A misguided view of Christianity is chipping away at fundamental American principles, according to a new book about a shadowy religious/political organization in Washington, D.C.
Jeff Sharlet, in the new book C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy, shows how the group known as "The Family" influences foreign policy, the military, and other key elements of our government.
Based on personal experience, I would say a C Street-like mindset has invaded our courtrooms and corrupted our justice system at all levels. We also suspect that many boardrooms, and even universities, are infected with a values system that gives elites exalted status over everyday folks. In the end, this bastardized form of religion might pose a greater threat to America than Osama bin Laden ever could.
This is Sharlet's second book about C Street. In 2008, he wrote The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. In an interview about his new book, with Scott Horton of Harper's, Sharlet provides some frightening insight into the C Street mindset. Much of it is based on a relatively obscure passage from the Bible, Acts 9:15: “This man is my chosen instrument to take my name… before the Gentiles and their kings.”
The original passage was about the Apostle Paul. But members of The Family evidently think it applies to them. Horton asks, "How do the men who gather at C Street interpret this passage?" Replies Sharlet:
The clue is in the emphasis the Family puts on those last two words. “Their kings” is italicized in the document from which I quote it in the book, “Eight Core Aspects of the vision and methods.” It was distributed to potential new members of the Family, the organization behind C Street, at the 2010 National Prayer Breakfast, the Family’s only public event. Every year, the Family uses American political leaders—they refer to them as “bait”—to attract foreign leaders they want to evangelize. The focus is on leaders, or “kings.” The Family twists Acts 9:15 into a justification for a complete inversion of Christianity, a faith that, whatever else one thinks of it, was born of a radically egalitarian premise. To the C Streeters, Christianity is all about elites. They pay lip service to helping the poor, but they believe the best way to help the weak is to help the strong.
The C Street mindset has played out in political scandals involving John Ensign, Mark Sanford, and Chip Pickering. Says Sharlet:
What makes C Street and the Family so unusual in the landscape of American fundamentalism is their explicit dedication to the ruling class. Help the weak by helping the strong means tending to the interests of men such as Ensign, Sanford, and Pickering. In Ensign’s case, where C Street attempted to negotiate payments for Ensign’s mistress’s family, you see the principle of what some Family leaders call “biblical capitalism” put into practice — they bargained a price for services rendered. In Sanford’s case, they actually managed his distraught wife, instructing her to refrain from any angry words—they’d take care of reprimands—and to keep her husband sexually satisfied. And Pickering, Pickering was just tawdry—they looked the other way while he rendezvoused with his mistress, a telecom heiress, in his C Street room. Such cover ups, were, to the Family, God’s work—anything to keep their chosen ones, their “kings,” in power.
I've seen a similar mindset from conservative judges in Alabama courtrooms. After being on the short end of numerous unlawful rulings, I've found myself saying, "These judges act like they are kings. They seem to think they can ignore the actual law and rule however they please."
This mindset hardly applies only to my personal situation. We've seen it at play in the Don Siegelman case, the Paul Minor case, and other Bush-era political prosecutions. I've seen evidence of it in several domestic-relations cases, where the "elite" party receives favorable treatment--and if children have to suffer because of it . . . well, that's tough.
Jeff Sharlet, I believe, has hit on an issue that has profound implications for American society. In fact, it has the power to ruin us.
Many elites, through their own selfishness or a warped view of religion (or both), believe it is more important to keep certain "chosen ones" in powerful positions than it is to uphold our democratic principles.
This kind of thinking, if unchecked, could lead to a disaster that will make 9-11 seem tame by comparison. As awful as 9-11 was, America has shown a remarkable ability to recover from it. But if we fail to see that our society is rotting from the inside . . . well, there might be no way to recover from that.