‘leadership’? Those principles seem to impart a sort of false sense of personal power derived from the ability to judge/place judgment which, to my mind, contradicts the Christian principal, “Judge not least you yourself be judged.” And yet, it can be successful as long as it manipulates our most basic fears of being judged, doesn’t it?! I’m not sure that this even makes sense in the writing, but if I have been at all clear, you’ll get that I think these tactics attack at a level of our most basic fears and security, and fly in the face of Love…..which I believe is the most basic gift that the life of Jesus brought to earth.

    Frankly, I find the whole thing quite disturbing and am grateful to people like you and Sharlotte for shining a little light on the subject. With gratitude…

  33. Christine,

    I actually think the Fellowship/Family does have a charismatic leader in Doug Coe. I don’t consider them a “cult,” however because their theology is no sufficiently unorthodox to merit the label.

    I’ll be interested to hear what you think after you read the book. Certainly the Family/Fellowship engages in a toxic mix of religion and power that gets creepy at times.


  34. Last week I tuned into Coast to Coast AM and heard Jeff Sharlet interviewed. I rarely listen to that program so it really was a God thing. I got the book “The Family” and have read most of it. I am very disturbed by what I have read. I do believe what I have read in his book and also what I have researched on the Net. It is a very scarry thing to find out about this organization. It also is very eye opening about how many so called “Christian” organizations are involved with “The Family”. I have a PhD in theology and study the Word of God daily. I do not see that this organization is following Scripture. They have made up rules of their own. They speak of Jesus but I haven’t heard a word about the true “Good News” of the Gospel of Christ. Matthew 18:4 says “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” This group do not come over as humble by any means of the word. They believe they are Gods “Choosen” and that they are exempt from judgment. I read that they believe that if they sin and get
    caught they are above the laws of the land because of their elitism. Their teaching twists the story of King David saying that because he was a “Choosen” of God he got away with the sin of adultry and murder. This is not the case. He repented and paid a very heavy price for his sin. Mark 1:15 says “And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: REPENT (emphasis mine) ye, and believe the gospel.” This group doesn’t even seem to know the gait in which we enter into our faith in God. Acts 2:38 “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Seems they don’t even know how to enter in or teach it to others. Using Hitlar as a person to emulate is in my opinion really discusting. I do believe Coe is not just using him as an example of how to have power. I seems that he actually believes that Hitlar was a “choosen” by God and so released from any judgment. I would suggest people read Sharlet’s book and also do your own research. Now that this group is out of the closet there is much you can learn about them. It is heart breaking to know that I can’t even trust the Republican’s or most of the ministries I grew up with such as Billy Graham. Thanks for allowing me to express my opnion.

  35. I have been afraid of organized religion form some time. After reading The Family, I know my fear was not unfounded. I know I am painting with a large brush, but with the secrecy they maintain, you don’t know who is involved or who has been influenced by the Family. It seems that they have their fingers in everything. I believe what I have read and am now researching to know more. When I read what was has been done in the name of “Jesus” I was shocked and angry. If you wonder why Americans are hated, read the book.

  36. Pingback: Gods Playing Poker » Blog Archive » It’s not working - Now Updating Fridays

  37. Just got my “THE FAMILY” in the mail! Can’t wait! Thanks for the review!
    I am really enjoying your informative blog!!!

  38. J–

    Let me know what you think of Jeff’s book.I’m proud to be a footnote in the book. I think the first chapter is an incredible bit of writing. I mean the whole book is good, but the first chapter is magic.


  39. Ive been exposed to Navigator theology and, as I see it, God wants everyone to come to Christ not just some – which definitely includes communists, nazis, and you guessed it: you too. there is a full pardon and a gift for all who repent – no buts.

  40. David,

    But do you really think God wants Christians to celebrate Mao and Hitler? Doesn’t that make religion in general and Christianity in particular seem less appealing to your average, secular woman or man on the street?

    More importantly, if our lives are transformed by Christ, shouldn’t we be repulsed by what Mao and Hitler did?

    Traditional notions of God’s grace tell us that we are not just freed from sin by grace, but we are also freed by grace to live righteous lives, which, as far as I can tell, excludes purges and the holocaust.

    I mean, you know, last I checked.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.