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Can the World’s Most Powerful People Truly Follow Jesus?

September 15, 2010

And speaking of how politicians can sometimes co-opt faith and use it to pursue worldly power…

Here’s a fascinating (and, to me, creepy) article from the New Yorker on “The Fellowship”–the secretive Christian ministry to the powerful, rich and well-connected all over the world, that is led by one Doug Coe. I suppose everyone needs a pastor, so I also suppose that the core mission of The Fellowship–to offer pastoral care and spiritual counseling to the world’s rich and powerful (especially those connected to the Federal Government in Washington, DC) is not something I should have a problem with–not really, not in theory.

But I do have a problem with it, because from what I can tell, in practice, The Fellowship’s ministry to these Washington power-brokers is so feel-good, so namby-pamby, that what it truly offers is not the rather demanding Gospel of Jesus Christ, but rather something more akin to the drug Soma–as imagined by Aldous Huxley, in his novel Brave New World. That is to say: The Fellowship seems to use the name of Jesus to make our nation’s and the world’s richest and most powerful people feel okay about not really following Jesus. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Even friends of the Fellowship acknowledge that the group has made itself vulnerable to unfriendly assessments, because its insistent secrecy and Coe’s indiscriminate outreach to leaders of all kinds raise legitimate questions of accountability. An old friend of Coe’s, the late Washington lawyer Jim Bell, a key figure in the early Fellowship, once said of Coe’s willful political naïveté, “Doug has chosen to be a political eunuch…”

…In 1997, Coe travelled to Sudan with a former Republican congressman named Mark Siljander, and met with the country’s notorious President, Omar al-Bashir. The Clinton Administration had broken diplomatic ties with Bashir, who had declared Sharia law and undertaken a program of religious cleansing which killed two million Christians and animists, and made refugees of four million more. According to the evangelical magazine World, Siljander may have taken Coe’s Jesus-only, no-questions-asked ecumenism too seriously. Siljander wrote a book called “A Deadly Misunderstanding: A Congressman’s Quest to Bridge the Muslim-Christian Divide,” in which he asserted that Bashir was “a bad man” in the eyes of the West, but “in the eyes of God, as near as I could understand it, he was just another human being, with frailties and failings like the rest of us.” In 2005, the F.B.I. began to investigate Siljander’s work for a Sudan-based Islamic charity with terrorist ties, and this July Siljander pleaded guilty to felony counts of acting as an unregistered foreign agent and of obstruction of justice. He faces a possible fifteen-year prison sentence.

Just a few minutes after I met Coe that first evening at the Cedars, he told me, “Most of my friends are bad people. They all broke the Ten Commandments, as far as I can tell.” He went on to cite the crimes of such Biblical leaders as King David and the apostle Paul, which was his way of saying that judgment is God’s work, not his. That is his explanation, or rationalization, for the spiritual friendships that he and others in the Fellowship have formed over the years with such men as Indonesia’s Suharto, or General Gustavo Álvarez Martínez, the Honduran strongman. On one occasion, the Fellowship decided to invite Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the President of Equatorial Guinea, to the annual National Prayer Breakfast. Obiang, who came to power in 1979 by leading a coup that resulted in the execution of his tyrannical uncle, has been called the worst dictator in Africa. When a State Department official asked why the Fellowship would be inviting such a tyrant to a prayer breakfast, Coe says, the answer was “That’s why we invited him.” In the event, Obiang did come to the breakfast, but little in his record suggests that his association with the Fellowship has moderated his authoritarian style. Holding others accountable for their actions is a tenet of Christian duty as old as the Church, but Coe says that he does not judge. “Jesus even met with the Devil,” he said.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Beth Snyder permalink
    September 16, 2010 11:45 am

    This is reminiscent of the popularity of the “Prayer of Jabez” book from a few years ago that seemed to emphasize the value of asking God for blessings and “wealth” (expanded territory) as opposed to doing God’s will.

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