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The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power

The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power


They insist they are just a group of friends, yet they funnel millions of dollars through tax-free corporations. They claim to disdain politics, but congressmen of both parties describe them as the most influential religious organization in Washington. They say they are not Christians, but simply believers.

Behind the scenes at every National Prayer Breakfast since 1953, they are the Family—fundamentalism’s avant-garde, waging spiritual war in the halls of American power and around the globe. They consider themselves the new chosen—congressmen, generals, and foreign dictators—who meet in confidential cells to pray and plan for a “leadership led by God,” to be won not by force but through “quiet diplomacy.” Their goal is “Jesus plus nothing.” Their base is a leafy estate overlooking the Potomac in Arlington, Virginia, and Jeff Sharlet is the only journalist to have written from inside its walls.


Introduction: The Avant-Garde of American Fundamentalism     1


1. Ivanwald     13
2. Experimental Religion     56
3. The Revival Machine     73


4. Unit Number One     87
5. The F Word     114
6. The Ministry of Proper Enlightenment     144
7. The Blob     181
8. Vietnamization     205
9. Jesus + 0 = X     241
10. Interesting Blood     257


Interlude     287
11. What Everybody Wants     291
12. The Romance of American fundamentalism     322
13. Unschooling     336
14. This Is Not the End     370

Acknowledgments     389
Notes     393
Index     433


“A brilliant marriage of investigative journalism and history, an unsettling story of how this small but powerful group shaped the faith of the nation in the 20th century and drives the politics of empire in the 21st. Anyone interested in circles of power will love this book.”

—Debby Applegate, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher

“An astounding entrée to a fascinating Christian network unknown to most Americans … A must-read for any American who wants to know who is actually pulling the strings at the highest levels of power.”

—Heidi Ewing, co-director of Jesus Camp

“I was once an insider’s insider within fundamentalism. Unequivocally: Sharlet knows what he’s talking about … Those who want to be undeceived (and wildly entertained) must read this disturbing tour de force.”

—Frank Schaeffer, author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back

“Jeff Sharlet is one of the very best writers covering the politics of religion. Brilliantly reported and filled with wonderful anecdotes, THE FAMILY tells the story of an influential group that you haven’t previously heard of, and need to know about.”

—Ken Silverstein, Washington editor of Harper’s and author of The Radioactive Boy Scout

“Jeff Sharlet provides a fascinating account of how part of American Christianity has gone off on a dangerous tangent. It should worry everyone—maybe especially those of us who understand the Gospels to be a call to help the powerless, not prop up the powerful.”

—Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and The Bill McKibben Reader

“Of all the important studies of the American right, The Family is undoubtedly the most eloquent. It is also quite possibly the most terrifying.”

—Thomas Frank, New York Times bestselling author of What’s the Matter with Kansas?

“One of the most compelling and brilliantly researched exposes you’ll ever read—just don’t read it alone at night!”

—Barbara Ehrenreich, New York Times bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch

“This is a gripping, utterly original narrative about an influential evangelical elite that few Americans even know exists … The Christian Right will never look the same again.”

—Michael Kazin, author of A Godly Hero: The Life of William Jennings Bryan and The Populist Persuasion: An American History

“Un-American theocrats can only fool patriotic American democrats when there aren’t critics like Jeff Sharlet around—careful scholars and soulful writers who understand both the majesty of faith and the evil of its abuses. A remarkable accomplishment in the annals of writing about religion.”

—Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America

“[Sharlet] has managed to infiltrate the most influential and secretive fundamentalist network in America, and ground his reporting in the most astute and original explanation of fundamentalism I’ve ever read … Indispensable.”

—Hanna Rosin, former religion reporter for the Washington Post and author of God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save the Nation

“The organization of influence these men constitute may remind readers of a Rotary Club—but it is a Rotary Club equipped with nuclear weapons. When the Family’s members say ‘Let us pray,’ they are not just making a suggestion.”

—Michael Lesy, author of Wisconsin Death Trip

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