National Prayer Breakfast Highlights the Fellowship’s Support for Sudan Regime

From Faith McDonnell, of the Institute of Religion and Democracy:

Sudan’s foreign minister, a hardcore Islamist with a long history of orchestrating mass atrocities and other crimes against humanity, has been invited to attend the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, DC on Thursday, February 4.

The National Prayer Breakfast is an annual event hosted by members of the United States Congress and organized on their behalf by The Fellowship Foundation… Sudanese and American activists will gather outside the event’s Washington Hilton location at 9:00 a.m. to protest the inclusion of these representatives of Sudan’s genocidal government as attendees are exiting the hotel.

McDonnell also drew attention to a petition, organised by Mark Hackett of Operation Broken Silence.

The “Fellowship Foundation”, also known as “the Family”, is a discrete religious group that has been been operating in Washington for decades; its activities have been explored and analysed by the award-winning author Jeff Sharlet, in two books (The Family and C Street) and several articles. An extract from his first book posted by NPR is a succinct summary of the group’s perspective:

“We desire to see a leadership led by God,” reads a confidential mission statement. “Leaders of all levels of society who direct projects as they are led by the spirit.” Another principle expanded upon is stealthiness; members are instructed to pursue political jujitsu by making use of secular leaders “in the work of advancing His kingdom,” and to avoid whenever possible the label Christian itself, lest they alert enemies to that advance. Regular prayer groups, or “cells” as they’re often called, have met in the Pentagon and at the Department of Defense, and the Family has traditionally fostered strong ties with businessmen in the oil and aerospace industries.

In a 2010 article for Mother Jones, he explained the group’s international ambitions:

The Family’s goal, according to one internal document, is to create a “hidden structure” of “national and international world leaders bound together relationally by a mutual love for God and the family.”

The Fellowship has been busy in Europe, as I discussed here, and in June it held a Prayer Breakfast in Ukraine. There has also been particular controversy over its influence in Uganda.

But how could an Islamist regime be assimilated into such a vision? The answer is in the Fellowship’s vague theology of “Jesus Plus Nothing”; its “elite fundamentalism” (to use Jeff’s term) is quite distinct from the religious right rhetoric of televangelists and mega-church leaders. Jeff explains how this played out in Sudan, in a 2010 piece for the New Yorker:

In 1997, [Fellowship leader Doug] Coe travelled to Sudan with a former Republican congressman named Mark Siljander, and met with the country’s notorious President, Omar al-Bashir… 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.”

Further details appear in Jeff’s book C Street; Siljander and Coe

…told the dictator [al-Bashir] they wanted to be friends. “He’s my prayer partner, by the way,” Siljander boasted on a Trinity Broadcasting Network Christian program. “I love Bashir, his heart was changed, and it sure wasn’t by my good looks. The Holy Spirit came into the conversation we had with the king” – he meant the dictator – “and melted his heart.”

Siljander claims the dictator was so “flabbergasted” by Siljander’s assimilation of Islam into Christianity that… al-Bashir said, “This is revolutionary.”

Siljander famously went too far with this enthusiasm – in 2010 he pleaded guilty to “serving as an unregistered agent in Washington” for a Sudan-based charity that the US government “said had ties to international terrorism”, although since his release from prison he’s argued that he is innocent. Given the presence of regime leaders alongside President Obama at a prestigious religious event in 2015, perhaps he has some grounds for complaining that he was unfairly treated.

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