Museveni meets the Family
In episode 4 viewers meet a Family member named Bob Hunter who tells a story about how they came to Uganda simply through prayer. But in two memos he submitted to then-leader of the Family, Doug Coe, Sharlet says Hunter told a much more complicated story.
Hunter describes working with other Family members; Sen. Chuck Grassley and Chester Crocker, an Assistant Secretary of State in U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s administration to bring President Yoweri Museveni (whom Sharlet describes as the Ugandan dictator) then a “left-wing fanatic” into the American sphere – through Jesus.
The goal wasn’t love. It was, according to Hunter’s memos to Doug Coe, to use American power to ensure that Uganda, “the most Christian country in Africa does not go in the wrong ideological direction.”
TheFamily also raised money for two Ugandan hospitals and was, according to Sharlet, pleased with an administrator who told the 400 employees “that no corruption or sin would be tolerated and that a pregnant, non-married nurse would be fired.
In the same episode, Hunter acknowledges introducing Museveni to friends in Washington D.C; including Presidents Ronald Reagan, and George Bush, and World Bank officials, who convinced Museveni to abandon socialism.
Hunter saw the Ugandan work was part of a plan to digitalise the network of the Family, with databases of embassy contacts in every country, “key men, all led by the head, which gives it purpose and direction.”
“TheFamily saw Uganda as what it called an `opportunity nation’ to install an “invisible central nervous system, with “key men responsible for maintaining efficiency behind the scenes,” Sharlet writes.
Hunter; according to Sharlet, recruited Andrew Young – once a top aide to Martin Luther King, to be the draw for a meeting of powerful Ugandans. Young was a means of opening the door for soft-sell evangelism. “So soft you don’t even notice it,” Hunter reportedly told Sharlet.
Sharlet writes: “I asked him why he brought Andrew Young and other American politicians to meet Uganda’s elite, and he was blunt: “They were bait.” Bait to bring the Ugandans, Christians all, into a relationship with the American Jesus.”
“I’ve never asked Museveni – the Ugandan dictator who became The Family’s key man in the region-to do anything,” Hunter reportedly told Sharlet, meaning he didn’t need to.
When Hunter then toured his new spiritual protégé, Museveni, around Washington to build support, he concentrated not so much on big names as the aides who actually write the legislation.
“There are times when you have to have secrecy,” Hunter reportedly told Sharlet, explaining why he – with no official position – was negotiating the American relationship with a nation that would become a U.S.
`The Family’ is such a secretive group that it does not even have a name. Instead it has operated under several guises over the years, including the National Leadership Council, the Fellowship Foundation, and the International Foundation.
The Netflix series look at the ways in which the organisation has remained largely unknown through a web of nonprofits, and how the group has, for decades, used its proximity to power to influence policy-making around the world—without the public’s knowledge. The series connects the group to anti-LGBT legislation in Romania and Uganda.
The family is a faith-based group with headquarters near Washington, D.C., where it seeks to share the teachings of Jesus. Members say it’s not about spreading Christianity, but about the word of Jesus, specifically.
One way it does this is by forming relationships with powerful politicians: it hosts small, bipartisan prayer groups in the Capitol and has put on the National Prayer Breakfast since 1953. The group’s current spiritual leader is believed to be with Doug Burleigh, son-in-law of its influential former leader Doug Coe who died in 2017.
The group was founded in the 1930s by Abraham Vereide who died in 1969, and his little-known understudy from Oregon named Doug Coe took over.
Coe was interested in working with political leaders. Time magazine named Coe one of the most influential Evangelicals in the world in 2005, and perhaps his greatest impact was his hand in organizing the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual religious event in Washington D.C. that has been attended by every U.S. president since Dwight Eisenhower in 1853. He also believed that privacy is paramount.
“The more you can make your organisation invisible, the more influence it will have,” Coe says in old video footage that appears in the Netflix series.
The Netflix series comes at a significant time for the former governor and congressman Mark Sanford, as he decides whether or not to run for president, challenging fellow Republican Donald Trump. Sanford is former governor of South Carolina. As Trump leads the most fundamentalist administration in U.S. history and another election looms, the Netflix series begs the question: What is the state of The Family now?