Family Values

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The re-emergence of the Ensign sex saga last week put the C Street Gang (aka The Fellowship, The Family, The National Prayer Breakfast, etc.) back in the crosshairs of the liberal media. We knew that they had tried with indifferent success to get Mark Sanford and wife back together. Now it turns out that they twisted John Ensign’s arm to write a “Dear Cindy” letter to his inamorata, which he immediately told her to ignore. Call them the gang that couldn’t pray straight.

That letter, filled as it was with references to what God did and didn’t want, inspired Vanity Fair to produce a sharp response from the Almighty, while NYT’s Gail Collins offered her own opera buffa take on the doings of the “Prayer House.” For those whose taste runs to the dark side, there was Rachel Maddow’s two-barreled interview on Thursday and Friday of Jeff Sharlet, who wrote the book on The Family (The Family), and who laid on his ominous portrait of a powerful cabal of totalitarian “Jesus plus nothing” Christians able to pull numerous strings with Washington’s movers and shakers. (No mention, though, of Hillary Clinton’s involvement in the group.)

My sense is that The Family’s heyday was some decades ago, when anti-Communism was still a force in the world, and establishmentarian Christian conservativism had a distinct role to play. The use of Christianity for tough partisan warfare, which came into its own in the 1980s and was honed to a fine edge by Tom DeLay, Karl Rove & Co., was an entirely different game–antipathetic to The Family’s bi-partisan approach to life. Still, it’s possible that there are still important revelations to come of what The Family guys have been up to recently.

That said, it’s worth bearing in mind that evangelical Protestant religion in America has always been possessed of the imperative to bring male misbehavior under control–be it drinking, fighting, gambling, or screwing around. In that regard, the C Street collective that tried to get Sanford and Ensign back on the straight and narrow was simply doing what came naturally. In itself no particular biggie, in other words.