Month: July 2009

Free book: The Full Plate Diet

This offer is no longer available.  The book is on Amazon here.

Who doesn’t need to eat better and lose a few pounds in the process?  Especially after all those church covered-dish lunches.  The Lifestyle Center of America is giving away 20,000 advance reader copies of The Full Plate Diet.  Hurry, they’re going fast! Here’s the scoop direct from the pres and CEO himself:

Email from Sid Lloyd, President and CEO Lifestyle Center of America:

We are in the process of preparing for a January launch of a revolutionary new, easy to use, diet book.  I almost hate to use the term “diet book” because it is so much more than a diet book, it’s actually more like a healthy nutrition guide disguised as a diet book.  Using the latest evidence-based research in behavior change, we have drawn on our 14 year experience of working with over 4,000 individuals to craft a beautiful and unique book that truly delivers results.  When we launch The Full Plate Diet (sounds filling, right?) in January of 2010, it will retail for $19.95.  But you and everyone you send this email to can get an advance reader’s copy for free if you hurry.

Why hurry?  Because we have printed only 20,000 (that’s twenty thousand) advance reader copies that we are shipping free (you pay nothing, nada, zip) to people who would like to try this out.  With the way that electronic information flows, they are going to be snapped up quickly.  My hope is that you will get your free advance reader’s copy, thumb through it, be impressed, try the diet, and tell us how you do and how we can improve the book.

Remember, we’re a non-profit organization whose only mission is to improve the health and vitality of human beings around the world.  And I’m really hoping that one of them will be you.

Go to www.fullplatedietbeta.org to learn more about the book and to claim your free advance reading copy of The Full Plate Diet.

Sincerely,

Sid Lloyd
President & CEO
Ardmore Institute of Health
dba Lifestyle Center of America

HT: Medi-Share

The Call We Knew Would Come

I received a call from the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office at about 9:30 PM tonight.  A very kind investigator told me that my brother had been found dead late this afternoon in the apartment he shared in Atlanta.

We knew this call would come one day.  My brother had a sad history of substance abuse and several run-ins with law enforcement dating back for decades.  He was 55, and died alone.  We don’t know the cause of death yet.

The tragedy is that he was a very talented, sensitive guy who taught himself to play the guitar, the piano, keyboard, and could sing beautifully.  He graduated from college and seminary, and worked for two Christian bookstore chains.  But, he couldn’t get away from prescription drugs, and later street drugs.

As a result of his addiction, he lost every job he ever held, he lost his family, and contact with his two daughters.  He never saw his three grandchildren, never held them, never heard them laugh.  Later in life he was diagnosed as bipolar, which I am sure he was, looking back on his behavior.

But tonight he is at peace.  Despite all his problems, he loved God in the best way he could.  In the last extended conversation he and I had, Dana told me about an interesting book he was reading about ancient New Testament era manuscripts.

Sometime today, we don’t know exactly when, Dana crossed over from this life into the life to come.  Our mother is there, and our grandparents, and a host of others who have gone before.  Some of our relatives shared his addictions, and perhaps that’s where Dana got them, but tonight he’s free from whatever dogged him to death’s door.

Dana had been homeless, living on the streets of Atlanta for the past couple of years, when he was not in jail.  He preferred the streets to homeless shelters where he had been beaten up and robbed, or at least that was his story.  You never knew if you were getting the truth, or another attempt at sympathy.  But he had made a friend in Atlanta, and was staying in his apartment against public housing regulations.  His friend found him this afternoon, dead for several hours, according to the medical examiner.

Pray for my 89-year old father who will bury his youngest son later this week.  Pray for Dana’s daughters, and the grandchildren he never knew.  Pray for me, filled with regret that I could not help my brother, despite many attempts.  Pray for the other Danas who walk our streets, whose inner demons make living difficult, and death a relief.  Their families are also waiting for the call they know will come one day.

Free article, journal, video, and book

In the gift economy, information wants to be free.  So, here are the latest freebies I’ve run across that are both free and excellent.

The new Neue Quarterly will be out soon, and my article “Remembering Why You Said Yes” is in this issue.  You can read my article for free, compliments of the folks at Neue by clicking here.  The entire quarterly, all 200+ pages of it are free, here.

Scott Linklater sent me a link to a free video, What is Simple Church? The vid provides great interviews with simple church pastors who are doing amazing things on very little money.  These churches are a model for the church of the future, and you ought ot watch this, then share it.  And, it’s free!

And, if you missed it, Chris Anderson’s new book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price, is well….free!  Click Google’s Books blog for all the ways you can get Free for free.  Chris Anderson wrote The Long Tail, and is an editor with Wired magazine.

I’ve written about this before here, and Free supports my point that you ought to make as much stuff free as possible, and that it pays off in the long run.  Besides, shouldn’t we as followers of Christ be giving away the insights God gave us that will help others?  I think so, and Chris Anderson’s book proves it. He’s given away 100,000 free digital copies, and this week the book premiered at number 12 on the New York Times Non-Fiction Bestseller list.  Free works!

Enjoy the free stuff!

Sermon: Criticism – Why Don’t They Like Us Anymore?

Here’s the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow.  It’s the sixth in  the series, “Seven Cultural Challenges Every Church Faces.”  I hope your day is wonderful!

Seven Cultural Challenges Every Church Faces
#6 — Criticism: Why Don’t They Like Us Anymore?

Matthew 10:5-16
5These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. 6Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. 7As you go, preach this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven is near.’ 8Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy,[b]drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. 9Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; 10take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep.

11“Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave. 12As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. 15I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town. 16I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

The End of The World As We Know It

I grew up during the golden age of Southern Baptist life.  I was five when the Southern Baptist Convention launched the ambitious outreach and evangelism program called “A Million More in ’54.”  Although we didn’t add 1-million new members that year, Southern Baptists added almost three-quarters of a million, the highest number of new members our denomination had added to that point.

But Southern Baptists weren’t the only ones benefitting from the post-war baby boom.  Just about every major denomination started new churches in the new suburban communities springing up across our nation.  As America fell in love with the automobile, families could drive to the church of their choice, not just their local neighborhood church within walking distance.

Robert Schuller saw the mobility the automobile created and opened his drive-in church in at the Orange Drive-in Theater in Garden Grove, California in 1955.  America was a nation on the move, and on Sundays the nation piled in the family station wagon for the trip to church.  Church nurseries overflowed with baby boomer kids, and churches quickly added lots of programs for children.

I’m a good example.  Before I was born, Cradle Roll workers from First Baptist Church in Griffin, Georgia had enrolled me in the Cradle Roll.  Upon my arrival, I started going to church in the Nursery Department, then moved up to the Beginner Department during my preschool years.

I went to Sunbeams, a mission organization for kids that met on Wednesday afternoons at our church.  I sang in the children’s choir, went to the Junior Department in Sunday School as I got older, and then when I became a teenager, graduated into the Young People’s department, the youth choir, and all the other activities there were for teens at that time.

But something changed beginning in the 1960s.  Perhaps it was the Civil Rights struggle, or the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, or the Viet Nam war in the decades of the 1960s and 70s.  Perhaps the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy contributed to the loss of innocence in America.  The resignation of President Richard Nixon for the crimes of Watergate seemed to seal20-years of disappointments and loss of confidence in America’s institutions.

Church wasn’t immune to that loss of confidence.  In 1961, theologian Gabriel Vahanian published his book, The Death of God.  In it, Vahanian argued that “modern secular culture had lost all sense of the sacred, lacking any sacramental meaning, no transcendental purpose or sense of providence. He concluded that for the modern mind “God is dead”. — Wikipedia, “Death of God theological movement”

The April 8, 1966 cover of Time magazine picked up on the “God is Dead” theme, and suddenly all of America realized that everything we had taken for granted about church and faith in the 1950s no longer worked in the 1960s. And no institution was spared critical review, including marriage and the family.  The women’s movement that had emerged in the early part of the 20th century which secured women the right to vote, reinvented itself in the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s.

Then along came the hippies, and the youth culture of Haight Asbury, Woodstock, the anti-Viet Nam war protests, civil disobedience in the streets, and a nation divided over the trustworthiness of its core institutions — government, education, business, home, and church.

The Results We Live With

After the turmoil of the 1960s and early 1970s, America turned in new directions.  In government we turned from the big government programs of FDR, to the conservatism of Ronald Reagan.  In education, we turned from liberal arts to computer science because that’s where the jobs were.  In business, we turned from staid blue chip companies to the risk-taking financiers of Wall Street. In home life we became a nation of two-paycheck families. And at church, we slowly discontinued the programs of the 1950s, and began a soul-searching quest for a more authentic relationship with God.

The most popular Christian book of the 1970s was a little paperback titled, How To Be A Christian Without Being Religious.  While well-intentioned, the author, Fritz Ridenour, inadvertently gave readers permission to seek fulfillment of their spiritual lives outside the institution of the church. And thus began the noticeable decline in church membership and attendance.

Church attendance, down from a reported high of 40% of the population in the 1950s, now struggles to reach 17%.  According to David T. Olson’s book, The American Church In Crisis, church attendance will continue to decline until U. S. church attendance approximates that of Europe — about 7% of the population.

What happened?  How did church fall out of favor with the American public?  Why did a generation of kids who grew up singing “Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam” fail to pass on those happy childhood memories to their children and their grandchildren?  How did we, in less than 50 years, change from being a nation where almost everybody went to church, to becoming a nation where less than 1-in-5 darkens the church house door today?

In other words, why don’t they like us anymore?

What “They” Are Saying About The Church

Church is no longer the place to be, or the organization to belong to.  Young people especially see little need for church.  Jeffrey Arnett, professor at Clark University, studies “emerging adults” — adults 18-29.  While “a strong majority of emerging adults believes that God or some higher power watches over them and guides their lives,”….”participating in a religious institution is unimportant to most of them.”  Emerging Adulthood, p. 167

Several books in the past 4 years have addressed the problem of what people don’t like about the church.

George Barna’s book, Revolution, is subtitled “Finding Vibrant Faith Beyond The Walls of the Sanctuary.”  The book documents the amazing rise of house churches, and other informal networks of Christians who have abandoned the institutional church for a freer, more personal faith community.

Dan Kimball’s book, They Like Jesus But Not The Church, is a case-study of several young adults Kimball interviewed.  Basically, they consider themselves to be spiritual, but not religious — just like our famous book from the 1970s.  But here’s what they don’t like about the church.  These are the actual chapter titles in Kimball’s book  —

  • The church is an organized religion with a political agenda.
  • The church is judgmental and negative.
  • The church is dominated by males and oppresses females.
  • The church is homophobic (meaning, the church fears and/or hates homosexuals)
  • The church arrogantly claims all other religions are wrong.
  • The church is full of fundamentalists who take the whole Bible literally.

Quite an indictment, but we have to plead guilty to much of what these young adults say about us and those like us.

In the same year that Kimball’s book came out in 2007, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons published their book, unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…And Why It Matters. Listen to the chapter titles in unChristian.  Have you heard this before?

  • Hypocritical
  • Get Saved!
  • Antihomosexual
  • Sheltered
  • Too Political
  • Judgmental

Sounds pretty much like Kimball’s book, doesn’t it.  Yet unChristian was compiled from surveys of hundreds of young adults, not just interviews with a handful.  As they say at NASA, “Houston, we’ve got a problem.”

What We’ve Done Wrong and How We Can Fix It

If the church is to reach this new generation, we must listen to their perceptions of what we have done, and fix what is wrong.  Rather than seeking the halls of power, we need to serve the “least of these.”

Rather than being judgmental and negative, we need to get back to telling the “good news.”  The reason it’s called the good news is because it’s…well, good news.  Not judgmental news, not critical news, not “I’m going to tell you what you’re doing wrong news.”  It’s called the good news — the euangelion — because it is a good message from God to God’s creation.

Rather than being a “good ole boy” fraternity, the church must embrace the words of the Apostle Paul, that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  And, rather than have individual churches where everyone looks alike, we need to seek diversity in our community not only of gender, but of class, and ethnicity.

In other words, we need to live into the promise of Revelation — “And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

In this process, the church, and I’m including our church here, will have to deal with difficult issues.  Young people today see nothing wrong with those who are homosexual, those who engage in intimate relationships before marriage, or those who live alternative lifestyles.  While the church must remain “a contrast community” in an unbelieving world, our attitudes towards others who are different in lifestyle, ethnicity, cultural background, economics, education, and class must first of all reflect God’s love, not our own bias.

When Jesus sent the disciples on their first solo journey, he did so with careful instruction.  One of his comments to them was, “Be as wise as serpents, but as harmless as doves.”  That’s our task today, to be wise in how we deal with those who do not know Christ, and harmless in our encounters with them.

Like The Man Who Planted Trees

I ran across a wonderful animated film this week based on the short story by Jean Giono titled, The Man Who Planted Trees. Giono tells the story of a young man in 1913, who while on an extended hike through desolate countryside, becomes desparate to find water.  Passing an abandoned village, he finds the well there dry.  He continues to walk until he sees figure in the distance.  Hoping for help and water, the young man approaches this figure, a shepherd with his flock high in the hills of this scruffy, hilly terrain.

The shepherd offers him water, invites him to his home for supper.  There the young man learns that the shepherd, Elzeard Bouffier, has lost both his only son and his wife.  He has taken to this remote, barren wilderness for solitude and peace.

After dinner, the young man notices Elzeard take a bag of acorns, empty them out on the table, and begin to examine each one carefully.  He discards some, but then groups the rest into groups of 10, until he has 100 acorns.  These he places back in the bag, and then places the bag in a pot of water to soak overnight.

The next day, our young man follows Elzeard as he leads his herd back up into the hills.  But, leaving the flock to the guidance of his dog, Elzeard takes his iron walking stick, and begins to poke holes in the ground in regular intervals.  Into each hole, he places one acorn.  Elzeard explains to the young man, who has now joined him in his work, that since he lost his wife and son, he has devoted himself to restoring the land.  The problem, he says, is a lack of trees.

Elzeard says he has planted 100,000 acorns in the past 3 years.  Of those, most did not make it.  Of the approximately 20,000 that did, disease, drought, and animals took half.  So, 10,000 trees have begun to spring up through the soil as tender oak saplings.

The young man leaves the region, spends 5 years in the infantry in World War I, but then returns to see how Elzeard has survived the war.   Amazed at the green mist that appears to float over the hillsides, the young man realizes as he approaches that these are the trees Elzear planted, now larger than he is.

The young man commented, “I never saw him waver or doubt, though God alone can tell when God’s own hand is in a thing.”

For the sake of time, I’ll skip forward to 1933, when a government forestry man happens upon this valley of forest, now about 7-miles long and 3-miles wide.  Astounded at the “spontaneous growth” of the forest where previously there had been nothing, the forestry man cautions Elzeard not to build any open fires because they might endanger “the natural forest.”

In 1935, a delegation of government officials arrives to see the first-known example of a forest spontaneously replanting itself.  Now, not only are the trees towering 20-30 feet in the air, smaller plants have filled in the forest floor, wild life has returned, the winds have scattered seeds into new meadows that are blooming with wild flowers.  Even the politicians are amazed.  Speeches are made, and the speech-makers talk of all that needs to be done.

Fortunately, nothing is done except the government decree that declares the forest a protected reserve, and bans charcoal-making from its wood.

More time passes, and our young man, now in his 50s, finds Elzeard for the last time in 1945.  Another war has come and gone, but Elzeard, now 87, sees the fruit of his labors of the past 30-plus years.  A bus now makes regular trips to the valley, bringing visitors and new residents to the once-abandoned village of Vergons.

The village fountain is flowing again, and young families with small children have torn down the old houses and built new sturdy houses with brightly-colored gardens.  Groups of villagers walk the forest paths, greeting each other as their children run circles around their parents.  Farmhouses dot the countryside where farmers raise livestock, grown lush fields of vegetables, and live quiet and peaceful lives.

All because one man decided to plant some trees.  The story goes that Elzeard Bouffier died in 1947, content that he had done what his heart led him to do.

We who are followers of Christ need to be like people who plant trees, not people who seek power.  Because it is in our work with God, not our work for God, that we will win the hearts of those who may not even know that there used to be a desert where now the tall trees grow.

Interview with Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: Part 3

jeff_sharlet3Jeff Sharlet, contributing editor of Rolling Stone, is author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism At The Heart of American Power.  His book about the group best-known for sponsoring the National Prayer Breakfast has gained renewed interest since its hardback publication in 2008.

With two of its members confessing to marital infidelity — Senator John Ensign and Governor Mark Sanford — interest in the Family and its multiple mansions in Washington, D. C. and abroad is at a new height.  Most recently, Rep. Zach Wamp of Tennessee, commenting on the scandal of his Family housemate John Ensign, refused to discuss his housemates or their living arrangements in the Family’s house on C Street in D. C..

This is the 3rd and final installment in my 3-part interview with Sharlet.  Part 1 and Part 2 round out the interview.

Chuck Warnock:  A) Do you believe the influence of the Family is increasing or decreasing?  B) How do you view President Obama’s remarks at the 2009 National Prayer Breakfast where he mentions the history of the national prayer breakfast beginning in Seattle?  C) Do you know if your book has had any influence on how the Obama administration relates to Doug Coe, or any of the other organizations or leaders of the religious right?

Jeff Sharlet:  A) I don’t know; B) with dismay; politics and opinions aside, that was just shoddy history; C) I don’t know about the Obama administration, but at least one religious right organization bought bulk copies of the book for distribution to its supporters with the caveat that while I’m not a Christian, they think the story I tell is an important one. This group happens to have a lot of first-hand experience with the Family, so they’re in a good position to know.

CW:  Finally, many of the evangelical leaders you mention are now either dead, or moving off the public stage due to age.  What is your opinion of how a younger generation views the blending of religious devotion and political power that you write about in The Family?  Will the Family survive another 75 years, or is it a vestige a fading era?

JS:  That’s the question of the new millennium, isn’t it? The Family may, indeed, be fading — I don’t think they have anyone of Coe’s charisma or leadership talent to succeed him. The current day-to-day leaders, Dick Foth and Richard Carver, are uninspiring. David Coe, Doug’s son, is, in the words of one Family insider, kind of like the Joaquin Phoenix character in Gladiator. But I think the ideas of the Family will prosper. Indeed, I think they’re well-suited to the moment — ostensibly bi-partisan, diplomatic in tone if not in substance, relentlessly amiable, even in the cause of murderous regimes. Reminds me of Rick Warren — not a Family man, but heir to a certain style of politicized religion, much more the descendent of Abraham Vereide, Family founder, than of Jerry Falwell. I’m heartened by the expanded vision of a lot of young Christian conservatives, thinking more seriously about global poverty than had previous generations; but I’m disheartened by their responses, naive at best and dangerous at worst, as in their support for authoritarian governments in Rwanda and Uganda.

Beyond that, I can’t say. You’re a pastor — you tell me.

_____________________

Read my review of The Family at Amicus Dei.  A YouTube video of NBC’s reporting on the Family features footage of Doug Coe, then leader of the Family, referring to Hitler and Mao as role models of leadership and commitment.  It is very disturbing.

Note: I purchased my copy of The Family and received no inducement to read and review the book, or to interview Jeff Sharlet.  I believe Sharlet makes a compelling case for more transparency in religious life, especially as it intersects the public square.  Whether you agree or disagree with Sharlet, he has produced a comprehensive book on a previously almost-secret organization that bears reading as a cautionary tale about the seduction of power.

Interview with Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: Part 2

imagesThis is Part 2 of my interview with Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. This week, The Family is  #5  in Amazon.com’s sales rankings.  If you’d like to catch up, Part 1 of the interview is here.  My review of The Family is at my blog, Amicus Dei.

The Family tells the story of a secretive quasi-evangelical organization, founded in the late 1930s, which has insinuated itself into the halls of power in Washington and other countries around the world.  In the U. S., the Family is the behind-the-scenes sponsor of the National Prayer Breakfast each February in Washington, D. C..

The Family organization operates several residences, one of them “the house at C Street,” where several United States senators and congressmen live when in Washington, D. C..  Two Family members have recently been in the news for marital infidelity — Senator John Ensign of Arizona, and Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina.

Sharlet says The Family “is a story about two great spheres of belief, religion and politics, and the ways in which they are bound together by the mythologies of America.” — The Family, p.2

Interview with Jeff Sharlet, part 2:

CW:  You report that Doug Coe and others in the Family make repeated references to Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, and other totalitarian leaders as examples of the kind of effective leadership the Family aspires to.  Did this strike you as odd, and how do you account for the use of these ruthless dictators as role models for the Family?

JS:  Um, yes. And I said as much when I was spending time with them, then again during interviews with Family associates such as Senator Sam Brownback, Representative Frank Wolf, and former Bush White House special aide Doug Kuo. Kuo, whom I like a great deal, insists that Coe uses these killers simply as metaphors. To which the only response I can think of is, You can’t think of a better metaphor for Jesus than Hitler? I make clear in the book that Coe is not a neo-Nazi. Indeed, he cites fascists and communists and even Osama bin Laden. It’s not their ideology he admires, it’s their methods. The Family fetishizes strength. Or, as Coe put it in an interview with my colleague Tor Gjerstadt of the Norwegian Dagbladet (a large daily there), power.

CW:  Your book, The Family, weaves a tale of religious intrigue based on political power that sounds like the latest, far-fetched conspiracy theory.  How do you answer the critics who say that you see conspiracies where none exist?

JS:  First, by pointing out that I don’t see conspiracies. I don’t think the Family is a conspiracy. I’m not sure how I could have made my view any clearer than this, on page 7 of my introduction: “This so-called underground [their word, not mine] is not a conspiracy.”If that’s too vague, there’s always this, later in the book, referring to founder Abram Vereide: “Abram’s upper-crust faith was not a conspiracy.” And this, in response to current leader Doug Coe’s documented decision to “submerge” — his word, not mine — the profile of the organization: “The decision was not so much conspiratorial, as it seemed to those among Abram’s old-timers who responded with confusion, as ascetic, a humbling of powers.”

Is The Family secretive? Yes, by its own declaration. Does that make it a conspiracy? Not in any court of law I know. Rather, as I argue in the book, the Family represents a strand of religious activism that has clearly been influential among some of America’s most powerful Christians and yet which to date has never been subject to any kind of in-depth study. That’s a more modest claim than the critics’  tin-foil caricature, yes, but one that I think would withstand scrutiny if they bothered to review my book rather than their own assumptions about my political views.

CW:  What, in your opinion, are the most objectionable beliefs or practices of the Family?  On what do you base your evaluation of these beliefs and practices?  In other words, what is your particular background or experience that qualifies you to write a book like The Family?

JS:  Beliefs are a matter of conscience; but practices, especially those of the powerful, can be a matter of public concern. The Family has facilitated support for dictators such as Ferdinand Marcos, Suharto, Siad Barre, General Park, and even a Central American death squad leader convicted of torture in the U.S. This, to me, is objectionable, as it is to many Family members who learn about it. I’m inspired by the example, for instance, of the Rev. Ben Daniel, deeply involved as a young man. But he quit when he learned that the Family leaders he’d looked up to were using their access to the powerful to represent the interests of the most murderous elements from countries such as Nicaragua and El Salvador. Or there’s Cliff Gosney, a longtime participant, a deeply Christian man, who quit when he realized that the Family was using him and the foreign leader for whom he was the Family’s point man, South Africa’s Mangosuthu Buthelezi, for political gain rather than spiritual development. I’m concerned, too, by the practice of secrecy. “The more invisible you can make your organization,” Doug Coe has preached, “the more influence it will have.” He cites the mafia as a good example, and Family members like to refer to their movement as the “Christian mafia.” That’s just not a good model in a democracy like ours. I have the highest respect for citizens of all beliefs who make their arguments openly in the public square, fundamentalists included. I’ve been heartened by the support the book has received from self-professed fundamentalists who are as bothered by these anti-democratic practices as I am. We may not agree on much, these fundamentalists and me, but we agree that democracy depends on us engaging in our arguments in good faith, with plenty of sunlight.

As for my background, I’m not sure what you mean. You want my professional credentials? Or are you asking me for my religious beliefs? If it’s the former, I think they qualify me: I’ve been a working journalist for sixteen years, have written for a large number of mainstream national publications, have focused on religion for about 14 years, have taught graduate level religious studies at New York University and lectured at colleges, universities, and churches around the country, have been positively reviewed by both conservative and liberal critics, have won prizes and been a finalist for prizes, etc., etc. I’m proud of the fact that Ann Coulter wrote that I’m one of the stupidest journalists in America, and even prouder of the fact that she did so based on her own clumsy misreading of scripture.

But if it’s the latter — my beliefs — my first answer is, What does it matter? The facts are the facts. And then my second answer is contained within the last pages of the book, in which I write openly of my own beliefs, particularly my commitment to the Book of Exodus as inspiration for thinking about the role of faith in public life. I’m not a Christian, though half my family is. But I’ve written for Christian publications and published many Christian writers. I’ve been engaged in that conversation for a long time. I think it’s one of the most important conversations in America.

All of the above is a long-winded way of saying I’m a citizen.

__________

Part 3 of my interview with Jeff Sharlet will appear on Thursday, July 16.  In Part 3, Sharlet comments on the continuing influence of the Family, and his thoughts on the future of the Family and evangelicalism.

Interview with Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: Part 1

This is part 1 of my exclusive interview with Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family.  Parts 2 and 3 will be posted Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

Interview with Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family: Part 1
by Chuck Warnock

jeff_sharlet_sqJeff Sharlet is author of The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism At The Heart of American Power, number five on Amazon’s bestseller list this week. The Family tells the story of a secretive quasi-evangelical organization, founded in the late 1930s, which has insinuated itself into the halls of power in Washington and other countries around the world.

The Family operates several residences, one of them “the house at C Street,” where several United States senators and congressmen live when in Washington, D. C..  Two Family members have recently been in the news for marital infidelity — Senator John Ensign of Arizona, and Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina.

In 2002, Sharlet lived at one of the Family’s many centers, Ivanwald, giving him an insider’s perspective to an organization that remains an enigma in evangelical life.  But the story of the Family is also one of intrigue, international power politics, and a self-styled religion described by its practitioners as “Jesus plus nothing.” In short, The Family is one of the most fascinating and disturbing books I have ever read.

After reading The Family, I contacted Jeff Sharlet who agreed to a blog interview.  I submitted the following questions.  Both my questions and his answers are unedited.  For my review of The Family, visit my blog AmicusDei.com.

About the Author: “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 co-author, with Peter Manseau, of Killing the Buddha, and the editor of TheRevealer.org.  He lives in Brooklyn, New York.” — from About the Author, The Family.

Here is Part 1 of my interview with the author of The Family, Jeff Sharlet:

CW:  At 454 pages, including notes and index, The Family covers evangelical fundamentalism from the period of Jonathan Edwards in the 1700s to the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives in the George W. Bush White House, all centered around a group called the Family, which is best known for leading the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. each February.  How long did it take you to research and write The Family?

JS:  Five years of direct work, but I’ve been writing about religion, history, and politics for much longer than that. I stumbled into the Family in 2002, with no particular intentions and completely unaware of its political identity. When I left, I thought there might be more of a story, so I traveled to their archives at the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton, Illinois. What I found there both shocked and intrigued. I ended up writing an article for Harper’s, and then a book proposal, largely so that I could afford to go back to the archives and keep digging.

CW:  You state on several occasions that you used primary sources, particularly archives left by the Family organization in the Billy Graham Center archives at Wheaton College.  Did you have difficulty in persuading the Wheaton librarians to give you access to the Family archives, and are those archives still open to researchers today?

JS:  No. It’s a first-rate professional, scholarly archive, and absolutely essential to any serious research on American evangelicalism. But it was a strange experience living, basically, on the campus of Wheaton, the “evangelical Harvard,” for six months. One day I was taking a break and a student came up to me and asked me if I’d heard the Good News about Jesus. I thought the kid deserved a gold star, so to speak — he’d id’d the only Jew on campus. Turned out he was majoring in missiology.

As for the archives, the historical papers are still open, but the more contemporary stuff is closed, restricted following my Harper’s story, a major investigative piece for the LA Times, and research by some foreign journalists.

CW:  Some accuse you of having a particular “axe to grind” with this book.  How would you respond to that accusation?

JS:  Absolutely. I’m for open, transparent democracy. I’m for an accountable church. I’m for Christians who really try to preach Christ’s message of mercy and love, not a theology of more power for the already powerful. I try to make these positions clear in the book. A good book isn’t a data dump, it’s an argument and a story. I hope my book is both.

CW:  In The Family, you name just about every major evangelical organization and leader: the late Dawson Trotman of the Navigators, the late Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ, Chaplain of the U. S. Senate the late Richard Halverson, Billy Graham, Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship, the late Jerry Falwell, James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Young Life, and of course, Doug Coe and the National Prayer Breakfast, plus many others.  Are all these groups and leaders tied to the Family, or is this guilt by association because all are leaders of evangelical organizations?

JS:  No, they’re not all tied to the Family, and I don’t say that they are, so this is hardly guilt by association. Trotman was the mentor of Coe — that’s why he’s in the story. Bright did have a lot of dealings with the Family, and his papers are intermingled with the Family’s — that makes him part of the story. Halverson was a longtime formal leader of the Family — there are literally thousands of Halverson’s personal documents in the archive. Billy Graham writes of his modest connection in his memoir. Chuck Colson boasts, in his memoir, of joining the Family’s “veritable underground of Christ’s men” in Washington. Falwell has no connection that I know of, and I don’t claim one. Nor does Dobson. Young Life’s finances were for a long time all tangled up with the Family’s. I’m pretty tired of the “guilt by association” charge. The people who make it rarely present any evidence. I do.

(Tomorrow in Part 2, Sharlet comments on the Family’s use of Adolf Hitler as a role model for leadership, and answers critics’ charges that he sees a religious-right conspiracy where none exists.)