The House of Jesus

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The Royal Janitor


John Presco

Chapter: The House of Jesus

Victoria Rosemond Bond Goggled – Putin, Doug Coe – and was looking at the redheaded Russian Miriam was supposed to have done a report on.

“Look who I found! At The Prayer Breakfast. Where’s your report. It’s two weeks late! We could have – arrived – sooner! Like in – not later!”

“Get off my case. You made me jealous. You were talking behind my back with Clive de Rougemont. I could feel – that! I was right……..You “_______!”

“How dare you call me a “______!” You…..”______!”

Admiral Swineburne touched a button on the Bentley dashboard, and upped rolled the window that isolated the BAD Spies in the back seat. He had excused himself several times while these two agents went at it. Every now and then – they had to clear the deck! In a few minutes the Russian Swearfest would be over – and all would be forgotten. This is why The Wizard wanted two women running the show. Men can really hold a grudge for a log time. Before you know it, your best friend has launched a armada to sink your fleet.

“What the hell? Coe is Hillary Clinton’s – GURU – too!” Victoria was pissed. “Why am I looking at photos of Hillary and Mariia Butina?”

“What I don’t get, is, Phil Knight is fueling THE BIG LIE with millions of Sneaker Bucks! Doesn’t he think anyone is going to – NOTICE?”

“He just gifted the University of Oregon with $400,000,000 million dollars to build a science building of some kind. You think at least one student would say something about his powerful desire to get a Republican Governor elected – AGAIN – and turn Oregon into a Red Jesus State – forever! That’s what his kin, Mark Hatfield, wanted. Were Mark and Doug roommates at college?”

“I bet you he wants to build C STREET WEST!”

“On campus?”

“Sure! The best hiding place – is the most obvious! Students aren’t what they used to be. All they care about is thumbing through the newest smart phone, and walking about in the best pair of Nike’s their parents can afford. “

“It’s a Pick Play!” Starfish exclaimed.

“What’s a “pick play?”

“It’s an illegal football play. Knight uses Betsey Johnson, to pick off Tina, so Phil can throw a touchdown pass to her.”

“You’re INTO football,? “

“______ YEAH! I’m a Duck fan!”

“Look, if you put Drazan and Butina side by side – they could pass for sister’s!”

“Some one is playing – GOD!”

“Does God – prefer – redheads?”

“Hmmmmm! Is Drazan old nough to be……..?”

“Butina’s mother?”

“Are those the new Nike ninety-nines””

“Yes. These are the Mark ninety-nines!”

“How much did those set you back. Is BAD paying you enough? Wait a minute. When did you start wearing shoes?”

“What is it to you? Sometimes, I want to be like everyone else!”

Victoria felt there was something wrong. Why wasn’t Starfish doing her PI number thing with 99? Usually she got a Bible lesson, which nauseated her. It wasn’t her thing. She Googled MARK 99.

9And as they came down from the mountain, he charged them that they should tell no man what things they had seen, till the Son of man were risen from the dead.

10And they kept that saying with themselves, questioning one with another what the rising from the dead should mean.

11And they asked him, saying, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come?

Holy shit! Mark Chapter 9 verse 9 is about the secret of the dead rising. But, how can this be a secret? Didn’t Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead?

“What are you doing?” snapped Starfish. Victoria was shocked by the look she was giving her.

“None of your business. Do I have to tell you – everything?”

Victoria worked hard to hide the huge question in her head….What did Doug Coe, show, or tell all those powerful people that won them over – in a short period of time. Mark Hatfield – was SOLD! But, what if Hatfield……was the one, the guy with the real deal?

To be continued

( Author’s Note; I took a nap after posting, and when I awoke the Mark99 question was waiting for me)

Members of the group concede that some people may seek their fellowship for reasons other than a wish to grow in Jesus. In the early nineteen-nineties, a Russian media entrepreneur named Vladimir Gusinsky, who’d had a falling-out with Vladimir Putin, was looking West for new opportunities. He hired the public-relations firm APCO, which specializes in crisis management, to help introduce him in the United States. One of the APCO executives handling Gusinsky was Don Bonker, the former Democratic congressman, and an established figure within the Fellowship. Bonker brought Gusinsky, a secular Jew, to the Cedars to meet Doug Coe. “We emerged from that meeting, and we were walking to the limo, and Gusinsky stopped me,” Bonker recalls. “He said, ‘That is an amazing man. I want to come back here and see him again.’ ”

Gusinsky attended the Prayer Breakfast the next year, and has missed only one of the events in the years since. In 1998, when Coe and a group of his close associates made a whirlwind trip through the former republics of the Soviet Union, meeting with leaders introduced by friends in the international network, Gusinsky provided a 727 with a full crew to transport them. It is impossible, ultimately, to know the motivation of someone like Gusinsky, who comes from a political culture in which proximity to power is everything. The Fellowship meant entrée to a rarefied circle, and the prospect of shaking hands with a President. “There’s this whole Washington phenomenon, related to access to power and the aphrodisiac of power,” Michael Cromartie, of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, says. “You bring an oligarch over to the Cedars and he says, ‘Ah, these are my kind of people. They have pictures on the wall of all these Presidents, they seem to be in touch with power, they know people with money, this will help my business.’

Why Mariia Butina wasn’t the only Russian targeting the National Prayer Breakfast

By Deseret News Jul 18, 2018, 4:19pm PDT

Jack Jenkins, Religion News Service

Mariia Butina, leader of a pro-gun organization in Russia, speaks to a crowd during a rally in support of legalizing the possession of handguns in Moscow, on April 21, 2013. Butina, a 29-year-old gun-rights activist, served as a covert Russian agent while
Mariia Butina, leader of a pro-gun organization in Russia, speaks to a crowd during a rally in support of legalizing the possession of handguns in Moscow, on April 21, 2013. Butina, a 29-year-old gun-rights activist, served as a covert Russian agent while living in Washington, gathering intelligence on American officials and political organizations and working to establish back-channel lines of communications for the Kremlin, federal prosecutors charged July 16, 2018.

The unsealing of an affidavit this week charging 29-year-old Mariia Butina with “conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation” was yet another bombshell in the investigation into what U.S. intelligence agencies describe as Russian attempts to influence American elections and politics throughout 2016.

But buried within the Justice Department’s affidavit was a peculiar detail: Butina, a Russian citizen living in the U.S., allegedly sought to influence U.S. officials not only through organizations such as the National Rifle Association, but also by exploiting the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual event in Washington, D.C., that typically includes a speech by the president of the United States.

According to the affidavit, Butina intended to use the 2017 prayer breakfast as a way to gather a group of influential Russians in the U.S. to “establish a back channel of communication” with Americans. She allegedly described the list of Russian attendees to the prayer breakfast as “populated by important political advisors to Russian President (Vladimir) Putin, university presidents, mayors, and substantial private businessmen.”Report ad

She also reportedly discussed with a colleague the possibility of bringing Putin to meet President Trump at the event, although that meeting did not ultimately occur.

Using a religious event to broker unsanctioned political communication may seem like an unorthodox ploy. But evidence suggests sustained links between Russian officials and the National Prayer Breakfast that potentially opened the gathering up to exploitation.

President Trump speaks during the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 2, 2017, in Washington.
President Trump speaks during the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 2, 2017, in Washington.

Glenn Simpson, co-founder of the investigative firm Fusion GPS, noted the possibility of Russian efforts to infiltrate American religious groups during his appearance before the House Intelligence Committee on Nov. 14, 2017. (Fusion GPS has become a controversial organization in its own right because of a dossier it produced that included salacious claims about Trump and his alleged connections to Russia.)

These interactions alone do not inherently imply nefarious intent, but they do provide context as to why Russia would target faith groups to influence American politics.

The National Prayer Breakfast is notable, even in Washington, for its political spectacle and for the suspicion surrounding the group that organizes it — namely, the entity often referred to as the International Foundation, sometimes called “the Family” or “the Fellowship.”

Broadly devoted to Jesus but not tied to any Christian denomination, the foundation — which is often described as a network instead of an organization — holds almost mythical status among D.C.’s power brokers. Its organizers often refuse to divulge guest lists, preferring to offer sanctuary to meetings between American politicians and global leaders, without government or media scrutiny.Report ad

What’s more, participants appear to see ultimate value in meetings and relationships seemingly irrespective of the motives of those present.

“We don’t really care why they come because God’s a big guy, he can take care of himself,” one organizer, Tony Hall, told academic Michael Lindsay when Lindsay studied the prayer breakfast in 2006.

But if the charges against Butina are true, it shows how the fusion of the foundation’s influence and dedication to anonymity may have allowed it to become a target for political exploitation and potential international espionage.

Alleged Russian agent Mariia Butina, left, and Russian politician Alexander Torshin at the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast. President Trump spoke from the podium in the background.
Alleged Russian agent Mariia Butina, left, and Russian politician Alexander Torshin at the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast. President Trump spoke from the podium in the background.

The affidavit released this week cites a 2017 email from Butina to a prayer breakfast organizer in which she thanks the person for allowing her group to attend “and the very private meeting that followed.” The organizer in the affidavit is unnamed, but the de facto director of the prayer breakfast is Doug Burleigh, who effectively took over after the death of its previous leader (and Burleigh’s father-in-law) Doug Coe, in February 2017.

In April 2018, Alexander Torshin, a Russian politician who reportedly worked with Butina and closely matches the description of an unnamed “Russian official” in the affidavit, was sanctioned by the U.S. government, but only after he spent years forging alliances with American leaders — including religious ones.

According to Yahoo News, Torshin initially set up a meeting with Trump before the 2017 prayer breakfast on Feb. 2. But White House officials canceled after learning that Torshin, who is also a close ally of Putin, has suspected ties to organized crime and a money-laundering ring.Report ad

One year later, Russian interest in the National Prayer Breakfast only strengthened. Some outlets reported that an atypically large delegation of Russians — as many as 60 — planned to attend the 2018 event.

Jim Slattery, a former Democratic congressman from Kansas who maintains ties to the National Prayer Breakfast and attended in 2018, acknowledged Russia “probably had the largest group” of any country that year.

Slattery, who said he has seen prayer breakfast guest lists, did not respond to requests to confirm whether Torshin had attended. The former congressman did, however, say that Torshin was formally invited.

It was unclear why the delegation had descended on the gathering, but as one unnamed Russian evangelical bishop told CNN’s Dan Burke: “I suppose the majority of members of the (Russian) delegation don’t want to pray; they want to mingle” and “try to solve their own problems, that is — their name possibly appearing in future sanctions lists.”

Torshin was sanctioned two months after the prayer breakfast.

As for Butina, Slattery said in an email, “I do not believe Maria Butina attended the 2018 breakfast,” adding, “I do not know for sure but I am 95% sure.” ad

Torshin’s connection to the foundation spans two continents. The network operates globally, as other nations hold prayer breakfasts modeled after the American version — including Russia.

But Russians created what appears to be an entirely new “business” prayer breakfast in May 2017. The glitzy event featured Torshin and Burleigh as speakers.

Burleigh, who also once headed up the American Christian youth organization Young Life, has spoken in the past about his extensive work in Russia. According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, he delivered a speech at a 2016 event in Kansas alongside then-Gov. Sam Brownback — now U.S. ambassador for religious freedom — where he mentioned his 50 years leading evangelical efforts in Russia.

Burleigh appeared to repeat these remarks at the business prayer breakfast in Russia. A YouTube video of the event shows Burleigh noting that he has visited the country “for 52 years.”

The same video also shows an interview with Burleigh after the event, where he praised dialogue between Trump and Putin and said the “press hates Trump” in the United States.

Burleigh declined requests for a full on-the-record interview with Religion News Service but did confirm that he keynoted the event where Torshin also spoke, adding that he did not personally organize the event. Neither Burleigh nor the FBI would officially confirm whether he has been contacted by the bureau.

Franklin Graham tweeted a photo of meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in April 2017.
Franklin Graham tweeted a photo of meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in April 2017.

Prayer breakfast diplomacy was hardly Torshin’s or other Russian officials’ only attempt to use American religious leaders to connect with Trump and his family.

It has been widely reported that Torshin and Butina allegedly attempted to broker a 2016 meeting between Trump and Putin in Moscow at a “Persecuted Christians Summit” organized by American religious leader Franklin Graham, whose father, Billy Graham, played a crucial role in organizing the first National Prayer Breakfast in 1953.

According to Yahoo News, conservative activist Rick Clay conveyed Torshin’s offer to Jared Kushner, who ultimately declined, saying “Be careful.”

The Kremlin reportedly teamed up with leaders from the Russian Orthodox Church — such as church head Patriarch Kirill, who has been accused of being a former KGB agent — to use religious power to exert influence across Europe, according to The New York Times.Report ad

Meanwhile, U.S.-based groups such as the American Family Association, American Center for Law and Justice and National Organization for Marriage all endorsed various anti-gay legislation in Russia.

It remains to be seen what action, if any, the foundation and its leaders will take in response to Butina’s arrest. But a line from one of the Russian national’s alleged emails with a National Prayer Breakfast organizer — penned as she, according to the Justice Department, was actively conspiring against the United States — may prove haunting.

“A new relationship between two countries always begins better when it begins in faith,” she wrote.

The press soon discovered that John Ensign lived at the C Street house. A month later, in the circuit court of Hinds County, Mississippi, Leisha Pickering, the wife of the former Republican congressman Chip Pickering, another resident of the C Street house, filed an alienation-of-affection lawsuit suggesting that Pickering had committed adultery while living there. A picture began to emerge of a boys-gone-wild house of pleasure. The men of C Street, pledged to silence, declined to respond to press inquiries, which only heightened interest (“THE POLITICAL ENCLAVE THAT DARE NOT SPEAK ITS NAME,” a Washington Post headline read). Public records revealed little; the house was registered to an obscure evangelical youth group, and enjoyed the tax status of a registered church. Word spread that the tenants were paying below-market rents (about nine hundred dollars a month each), which prompted an inquiry by the Office of Congressional Ethics. Even if the residents had been inclined to talk about the house, some knew nothing more about it than the fact that they made out their monthly checks to “C Street Center.”

The C Street house was known to be associated with a ministry called the Fellowship, a nondenominational entity that sponsored the annual National Prayer Breakfast. But the Fellowship’s more significant work was its invisible ministry to political leaders, dating back to the New Deal era. Through the years, small Fellowship-inspired prayer groups have held weekly meetings in the Pentagon, in the Attorney General’s office, in various congressional hideaways inside the Capitol, and in the White House itself. The Fellowship has offered succor to Bill Clinton and Al Gore, to Dwight Eisenhower and Marion Barry, and to many of the Watergate felons. D. Michael Lindsay, a Rice University sociologist who has studied the ways in which evangelicals have become part of the American élite, was astonished by what he discovered about the Fellowship. “They are the most significant spiritual force in the lives of leaders—especially leaders in Washington—of any entity that I know,” he says. “They are mentioned more often in the interviews I’ve conducted than any other group. They have had a more sustained influence over the decades than any other entity. There is nothing comparable to them.”

Doug Coe has directed the Fellowship for forty years.

The Fellowship avoids publicity for its activities. Heath Shuler, a two-term Democratic representative from North Carolina who lives in the house on C Street and has attended a weekly prayer session sponsored by the Fellowship since he arrived in Washington, recently said, “I’ve been here the whole time, and there’s talk about what the Fellowship is, but I honestly have no idea what they’re talking about. I honestly don’t know what it is.” Tom Coburn acknowledges that influence and secrecy, two of the chief attributes of the Fellowship, make a provocative combination. “Everybody in this town, and probably in the media world, says, Well, if you’re not out front, then you obviously have something to hide,” Coburn says. One view of the Fellowship, with some popularity on the secular left, is of a sort of theocratic Blackwater, advancing a conservative agenda in the councils of power throughout the world. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, a friend of the Fellowship, might dispute that view—if she spoke about the group, which she does not.

The Fellowship’s participants (there is no official membership) describe themselves simply as followers of Jesus, an informal network of friends seeking harmony by modelling their lives after his. They are assertively nondoctrinal (eschewing even the term “Christian”) and nonecclesiastical (denominations tend to be divisive), and although the core figures are evangelicals, they do not believe in proselytizing. I have spoken to Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews who consider themselves part of this network. The group rejects anything resembling a formal structure—there is no titled executive team, and even the name “Fellowship” is unofficial, an informal convenience. The business cards of those leaders who carry them list the individual’s name at the top and addresses and telephone numbers at the bottom, with a blank space in between, where the name of the entity might go. A formal foundation does exist—a 501(c)(3) called the International Foundation, which oversees three hundred or so ministries associated with the Fellowship, and has a board of directors that approves a budget for the ministries (in the fifteen-million-dollar range) and the salaries of the parent entity’s relatively few employees. The Fellowship’s affiliated ministries vary widely in their missions, from operating a secondary school in Uganda to funding a program for inner-city youths in Washington, D.C. The core mission of the Fellowship, however, is interpersonal ministry to the powerful, meant “to turn their hearts to the poor.”

For the past forty years, this mission has been largely driven by one man, a layman from Oregon named Doug Coe. Coe insists that he is not the leader of anything. He sat in on the weekly House and Senate prayer groups for fifty years, speaking only once in all that time. Coe generally avoids interviews and photographers; a few years ago, when Time named him one of the nation’s most influential evangelicals, he tried to persuade the writer not to include him on the list, and, failing that, declined to provide a photograph of himself. His admirers describe him in terms that suggest a near-mystical visionary, with a powerful personal magnetism. “Almost everyone, from the moment they meet Doug Coe, they see he’s somebody special,” Don Bonker, a former Democratic congressman from Washington and a longtime associate of Coe’s, says. In Hillary Clinton’s memoir, “Living History,” she wrote that Coe was “a unique presence in Washington: a genuinely loving spiritual mentor and guide to anyone, regardless of party or faith, who wants to deepen his or her relationship to God.”

In May, I travelled to Arlington, Virginia, where I met Doug Coe. The setting was a Revolutionary War-era mansion called the Cedars, which, since 1978, has served as the Fellowship’s home base. The house sits on seven acres, which rise to the high point of the Potomac palisade, near the Key Bridge, and is secluded by thick woodlands. The Cedars is used as a place for prayer meetings and meals (served by volunteers, as at the C Street house), and as a refuge for friends of the group. It was where William Aramony, the former director of United Way, went when he learned that he was about to be indicted as a swindler, and where Lee Atwater, the Republican political operative, retreated when he learned that he had a brain tumor. Michael Jackson and his family stayed at the Cedars when he came to Washington for a 9/11 memorial concert.

Coe greeted me in the front parlor, and escorted me to a side library. Coe is eighty-one now, and had recently undergone angioplasty, but he did not seem infirm. He was dressed in khaki trousers, a polo shirt, and a sport coat. Sliding into a leather chair, he said, “Tell me your story”—his standard opening with a stranger. Then, in a looping, elliptical narrative, he told me his.

Coe was reared in Salem, Oregon, in a home that valued education (his father was the state superintendent of schools) and the methods of John Wesley. His mother spent hours on her knees in daily prayer and fretted about the soul of her son. Coe, who preferred playing ball to practicing religion, parted from the Church at his earliest opportunity, when he left home for Willamette University to study math and physics. “For me to think that a baby born two thousand years ago to a fifteen-year-old girl in Bethlehem created the solar system—that didn’t make any sense to me,” he said. Other tenets of the faith gave him pause, too. “I just couldn’t figure out a God that would send everybody to Hell except a few of my friends, and my mom and my dad,” he says.

Then one night, alone in his room at Willamette, Coe had a religious experience. He describes it, as many born-again Christians do, as an almost corporeal encounter. He found himself promising to give his life to God’s work—as long as he didn’t have to evangelize, or spend too much time in prayer. He set out to test the efficacy of prayer by composing a list of desirable outcomes, having nothing to do directly with himself, and determined to try to pray them into reality by a certain date. One of the items on his list, he says, was that his favorite professor at school, a political-science instructor, would have a personal experience with Jesus. As the deadline neared, the professor, Mark Hatfield, told Coe that he had “met the Lord.” Coe and Hatfield became close friends and prayer partners, and remained so when Hatfield entered electoral politics, winning a seat in the state legislature, and eventually becoming governor and a U.S. senator. Coe travelled with Hatfield throughout the state, the two of them talking about Jesus as if he were present with them. (As one of the Senate’s most liberal Republicans, Hatfield opposed the Vietnam War, the Reagan tax cuts, and the Gulf War.)

When the big preachers came through Oregon in the early nineteen-fifties, Billy Graham among them, they all stopped by to visit Hatfield, and Coe began to develop a network of important connections. One who made a lasting impression was a Norwegian immigrant named Abraham Vereide, a Methodist preacher who had created a unique ministry that existed outside the organized churches and aimed to change the world by changing the hearts of leaders.

Vereide had arrived in America, which he called the “land of the unchained Bible,” in 1905, at the age of eighteen, with a burning zeal and uncommon drive. He soon made his way from preaching a horseback circuit to a prominent pulpit in downtown Seattle. On his recommendation, the city’s civic leaders created the program that came to be known as Goodwill Industries, putting people to work at reclaiming and reselling surplus goods. In 1934, in a meeting with nineteen of the city’s civic leaders, Vereide proposed that they try to order their lives according to the principles of Jesus. They met again the next week, and the next, with the understanding that the gatherings were utterly secret. “This was an intimate circle,” Vereide wrote, according to “Modern Viking,” a privately published authorized biography by Norman Grubb. “We didn’t dare tell anybody what was going on, or even include anyone else,” Vereide continued. “It was a sharing fellowship.” Vereide began to hear from men across the country (Fiorello LaGuardia sought him out on a trip West), and what had evolved into the prayer-breakfast idea became a national movement. At Vereide’s instigation, a prayer group was started in the House, and then in the Senate, and they continue today. In 1953, Vereide’s friend Senator Frank Carlson, of Kansas, invited the new President, Dwight Eisenhower, to attend a prayer breakfast. It was the first instance of what has become the National Prayer Breakfast, attended annually by every President since.

The real work of the movement, though, was in the small groups of top men (as Vereide described his mission field) which proliferated across the country. Sam Shoemaker, the New York Episcopal priest who helped to devise the Twelve Step program for Alcoholics Anonymous, in the nineteen-thirties, was Vereide’s close friend and adviser, and made key connections for him in New York and in Washington. Thomas Watson, of I.B.M., summoned Vereide to discuss his groups, as did Marvin Coyle, the president of Chevrolet, and J. C. Penney. Prayer groups were spreading overseas, and, by the end of the nineteen-fifties, with Vereide in his seventies, the core group of men around him decided to bring younger blood into the leadership circle. Doug Coe was recruited into the organization, which was then called International Christian Leadership, as field director, in 1959, and when Vereide died, a decade later, Coe effectively became his successor.

Frat House for Jesus

Coe’s flock consisted of a quarter of the members of the House and the Senate, and a wide international network of parliamentarians, potentates, military brass, and business executives. He had no pulpit and no title, and although he was called the “stealth Billy Graham,” he was no preacher. (A video of a talk he once gave to a group of evangelicals shows him prone to disjointed narrative and given to bizarre analogy, suggesting that Christians could use the sort of blind devotion that Maoists, Nazis, and the Mafia understood.) But Coe had a vision for the prayer-group movement that matched Vereide’s, and, in some ways, eclipsed it.

Under Coe, the Fellowship’s work became more focussed on an intensely personal, “relational” ministry to leaders, many of them public leaders, which made absolute trust paramount. What some saw as obsessive secrecy, Coe says, was a necessary privacy. “We’re not being secretive, it’s just that no one advertises that we’ve got a guy here who’s an atheist and is having a problem with his life, or maybe stole money from his country’s treasury,” he said.

The other change under Coe was a refining of the brand of faith that animated the Fellowship. Coe distilled that faith down to the raw teaching of Jesus, as presented in the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and in the first few chapters of the Acts of the Apostles. This approach conformed with Coe’s youthful rebellion against the idea of a God who would condemn all but a particular brand of believer. “They tell Jewish friends, You can’t go to Heaven unless you’re a Christian,” Coe says. “Well, the facts are, if that is true, Isaiah could never go to Heaven, Mary could never go to Heaven, Jesus could never go to Heaven. It’s crazy.”


But there is also a strategic value to this insistently nondoctrinal approach: anybody, of any faith, can admire Coe’s Jesus. Rabbi Jack Bemporad, who works in the field of interreligious relations, met Coe on a trip to Iran several years ago. “He wants to have a way of presenting Jesus so that whoever he’s talking to will find a way of accepting it,” Bemporad says. “He’s not dogmatic and saying, ‘You’ve got to believe in the Trinity,’ or ‘He’s the son of God.’ ” Bemporad became a friend of Coe’s, and has visited the Cedars to speak about Jesus as a teacher of Judaism.

Coe also finds spiritual communion with the Dalai Lama (“the Dalai Lama loves Jesus”), and recently sent me a book of the Dalai Lama’s meditations on the Gospels. Along with a note, Coe slipped in a small tract titled “A Follower of Jesus,” which amounted to a summation of the Fellowship’s creed. The Followers of Jesus, it said, seek “a ‘revolution of love’ so powerful that the division and animosity separating people and nations will be greatly eliminated or replaced by the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation as modeled by Jesus of Nazareth.”

“I can tell you that critics to his right think that Doug is just doctrinally soft and confused,” Michael Cromartie, the vice-president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, and a friend of Coe’s, says. “It’s one thing to be an admirer of Jesus the man, but there are people in the more orthodox world who want to say that Jesus did more than just walk around and teach; he actually did something in history, on the Cross, that is crucial to everything.”

Coe shrinks at the thought of trying to convert anyone. His gift, those close to him say, is for acting as a sort of spiritual adviser. In 1982, when Ed Meese, the White House counsellor, was inconsolable after his son, Scott, was killed in an automobile wreck, a friend in the White House, Herb Ellingwood, suggested that Meese consider trying a small prayer group. The next morning, at six-thirty, Ellingwood and Meese met on the steps of the Pentagon, where they were joined by Doug Coe, whom Meese did not know. They went inside, into the office of another member of their group, General Jack Vessey, who was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Meese was surprised; he had sat across from Vessey at national-security meetings, and had no idea that he was even a Christian. The group met every week at the Pentagon, until Vessey’s retirement, when the prayer sessions moved to the Department of Justice, where Meese was by then presiding as Attorney General. When Meese left the government, the prayer group relocated to the Cedars, where it meets every Tuesday morning.

“It has meant a great deal to me,” Meese told me. “All of us have had family problems, personal problems. It’s a place where you can discuss these problems. You come together in the name of Jesus, so you have a natural kind of bond. And the group dynamics are such that you have total confidence that nothing you are going to say is going to make you vulnerable through your colleagues, which is rare in Washington.”

Meese later got an idea of the Fellowship’s pervasiveness while on a trip to Japan. Coe had told him that a prayer group was meeting at a particular hotel, and Meese, searching the lobby billboard’s long list of events and meetings, finally found a listing for “Small Group,” giving a room number. Meese went to the room, and found the prayer group he was looking for—a group begun years earlier, according to Doug Coe, at the suggestion of Al Gore and James Baker.

In the Coe era, the Fellowship’s international outreach intensified, with an emphasis on a private, faith-based diplomacy that scored several quiet triumphs but also invited a darker interpretation of the Fellowship’s motivations. The prevalent critique of the prayer movement’s overseas involvement was chiefly advanced by the journalist Jeff Sharlet, whose 2008 book, “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power,” painted an evocative portrait of a cultlike vanguard movement that “recasts theology in the language of empire,” and facilitated a right-wing American foreign policy. (A second book, “C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy,” will appear later this month.)

Those involved in the Fellowship’s activities abroad insist that this critique vastly overstates the group’s influence, and misrepresents its motivation. One practitioner of the Fellowship’s private diplomacy is a former federal bureaucrat named Bob Hunter, who was an official in the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Jimmy Carter.

Hunter was a consumer advocate in the Ralph Nader mold. (Indeed, Nader was a friend and colleague, and Hunter marched against the Iraq war carrying a sign reading “The Emperor Has No Clues.”) When he met Doug Coe, in 1978, he had experienced a midlife religious conversion that he credited with saving his marriage, and he was looking for some way to channel his new zeal when a minister friend arranged a visit to the Cedars. Hunter had a liberal’s take on the Gospels. “I was new, I was a blank slate, I didn’t have any biases,” he recalls. “Jesus basically says that helping the poor is the goal. Reach out and help the least among us. I took that seriously. I wanted to know what Jesus was calling me to do.” Coe gave Hunter the prayer test. He urged him to meet in a small group with his new friends in faith, and to start to pray. “He said, ‘You need to try to find something to pray for that’s bigger than yourself. Something that you guys can’t do, because then you can’t take the credit for it, when you start to see these things happen. And they will happen. I would suggest you pray for a place. You can pray for a place, or an idea, something. Places are easier, somehow. Maybe you ought to pray for the District of Columbia—they could use it—or the state of Virginia, or Brazil. Or even a whole continent, like Africa.’ ”

Hunter had no particular interest in foreign affairs at the time, but he and his friends began to pray for Uganda, a place that came to mind, he told me, because Idi Amin was in the news at the time. Soon, they met an Anglican missionary from Uganda, and launched a fund-raising campaign for the Mengo Hospital, in Kampala. Hunter continued to pray, and one day, at an airport, he met a young woman who turned out to be the daughter of Andrew Young, then the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. She introduced him to Young, who helped open many doors in Africa, and eventually Hunter was so well connected that he became an intermediary in getting Nelson Mandela to preside over peace talks for Burundi in 2000.

Hunter brought Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the former African rebel who became Uganda’s President, and other key Ugandan leaders into prayer groups. When Uganda’s Parliament took up a bill last year that would have punished some homosexual acts with death, Hunter and his friends in the Fellowship felt they had the standing to urge the proposed measure’s defeat. Museveni appointed a commission that studied the matter and then recommended that the bill be withdrawn. Using similar connections, in 2001 the Fellowship arranged a secret meeting at the Cedars between the warring leaders Joseph Kabila, the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda, who later signed a peace agreement.

“Have you met my preëxisting condition”

Even friends of the Fellowship, however, acknowledge that the group has made itself vulnerable to unfriendly assessments, because its insistent secrecy and Coe’s indiscriminate outreach to leaders of all kinds raise legitimate questions of accountability. An old friend of Coe’s, the late Washington lawyer Jim Bell, a key figure in the early Fellowship, once said of Coe’s willful political naïveté, “Doug has chosen to be a political eunuch,” a posture that enabled him to befriend, in the name of Jesus, such men as the Somalian dictator Siad Barre.


Coe met Barre in 1980, and in 1983, when he arranged a multi-nation Africa trip for several Fellowship associates, he put Somalia on the itinerary. Coe thought it would be helpful to include a member of Congress in the entourage, and, at the last minute, he asked Chuck Grassley, then a new Republican senator from Iowa, to join. Kent Hotaling, a Coe associate who was on the trip, says that Grassley asked Coe, “What do you want me to do when I get there?”

“Just talk about the Senate group that you’re part of, and how people meeting around Jesus, it helps them work out their differences, and that we’re coming in the name of Jesus for friendship,” Coe told Grassley. Hotaling says that Grassley said just that, and nothing more. “There was nothing from Doug that instructed him to talk politics. He didn’t talk politics.” But Hotaling acknowledges that Barre almost certainly inferred a political meaning in the visit. Somalia had been a client state of the Soviet Union, until a Soviet-backed coup in neighboring Ethiopia shifted the East-West balance in the Horn of Africa and left Somalia without a patron. No U.S. senator had ever visited Somalia, and the fact that Grassley had been sent by Doug Coe rather than by Ronald Reagan was a distinction Barre was unlikely to make. History hardly required Doug Coe’s intervention—Somalia and the United States believed they needed each other at the time—but Coe cannot be surprised at the accusation of complicity in the devastation that Barre later brought to the country. “Somalia wanted guns,” Sharlet wrote, and the Fellowship “helped it get guns.”

In 1997, Coe travelled to Sudan with a former Republican congressman named Mark Siljander, and met with the country’s notorious President, Omar al-Bashir. The Clinton Administration had broken diplomatic ties with Bashir, who had declared Sharia law and undertaken a program of religious cleansing which killed two million Christians and animists, and made refugees of four million more. According to the evangelical magazine World, Siljander may have taken Coe’s Jesus-only, no-questions-asked ecumenism too seriously. Siljander wrote a book called “A Deadly Misunderstanding: A Congressman’s Quest to Bridge the Muslim-Christian Divide,” in which he asserted that Bashir was “a bad man” in the eyes of the West, but “in the eyes of God, as near as I could understand it, he was just another human being, with frailties and failings like the rest of us.” In 2005, the F.B.I. began to investigate Siljander’s work for a Sudan-based Islamic charity with terrorist ties, and this July Siljander pleaded guilty to felony counts of acting as an unregistered foreign agent and of obstruction of justice. He faces a possible fifteen-year prison sentence.

Just a few minutes after I met Coe that first evening at the Cedars, he told me, “Most of my friends are bad people. They all broke the Ten Commandments, as far as I can tell.” He went on to cite the crimes of such Biblical leaders as King David and the apostle Paul, which was his way of saying that judgment is God’s work, not his. That is his explanation, or rationalization, for the spiritual friendships that he and others in the Fellowship have formed over the years with such men as Indonesia’s Suharto, or General Gustavo Álvarez Martínez, the Honduran strongman. On one occasion, the Fellowship decided to invite Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the President of Equatorial Guinea, to the annual National Prayer Breakfast. Obiang, who came to power in 1979 by leading a coup that resulted in the execution of his tyrannical uncle, has been called the worst dictator in Africa. When a State Department official asked why the Fellowship would be inviting such a tyrant to a prayer breakfast, Coe says, the answer was “That’s why we invited him.” In the event, Obiang did come to the breakfast, but little in his record suggests that his association with the Fellowship has moderated his authoritarian style. Holding others accountable for their actions is a tenet of Christian duty as old as the Church, but Coe says that he does not judge. “Jesus even met with the Devil,” he said.

Members of the group concede that some people may seek their fellowship for reasons other than a wish to grow in Jesus. In the early nineteen-nineties, a Russian media entrepreneur named Vladimir Gusinsky, who’d had a falling-out with Vladimir Putin, was looking West for new opportunities. He hired the public-relations firm APCO, which specializes in crisis management, to help introduce him in the United States. One of the APCO executives handling Gusinsky was Don Bonker, the former Democratic congressman, and an established figure within the Fellowship. Bonker brought Gusinsky, a secular Jew, to the Cedars to meet Doug Coe. “We emerged from that meeting, and we were walking to the limo, and Gusinsky stopped me,” Bonker recalls. “He said, ‘That is an amazing man. I want to come back here and see him again.’ ”

Gusinsky attended the Prayer Breakfast the next year, and has missed only one of the events in the years since. In 1998, when Coe and a group of his close associates made a whirlwind trip through the former republics of the Soviet Union, meeting with leaders introduced by friends in the international network, Gusinsky provided a 727 with a full crew to transport them. It is impossible, ultimately, to know the motivation of someone like Gusinsky, who comes from a political culture in which proximity to power is everything. The Fellowship meant entrée to a rarefied circle, and the prospect of shaking hands with a President. “There’s this whole Washington phenomenon, related to access to power and the aphrodisiac of power,” Michael Cromartie, of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, says. “You bring an oligarch over to the Cedars and he says, ‘Ah, these are my kind of people. They have pictures on the wall of all these Presidents, they seem to be in touch with power, they know people with money, this will help my business.’ ”

If international dignitaries view the Prayer Breakfast as a reliable means of unofficial access, some Presidents—most notably, Bill Clinton—have been more accommodating than others. “Bill and Hillary got it,” says Doug Burleigh, who is Coe’s son-in-law, and a key figure in the Fellowship. “They came early, they’d meet with the groups early and do a photo op with ’em, hug ’em. They got what this was about.” George W. Bush, on the other hand, made it clear to Coe and the others from the start that he’d show up at the Prayer Breakfast but not to expect much more. “George came late, and left early—he did every year,” Burleigh says. “Now, I appreciate his honesty. He told Doug, ‘You know, this isn’t my thing.’ ”After Bush’s first, perfunctory appearance, Clinton telephoned Coe to console him. “He didn’t badmouth Bush, he gave it the best spin,” Burleigh recalls. “He said, ‘Hey, Bush’ll get it. He doesn’t understand what this thing’s about.’ ”

In 1984, Coe was introduced to a man named Michael Timmis, a wealthy recent convert, eager to do God’s work, who had heard that Doug Coe was the man to see. Timmis was a hard-charging overachiever from a working-class Irish Catholic family in Detroit, who had made a fortune in high-risk business transactions. Along the way, he had alienated his wife and two children, and his born-again experience had not helped matters at home. Coe told him that he needed to go back to Detroit and learn how to love his family. Timmis was a bit put off, but the two men stayed in touch, and Coe eventually offered to “disciple” Timmis—to become his spiritual mentor.

One morning a year later, Timmis found his seventeen-year-old daughter, Laura, dead in the garage of the family’s Grosse Pointe home. She had committed suicide, after an argument with her parents about skipping school. Timmis’s grief was compounded by his fear of also losing his son, Mike, Jr., a troubled college senior whose estrangement seemed irreparable. Coe met the young man during an Easter visit to Grosse Pointe, and got him to promise to visit the Cedars and help to computerize the Fellowship’s records. After graduation, his parents held him to his promise, and Mike, Jr., reluctantly headed to Arlington for a week’s stay. Four days later, Coe telephoned Timmis to tell him that Mike, Jr., had found the Lord, and was determined to become a missionary in Africa. Timmis and his son reconciled, and Timmis offered Coe any sum he named. No need for that, Coe said, but he added that there was a ministry in Washington that could use some help. “Why don’t you help those guys?” Coe asked.

“You were entirely too friendly with the Hendricksons.”

“Those guys” were Coe’s sons, David and Tim, and their friend Marty Sherman. The Coe brothers and Sherman had been schoolmates at James Madison University, where they were part of a fraternity for believers, and tried to model themselves after the early Christians described in the Book of Acts. After graduating, they apprenticed with the Fellowship, and saw a chance to branch out when the house on C Street became available.

The place had been built as a convent for St. Peter’s Catholic Church, in 1880, and had taken on many incarnations since, most recently as an outreach center for a Hawaii-based ministry called Youth with a Mission (known as Y-WAM), which was looking for a buyer. The house was technically owned by a Y-WAM entity-of-convenience foundation called the C Street Center, and Timmis acquired the house by purchasing the foundation. The District of Columbia allowed the new owner to keep the C Street Center name on the city records, which is why, when the scandal broke, reporters couldn’t determine the property’s real owner.

The lay ministers used the place as a base for their contact work on the Hill, which became a significantly richer mission field when the Republican revolution of 1994 brought a huge crop of Christian conservatives to town. Among them was Steve Largent, the new congressman from Oklahoma, who was greeted by Tim Coe and Sherman soon after he moved into his office in the Cannon Building. A friendship developed, and, when Largent heard about Sherman’s frat house for Jesus, he was curious. When the rules governing congressional travel allowance were changed, enabling weekly commutes to the home district, senators and congressmen scrambled for part-time quarters in Washington, some sharing apartments with other members, some bunking in their offices. The C Street house, with its dormlike rooms upstairs, suggested itself as an obvious option.


Largent, Coburn, Wamp, and Doyle were the first to move in, and they were soon joined by Bart Stupak. (Over the years, the roster of residents included Republican Senators Sam Brownback, John Thune, and Jim DeMint, and Kansas Representative Jerry Moran, as well as John Ensign.) Prospective housemates were usually recruited from the prayer groups. Until the recent scandals, wives of the C Street residents were generally enthusiastic supporters of the living arrangement. “My wife doesn’t live here in Washington, she lives at home, and she loves the fact that I’m surrounded by a group of men that know her,” Coburn says. “She knows that if I start wandering, Marty or Mike Doyle or Bart Stupak or Heath, they’re gonna say, ‘Hey, what’s the deal?’ ”

The Tuesday supper was the only formal meal served to the residents, although Jim DeMint could be found most mornings making his way downstairs, in pajama bottoms and T-shirt, to fetch his breakfast of tea, Oreos, and dried cranberries. The men’s private quarters were strikingly modest. Stupak had one of the better rooms, a corner space on the third floor, with a private bath, but DeMint slept in a space just big enough for his bed, and hung his clothes in a closet down the hall.

There was shoptalk, but politicking was avoided, a custom that proved useful during moments of peak partisanship on the Hill, such as Bill Clinton’s impeachment or last year’s health-care debate. “It’s hard to hate somebody that you’re praying with,” Coburn says. Heath Shuler says, “This is really the only time that I see the barriers completely knocked down between the two political parties. They love one another, they care about one another. Now, sometimes, that changes. They’ll walk out the door and get on C-span and try to win an Emmy, and that changes. But, truly and sincerely, there is that love there.”

Much of the talk in the house was deeply personal. Chip Pickering spoke of his unhappy marriage, and made it clear that he meant to end it, even as he was reminded (vainly) of his marriage vows. Mark Sanford never lived at the house but did pray with the group often enough that his wife, Jenny, sought the group’s counsel when she learned of her husband’s affair. Those cases became famous failures, but the men at C Street contend that their support group has mostly worked, as on the morning in the spring of 2000 when each of them received an urgent summons to Stupak’s home in Menominee, Michigan. Stupak’s youngest son, Bart, Jr., had shot and killed himself after a high-school graduation party at the family’s home. “There was no decision to be made. I mean, we had to get to Bart and just be there to support him as soon as we could,” Largent says. Tom Coburn was at Stupak’s side when he viewed his son’s body, in the mortuary, and other C Street men helped to repair the damage to the wall caused by the bullet. “We had a contingent of ninety members of Congress come to that funeral,” Coburn recalls. “And what they got to see was something that they hadn’t seen in a long time: Here’s three Republicans and two Democrats lovin’ a brother through a problem. They came because they knew what we had.”

Soon after the Pickering story broke, an exodus from the C Street house began. John Thune, the Republican from South Dakota, who is said to have Presidential aspirations, was the first to leave, in July of 2009. A group of congresswomen who used the house for a Wednesday-morning prayer session found a new venue, and a moderate Democrat who had been considering a move into the house pulled back. John Ensign asked his housemates’ forgiveness, and left, but the taint remained. Stupak and Doyle, pressured by constituents and the press, had moved out by the end of the year. That left only Coburn, DeMint, Wamp, Shuler, and Moran—conservatives who were in little danger of being punished by voters for staying. The Justice Department and the Senate Ethics Committee were said to be scrutinizing Ensign’s dealings with Doug Hampton for possible impropriety. The House Office of Congressional Ethics, however, had decided that the residents’ rental rates were appropriate for the boarding-house arrangement, and did not recommend that any action be taken. District officials revised the house’s tax status, removing much of its exemption.

This spring, a group of core associates gathered at the Cedars and debated whether the time had come to alter the Fellowship’s rigid policy of secretiveness. Some in the group had long argued for greater transparency and accountability, if for no other reason than to counter the darker conjectures about the movement. By most accounts, this view prevailed, despite Coe’s reservations. Change will almost certainly be minor, and come slowly. A Web site has been designed, and is scheduled to be launched this month.

Marty Sherman and the Coe brothers attended the meeting, and began by apologizing for the embarrassment their program had caused. There has been talk of closing down the C Street house, and even of selling it. “If it has reached the point where the reporting on C Street has been so negative that it becomes how people identify what we do, and what we stand for, then, yeah, it should shut down,” Don Bonker, the former Democratic congressman, says. “I’ve just never thought it was a good idea for people to take up residence. And now, with the negative reporting, I think that is having an injurious effect on the whole movement, on the Fellowship, and what it represents.” Closing the place would be easy enough to do, given that Mike Timmis and Marty Sherman sit on the board of the foundation that owns it.

In the meantime, when Congress is in session the Tuesday-night gatherings continue, still attended by members who no longer live in the house. During the supper accountability session, according to Tom Coburn, “a question that’ll be asked about every four weeks is, Is anybody here having an affair?” ♦

*Correction, February 11, 2011: The row house was built in the nineteenth century, not the eighteenth century, as originally stated.

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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