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“The Family” and Christian Right Damage Control

Okay, just one more unavoidable reference to Mark Sanford unless he makes some real news by resigning as governor or getting impeached. In his poignant press conference on Wednesday, he made a cryptic reference to “working through” his infidelity issues on “C Street” in Washington.
This was quickly deciphered by Dan Gilgoff of US News and others as a reference to the Capitol Hill townhouse owned by a shadowy fundamentalist group variously called “The Family” and “The Fellowship,” which sponsors the National Prayer Breakfast and a variety of other religious events and services aimed at elite political and business leaders. Turns out that the other would-be-presidential-candidate-with-an-adultery-scandal, Sen. John Ensign, lives at “C Street” when he’s in DC, whose proprietors knew about and tried to help him manage his problem, as Manuel Roig-Franzia explains in today’s Washington Post:

The house pulsed with backstage intrigue, in the days and months before the Sanford and Ensign scandals — dubbed “two lightning strikes” by a high-ranking congressional source. First, at least one resident learned of both the Sanford and Ensign affairs and tried to talk each politician into ending his philandering, a source close to the congressman said. Then the house drama escalated. It was then that Doug Hampton, the husband of Ensign’s mistress, endured an emotional meeting with Sen. Tom Coburn, who lives there, according to the source. The topic was forgiveness.
“He was trying to be a peacemaker,” the source said of Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma.

“Peacemaker” is one term for it; “damage controller” is another.
These incidents cast some unwelcome light on “The Family,” a secretive group (sort of an evangelical version of the conservative Catholic elite group Opus Dei, though much less focused on conversions) whose vast array of activities were exposed last year in a sensational book by Jeff Sharlet. By sheer coincidence, I’ve just started reading Sharlet’s book, and it’s pretty disturbing to me on both religious and political grounds.
That intrepid chronicler of the Christian Right, Sarah Posner of The American Prospect, summarized Sharlet’s take on “The Family” last year in an article that also offered an interview with the author:

The Family exposes the inner workings of an elite and secretive association of politicos (The Family boasts a bipartisan but mostly Republican roster of members, including Sens. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican, and Mark Pryer, an Arkansas Democrat) and business executives (such as the CEOs of Continental Oil and the defense contractor Raytheon) who have exploited their uber-masculine, uber-capitalist version of Christianity to serve political and profit-making goals, from union-busting here at home to imperialist adventures abroad.

But I’m not sure even Sharlet knew that The Family’s services included counseling and public-relations-damage-control for governors and senators caught up in adulterous affairs. I guess when you are trying to impose what you think to be the Will of God from the top down, you spare no expense or trouble in managing your investments.

2 comments on ““The Family” and Christian Right Damage Control

  1. myerslaw on

    As one who has been appalled at the insinuation of religious institutions directly into our government, this news is not all that surprising. One of my greatest disappointments with the Obama administration is that all of the “faith based” programs remain — without him questioning their essential inconsistency with the Constitution. It is one thing, I suppose, for candidates to grovel for votes among the faithful, but quite another for them to return the favor with cold, hard cash, for which the churches and foundations line up around the block. I had hoped that a professor of Constitutional Law would have stopped the unholy marriage between various churches and the State. It appears he has no intention of doing so. It does not trouble me that various elected officials seek sanctuary or do penance publicly or privately for their human inadequacy. But I do fear that the groups described will be happy to exert some subtle blackmail for their own interests.

    Reply
  2. myerslaw on

    As one who has been appalled at the insinuation of religious institutions directly into our government, this news is not all that surprising. One of my greatest disappointments with the Obama administration is that all of the “faith based” programs remain — without him questioning their essential inconsistency with the Constitution. It is one thing, I suppose, for candidates to grovel for votes among the faithful, but quite another for them to return the favor with cold, hard cash, for which the churches and foundations line up around the block. I had hoped that a professor of Constitutional Law would have stopped the unholy marriage between various churches and the State. It appears he has no intention of doing so. It does not trouble me that various elected officials seek sanctuary or do penance publicly or privately for their human inadequacy. But I do fear that the groups described will be happy to exert some subtle blackmail for their own interests.

    Reply

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