The Family by Jeff Sharlet, Kindle edition, published 2009
In order to close this extended review of The Family I felt a bit of American history was in order. The fastest way to get an overview of US religious history is to read a few pages at Wikipedia. What you will discover is an evolution of religious philosophy and an adaptation of the Abrahamic (Christianity, Judaism and Islamic) religions to the New World. The indigenous inhabitants of the New World had their own long established religion — but I’ll save that discussion when I review another book, “1491”.
About 76% of Americans consider themselves Christians, which reflects the European roots of the early emigrants to the United States. Christians religions evolved in the melting pot of religions and the prohibition in the Constitution of a state supported/sanctioned Church.
Puritans and the Mayflower are part of American History taught during American History. Maryland is where the Catholics were concentrated. Then there were the German Lutherans, Quakers (Pennsylvania). These European religions were also the religions of the elite, the ruling classes of Europe. Remember this KEY POINT.
The Great Awakening happened concurrently in Britain and the Colonies during the 1730s and 40s. Many American Fundamentalist religions trace their roots to this era. Most of us are familiar with these mainstream churches:
Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodist whose ministers were influenced by the Great Awakening.
Itinerant preachers spread the message of the Great Awakening from New England south to Georgia. This was a new style of enthusiastic preaching which attracted large crowds. Their message was for every man — rich & poor, educated and illiterate, frontier and Urban. The traveling preacher apparently began during this era, Tent revival meetings that were a major part of frontier life because a figure during this era and the Second Great Awakening.
Puritanism theology “taught that all men are equal, and that the true value of a man lies in his moral behavior, not his class, and that all men can be saved.” Again this key concept – Democracy rooted in the emerging American brand of religion.
The sexism is in the original theology and so it is obvious that these foundational concepts are still the modern and current version of Christian Patriarchal Fundamentalism.
The Second Great Awakening — 1790 – 1840s
This was a time of Social experimentation in the United States. Religions that would become major players in America were spawned during this era. To really understand The Family and American Fundamentalism you need to understand the melting pot of religion and social issues that the people of this era were confronting. Mormons are one of the fastest growing religion today and their roots go to New England and the Second Great Awakening. The population pushed west, the Gold rush came and went, preachers followed the migration as the western frontier pushed to the Pacific Coast. American Fundamentalism came out of this time period. The traveling preacher was also the main form of entertainment for those caught up in the westward migration.
Now we jump ahead to the Great Depression. Abram Vereide developed his religious world view which evolved into the Fellowship from strains of the Second Great Awakening (showmanship and selling a product). However, he discovered a manly Jesus which he could sell to the rich and powerful one by one. The Patriarchy reborn — the religions of the OLD world, of the European ruling class had taken over the state churches — they had their own private chapels. The peasant classes had mass religion — and these priests and ministers became the record keepers, extensions of the state. The American revivals, the first Awakening and the Second Great Awakening were inclusive, and democratic religions with God of the people and his son Jesus and the Holy Ghost. Women played a role in the Second Great Awakening, the suffragette movement can be traced to this era. While America didn’t have a hereditary ruling elite class, there was a powerful corporate elite, who functioned like European royalty. And there was the powerful political elite.
But the Elite Fundamentalism of Abrams, this manly religion was focused on the patriarchy:
“. . . In 1935, Abram breathed life into a faith for the elite, an American fundamentalism made up of both Edward’s “heart” religion and Finney’s permanent revival. He would write to his comrades with exhilaration when he thought a “key man” was beginning to “catch” the Idea. The religion Abram rebelled against was a set of ethics, a rule book for women. He aspired instead to spread what he would come to call contagion, passed from key man to key man, the avant-grade of American fundamentalism.” Jeff Sherlet, early history of, The Family.
Abrams and the inheritors of this Elite Fundamentalism still need their Christian Soldiers — to produce more soldiers — good obedient Christian soldiers who will keep the population in line for the politically powerful and the Corporate elite. There a NO women in any position of leadership.
In fact, women really don’t seem to have a place in the New American Fundamentalism religion other than to serve. Just like the other most other Judea-Christian religions women are excluded from nearly all leadership position.
The Family ministers to world leaders and corporate leaders — again a male dominated world. But yet the world’s population is 51% female and decisions are being made for women by men who have no concept of what women really need or what we want. This is why I walked away from my mother’s religion decades ago. The majority of individuals living below the poverty line are women and children.
Why the hell should anyone care about the re-emergence of a cult/church/sect – there is Freedom of Religion in America. Right? Freedom of Religion, that’s why some of our ancestors came to the colonies — wasn’t it? Or was it the promise/dream of streets made of Gold? Well one of the ultimate goals of The Family is to turn the United States into a Theocracy. Apparently a democratic form of government isn’t favored by the select members of the elite members of The Family.
When I walked away from my mother’s fundamentalist religion I thought that I was done with religion forever. But because of my inside knowledge of this brand of religion I was able to spot the background noise of a mutant Christian Fundamentalist religion on the local level in my state. It came as no surprise to me when the Republican Party of my home state was taken over by this re-branded Fundamentalists group. Several cells of this re-brand of the old American Fundamentalism formed in my county and they elected school board members and a State Senator as well as several state Representatives. Other cells joined and elected a Congressman. These New Fundamentalists have publishing houses and think tank in a southern state. A few journalists caught on and wrote articles in obscure magazines. Mostly the growth and spread of this New Fundamentalism was ignored by the media, unless the church was a mega church located in nowhere Colorado. There were also religious movements with cleaver names with charismatic leaders (Campus Crusade, New Life Church, etc.). Fundamentalism was being repackaged and sold to the masses during the 80s, 90s. The ultimate pay off for giving your soul to the Lord and having a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ was still “eternal life in the Kingdom of God”. The thing is that this New version of the old Fundamentalist uses the same words with different meanings. So anyone who isn’t paying attention or doesn’t know the language will have missed the fact that the Fundamentalism of the early 1880s has morphed into a new version of American Elite Fundamentalism.
After reading Jeff Sharlet’s “The Family I was compelled to fact check some of his US religious history. I was well schooled in the history of my mother’s chosen religion, from Martin Luther to the Second Great Awakening. I’ve also done genealogy research and have found Catholic ancestors who fled to Maryland, as well as Jewish ancestors who fled the Spanish Inquisition. The Catholic ancestors were of the English Aristocracy, some were of royal birth. Church records exist because of their elite status. That’s when I realized the KEY POINT about Abram’s discovery of the ministry to the elite, or what he called the Fellowship, which is now known as The Family. The American Revolution stripped away the elite religion and turned Christ into the savior of all, rich and poor. The Great Awakening and the Second Great Awakening spread the ideas of democracy and social justice for all. FDR continued this idea of service and honest work for the masses. The wealthy – the elite class of corporatists weren’t happy with FDR and his New Deal. Along comes Abram to fill the void with his specially tailored ministry to the world’s powerful men.
Fundamentalism is revamped and repackaged. But you guys left out the women – you guys have created the manly Jesus – who evidently likes blood and gore and a high body count from his chosen world leaders. Women are . . . . what? Must obey the male power figures, father, brother, minister and then husband.