Over the past few days, I've done some writing expressing concern regarding some revelations that Jeff Sharlet will be discussing extensively in his new book "The Family"--including information regarding apparently widespread and systemic use of pyramid-scheme-esque "cell church" groups, of which Hillary Clinton would appear to have been inducted through at least one, possibly two, levels of indoctrination within at least two separate cells within the group. There's also some real concern that some of the same "bad habits" of this particular type of religious pyramid scheme may be showing up in "The Family's" cells as well--one of which we'll discuss today.
The news re cell-church groups in "The Family" is probably not going to be the only bombshell released by Sharlet's upcoming book. My question is, what has "The Family" so spooked that they've apparently sealed all recent records about the group even to their own members?
What has "The Family" so spooked?
Up until 2003, "The Family" did have an archive where people could look up the history of the org at Wheaton College, a private Christian liberal-arts college in Illinois. Specifically, the archives of "The Family" were open to anyone who cared to visit the archives of the Billy Graham Center, Wheaton College's school of evangelism.
This changed rather suddenly when one of the first articles Sharlet wrote regarding "The Family" saw print--specifically, "Jesus Plus Nothing" (which was, incidentially, in large part the article that broke the "private face" of "The Family" to the world) was published by Harper's Magazine back in March 2003.
"Jesus Plus Nothing" was the first article to extensively document "The Family" and its political connections--and it suddenly had the group running scared.
All of seven months after the article had seen print, "The Family" locked down its archives to an unprecedented extent--in fact, to an extent that even the Scientologists haven't taken:
[November 7, 2007]
Fellowship Foundation; 1935-
Records; 1937-1988; n.d.
592 boxes (592 DC; 240 cubic feet); Audio Tapes, Films, Negatives, Photographs
In November 2003, after consultation with the board of the Fellowship Foundation, the Archives placed the following restriction on the use of this collection:
All folders with paper records less than twenty-five years old are closed to users until January 1st of the year following the 25th anniversary of the creation of the youngest document in that file, except to those users with the written permission of the President of the Fellowship Foundation. This restriction applies to everyone, including Foundation staff and associates.
Example: A folder containing material dated no later 1977 would be open January 1, 2003.
Researchers use this collection by the box instead of by the folder. Restricted folders will be removed from boxes before they are given to researchers.
Yes, you are reading this right--not even known members and elites of "The Family" have access to their archives after 1983 at present without written permission of the (figurehead) President of the Fellowship Foundation--archives which include practically all recent political activity, and permission which is unlikely to be granted except to people writing favourably about the group.
The group literally has locked down their records to even prevent their own from looking into the archives and discovering potential skunkworks; "The Family" locked things down in part to prevent anyone from confirming Sharlet's research--or doing research on their own.
Our question is--just what has Sharlet written that has "The Family" so panicked as to put restrictions on their own archives akin to what the US government uses for information they want to keep even more restricted than "top secret"? Why hide the info even from their own membership?
The list of information that is now inaccessible includes many of the audio reels of the National Prayer Breakfast, as well as--interestingly (and possibly one reason the archives were sealed) the records regarding the sale of the apartment complex "The Family" rented out for its "member" elite:
1994 Fellowship House in Washington, DC, sold. The organizational center (although that is perhaps too formal a designation for a very low key presence) for the movement was at The Cedars on 24th Street in Arlington, which the Foundation had owned for several years. Wallace Haines retired and returned to the United States, although he remained active in the organization's work.
Another reason they may be wishing to "hide the archives" is because of some very interesting info on "members", "associates", and apparently a core cadre of "The Family" that gives info about its cell-group structure:
The headquarters of the fellowship was known as Fellowship House. This was not so much an office building as a place for seminars, dinners, Bible studies, and informal meetings of all types. This section contains several folders of information on the administration and activities of Fellowship House.
There are several folders on Core, which is the name given to the group of fellowship leaders that got together regularly to pray and plan the fellowship's activities. Similarly, several files with "Group" or "Groups" in the title are brought together under "G," these contain information on the early days of the fellowship and the formation of prayer groups around the country. Except for Vereide, Halverson and Douglas Coe (for each of whom, there is a series) all the people involved prominently in the fellowship at one time or another, such as James Bell, Frank Carlson, Chuck Colson, Billy Graham, Wallace Haines, Mark Hatfield, Fred Heyn, Karlis Leyasmeyer, Albert Quie, and Paul Temple have one or more folders of material in this section.
(Halverson was the leader of "The Fellowship" in between Vereide and Coe.)
The list of names is interesting--we've discussed Chuck Colson before in regards to promotion of "faith-based coercion" with literal captive audiences, and Billy Graham's name is not a surprise to see there. Some of the names are more obscure, but have some particularly telling links--Karlis Leyasmeyer, for instance, used to give "stomp the commies for Christ" talks and openly promoted his links to "The Family Foundation" under its previous d/b/a "International Christian Leadership" as well as a Campus Crusade-esque group called "Youth For Christ" (essentially YFC was Billy Graham's answer to Campus Crusade).
One bit that I'm surprised they weren't able to squelch was information regarding a possible steeplejack attempt on the Jaycees:
For much of its history, particularly in the 1960s and '70s, the fellowship had a close relationship with the Junior Chamber of Commerce or Jaycees, both the United States and the International branches. The groups planned various joint events together and supplied speakers for each other's conferences. Material on this relationship is scattered throughout the collection, but a great deal is in boxes 415-419.
One thing that they almost undoubtedly were trying to squelch was info on Douglas Coe:
VII. Douglas Coe. Boxes 512-540. Among the materials in this section are correspondence on most aspects of the Foundation's work; minutes of the boards of various fellowship organizations; briefing letters sent to Core members about fellowship activities; Core planning materials; file on the formal organization of Prison Fellowship; materials on retreats Coe participated in; files on the various international trips he took, plans for a worldwide call to prayer including among other Presidents Jimmy Carter and Daniel Moi and Pope John Paul II.
For that matter, they may well have been trying to hide info on the "Core" members:
VIII. Board Materials. Boxes 541-568. These files contain minutes, bylaw, executive committee materials, and reports for the various overlapping organizations that, in one sense, made of the fellowship. This includes ICL, ICCL, Fellowship Foundation, Fellowship Council, Leadership Council, and Fellowship House. There is also a great deal of information on the history of the fellowship as well as Core materials, a policy handbook, from the French ICL a mimeographed manuscript by Pierre Tillard de Chardin entitled "Le Coeur de la Matiere", and some tax records.
Of course, one can understand just why "The Family" might be running scared. After Sharlet's initial article "Jesus Plus Nothing" came out, Lara Lakes Jordan found the tax records for "Fellowship House" and outed the six Congressmen living there (this is part of why "C Street Foundation" was, likely, organised as a ministry--to take advantage of the "church form 990 loophole" to avoid further embarrassing revelations).
What we do know so far is that in 1972, the group reorganised under a largely cell-based "decentralised" structure--in order to make it harder to shut down (this has been compared by Sharlet to the cells used by Communist groups; I myself compare it to the "leaderless resistance" tactic used by "Christian Patriot" militia groups, and both the militias and "The Family" likely borrowed it from neopentecostal dominionists and their initial use of cell-church pyramids to set up "cuckoo congregations" in mainstream churches) and harder to trace where all the money is going. Researchers have noted that by 1985 "The Fellowship Foundation" had over 150 ministries either receiving funds from it or as active "Family" frontgroups proper; part of why "The Family" may have sealed its records is in an attempt to prevent people from following their documentation to see what groups got which funding and which groups are overt fronts.
At any rate...I'm already very, very interested in just WHAT Sharlet has written that has "The Family" so very worried.
More worries regarding possible coercive tactics?
One thing that has generally been regarded as a danger sign by experts in coercive religious groups is the use of compartmentalised info--that is, only certain levels within the group are privy to certain info about it. It's considered a danger sign for two reasons--one, you can't do a full evaluation on whether you want to be in the group unless you're already in it; secondly, it makes things easy to hide from newer recruits (including some of the potentially more harmful stuff).
In fact, one of the more extensive tests of "coerciveness" of groups--Steven Hassan's BITE Model--has an entire section on this, the "Information Control" axis, that in two separate sections describes how groups using a "cell church" structure can be intrinsically abusive:
II. Information Control
1. Use of deception
a. Deliberately holding back information
b. Distorting information to make it acceptable
c. Outright lying
. . .
3. Compartmentalization of information; Outsider vs. Insider doctrines
a. Information is not freely accessible
b. Information varies at different levels and missions within pyramid
c. Leadership decides who "needs to know" what
Since 2003, "The Family" has met both of these criteria--largely in reaction to the writing of Jeff Sharlet. Not only do members typically deny the existence of the organisation outright (or at least did, until recently); not only does the group have documented use of cell groups and restriction of even reading of their own Bibles; not only does the group have documented and extensive links with other promoters of highly coercive tactics--but now we must add "restriction of info even to its own members" to the list of potential coercive tactics.
More and more, evidence is pointing to not only political manipulation by "The Family"--but there are more and more signs of potential abuse of its own members. This is something I desperately hope is wrong--but the more I read, and the more I dig, the more I do become concerned. (The fact that even other members of "The Family" are not allowed access to the archives is especially damning to me--if the group is worried about researchers, they could lock down the archives to non-"Family" members, but this points to the group being very afraid that someone in the group might hear something unsavory and do some digging themselves.)
Again, we wonder--just what has "The Family" so shook up about the fact that even their own "friends" are now feared as wanting to look behind the curtain?
And to you, Mr. Sharlet--thank you, again, for proving that The Truth Will Out. You've apparently done some good work, if they're *that* scared.