Two prominent Falls Church members among those who voted to defect from the Episcopal Church in 2006 played a major role in promoting Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to be selected as the GOP vice presidential candidate, according to an article in the Oct. 27 issue of the New Yorker magazine.
The revelation also comes amid new information about the prominent role of a clandestine Christian fundamentalist political action organization among the defectors’ ranks.
According to the New Yorker article, “The Insiders: How John McCain Came to Pick Sarah Palin,” by Jane Mayer, Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard magazine, and Michael Gerson, former chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush and a Washington Post columnist, were among two groups of arch-conservatives who visited Gov. Palin in Alaska in the summer of 2007, bringing back to Washington, D.C. rave reviews of the then barely known governor as potential v-p material.
Both Barnes and Gerson are high-profile members of the so-called Falls Church Anglican, the name the defecting members gave themselves after voting to leave the Episcopal Church in December 2006.
In that congregation, they are closely aligned with a highly-secretive right-wing Christian fundamentalist political activist network known as “The Family,” or “The Fellowship,” many of whose leading members are active among the Falls Church Anglicans. Among The Family’s closest allies is the congregation’s rector, the Rev. John Yates, who spearheaded the defection movement, ostensibly in reaction to the Episcopal Church’s elevation to standing as a bishop of an openly-gay clergyman in 2003.
While the 70-year history and objectives of The Family have focused on advancing unabated American multi-national corporate interests by insinuating the Christian right into American and global politics, it has also been responsible, with other right-wing organizational and funding sources for sowing division within all the mainstream Protestant denominations, including the Methodists and Presbyterians, in addition to the Episcopalians and others, since the early 1980s.
Jeff Sharlet, author of a 450-page expose of The Family in a book by the same name published earlier this year (“The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power,” New York, Harper’s, 2008), confirmed this in an interview with this writer near his Brooklyn home last summer.
So did Jim Naughton, director of communications of the Episcopal Church’s Washington, D.C. diocese, in an earlier interview with this writer. Naughton has published a number of research tracts, including “Follow the Money,” published in the Washington Window, to document the arch-right wing individuals and foundations that have bankrolled the fomenting of schismatic movements within mainstream Protestantism.
A third source, Wayne Madsen, author of the 65-page “Expose: The ‘Christian’ Mafia,” published on the Insider-Magazine web site, concurs, and goes on to say that The Family considers the Falls Church one of its own, having targeted it for a “take over,” along with the Cherrydale Baptist Church in Arlington, and to a lesser degree the Potomac Falls Episcopal and the McLean Bible Church.
The authors’ research confirms that although an aversion to homosexuality runs deep within their ranks, the elevation of the gay bishop, the Rev. Gene Robinson, was only a convenient flash point for their movement, which remains intent on its objectives whether or not another gay person is ever ordained to the ministry.
Their movement will have dire consequences for mainstream Protestantism in general if, for example, the claim to the church property by the defectors at the Falls Church is upheld in the courts, something which may not be resolved eventually, short of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
But the connection of the Palin selection as the GOP vice presidential candidate with Gerson, Barnes and the right-wing schismatic efforts within mainstream churches, generally, finds its broader expression in the mission of The Family, which has had as its objective since its founding as an anti-labor movement in 1935, in the midst of the Great Depression, to influence the political corridors of power in Washington, D.C. and globally.
Its core motive, as reflected in its activities over more than 70 years, is the intermingling of a shallow, unquestioning Christian fundamentalism with radical free trade, anti-New Deal, anti-trade unionist and anti-liberal passions. It has worked overseas to prop up dictators and mass murderers in support of big oil and other American multi-national corporate enterprises, as Sharlet documents in his book.
The defectors occupying the Falls Church are a regional microcosm of The Family’s conspiratorial approach, worldwide, mingling powerful political figures with fundamentalist religion and a passion for wresting control of religious, as well as political, institutions from the control of moderates or liberals by questionable means.
This became evident, in the case of the Falls Church Anglicans, only recently with information provided about Yates’ close personal ties to The Family, with its headquarters at unmarked locations in North Arlington known as Ivanwald and The Cedars, and names of top Family members who are active among their ranks.
Barnes’ Weekly Standard magazine is well-known in Washington, D.C. circles as the mother of the so-called neo-conservative Project for a New American Century (PNAC) crowd, whose promotion of aggressive global unilateralism, exemplified in its push for the invasion of Iraq, parallels The Family’s so-called “worldwide spiritual offensive, whereby Jesus must rule every nation through the vessel of American power,” as Sharlet documents. PNAC operatives currently hold key advisory positions with the McCain/Palin campaign.
Gerson, known for inventing the term, “axis of evil,” as a Bush speechwriter, assailed Sen. Barack Obama relentlessly in his Post columns as Obama moved from an idealistic message to one of economic justice last spring, paralleling The Family’s insistence that the world’s problems are moral, not economic.
Other high-profile members of the church involved prominently in matters of the U.S. government include former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Secretary of the Army Peter Geren, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency Porter Goss, and former U.S. Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork.
Another is Dennis Bakke, former CEO of Advanced Energy Systems (AES), who resigned after allegations he’d funneled AES revenues to The Family, according to Madsen. He founded the Mustard Seed Foundation that funnels millions to select evangelical causes annually, and resides near The Cedars in Arlington.
Like almost 90 percent of the members of the Falls Church Anglican, he does not live in Falls Church.
Key operational heads of The Family, which at its core is a small cadre organization that wields uncomely influence over a wider membership of mostly right-wing elected officials and others in Washington and key international capitals, are also members of the Falls Church Anglican group.
One Northern Virginia politician not a member of the Falls Church but deeply entrenched here is the Rep. Frank Wolf of the 10th District. On the other side of the Potomac, in addition to a long list of current and former congressmen and former Republican administration officials like Dick Thornburgh, John Ashcroft, Ed Meese and James Watt, The Family claims sway over President George W. Bush, himself, from times in the 1970s when he was involved in a Family-run prayer group as part of his struggle against alcoholism.
Over the years, The Family, according to Sharlet’s research (which included a stint infiltrating the group and interviews with its leaders), and its cohorts aided the efforts of such foreign tyrants and butchers as Duvalier in Haiti, Selassie in Ethiopia, Suharto in Indonesia, Savimbi in Angola, Franco in Spain, Marcos in the Philippines and Pinochet in Chile.
The Family was founded by a Norwegian immigrant preacher, Abraham Vereide, in Seattle in 1935 as a businessman’s anti-labor alliance. He met the president of U.S. Steel and convinced him to help strengthen, through an uncomplicated brand of Christian fundamentalism, a network of “believing” industrialists, organized through prayer groups to bind together and take on the striking unions.
His earliest arch-enemy was Harry Bridges, head of the San Francisco longshoremen’s union, who led a “mass strike” in 1934. Prayer breakfasts including the head of Standard Oil and Folger’s Coffee led to the creation of the Industrial Association of San Francisco to defeat the unions. They also went on to be staunch opponents of almost every aspect of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal.”
“The divine will is revealed in the working of Christian businessmen unhindered by regulations,” they claimed, as contrasted to “godless organized labor.”
Having grown his influence among industrialists and other enemies of the “New Deal,” Vereide moved his operation to Washington, D.C. in 1945, preaching that the essence of faith is wrapped up in authority, obedience, conformity, discipline and slavish loyalty to the nebulous notion of the “person” of Christ, rather than to any particular religion, theology or dogma. This Christ “person” is big, burly and manly, a CEO, a “man without hymns and sob sisters,” who functions on behalf of a God “not of ethics, or of morality, but of power.”
Its intellectual heart is “dominionism,” to replace the rule of law and its secular contracts with God’s rule. “We are here to learn how to rule the world,” Family leader David Coe said at an Ivanvald meeting that Sharlet attended. It is also the “theonomy” of the crackpot theologian Rousas John Rushdoony, and goes by “Biblical capitalism,” as well. As Marsden quoted one Pentagon official, The Family “has nothing to do with God or Jesus, it is a capitalist cult.”
In the late 1940s, Vereide became friends with Sen. Frank Carlson (R-Kansas), who called Roosevelt a “dictator” and a “destroyer of human rights and freedom.” While the isolationist and pacifist old Republicans gravitated to Sen. Robert Taft in the 1952 election, who lost his party’s nomination, Carlson became a major influence on Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower, who won.
Vereide organized the first ever Presidential Prayer Breakfast held on Feb. 5, 1953, but his biggest catch was to have the newly sworn-in Eisenhower attend, thanks to Carlson’s efforts. With 400 in attendance, it had the theme, “Government Under God,” and a poster showing Uncle Sam on his knees submitting to God.
Eisenhower resisted Carlson’s urgings to attend, complaining that it compromised the separation of church and state. But he relented, and the president of the U.S. has attended them, now called the National Prayer Breakfast and all organized by The Family, ever since.
Congressional friends of The Family pushed through the addition of “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, and of “In God We Trust” on U.S. coins. They pushed but failed to pass a Constitutional amendment saying, “This nation devoutly recognizes the authority and law of Jesus Christ.”
In 1966, with The Family under the leadership of David Coe, it suddenly went covert and underground in reaction to growing public scrutiny, operating without letterhead or any overt identity, but working through political contacts and prayer circles.
Its fellow travelers, such as Nixon administration felon Chuck Colson, organized violence against anti-war demonstrators and lashed out at the “moral decadence” of the civil rights struggle. As Martin Luther King began to shift his message from racial equality to economic justice, anti-Black Power “buffers” were organized to contain and defuse the movement.
The right wing and existentialist theologies of Francis Schaeffer and Paul Tillich (replacing the focus on political freedom with individual freedom) were unleashed to pacify the anti-war and civil rights ferment. In the wake of Watergate, and the resignation of Richard Nixon (who was no friend of The Family), the Republican Party was dissembled and became vulnerable to the rise of the political Christian right. Now, arch-conservatives in Congress are mobilized through the Senate Value Action Team, led by The Family’s Sen. Brownback of Kansas and dozens of others.
In 2000, friends and members of The Family wielded influence in Florida to hand the election to Bush and in 2004, they cooked up a strategy to bring the gay marriage issue to the forefront of the presidential campaign, which along with indications of massive vote fraud in Ohio, a bastion of The Family, helped assure Bush’s re-election.
Dick Foth has succeeded Coe at the helm of The Family. Now, while its influence has spread as rapidly in recent decades as highly-leveraged securities did in the last four years, its continued progress will be tested not only by the current collapse of radical free enterprise, but by presidential election next Tuesday, when the wisdom of Gerson, Barnes and others in the choice of Sarah Palin, among many other things, will be called into question.
While The Family’s Falls Church Anglican defectors could win the next round in court in the battle for control of the historic Falls Church property soon, they may lose their grip on the entire nation, and much more, next week.