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The dark story behind The Family, the new Netflix docu-series everyone is talking about.

The world has long been fascinated with the politics of the United States, mostly because it’s full of conspiracy theories and drama. From Donald Trump’s involvement with Russia to the Kennedy family curse, American politics is as mysterious and scandalous as it is powerful.

But wait, there’s now more.

The Family, a new Netflix docuseries, investigates a clandestine Christian organisation known as the Fellowship Foundation (aka the Family) – which has members who are senators, diplomats and religious leaders, who work together to influence government and legislation.

Which, of course, is definitely not okay in a democratic society that has a strong division between Church and State as one of its core principles.

As Netflix says on its site about the show, “The Family grooms and supports leaders, teaching them that the Bible is a story about power, not mercy – that leaders are chosen by God, not elected”.

(Which is sort of confusing, as they actually are elected.)

Watch the trailer for Netflix’s new docuseries The Family below. Post continues after video.

The Family details the relationships the Fellowship has developed with significant political figures – including with controversial identities such as former Libyan Prime Minister Muammar Qaddafi, and a firm alignment with the Trump administration.

But according to the Fellowship, it’s all cool, because everything they’re doing is in the name of Christianity. They say on their website:

“One of the functions of the Foundation is to provide administrative and accounting support to small groups of people who come together in the spirit of Jesus Christ to serve others around the world in countless different ways.”

‘Small groups of people’ – and legislators and world leaders.

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The docuseries is based on the books, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power and C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy, written by Jeff Sharlet, who lived with the group as a young man, and is extensively interviewed in the five episodes.

Sharlet has been writing about the Family and his experience with it since 2003, which has naturally attracted the ire of some very powerful people. He wryly notes in one episode, “All these dictators and war criminals, [I’m] the only person they’ve ever described as evil”.

But despite the Family’s denial of Sharlet’s version of events, the show strives to verify many of his claims.

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The Fellowship was founded in 1935 by Abraham Vereide, a Norwegian immigrant who was a traveling preacher. Sharlet described in his book how the idea came to Vereide:

“One night, while lying in bed… Vereide received a visitation: a voice, and a light in the dark, bright and blinding,” Sharlet wrote.

“The next day he met a friend, a wealthy businessman and former major, and the two men agreed upon a spiritual plan.”

The Family was thus born. It was presided over for several decades by Douglas Coe – whom Time describes as a “stealth Billy Graham” (the most high-profile American Evangelist).

Coe, who died in 2017, believed the work of Jesus should be done in secret, and developed a network of highly influential people around the nation – and especially in Washington.

One of the most high-profile examples of the Family’s work is The National Prayer Breakfast, an annual event which began in 1953, and has been attended by every sitting president since Dwight D. Eisenhower. The breakfast is sponsored by the Fellowship, and such is its power, it attracts thousands of influential people from around the world to Washington, every February.

Again, the point of the breakfast is espoused as being uniting Christians, but, as The Family observes, it’s an opportunity to gain political influence for the coming year. The documentary then uncovers a series of events which may seem innocent to the public eye, but which are orchestrated by the group.

It also demonstrates that in more recent years, the Family has sought to consolidate its power by acting overseas; for example, campaigning in Romania against LGBTQI rights.

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The Family is a tale of seemingly unbridled power, and one which director Jesse Moss knew needed to be exposed.

He told Rolling Stone that after he read Sharlet’s books in 2008, “I thought, here’s an organisation that exists at the intersection of faith and politics, that occupies, unbeknownst to a lot of people, this significant portion of the public square”.

He added, “When you see alliances across international borders between religious right organisations and these authoritarian relationships… I think the consequences are enormous for all of us.

“It’s more than just the story of the Fellowship. It’s the story of our democracy.”

Some reviews of the docuseries complain that it’s biased, as it omits crucial information, such as the involvement of the Democrat political party in the Family. And, that it raises more questions than provides answers.

But questions – transparency, and accountability – are a core part of any democratic society. So, it’s likely that The Family is another milestone in the journey of exposing the truth behind a situation which the writers of the American Constitution and Bill of Rights tried to prevent: religion and politics in bed together.


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