The infamous evangelical Christian organization, “The Family” is making headlines again.
According to Roll Call newspaper, several members of Congress have accepted just over $101,000 worth of free international travel from The Family, also known as the Fellowship Foundation. The group footed the bill for 13 foreign trips, ostensibly so congressmen could meet and pray with political leaders in other countries.
As you may recall, last summer, it came out that several members of Congress were caught up in sex scandals while visiting or living at The Family’s Capitol Hill house, the so-called “C St. House.”
U.S. Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), while a resident of the house, admitted that he had an inappropriate relationship with the wife of an aide.
Soon after, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who was a frequent visitor to the house while a member of Congress admitted he had an adulterous affair with a woman in Argentina.
Then, the estranged wife of former U.S. Rep. Charles “Chip” Pickering, Jr. (R-Miss.) filed an alienation-of-affection lawsuit against a woman she claims had an affair with Pickering while he was living at the house.
To add fuel to the fire, D.C. officials had considered this residence a church and deemed it tax exempt. (Following all the media attention, tax officials in the city of Washington took a second look and delivered The Family a tax bill of $10,234 for 2010).
And now, it turns out they are using their resources (the group has an annual budget of $19 million a year) to fund expensive trips for our government leaders to travel to foreign lands.
It just gets better and better, doesn’t it?
We shouldn’t be surprised, though. The Family rents out residential space to members of Congress for what many suspect is below market-rent ($600 per month, a bargain in D.C.). It reaches out to members of Congress by holding weekly prayer breakfasts, and puts on the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.
It’s just fitting that they would further their outreach to people in power by paying for their travel to mingle with other foreign leaders. Detailed trip records filed by two members of Congress showed the trips centered on meetings with foreign dignitaries who visited the U.S. for the annual prayer breakfast. Trips were taken to Greece, Albania, Croatia, Kazakhstan, Sudan and Serbia.
According to Roll Call, members of Congress who have accepted trips from group are Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), who also lives at the C Street house, and Republican Reps. Frank Wolf (Va.), Joe Pitts (Pa.) and John Carter (Texas). Sens. John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) each also accepted one trip from the foundation. Both Senators have lived at the C Street house.
Stan Holmes, an official with the Fellowship Foundation who arranged several of the congressional trips, told the newspaper that “there is not policy agenda” and the trips and events are not political.
“It’s built around the spiritual realm,” he told Roll Call. “That is the purpose of these trips.”
Right, that’s believable, especially considering this is the same group that investigative reporter and author Jeff Sharlet claims meddles in foreign affairs by pressing the U.S. government to support right-wing dictators.
Sharlet, who lived in one of the Fellowship Foundation’s properties in Virginia, wrote the bookThe Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. He said the group reflects standard right-wing fundamentalist politics and its leaders praise Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot for the way they demanded complete loyalty.
After all the secrets, is it any wonder many people aren’t buying the line that these trips are merely about spirituality and friendship?
A lot of dirt has already come out about The Family, its mysterious house and its worldwide political agenda. It’s hard to say what will come next. Stay tuned.