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Response to Grins (Reply #15)

Sat Jul 31, 2021, 05:24 PM

16. +1. Excellent book


My “brothers” were members of a very peculiar group of believers, not representative of the majority of Christians but of an avant-garde of the social movement I call American fundamentalism, a movement that recasts theology in the language of empire. Avant-garde is a term usually reserved for innovators, artists who live strange and dangerous lives and translate their strange and dangerous thoughts into pictures or poetry or fantastical buildings. The term has a political ancestry as well: Lenin used it to describe the elite cadres he believed could spark a revolution. It is in this sense that the men to whom my brothers apprenticed themselves, a seventy-year-old self-described “invisible” network of followers of Christ in government, business, and the military, use the term avant-garde. They call themselves “the Family,” or “The Fellowship,” and they consider themselves a “core” of men responsible for changing the world. “Hitler, Lenin, and many others understood the power of a small core of people,” instructs a document given to an inner circle, explaining the scope, if not the ideological particulars, of the ambition members of this avant-garde are to cultivate.1 Or, as a former Ivanwald brother who’d used his Ivanwald connections to find a foothold in the insurance industry told my brothers and me during a seminar on “biblical capitalism,” “Look at it like this: take a bunch of sticks, light each one of ’em on fire. Separate, they go out. Put ’em together, though, and light the bundle. Now you’re ready to burn.”

Hitler, to the Family, is no more real than Attila the Hun as drafted by business gurus who promise unstoppable “leadership” techniques drawn from history’s killers; or for that matter Christ, himself, as rendered in a business best seller called Jesus, CEO. The Family’s avant-garde is not composed of neo-Nazis, or crypto-Nazis, or fascists by any traditional definition; they are fundamentalists, and in this still-secular age, fundamentalism is a religion of both affluence and revolution.


The more I learned about the Family, the more difficulty I had in classifying its theology. It is Protestant, to be sure, though there are Catholic members. Its leadership regards with disdain not only the mainline denominations, but also evangelicals they consider “lukewarm.” And yet they distance themselves from the bullying of televangelists and moral scolds as well, in part because of theological differences (Jesus, they believe, instructs them to cultivate the powerful regardless of their doctrinal purity) and in part based on style (the Family believes in a subtler evangelism). “They take the same approach to religion that Ronald Reagan took to economics,” says a Senate staffer named Neil MacBride, a political liberal with conservative evangelical convictions that put him at odds with the Family’s unorthodox fundamentalism. “Reach the elite, and the blessings will trickle down to the underlings.”


But at Ivanwald, or in a prayer cell at the Cedars, or in conversations with world leaders, the Family’s beliefs appear closer to a more marginal set of theologies sometimes gathered under the umbrella term of dominionism, characterized for me by William Martin, a religious historian at Rice University and Billy Graham’s official biographer, as the “intellectual heart of the Christian Right.” Dominionist theologies hold the Bible to be a guide to every decision, high and low, from whom God wants you to marry to whether God thinks you should buy a new lawn mower. Unlike neo-evangelicals, who concern themselves chiefly with getting good with Jesus, dominionists want to reconstruct early Christian society, which they believe was ruled by God alone. They view themselves as the new chosen and claim a Christian doctrine of covenantalism, meaning covenants not only between God and humanity but at every level of society, replacing the rule of law and its secular contracts. Since these covenants are signed, as it were, in the Blood of the Lamb, they are written in ink invisible to nonbelievers.


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LineLineReply +1. Excellent book
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