A Frightening Theology

by Maureen Fiedler

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About two years ago, I interviewed Jeff Sharlet on Interfaith Voices. He had just published a book called The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. Now, he has a new book called C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy.

What he describes is not garden variety Christian fundamentalism. The adherents of this theology believe that Jesus wants them to work with men of power throughout the world (and they do mean men, not women) to achieve the goals of Christianity. Their “heroes” are people like Stalin, Hitler and Mao – who are not remembered for the ends they sought, but for the means they used to achieve power and keep it.

This movement enshrines free market economics as a central dogma and believes that the way to help the poor is to work with the powerful. Sharlet calls this “trickle down religion.” It started in the 1930’s in reaction to FDR’s New Deal. Its powerful businessmen members were strongly opposed to the rights of working people and unions.

Today, members of the Family, especially U.S. Senators, relate to dictators, like Omar al-Bashir of the Sudan (only head of state charged with genocide – in Darfur) and legislators in Uganda who sponsor legislation that criminalizes homosexuality and even levies the death penalty against some gays and lesbians.

Sharlet quotes a Baptist pastor, Church Warnock, who observed that “If Jesus were to have adopted the philosophy of the Family, he would have been working with Herod, and he would have taken Pontius Pilate to lunch.”

And Sharlet names the names of those who embrace this theology, especially Senators and Members of Congress. A majority are Republicans, but not all. They include: Sen. Jim deMint, Sen. James Inhofe, Sen. Tom Coburn, Sen. Sam Brownback, Sen. Mark Pryor, Rep. Bart Stupak (at least until recently), Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Sen. John Ensign – among others.

Some of these men live in the house on C Street, SE in Washington, DC; others simply accept the theology of the Family, the group that runs that house.

It is important to know that Republicans like Senator Jim deMint are active in the Tea Party Movement that is stirring so much angst in the 2010 midterm elections. According to Sharlet, he was instrumental in helping candidates like Christine O’Donnell in Delaware get Republican Senate nominations.

Sharlet knows all this firsthand. He lived with the group for almost a month, and learned this theology from the inside. He has read small libraries of their papers and documents.

This is a truly scary “realpolitik religion.” And it deserves more attention. If you want to hear my interview with Jeff Sharlet on this week’s Interfaith Voices, here’s the link: http://www.interfaithradio.org/

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