I recently finished watching the five-episode documentary series The Family, which takes the veil off a secretive, international Christian network of theocrats who have been using large sums of money and influence to meddle in the affairs of US and foreign governments, slowly dismantling the constitutional wall of separation between church and state for decades. Their hidden influence is now slowly growing into Russia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and other parts of the world.
The Family reminds me of Opus Dei, another organization–this one Catholic–that promotes Fascist and authoritarian ideology in heavily Catholic countries, and has been known to support dictators in Chile (Pinochet) and Spain (Franco). The founder of Opus Dei loved to stress the hierarchical nature of the church to his followers, and how it was God’s will to govern the world using arbitrary authority.
One of the episodes tackled the Kill the Gays bill in Uganda, and showed how conservative Christian politicians in the United States were instrumental in the hysteria that led to the near-passage of the bill, and to the levels of violence that we now see in Uganda against the LGBT community.
Part of what The Family does is to provide ideological and theological support to authoritarian ideas that would otherwise be difficult to stomach for reasonable people. Frequent reference is made to curiously cherry-picked Biblical stories–like the one where King David fell in love with Jezebel, and even had her husband killed so that he could enjoy her–in order to explain that it is God who chooses leaders regardless of how sinful or fallen they may be … and who are we to question God’s judgment? In this way, arbitrary leadership is justified, consolidated and defended so that Congressmen and other leaders of the right political persuasion may stay in power, even in cases where adultery and other breaches of trust have taken place. If God chose David, and forgave him his trespasses, then (modern theocrats argue) it is appropriate to believe that God has chosen current leaders (like Trump) and forgiven their trespasses also.
This “chosenness” doctrine–a localized instance of the doctrine of Divine Providence–caught my attention. In practice, this teaching is indistinct from the Might-is-Right doctrine, or naive Social Darwinism–and, in fact, many of the masterminds of The Family openly admired Hitler’s ability to lead.
Of course, Epicureanism teaches me that this is an absurd doctrine: it is people who choose their leaders, and they have the power to change them whenever the current leader demonstrates that he is incapable or unworthy of leading–as we saw recently in Puerto Rico. This view is implicit in the fact that many of what we consider Western civilization’s founding documents stress the importance of the consent of the governed in considering the legitimacy of any form of government or change in leadership.
It’s funny that, while depicting themselves as believers who are in awe of the power of prayer when their plans to influence this or that country materialize, members of The Family fail to mention the large sums of monetary favors exchanged to cement said influence.
There are other ways in which The Family–while claiming to be Jesus-focused–betrays some of the most widely accepted ideas about the Gospel and reveals that it is all about power, not about faith. For instance, the lionization of belligerent, authoritarian leaders is excused as instances where God has chosen wolves to lead his flock. Nowhere in the Gospels is there mention of God choosing wolves–in fact, wolves are the epitome of who is unfit to follow Jesus. This extra-Biblical metaphor is more at home in Viking Paganism than in the Gospels, and yet it is central to The Family‘s theocratic program.
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. – Matthew 6:5-6
It is important to address the Prayer Breakfast events, about which the preceding quote by Jesus should be enough to understand what his verdict would have been: that they are mere acts of hypocrisy. Jesus taught his followers to always pray in private, away from the public. Throughout the series, we see public prayer being used to manipulate people into submission to an agenda that seeks to consolidate power and influence. It is impossible to ascertain when a public prayer is sincere, and when it is mere passive-aggressive manipulation, a thinly-veiled wink between two parties that aspire to influence the public discourse, or an instance of propaganda whereby an authoritarian program is attributed to a higher power and claims a mantle of sanctity and benediction that it does not deserve.
Public prayer, in the documentary, is revealed as the masquerade that it is. There are many other instances where the utility of public prayer for Christian theocrats has been made plain. One example is this hysterical prayer by a paranoid Pennsylvania legislator who asked for forgiveness for America–as if countries, like individuals, had a conscience–before swearing in the first Muslim woman to the legislature, and claimed that the US was founded on Christian principles and that the founding fathers were theocrats during her “prayer”.
All of these things need to be named and called out in the public sphere by people of conscience if we wish to avoid degenerating into a theocracy in America and in the other countries where The Family has spread its tentacles.
Just as importantly, this documentary shows us that transparency and authenticity are in short supply in the circles of power. We can not reasonably expect people who employ devices like public prayer, to also have the maturity and moral development needed to fully own the content of their own character and the details of their agenda publicly and freely, rather than passive-aggressively attributing the fruits of their moral fiber to a Supreme Being. What we have seen is that these leaders later attempt to seem naive and innocent–even claim to be holy, if imperfect, instruments of God–when those fruits prove to be bitter, as in the case of the “Kill the Gays” bill. For these politicians, honesty and moral maturity would go against their political career. Transparency and authenticity are marginal virtues, and must be enforced from the margins of power.