An investigative journalist examines a Jesus-centered, fundamentalist network whose ambitions exceed “Al Qaeda’s dream of a Sunni empire.”
It’s hard to imagine a religious gathering more anodyne than the annual National Prayer Breakfast. Harper’s and Rolling Stone contributing editor Sharlet (Journalism and Religious Studies/New York Univ. Center for Religion and Media; co-author: Killing the Buddha: A Heretic’s Bible, 2004), however, sees something sinister, a more than merely ceremonial moment marking the achievement of Abraham Vereide and his successor, Doug Coe, founders of a ministry specializing in the care and feeding of high government, industry and military officials, an elite fundamentalist corps known as “the Family.” Sharlet traces the twin threads of the Family’s origins in the evangelical teachings of Jonathan Edwards and Charles Grandison Finney and its commitment under Vereide and Coe to a painstaking, prayer-cell by prayer-cell conversion of the elite—prominent Americans such as Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh, politicians from Melvin Laird to Sam Brownback—to its notion of a smiling, muscular, American Christ, enthusiastically capitalist, socially conservative and fiercely anti-communist. Unashamedly modeling their leadership training along lines favored by Hitler and Lenin, the Family has insinuated itself firmly into the ruling class, its theology better suited, Sharlet insists, to empire than to democracy. The author’s discussion of the Family’s beginning and growth and his lengthy disquisitions on other figures prominent in the evangelical movement—Frank Buchman, Billy Sunday, Harry Emerson Fosdick, Billy Graham, Charles Colson, James Dobson, Ted Haggard—all demonstrate his acute understanding of the theocratic streak that has long run though American history. His firsthand, critical reporting on the Family’s enclave in Arlington, Va., and on the evangelical boomtown of Colorado Springs testifies to his relentlessness and, yes, even courage. Finally, however, Sharlet fails to persuade us that this “guerilla force on the spiritual battlefield” poses any significant danger to the republic.
Fine research and reporting diminished by overblown analysis.