Recently, I watched the Netflix documentary, “The Family”, about a cult-like “non-organization” of Jesus-zealous men infiltrating global politics. As a quick note before I dive in, I do not classify myself as enthusiastic about politics, nor will I be divulging deeply into my political beliefs, other than to say, I do think secularism is extremely important and should be preserved. Whether I lean left or right is frankly irrelevant; one of the attractions of this group is its bipartisanship.
The first episode covers journalist Jeff Sharlet’s introduction into Ivanwald, essentially a fraternity feeding into The Fellowship, also known as The Family. Life at Ivanwald is “clean”, so to speak; no alcohol, drugs, or sex. Members must keep themselves fit. Above all, they must study and worship Jesus. Not the Bible. Just Jesus.
As the series continues, we learn more about the leadership and organizational structure of The Family, in spite of their claims they aren’t an organization and are certainly not a religion. They simply focus on the mantra, “Jesus Plus Nothing”. Through interviews with current and former members as well as “friends” of the family and journalists, a disturbing ethos emerges. No matter what your brothers do, you are accountable to them first and foremost. Forget your spouse, children, extended family. You are united in your love for Jesus only.
One particularly disturbing example was a scene recounted by Jeff while at Ivanwald where a senior member “teaches” them that it’s not their place to judge, only support. Specifically, he tells them that if one of your brothers rapes three women, you are still beholden to them. Jeff also recalls when one of the brother’s left the group to be with his wife who was sexually assaulted, and the rest of the group looked upon his choice contemptuously and questioned what his wife was doing to get herself in that situation. Upon leaving, this man gave Jeff a bunch of proprietary, highly confidential documents refuting the Fellowship’s claim that it was not an organization and had no members.
The Fellowship originated in Seattle, Washington, having been founded by a Norweigan immigrant named Abraham Vereide engrossed by prayer. After his death in 1969, a man named Doug Coe took on his mantle of leadership and implemented the National Prayer Breakfast, which has been a tradition for every United States presidency, beginning with President Dwight D. Eisenhower. These prayer breakfasts have been duplicated in countries around the world. The concept is that the leaders of the world are the true elite chosen by Jesus. The rest doesn’t matter. Many American politicians have been seduced by the Fellowship’s bipartisan, missionary rhetoric. But the reality is that some of these disciples have been courting the world’s leading despots, dictators, and governments that support horrific practices, such as anti-LGBTQ legislation and genocide.
This black and white iteration of unity is dangerous. It’s not as easy as just loving Jesus. In my opinion, people that embrace this methodology are highly radical and what was interesting to learn is that the Fellowship members and friends exist within both the Democratic and the Republican parties. Furthermore, I can understand why Trump is such an ideal opportunity for the Family in terms of influence. He is the wolf, the “flawed vessel” that’s just as radical as the notion, “Jesus Plus Nothing”.
It’s extremely fascinating and disturbing. I would highly recommend checking it out. Watch the trailer here.
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