Jeff Sharlet, whose essay for Harper’s more than a decade ago led to the best-selling book “The Family,” about secretive, conservative Christians in the halls of military and civilian power in the U.S., has visited a college from which many members of The Family have come. What he finds is no more or less than a cult, utterly divorced from Christ’s divinity and His great commandments:
Then [Ronald] Enroth turned his methodology inward, toward mainstream evangelicalism itself. Churches That Abuse, as he titled one book, became his obsession, and the phrase “spiritual abuse” his contribution to modern American theology not just as studied in academia but also in popular magazines and on talk shows. Like the discovery of a disease long suspected but ill-defined, the words “spiritual abuse” gave a form and a name to what had until then been just a feeling. A bad one. …
Jesus without Christ. It haunted me more than Jesus plus nothing. It positively buzzed, or maybe that was the wind—I couldn’t say. Whatever the noise that phrase generated in my skull was, it scared me. Scared me stupid, literally. There was this dumb idea that bothered me at times, usually late at night, driving up the spine of California in the pitch black, or lying in the dark in a blank, empty apartment in Wheaton. I think the first time the idea crossed my mind was under a streetlight in Arlington, three in the morning, I’d been up late reading some documents a member of the Fellowship named Josh Drexler had given me. That was the first time I read the word invisible, this invisible organization, the odd allusion to conspiracy without the actual trappings of conspiracy. It was a theology that wanted to be invisible to the world and wanted insiders to know that it was invisible to the world. To them—to me, since I had for the time being become one of them—invisibility hinted at power. That’s when this dumb idea, the one bothering me as I drove through the California night came to me. Or maybe it was the time David Coe, Doug Coe’s son, came round to lecture the young members of the Fellowship I was living with on Genghis Khan as some kind of metaphor for Jesus, the purity of destroying one’s enemies absolutely, and David smiled and flirted with the boys. I excused myself and crossed the street to the park and made for trees down the hill and once I was out of sight I shivered, and said aloud, “What if this shit’s real?”
Not just the politics and the cultishness, but all of it—the hard, bland Jesus of whom they spoke, the Jesus plus nothing, not even “Christ.” Which would make this god what? The devil? That’s what I thought. David Coe grinning at me all bright white teeth against perfect skin, Ron Enroth’s weak, frightened heart beating time against the hum of the highway. The bleating horn squealing from the speakers, “an emphasis on nothing” in front and behind me. Jesus without Christ and I’d signed up to, what, “investigate” him? What if I was asking questions and all around me there really was a spiritual war raging? Worse, what if I was on the wrong side? Even worse yet, what if I wasn’t?