The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!


Sunday, July 5, 2009

"The Family" -- 21st Century Gnostics

The recent troubles that South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has brought on himself have also given us a glimpse into the religious group to which the beleaguered governor belongs. This organization, which goes by a variety of names, is most often known as The Family and includes among its membership quite a few prominent politicians, including Governor Sanford. Often labeled a Christian, fundamentalist group with conservative political leanings, it's really something quite different. When one takes even a superficial look at the "theology" of the group it's evident that the New Testament isn't its primary source. Indeed, their beliefs are far from Christian and are really just a modern version of first century gnosticism.

According to Jeff Sharlet, who has written an expose-type book on The Family, they preach "a sort of trickle-down fundamentalism," believing that the wealthy and powerful, once they "get their hearts right with God...will dispense blessings to those underneath them." They believe that the elite win power by the will of God, who then uses them for his purposes. The Family's mission is to help the powerful understand their role in God's plan.

This idea that an elite, a privileged few in the know, have a direct connection with God is pretty much what the early gnostics believed. That 2,000 year-old predecessor to The Family blended those elements of Christianity that were acceptable to them with elements of some of the Eastern mystery religions so popular in the Roman Empire at the time. Gnosticism was a heresy then and it remains a heresy today.

The Family is certainly not Christian, since Jesus' teachings, except in the most distorted way, are conspicuously absent from its teachings. It is hardly conservative, at least in any traditional sense, because it places so little value on the individual citizen, focusing instead on a powerful elite. And I think most objective observers would agree that Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is not a conservative. And yet, in speaking of The Family's current leader, Doug Coe, Secretary Clinton called him "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 with God." Ms. Clinton wasn't just being polite for she is reportedly active in Bible-study and prayer groups conducted under The Family's auspices.

Such gnostic-based religious groups, and The Family is no exception, tend to be founded by those convinced of their own genius, certain that they, and they alone, receive privileged communications straight from God. They appeal to those with wealth and power, promising more of the same. Or they target those seeking wealth and power, promising their attainment. There's an evident arrogance to all this, an arrogance which I suspect "trickles down" and contaminates the members of The Family. It's the same kind of arrogance we have heard from Governor Sanford since he was caught, at least figuratively, with his pants down.

What I find especially interesting is that so little has changed in 2,000 years. We still try to create gods in our image, gods who will approve of and encourage our all too human failings. Ah, well, perhaps the governor will cast aside his arrogance, turn back to the One God and repent. Perhaps he will realize that The Family's false teachings lead only to a conceit unworthy of a child of God. Sadly, however, out of habit he will probably turn to The Family for counsel and guidance.

Pray for him, and for all who fall under the sway of the false teachers Jesus warned us about.

God's peace...

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