Here is hoping that shedding light on the organization, which among other things was largely responsible for Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” bill, gets some much deserved scrutiny as a result.
From the Illuminati to the freemasons to QAnon, there’s no shortage of conspiracy theories trying to explain how power is accumulated and shared in Washington, D.C. But the wide-ranging network of politicians, world leaders, and men of faith that make up the Fellowship isn’t mere conspiracy theory: it’s 100 percent true. What’s more, some of its members are speaking on the record about it for the first time in the new five-part Netflix series The Family, directed by documentarian Jesse Moss.
The Fellowship, also known as the Family, is a highly secretive group of evangelical Christian men who meet for Bible study and prayer meetings; it’s best known for serving as the organizer of the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual gathering of diplomats and world leaders in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1935 by a man named Abraham Veride, the Fellowship initially arose from Vereide trying to arrange a meeting of business owners to crush laborers’ attempts at organizing. Over the course of the past 75 years, it has evolved into what some have referred to as a secret theocracy, or an underground movement of prominent Christian men who exert their influence not just in the United States, but abroad as well.
Fellowship members operate under a veil of secrecy, which is by design; Fellowship head Douglas Coe, who died in 2017, believed that the group could best exert its influence that way. Its members include senators, diplomats, and religious leaders around the world: Sen. Chuck Grassley, Sen. Jim Inhofe, and Rep. Bart Stupak have been linked to the group, while Vice President Mike Pence and attorney general Jeff Sessions have also been referred to as “friends of the Family.” And it’s a testament to the persistence of the production team that a handful of Fellowship members, including former Congressman Zach Wamp, speak on the record for the first time about the organization in the series. Moss attributes their willingness to talk in part to the organization’s attempts to “adapt to the 21st century with a greater degree of transparency, though only time will tell if that’s true.” Sharlet, however, has a slightly different take: “They’re not opening the doors. They’re not becoming transparent. That simply hasn’t happened. But they do want to have their say.”
The primary way the Fellowship maintains influence, the series argues, is through the National Prayer Breakfast, which every president since Eisenhower has attended over the past 50 years. Though many consider the Prayer Breakfast something of a “banal event,” according to Moss, he says, “It’s really quite an impressive demonstration of influence and power.”
In its efforts to consolidate its power, the Family has extended its tentacles overseas. One episode of The Family focuses in large part on a trip that Rep. Robert Aderholt, a right-wing politician tied to the group, made to Romania to campaign for anti-LGBTQ rights and advocate for Christian policy. Members of the Family have also aligned themselves with global leaders who had committed atrocities in their home countries, including Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi, who once prayed with Coe. “In the face of all these dictators, they don’t say anything at all,” says Sharlet. “They don’t ask any accountability.”
This is a group that literally orchestrated the introduction of a bill that had the death penalty for homosexuality.
They are dangerous fundamentalist extremists.