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What does it mean for Maine that, when he was a congressman, John Baldacci lived for four years in a church in Washington, DC, run by a secretive, powerful, right-wing Christian organization?
Yes, that’s right, he literally lived in a church, known as the C Street Center.
According to Governor Baldacci, it means nothing that he lived there. "It was a cheap rent," he said dismissively in a brief interview. He refused to say anything more about the subject, aside from the observation that "it has been well covered" in the press — even though the fact that he lived in a religious community has been completely uncovered in the Maine press until now.
This is not the case in the national press, where interest in his place of residence, and the theological movement associated with it, has been swelling, though Baldacci himself has only been a footnote to the stories.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Harper’s magazine, and the Associated Press news service, his former address, 133 C Street, S.E., two blocks from the United States Capitol, is legally and actively a church, and the six to eight congressmen and US senators domiciled on the top floor are brothers in "the Family" or "the Fellowship," a mysterious, 60-year-old, conservative, worldwide group dedicated to ending the traditional American separation between religion and politics.
The Family, or the Fellowship (both names are used by different sources), is a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream. But . . . seriously, could our down-to-earth John Baldacci be a member of a Christian cabal? True, since he ascended to the governorship he has shocked some in his Democratic Party with his service-slashing, Big-Business-friendly fiscal conservatism, and he has reneged on his campaign promise to limit the fingerprinting of teachers. As a state legislator in the 1980s and early 1990s, he was quite conservative.
Yet, in Congress, he was considered moderately liberal, and few people would consider his positions on social issues expressive of the Christian right. He is pro-choice on abortion and favors equal-rights laws for gays. These stands disagree with even the more mainstream Catholic Church into which he was baptized.
Perhaps his residence at the C Street Center was just what he said it was: an inexpensive place to stay.
"So he lied to a religious group for a cheap place to rent?" asked, rhetorically, Tom Fusco, who led Jonathan Carter’s Green Independent Party campaign for the governorship against front-runner Baldacci. Either he agreed with the religious life or he deceived them, Fusco added. "And it’s shameful that this kind of information was not reported in the campaign — to help people make their choices."
But only one national story about the inner workings of the Family/fellowship had surfaced by last fall, in spite of the group’s above-ground work, which has been known widely for years: the sponsorship of prayer groups — hundreds around the globe and, most notably, Washington’s annual National Prayer Breakfast, attended by 3000 people including the president and many other dignitaries.
The spokesman for the C Street Center, Jim Slattery, a former Democratic congressman from Kansas, seemed as disheartened as Tom Fusco when informed that Baldacci had denied any religious content to the life he lived at the C Street Center — as if, like the apostle Peter, he had denied knowing Christ.
"I have no comment on that," he said glumly. "I’m not going to judge him."
Slattery, an earnest, voluble man, explained that there was no denominational requirement to live at the house, and one didn’t have to be conventionally religious to live there. Still, he said the assumption was that residents would find "value in understanding the teachings of Jesus. It’s all about the teachings and the spirit of Jesus."
In amplifying the thinking behind the Center and its Family or Fellowship members, Slattery seemed to despair about getting his point across.
Jesus is arguably the most important person who has lived in the last 2000 years, he said, but "there is so much deep cynicism and ignorance of matters of faith and religion among many intellectuals. I have observed through the years that in the quintessential Ivy League Eastern Establishment there’s not much interest in matters of the spirit."
Yet, he averred, "the force of the Christian religion is extremely powerful in American politics."
That is precisely why some people are worried about the Family/fellowship.
Whose Family is this?
Revelations about the Family/fellowship began emerging last fall with a story by investigative reporter Lisa Getter in the Los Angeles Times. She describes an organization that, while "in the shadows," has had "extraordinary [political] access and significant influence on foreign affairs for the last 50 years."
Its accomplishments range from financing an anticommunism film used by the Pentagon in the Cold War to, in recent years, bringing together the warring leaders of the Congo and Rwanda in the first of a string of meetings that led to a peace treaty. The Fellowship (Getter’s preferred label for the group) also has brought several notorious, right-wing Latin American generals to Washington for prayer meetings — men connected to the torture of civilians and CIA-linked death squads.
Getter quotes the group’s long-time leader, Doug Coe, 73, as saying that its mission is to establish a "family of friends" around the world by spreading the word of Jesus to powerful people: "The people that are involved in this association . . . are the worst and the best. Some are total despots. Some are totally religious. You can find what you want to find."
Members, who carry no cards and are very loosely defined, are required to keep quiet about their activities. But publicly available documents reveal that the Fellowship Foundation — a central legal entity, but far from the only one involved with the group — has an $11-million-a-year budget and a board of directors including Grace Nelson, wife of Florida’s Democratic US Senator Bill Nelson. Its president is Richard Carver, Air Force assistant secretary under President Reagan. Its rich backers include Jerome Lewis, a Denver oilman; Republican contributor Michael Timmis; and Paul Temple, a Maryland investor. Among members, Getter writes, are congressmen who are in charge of the State Department and foreign-aid budgets.
"It’s an incredibly secretive, powerful group that has entree all around the world," Getter said in an interview about her article. "It has tentacles everywhere."
The group was founded by Abraham Vereide, a Methodist minister who, in 1930s’ Seattle, thought he could fight Socialist influence in local government through the power of prayer groups. He took his idea to Washington during World War 2, where the political establishment — particularly, the right — embraced him. The first National Prayer Breakfast was held in 1953, with President Eisenhower in attendance. One of Vereide’s first supporters on Capitol Hill was Senator Ralph Owen Brewster, a Maine Republican who had won a term as governor in the 1920s by gaining the support of the Klu Klux Klan, and who himself may have been a Klan member.
In addition to 133 C Street, the organization owns a $4.4-million estate, the Cedars, just outside the District of Columbia in Arlington, Virginia, as well as a number of homes near the Cedars, some of which house young men and women who serve both as apprentices in the Fellowship and servants for the Cedars. The mansion is a political and religious meeting place for the rich and powerful as well as a hideaway for the likes of Michael Jackson and various ethically or maritally challenged members of Congress.
The C Street Center where Baldacci lived is used for "prayer meetings, fellowship meetings, evangelical meetings," according to a Fellowship lawyer quoted in Getter’s article. "Our mission is Capitol Hill."
Getter, in an interview, maintained "if you lived there, you’re part of the Fellowship." She was given a tour. "It’s a gorgeous place," she said. A $1.1-million three-story brick townhouse, it was once a Catholic nunnery and, after that, headquarters of the quite secular Public Citizen, a public-interest watchdog group founded by Ralph Nader.
In her piece, Getter mentions Second District Representative Baldacci as a resident of 133 C Street, along with other congressmen including Representative Zach Wamp (R-TN), Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI), and Senator John Ensign, a Republican from Nevada. A second US senator, Sam Brownback (R-KS) now lives there.
Another investigative writer, Jeffrey Sharlet, whose piece "Jesus Plus Nothing: Undercover Among America’s Secret Theocrats" appeared in the March Harper’s, also visited 133 C Street. In order to write about the organization, he joined its young acolytes who work at C Street as well as at the Cedars. He calls the organization "the Family." In an interview, he said that’s the name he heard exclusively.
The members of Congress who live at C Street, Sharlet writes, are "brothers in Christ just like us, only more powerful. We scrubbed their toilets, hoovered their carpets, polished their silver." In the interview, he described C Street as a place for "centering your decision-making on Christ."
Sharlet, in both interview and Harper’s article, sees the Family as a scary institution — not exactly conspiratorial, he said, but behind-the-scenes activists whose work is troubling. Among his observations:
• "The most important thing for them is power," and the ultimate goal of the Family is "a government built by God."
• "Doug Coe is one of the most important people on the planet."
• Coe — whom he described as "frighteningly charismatic" — and his son David Coe, the Family’s heir apparent, refer to the Mafia and Hitler as role models in the acquisition of power, although, in the Family’s case, power is gathered to spread the word of Jesus. "You guys are here to learn how to rule the world," he quotes David Coe telling the residents at the house — called Ivanwald — where he lived with the other male apprentices/servants.
• The group, although bipartisan, is deeply conservative. While somewhat opposed to institutionalized Christianity, "they have a deep affection for the military" and see themselves as waging "spiritual war." In his instruction by the Family, he heard about "biblical capitalism" — laissez-faire capitalism. Among those involved, he writes, are many prominent corporate executives as well as John Ashcroft, the attorney general, and Charles Colson, the Nixon aide convicted in the Watergate scandal who became an evangelist.
• In the Family’s prayer groups, or cells, a central idea, Sharlet said, is to cede your life to the authority of the group. Yet membership makes you part of "a chosen, and if you’re in leadership, God has chosen you." He believed this kind of thinking "starts shifting you rightward."page 1 page 2
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