Everybody Loves Jesus
...and has been, since 1953, when Eisenhower's pal Senator Frank Carlson finagled Ike into attending the first such event as payback for services rendered. It was Carlson and his Christian conservative allies, after all, who'd smoothed the way for Ike's nomination by brokering deals with the old school conservative champion and presumed 1952 Republican nominee, Robert Taft. Ike didn't want to go -- he feared setting a precedent for the erosion of church/state separation -- but there was a debt to be paid, and besides, Jesus was proving awful helpful in the propaganda wars with the Soviet Union.
Ancient history. Today, the National Prayer Breakfast is a gathering of all faiths, in Jesus' name. To be fair, the organization that produces it -- so deliberately lowkey that they encourage the misperception that it's an official government event -- tones down its true strangeness in honor of the attendance of the president and hundreds of congressmen. For instance, they don't bring up what they consider the leadership lessons of... Hitler. Yes, Hitler. The "Prayer Breakfast folks," as they prefer to be called if they must be called anything at all, are not Nazis, of course -- they just admire strength. In Jesus' name, that is. Here's how it works according to Doug Coe, the de facto leader of the Prayer Breakfast folks (internally, the group calls itself the Family):
That's from a 2003 article I wrote about the Family for Harper's, "Jesus Plus Nothing." Congressman Tiahrt, presumably fortified by "total Jesus," has since becoming one of the House's most conservative zealots. But the Family is not only ecumenical in Jesus' name, it's also bi-partisan, as Joshua Frank made clear with his November Atlantic Monthly profile of Hillary Clinton, a participant in the Family's weekly prayer meeting for senators.
The truth is that the Prayer Breakfast is perhaps the most bi-partisan, ecumenical, profoundly bland event in the Washington calendar. The Family likes it that way. As Coe, whom Time dubbed the "stealth persuader" in its list of the 25 most powerful evangelicals once put it, the Prayer Breakfast is "not even one tenth of one tenth of what we really do." Rather, the Family considers it a recruiting event: 4000 dignitaries attend the breakfast, some lesser number attend the three days of seminars for oil, banking, and defense execs (and the pols who love them) on the Jesus-plus-nothing approach to business and diplomacy, and a few of those graduate into prayer cells, modeled, according to the Family's internal documents, on a revolutionary vanguard, as I reported in a Rolling Stone profile of Family cell member (cellist? cellie?) Senator Sam Brownback:
"Communists use cells as their basic structure," declares a confidential Fellowship document titled "Thoughts on a Core Group." "The mafia operates like this, and the basic unit of the Marine Corps is the four-man squad. Hitler, Lenin and many others understood the power of a small group of people."
That Hitler! Kind of an asshole, but he sure had some neat ideas about secret, anti-democratic organizing.
Many of these cells include or "adopt" foreign officials, the better to increase the bonds of brotherhood between the "powers that be," as Romans 13:1 puts it. So who are this year's potential initiates? I'm not reporting on this breakfast, but a quick survey of the world press reveals a promising bunch:
--From Pakistan, Minister of State for Privatization and Investment, Umar Ahmad Ghuman, leads a delegation (including the famously corrupt former prime minister Benazir Bhutto) to this "exclusive club" in which they hope to share prayer with a list of American bigs, ranging from Condoleeza Rice to John Negroponte to Joe Pitts. Joe Pitts? Of course -- the House chair of the Christian Right Values Action team, and an inner circle member of the Family.
--From Taiwan, a favorite of the Christian Right since 1949, comes former Premier Frank Hsieh as an official envoy, seeking "solidarity" with "influential members of Congress." Oh, and Jesus, too.
--From Sudan, General Ali Ahmed Karti, linked to genocide in Darfur, will come to thank the American Christ for his disinterest;
--From Bulgaria, Minister of Defense Veselin Bliznakov, who boasts that he
--From Macedonia, Defense Minister Lazar Elenovsk has come to combine prayer with the president and a visit to the Pentagon;
There are many more, of course, not to mention thousands of American businesspeople, military officials and politicians who use the Prayer Breakfast and the three days of off-the-record events that follow as an opportunity to make special friends. But I couldn't tell you who they'll be this year, because the Family doesn't release a guest list.
Not that the press asks. I covered the 2003 National Prayer Breakfast for the Jewish Forward. To get in, I had to go through the White House Press Office. Which, of course, has nothing to do with the private, sectarian event. Except handling the press. And not very well, I might add -- at first, I was denied a press pass on the seemingly reasonable grounds that I was calling too late (the day before). So I asked who else would be representing the Jewish press at this ecumenical event. "Umm..." came the response. Soon after came a call back. I was in. In, and given my own private White House press office handler, no less, an evangelical shiksa instructed to help "the Jewish reporter" understand prayer.
To be fair, she was the only person there who asked tough questions ("How are you going to present this?" "You're going to include the fact that Senator Lieberman is here, right?" "Did you see Congressman Cantor? He's Jewish, you know"). The rest of the press corps dutifully sat through prayers from Bush and Condoleeza Rice and then made a run for it, eager to cover "politics," the big leagues, the stuff that matters. The rest of the Prayer Breakfast, and the deals it fosters, and the simultaneous Prayer Breakfasts held at U.S. military bases around the world -- the "iceberg," as Doug Coe once put it -- remained under the surface.
Everybody Loves Jesus | 7 comments (7 topical, 0 hidden)
Everybody Loves Jesus | 7 comments (7 topical, 0 hidden)