Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 7:08 pm

Seinfeldian Christianity; or, Jesus without Christ, “Jesus plus nothing”

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?

 

 

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Saturday, November 28, 2009 1:48 pm

Exporting terror

There’s really no other way to describe this: The formerly secret Christianist nationalist group called the Family now has members in other countries who are doing real damage:

GROSS: Let’s talk about The Family’s connection to Uganda, where there’s a, really a draconian anti-gay bill that has been introduced into parliament. Uganda already punishes the practice of homosexuality with life in prison. What would the new legislation do?

Mr. SHARLET: Well, the new legislation adds to this something called aggravated homosexuality. And this can include, for instance, if a gay man has sex with another man who is disabled, that’s aggravated homosexuality, and that man can be – I suppose both, actually, could be put to death for this. The use of any drugs or any intoxicants in seeking gay sex – in other words, you go to a bar and you buy a guy a drink, you’re subject to the death penalty if you go home and sleep together after that. What it also does is it extends this outward, so that if you know a gay person and you don’t report it, that could mean – you don’t report your son or daughter, you can go to prison.

And it goes further, to say that any kind of promotion of these ideas of homosexuality, including by foreigners, can result in prison terms. Talking about same sex-marriage positively can lead you to imprisonment for life. And it’s really kind of a perfect case study in the export of a lot of American, largely evangelical ideas about homosexuality exported to Uganda, which then takes them to their logical end.

GROSS: This legislation has just been proposed. It hasn’t been signed into law. So it’s not in effect yet and it might never be in effect. But it’s on the table. It’s before parliament. So is there a direct connection between The Family and this proposed anti-homosexual legislation in Uganda?

Mr. SHARLET: Well, the legislator that introduced the bill, a guy named David Bahati, is a member of The Family. He appears to be a core member of The Family. He works, he organizes their Ugandan National Prayer Breakfast and oversees a African sort of student leadership program designed to create future leaders for Africa, into which The Family has poured millions of dollars working through a very convoluted chain of linkages passing the money over to Uganda.

GROSS: So you’re reporting the story for the first time today, and you found this story – this direct connection between The Family and the proposed legislation by following the money?

Mr. SHARLET: Yes, it’s – I always say that The Family is secretive, but not secret. You can go and look at 990s, tax forms and follow the money through these organizations that The Family describe as invisible. But you go and you look. You follow that money. You look at their archives. You do interviews where you can. It’s not so invisible anymore. So that’s how working with some research colleagues we discovered that David Bahati, the man behind this legislation, is really deeply, deeply involved in The Family’s work in Uganda, that the ethics minister of Uganda, Museveni’s kind of right-hand man, a guy named Nsaba Buturo, is also helping to organize The Family’s National Prayer Breakfast. And here’s a guy who has been the main force for this Anti-Homosexuality Act in Uganda’s executive office and has been very vocal about what he’s doing, in a rather extreme and hateful way. But these guys are not so much under the influence of The Family. They are, in Uganda, The Family.

Our tax code is subsidizing religiously driven state-sanctioned murder in other countries. There’s no pretty face you can put on this, and there’s no way, in hell or on Earth, you can sell this to any thinking person as Christianity.

Commenter YellowJournalism at Balloon Juice asks, “For his birthday, can we get Jesus some new followers?”

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