Jeff Sharlet - The Family

August 28, 2009

Jeff Sharlet is a contributing editor for Harper's and Rolling Stone, and a visiting research scholar at New York University's Center for Religion and Media, where he has taught journalism and religious studies. He is the coauther, with Peter Manseau, of Killing the Buddha, and editor of His latest book, a New York Times bestseller, is The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.

In this in-depth interview with D.J. Grothe, Jeff Sharlet explains why secularists should not assume that just because there is a Democrat in the White House it follows that the religious fundamentalists' power has waned. He talks about how a secretive Christian political organization called The Family is founded in a doctrine of "Biblical Capitalism" and the "totalitarianism of Christ" that draws no distinction between religion, economics and politics and he recounts its origins in a supposed revelation from God that attacked organized labor and stated that Christianity has historically been overly focused on the poor, the weak and the suffering. He draws distinctions between the "pulpit pounders and the Bible thumpers" and "the fundamentalist elite," which is exemplified by The Family, which is comprised almost entirely of well-educated, affluent political and business leaders. He describes how The Family organizes Congressman into "private prayer cells," and runs the C Street House, which was made famous through the political sex scandals of Senator John Ensign and Governor Mark Sanford.

He contrasts organizations like the Heritage Foundation and Christian leaders such as James Dobson and Pat Robertson with The Family, arguing that at least they are open with their agenda, as opposed to the Family, which unapologetically encourages secrecy by working to be "an invisible organization." He describes how The Family's relationship with the powerful is different than groups like Focus on the Family, and explains how their lack of rigid partisan or religious orthodoxy allows them to be more effective. He argues that The Family literally works to subvert democracy, and how the organization celebrates Hitler, Mao and Stalin as being among the few men the 20th Century who actually "understood the New Testament." He reports that The Family acts consistently as an intermediary between US Politicians and military leaders and businessman on the one hand, and overseas dictators such as the Somali dictator Siyad Barre, Ugandan dictator Museveni, and Indonesia dictator Suharto on the other hand, often with disastrous consequences.

He details the history and importance of the National Prayer Breakfast to The Family's agenda. He describes ways that writing his expose has resulted in a backlash against him. He lists ways that secularists and progressives can work to reduce the influence of The Family in government. And he reveals a number of elected officials in high office who have ties to The Family, including Republican United States Senators Chuck Grassley, John Ensign, Jim DeMint, James Inhofe, Sam Brownback, and Lindsey Graham; Democratic United States Senator Mark Pryor; South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, Former United States Attorneys General John Ashcroft and Ed Meese; and Democratic Congressmen Mike McIntyre and Bart Stupak, among others.

Books Mentioned in This Episode:

Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible Peter Manseau, Jeff Sharlet

Links Mentioned in This Episode:

The Revealer

Related Episodes

Solomon Schimmel - Fundamentalism and the Fear of Truth
December 12, 2008

Comments from the CFI Forums

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Thomas and DJ, this was a particularly good and interesting interview. I’d heard a little about this organization (“The Family”) but had no idea how vast and insidious it was. Thanks!

Posted on Oct 20, 2009 at 7:12am by dougsmith Comment #1

Is this akin to the “skull and bones” conspiracy stuff?
And if it isn’t, if it is a real factor, then what?

Posted on Oct 20, 2009 at 7:37am by VYAZMA Comment #2

I have the book, but I haven’t started reading it yet.  I do believe I will start it tonight.  I actually got scared listening to this episode of POI.  Thanks for this very insightful interview!

Posted on Oct 22, 2009 at 3:47pm by Strubie Comment #3

Excellent and very informative interview. I was particularly struck by Sharlet’s insight into the group’s origins.

When we look at [the Family’s] roots, it begins in the great depression with this idea that economic suffering is a punishment from god. What they do is to gather together a group of business men who then begin to sponsor candidates and they build political power, but they see themselves as engaged in a religious project.

The man who founded the family,  a guy named Abraham Vereide. Vereide back April 1935 has what he believes is a new revelation from god… that god comes to him one night and gives him a vision. Vereide is very upset about the power of organized labor and he actually thinks that god comes and tells him how to fight back fight back against organized labor…

I’ve always seen one important role of the x-ian right as a kind of voluntary political/racial police arrayed against the U.S. working class.  The circumstances of rising working class struggle in the 1930s (although on a vastly greater scale) also spawned the emergence of Opus Dei in Spain.

Posted on Oct 23, 2009 at 8:57am by Balak Comment #4