Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Family - The Christian Elite and the Myth of Godliness

It was a glorious day yesterday . . . bight sun, blue seas, white-capped mountains surrounding flat green lowlands of vegetables and berries. I really wanted to go home after work to do a long bike ride (needing exercise badly after a week of being on the road) however it came to my attention that I had an important dinner meeting.

I took the drive up the coast to the meeting. I can’t complain. The meeting is along one of the top scenic highways in America, Chuckanut Drive and yesterday she was in her prime. I had the top off the jeep and could smell the firs and the sea.

As I drove I heard a preview on NPR of the coming Fresh Air program. Fresh Air was starting at the same time (6:30 PM) as the dinner meeting. I pulled into the restaurant’s parking lot and continued to listen . . . all the way until about 7. Fortunately, the only thing I had missed in the meeting were cocktails and a social time.

The thing that had grabbed my attention by Fresh Air was the topic. It was an interview with Jeff Sharlet about his new book, “The Family.” I encourage you to read the out-takes of the interview here (or even download the podcast of the entire program).

In summary, The Family is a secret Evangelical organization among the movers and shakers in Washington. It was started in the 1930s (if I remember right) by a man who had a strange vision from God. In the vision the founder was told that the way to reach the world for Christ was to reach the hearts of the people in power and help them to think like Jesus, or to become "godly" in other words.

I know that I am not naive. I do realize that NPR has an agenda . . . okay, more like a slant than an agenda. However, personally, I find that they have less of an agenda than about any other radio-based news source (except possibly the BBC). I realize why this book was reviewed at this time and it is because two of the leaders of “The Family” have recently been caught in Adultery. One of them, Mark Sanford, actually admits now to a whole string of affairs. The media loves to gloat over Evangelicals caught in extreme hypocrisy . . . and who can blame them? We all hate pious people, especially when they are fakes . . . or flakes.

There is so much that I would love to comment about regarding The Family. But I will cherry pick two issues. Those issues include the concept of reaching those in power, and the myth of “godliness.”

This whole story reminded me when I was involved with The Navigators at the University of Kentucky. There was a phase that we passed through when the great emphasis was finding potential leaders. They philosophy went (just like with The Family) that if we reach the societal elite for Jesus, then we have a much better chance of winning the world for God.

One of the greatest proponents of this thought was a Nav staff guy at Eastern Kentucky U, named Nick. I got into a discussion with him once (he was very hard to talk to because he had extreme spiritual arrogance) after he gave a talk at a Nav conference to about 200 campus leaders. He said, “Never share the gospel with anyone sitting down. The problem is, if they are sitting down before the gospel, they will never do anything for the Lord. Instead, only share the gospel on the racket ball courts, or the running tracks or to people who are class presidents. These are the people who will change the world.”

I asked him at the end of the lecture, and in front of everyone, “What about someone sitting in a wheel chair?”

He put on his condescending face and responded, “Have you ever seen anyone in a wheelchair changing the world?” I was perplexed. I was eventually removed from leadership for being an trouble maker.

Nick was extremely hard-nosed . . . for the Lord of course. Everyone introduced him as the most godly man they knew. He got up early and ran five miles . . . for the Lord of course. He slept about 4 hours at night . . . for the Lord of course.

Nick disappeared once, for about a year. He was in his upper forties at the time. He re-appeared with a new, 20 year-old wife. She had been a student on the campus where he was leading the ministry. As far as we could tell, she wasn't a Christian . . . and if she was, a brand new one. However, we were never allowed to mention this, like the elephant in the room.

So there are several points that I wish I could make, if I had the space. One, is that the concept of Christian godliness is highly over-rated. Never trust a godly man or woman as there is no such thing. And, I wonder why Jesus never caught on to this theory about only reaching the elite in society. He must not have been very smart.


Jaimie said...

You have such an interesting life! Full of irony.

MJ said...

If there is any irony it is between what I was and who I am now. Who I am now is somewhat the product of the who I was (maybe the pendulum effect)where I am now so sensitive to the godliness myth because in my previous life I was so much a part of it.

Anonymous said...

Awesome insight. Love reading your posts. Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

You know, the title and back-cover blurbs of that book just SCREAM "XIAN-REPUBLICAN-THEOCRACY CONSPIRACY THEORY"...

Am I the only one who isn't running around with a Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory (and kill-the-world bitter because I'm the only one in existence who isn't part of The Vast Conspiracy)?

Just this morning, one of my Yahoogroups went Art Bell at 3 Ayem over something about Obama's new Science Advisor (guy's a real piece of work, by the way); after dozens of Smug Christian posts filling my inbox in quick succession re Obama, the Bush Family, the Bilderbergers, the Trilateralists, the New World Order, the Freemasons, the British Royal Family, 9/11, the UN, God's Judgment, and (you guessed it) SATAN!!! and The Antichrist!!!, I can only come to the conclusion that when I woke up this morning, everyone else had gone batshit crazy overnight.

Headless Unicorn Guy
Weirdness magnet since 1955...

MJ said...

Hey, I'm not one. I was crazy far before this morning. It is funny . . . the title "Weirdness magnet." I had a friend who use to call me the "Flake Magnet" after my encounters with so many religious flakes.

BTW, I just finished up the manuscript with Walt, the guy who found me through your posts. He did a great job and I am very pleased.

I think the other Anonymous was Frank Schaeffer.

Anonymous said...

WOW - I LOVE the last paragraph. I stumbled on this blog via Adventures in Mercy. I'll be back for sure. Awesome post...

MJ said...

Thank you Sarah, that was nice of you.