Do You Know Where Your Vote Really Goes? How about C Street?

On any given ballot, you will see a name, and sometimes the party affiliation of the person named, then another name, and so on. On that skimpy information we must discharge our greatest responsibility as citizens of a democracy. We must vote.

In America, voting is taken to an extreme. The ballots I am handed always have a long list of names. The candidates are vying for an overwhelming array of government jobs, from President to local commissioner. Included sometimes are various judges, whom I have never met and hope never to meet. Do I want to re-elect them? Actually, I haven’t a clue. But I vote yes – unless I’ve read or heard of some recent scandal involving one of them.

Poring over the mysterious names on my ballot, I wonder whether Dennis Kucinich would be President if his name were Dennis Jones… But I won’t pursue that line of thought today. What intrigues me is the depth of ignorance from which the American public makes its choices.

Here’s an example that troubles me. According to an Associated Press report from April 19, 2003:

town houseSix members of Congress live in a $1.1 million Capitol Hill town house (pictured at right) that is subsidized by a secretive religious organization, tax records show.

The lawmakers, all Christians, pay low rent to live in the stately red brick, three-story house on C Street, two blocks from the Capitol. It is maintained by a group alternately known as the “Fellowship” and the “Foundation” and brings together world leaders and elected officials through religion.

The Fellowship hosts receptions, luncheons and prayer meetings on the first two floors of the house, which is registered with the Internal Revenue Service as a church.

The six lawmakers – Reps. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn.; Bart Stupak, D-Mich.; Jim DeMint, R-S.C.; Mike Doyle, D-Pa.; and Sens. John Ensign, R-Nev. and Sam Brownback, R-Kan. – live in private rooms upstairs.

Rent is $600 a month, DeMint said.

“Our goal is singular – and that is to hope that we can assist them in better understandings of the teachings of Christ, and applying it to their jobs,” said Richard Carver, a member of the Fellowship’s board of directors who served as an assistant secretary of the Air Force during the Reagan administration.

“The teachings of Christ.” So what’s wrong with that, you might ask. Well, for one thing, the United States Constitution decrees that the state should not be associated with any particular religion. But let’s not get distracted by that debate. Let’s examine what this group (now known as The Family) considers to be “the teachings of Christ.”

sharlettJeff Sharlet (photo at right), author of a book titled “The Family,” which is now out in paperback, lived at C Street. Sharlet says Fellowship guru Douglas Coe cited such historical figures as Adolf Hitler, Vladimir Lenin and Chairman Mao as exemplary leaders.

“Hitler’s genocide wasn’t really an issue for them,” says Sharlet. “It was the strength that he emulated.”

The Family is a secretive movement that has been known by several different names, including The Fellowship, The Fellowship Foundation, National Fellowship Council, Fellowship House, The International Foundation, National Committee for Christian Leadership, International Christian Leadership, C Street, and the National Leadership Council. Its tentacles appear not only in Congress but in communities around the globe, where it does whatever it must to promote an unfettered free-market agenda and other policies dear to the heart of the far, far right.

According to Wikipedia:

The movement was founded in Seattle in 1935 by Abraham Vereide, a Norwegian immigrant and traveling preacher who had been working with the city’s poor. He opposed FDR’s New Deal and was worried that socialist politicians were about to take over Seattle’s municipal government. Prominent members of Seattle’s business community recognized his success with those who were “down and out” and asked him to give spiritual direction to their group who were “up and out.” He organized prayer breakfasts for politicians and businessmen that included anti-Communism and anti-union discussions. He was subsequently invited to set up similar meetings among political and business leaders in San Francisco and Chicago.

Last night, on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show, Sharlet said Vereide claimed God had come to him in a vision and revealed a new perspective on Christianity. The core of this new doctrine is that instead of lifting up the poor and downtrodden, society should enhance the power of the rich and powerful because they are God’s chosen leaders and are best equipped to govern.  Furthermore, these leaders are (supposedly like The Bible’s King David) exempt from normal societal rules.

Sharlet quoted a conversation Coe had with one of the C Street “family members.” As I recall, it went something like this:

Coe: If you were to rape three young girls how do you think I would regard you?

“Family” member: As a monster, of course.

Coe: No, I would not. You are one of God’s chosen and you are not subject to normal restrictions.

sanfordensignThat may not be word-for-word accurate because I wasn’t taking notes, but it’s pretty close. And it sheds some light on the behavior of such Republican politicians as South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (photo at left) and Nevada Senator John Ensign (photo at right). Both are members of C Street’s “family.” Both have been caught in adulterous, unethical affairs. And both have refused to resign from public office. As God’s chosen, they must consider themselves the rightful rulers of society despite any personal character flaws they might exhibit.

I can’t believe the voters of South Carolina and Nevada were aware of the eccentric ideas these candidates share or of the influence exerted over them by a secret cult with wacko beliefs. We know so little about the candidates we select… Perhaps we should join the Iranian protesters in asking, “Where is my vote?”