The Fellowship on C Street:
Bart Stupak and the impact of the Family
Expect it to grow in power if economic conditions do not improve dramatically
By Sherman DeBrosse / The Rag Blog / November 21, 2009
See ‘C Street House no longer tax exempt,’ by Zachary Roth, Below.
Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan led about 40 other Democrats and the Republicans in amending the House Health Care Plan with a proviso that made it impossible to use federal credits in the proposed insurance exchanges to purchase insurance that covered abortion. Stupak says that women could use their own funds to buy abortion riders through the exchanges.
In 17 states, women have the right to buy such riders to accompany their coverage under Medicaid, but few have done so. There is no language in the amendment that prohibits purchasing riders, but the wording is complex and can be read many ways. The Library of Congress says that the riders cannot be purchased.
The houses on C Street
Representative Stupak is a member of the Family or the Fellowship and resides at its house on C Street in Arlington. The Family has another complex in Arlington at “The Cedars,” a former CIA safe house they purchased in 1976. The townhouse at 133 C Street, S.E. is a former convent registered under the ownership of Youth With A Mission to Washington D.C. Five or six other Representatives and Senators live there and pay about $600 a month rent.
Until recently, the building was classified as a church, and was not on the tax rolls. Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), perhaps the most conservative man in Washington, is a resident, as are Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Representatives Zach Wamp (R-TN), Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Mike Doyle (D-PA). There are many powerful Washington politicians who are members of the Family and/or come there for religious studies. Among they are Pete Domenici (formerly R-NM), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Lindsay Graham (R-SC)) , Mike Enzi (R-WY), John Thune (R-SD), Mark Pryor (D-AK) and James Inhofe.
They all champion what they call “family values.” Washington, D.C. authorities recently removed the house’s tax exemption. Zach and other C Streeters have been busy building megachapels on military bases. Most of these “Christian” politicians are Republicans, but some members are conservative Democrats. Prominent people from outside politics are sometimes found there, and it is said that Michael Jackson once spent the night there.
What sexual scandals reveal
Senator John Ensign resided in the C Street house until he found it necessary recently to move because of spotlight his sex scandal brought to the secretive cult. Ensign had been involved with a former member of his staff, and her husband had also worked for the Nevada Senator. The senator’s parents gave her family $96,000, but the husband of his mistress said that Ensign and his C Street friends had discussed far larger payments. Senator Tom Coburn, another member of the cult, said he would not discuss in court any advice he gave because it was a confidential communication. The Oklahoman claimed this privilege because he is a practicing OB-GYN and also an ordained deacon.
Former Rep. Charles “Chuck” Pickering of Mississippi is a former resident of the C Street house, and his former wife claimed that the Congressman carried on there with another female. He is a former Baptist missionary. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford , now famous for his affair with a beautiful Argentine newscaster, is an alumnus of C Street from his Washington days, but he did not live there. He returned to C Street to seek advice about dealing with his love problems.
No one seems to know if Senator David Vitter, now well known for his interest in prostitutes, had any ties to the Family. He has had a great deal to say about Christian family values. Tennessee Republican state Sen. Paul Stanley also had a lot to say about morality and family values. He was caught in an affair with a 22 year old intern. His first wife claimed physical abuse and got a restraining order against him. His second wife was a former intern. When in Washington, he stays at the C Street upscale dorm for right-wing Christian politicians.
Ordinarily the sexual transgressions of politicians are best not discussed, but there is a different situation when politicians who advertize themselves as “Christian” and proponents of “family values” are involved. At the least monumental moral hypocrisy is involved. Former Family leader Doug Coe once said, ”when you’re chosen, the normal rules don’t apply.” He was not referring to sexual conduct, but people who think they are chosen by God to do something important often have a hard time where the rules might apply to them. Some of them have said that morality and ethics are secular concepts.
Harold Bloom, a great scholar at Yale, wrote that the American religion is antinomianism. Two of its elements are claims to special mission and exemption from some norms. Some of the people who came here in the Seventeenth Century thought God expected them to build “A City on a Hill.” But they stressed its nonmaterial dimensions. American exceptionalism reinforced the idea of mission as did Manifest Destiny and its various extensions.
The Family has a strong admixture of antinomianism, but it is clear that it is the American religion. We might recall that some of the antinomians in early Massachusetts Bay claimed to be specially chosen by God and exempted some societal rules, and they were accused of sexual sinfulness.
The Family is about power
As noted in my previous article on this subject, the Family has a record of catering to unsavory dictators abroad who inflicted great harm and burdens upon their peoples. There were also signs of a softness towards fascism in its history. Many of these people chose not to work through churches because they are too democratic and because women have considerable influence in some churches.
With the exception of Senator Pyor, they oppose organized labor, and have a long record of backing big business, Big Pharma, the health insurance companies, and military contractors. They are all hawkish and bent on extending the American empire. They think unfettered capitalism is God’s will.
It is a peculiar form of Christianity they advance. Christ comes across not so much as the friend of the poor and outcasts, but instead seems to be a hard charging executive type and role model for dictators, captains of industry, and people with Type A and authoritarian personalities. The Family’s Christ is no longer the “Prince of Peace.” Rather they repeatedly say he came to bring the sword and division. Somehow, it is hard to imagine their Christ espousing the principles of the Sermon of the Mount or calling other people “brother” unless those people were initiates in a secret cultish organization.
When one first learns what the Family is all about, one is tempted to wonder how such a group became so powerful. While the Fellowship has more power today than before, we should remember that, in the Vietnam era, Family members ran World Vision and the Family was a front for some business and intelligence activities in Southeast Asia.
The Family has long been active in organizing military officers and can take some of the credit for creating right-wing Christian dominance in the military, as observed at the Air Force Academy and in the Marine Corps. It also has some influence in Campus Crusade for Christ. It is impossible to measure the extent of its power, but what we see is indeed impressive.
The Family’s members are clearly dominionists, people who believe that there should be no separation of church and state, and that God’s saints should rule. There are different varieties of dominionism, and it is unclear how the Fellowship is tied to other strands. Dominionism in the United States is growing more rapidly than almost any other movement. The press missed the fact that three of the churches Sarah Palin attended are part of a dominionist movement called the New Apostolic Reformation.
One of our two or three best religious reporters was taken in by Sarah’s talk about ‘a post-denominational Christianity.” He thought she was for broad tolerance and respect. The term refers to a time when the apostles leading the NAR have forced the competition out of business. As a rule, dominionists have ties to white power groups, survivalists, militias, and even secessionist groups like the Alaska Independence Party. These are the sorts of folks who turn up at Tea Bagger rallies. These elements are growing and are ripe to be manipulated by the Family’s politicians.
Good scholars speculate that as the dominionists gain power, they will be less concerned about the second coming of Christ. If they have a shot at gaining power, they will talk less about rapture and end times and more about why they need to rule a good long time to prepare for the Lord’s coming, sometime in the distant future.
Is the Family a cult?
Some might object to calling the family a “cult.” The fact is that it is secretive and relies upon charismatic leadership. In the past, some cults had different levels of membership, and this seems true of the Family. Some cults in history, such as the Manicheans and Albigensians, claimed to have special knowledge. In the case of the Family, they just insist on a unique interpretation of Christianity. Unlike those two cults, the Family seems very materialistic in its concerns — the focus on cultivating powerful people and gaining power, serving big economic interests, fostering globalism and American imperialism.
The Family is as American as spoiled apple pie
Since the 1970s, the nation has embraced the corpus of economic doctrines associated with what is called market fundamentalism. Even the Social Darwinism of the late 19th Century — root, hog or die and leave the poor to their fate — has had an astonishing rebirth. As the middle class has become more anxious about its future and threatened standard of living, people have been more inclined to turn their backs on forms of religion that embrace peace and social justice.
The Social Gospel among protestant denominations seems in headlong retreat, and among Roman Catholics there is a growing core of bishops obsessed with abortion but unwilling to give more than lip service to the church’s teachings on peace, economic justice, the death penalty, and preservation of the environment. Many of them act as though the church has become an arm of the Republican Party.
Of course, all the mainstream churches are hemorrhaging members as people move to right wing Christian denominations that blend promises of prosperity with nationalism, and cultural and economic conservatism. Many of them are openly Republican political clubhouses. These forms of Christianity illustrate how easily religion can be absorbed and transformed by the host culture. Given all of this, The Family should come as no surprise. It may not represent genuine Christianity, but it is a genuine and almost typical outgrowth of American culture, reflecting forces that have long been here.
We lack effective language to discuss the common good
Obama and the Democrats are having a devil of a time selling health care reform in part because there is no compelling way to help people think in terms of the common good.
Decades ago, Daniel Callahan of the Hastings Institute discussed health care reform with several senators, including Jacob Javits and Ted Kennedy. They told him that a major obstacle was that American culture provided no common concepts and language that enabled Americans to discuss the common good. That situation has grown worse. Now we have crowds of old people, some bearing arms, demanding that there be no effort to help the 45,000,000 without health insurance because they fear their benefits might suffer a little.
Our founders left us with some concepts that could have facilitated an honest discussion of the common good, but over time materialism and selfish individualism made them appear to be suspect. The nation’s founders left an ideology that combined Lockean individualism with the goals of equality and brotherhood.
A minority, inspired by radical British writers like Thomas Paine, Joseph Priestly, and Richard Price was responsible for drawing equality and brotherhood from the thought of the republican tradition. The people who introduced these elements were an important minority, and their support for these ideas was infectious, even influencing some Protestant elements that people today would mistakenly equate with today’s fundamentalists and evangelicals.
Over more than two centuries, the potency of equality and brotherhood in American thought waxed and waned. Of late, they have been in sharp decline. When these ideas were powerful, Americans had periods of reform. Often, these periods of reform came at times when progressive elements in American religion were strong. The last period of significant reform was the when the civil rights movement made headway pursing Martin Luther King’s dream of a beloved community.
The late John Patrick Diggins thought that over the course of American history the idea of individualism gained ground at the expense of equality.. This may have been because Americans were essentially a people of plenty, as David Potter said. Until 1980, real wages and the standard of living increased steadily. We were blessed with an abundance of land and resources that fuelled prosperity, but Americans were inclined to attribute success to their own virtues, most of were thought to have stemmed from rugged individualism.
Another reason why it is so hard to talk about the common good is that the subcultures of our population groups are largely rooted in what Leo Strauss called modern rather than ancient thought. The ancients valued virtue and were accustomed to thinking in terms of the community. According to Strauss, a sharp philosophical decline in virtue began with Machiavelli’s The Prince.
Eventually, man would see himself as freed from the natural order, free to define what a human being should be. Strauss, unlike many of his unwitting followers, thought the state and society better equipped to determine what was acceptable conduct, and he welcomed the decline of Christianity. The dominant cultural stream in the United States is rooted in religions that were founded after ancient community-oriented thought was in decline. We just are not accustomed to thinking in terms of community.
The sad truth might be that the ravings of a Ronald Reagan, Rush Limbaugh, or Glenn Beck resonate strongly with so many Americans because they appeal to elements that have become dominant strains in our culture. They also have the great advantage of appealing to people who want simple answers to complex questions.
At first glance one might think see the secretive and elitist Family as an odd phenomenon. But, like the movements led by Gerald L.K. Smith, Father Caughlin, and Charles Lindbergh in an earlier time, the Family is a typical American movement. Like those other movements, it will grow in strength during tough economic times. The power the Family holds is a natural outgrowth of our history. In the case of the Family or Fellowship, the marriage of religion, “market economics,” Social Darwinism, and aggressive nationalism results in a grotesque form of Christianity that is essentially a shell or Trojan horse for more dominant forces that have done little to advance the good.
C Street House no longer tax exempt
By Zachary Roth / November 17, 2009
Residents of the C Street Christian fellowship house will no longer benefit from a loophole that had allowed the house’s owners to avoid paying property taxes.
Previously, the house — despite being home to numerous lawmakers — had been tax exempt, because it was classified as a church. That arrangement had allowed the building’s owner, the secretive international Christian organization The Family, to charge significantly below market rents to its residents. In recent year, Senators John Ensign (R-NV), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Jim DeMint (R-SC), and Reps. Zach Wamp (R-TN), Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Mike Doyle (D-PA) have all reportedly called C Street home.
Natalie Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Office of Tax and Revenue for Washington D.C., told TPMmuckraker that her office inspected the house this summer. “It was determined that portions of it were being rented out for private residential purposes,” she said. As a result, the tax exempt status was partially revoked. Sixty-six percent of the value of the property is now subject to taxation.
According to online records, the total taxable assessment is $1,834,500. The building’s owner last month paid taxes of $1714.70 on the property.
A commenter using the name Vince Treacy, posting on a blog run by George Washington Law professor Jonathan Turley, noted in June that the property enjoyed tax exempt status. In a comment yesterday, he wrote:
Well, at least one complaint just happened to be filed a few months ago, by some anonymous citizen who will remain nameless “”wink, wink,” with the taxpayer hotline at the DC tax office.
The C Street house has lately been the subject of unwanted attention thanks to its role in three GOP sex scandals. Ensign, who reportedly recently moved out of the house, was confronted there last year by his fellow C Streeters, including Coburn, about his affair with a top aide’s wife. South Carolina governor Mark Sanford revealed this summer that he had received counseling from the house’s denizens over his own randy hijinx with his Argentinean mistress. And the wife of former GOP congressman Chip Pickering has alleged in divorce proceedings that the house was the site of “wrongful conduct” between her husband and his girlfriend.
Source / TPM
- BOOKS / The Secret Fundamentalism of ‘The Family’ by Sherman DeBrosse / The Rag Blog / Oct. 18, 2009
- Exposé: The ‘Christian’ Mafia by Wayne Madsen / Insider Magazine