In his book The Family, Jeff Sharlet has done a masterful job of exposing the machinations of the of shadowy evangelical group known variously as “The Fellowship,” or “The Family,” (or, most recently, “those nuts from Congress living in a far-right commune on C Street who counsel wayward congressmen regarding adultery.”)
Recently, Rachel Maddow has helped bring the whole issue of subversive far-right evangelical religion to a wider public (and gotten some flak for it). But in the light of the Obama presidency—and the rabid right-wing opposition to it—it’s worth noting that the majority of the lies being told about our president, his programs, and the Democratic Party are originating not just from the right wing but from the evangelical right wing in particular.
Destroying the Credibility of Faith
I grew up as the son of Francis Schaeffer, the spiritual father to just about all the people in the news connected with the evangelical right. My father is the man who inspired evangelicals to get involved in politics. Today’s leading anti-gay activists, Obama-haters like Charles Colson and Dobson, publications like World Magazine, and others like the late Jerry Falwell got into far-right evangelical-inspired politics because of Dad’s theology of “taking back” America for Jesus. (I describe this series of events at greater length here.)
Without people like Dobson—remember his paranoid lie-filled “letter” warning his followers about an Obama presidency?—the lies now commonly circulated about Obama wouldn’t have been given traction. When I check who’s sending me the most scurrilous email (Obama is the “next Hitler,” he’s the “Antichrist,” etc.), I find a lot of it comes from the evangelical right, now the bedrock of the anti-Obama camp. I’m a religious person, so they are my enemies too; the far-right evangelicals are doing more to destroy the credibility of faith than Hitchens and Dawkins could in a lifetime.
Here’s the thing: the C Street gang and their backers represent only a fraction of the threat to American democracy that right-wing evangelicalism as a whole poses. Far-right evangelicals don’t see America as just another country, but as a battleground and springboard for world conquest in the name of Christ. In that the evangelical left and right agree: from Wallis to Dobson, they all believe that God is on their side; they may differ on precise issues but they all believe in some form of American exceptionalism.
The reason for this is that intellectually lazy political players of the kind who lead the evangelical movement crave power, or to be close to power, just like the people who run C Street. These are the same folks who have been putting together the so-called National Prayer Breakfast; they are the “professional Christian” hangers-on running around Washington DC putting together Bible studies and all the rest.
If they were just interested in serving Jesus they would be called to places like Peoria or the East Village once in a while. But they’re really only interested in being close to power; without having to do the hard work to actually run for electoral office or get boring bureaucratic jobs inside the government. The radical religious right are the ultimate camp followers. They’re latching onto government for a free ride while decrying it. They want to overthrow the present order from the inside in the name of God.
The result is that there are two kinds of far-right evangelicals: the ones who make a public show of their animosity toward the president, accusing him of not being an American citizen, for example. They even say Obama has a secret plan to kill old people within his health care reform proposals. The other kind of evangelicals are the sort of people who run outfits like The Fellowship Foundation and the National Prayer Breakfast, and run around speaking at Evangelical colleges, think tanks, law schools and so forth, working to influence government and world affairs directly while bypassing the democratic process.
How to deal with this? A few thoughts:
First, all religious organizations should to be taxed in exactly the same way as any other business or individual; second, full disclosure of candidates’ (and elected members of government, as well as government employees) connections with religious organizations of any kind need to be made; along with financial disclosures subject to exactly the same kind of tough investigation that candidates’ tax returns and other financial dealings are subject to. And last, links among dozens of evangelical organizations and The Fellowship Foundation (or The Family or whatever you want to call it) should be made clear. (There are actually some people on the evangelical “left” who are tied to these groups.)
Above all, ordinary Americans—and especially religious people who seek faith rather than power—need to understand that the evangelical right is basically unpatriotic and anti-American. They feel alienated from the diverse, pluralistic country that America has become, and are working to undermine it both here and abroad. They resent the system that allowed Obama to succeed, and they worship what they believe is “God-given” free-market capitalism.
In effect, the radical right movement in America, having failed at the ballot box to find a successor to their boy in the White House, George W. Bush, is regrouping in the Senate and Congress and working hard to undo the Obama presidency.
The sooner Americans wake up to the fact that what Jeff Sharlet describes in his book is only the tip of the iceberg the better. The right-wing evangelical enterprise is anti-democratic from top to bottom.