The Fellowship (Christian organization)

The Fellowship (Christian organization)
Fellowship Foundation
Formation 1935
Headquarters Cedars, a mansion in Arlington, Virginia[1]
Associate Director Douglas Coe
Affiliations Christians in Parliament

The Fellowship, also known as the Family,[1][2][3] is a U.S.-based religious and political organization founded in 1935 by Abraham Vereide. The stated purpose of the Fellowship is to provide a fellowship forum for decision makers to share in Bible studies, prayer meetings, worship experiences and to experience spiritual affirmation and support.[4][5]

The organization has been described as one of the most politically well-connected ministries in the United States. The Fellowship shuns publicity and its members share a vow of secrecy.[6] The Fellowship's leader Doug Coe and others have explained the organization's desire for secrecy by citing biblical admonitions against public displays of good works, insisting they would not be able to tackle diplomatically sensitive missions if they drew public attention.[6]

Although the organization is secretive, it holds one regular public event each year, the National Prayer Breakfast held in Washington, D.C. Every sitting United States president since President Dwight D. Eisenhower, up to President Barack Obama, has participated in at least one National Prayer Breakfast during his term.[7][8][9][10]

The Fellowship's known participants include ranking United States government officials, corporate executives, heads of religious and humanitarian aid organizations, and ambassadors and high ranking politicians from across the world.[1][11][12][13][14] Many United States Senators and Congressmen who have publicly acknowledged working with the Fellowship or are documented as having done so work together to pass or influence legislation.[14][15]

In Newsweek, Lisa Miller wrote that, rather than calling themselves "Christians," as they describe themselves they are brought together by common love for the teachings of Jesus and that all approaches to "loving Jesus" are acceptable.[15] In contrast, Jeff Sharlet, who was interviewed on NBC News and wrote a book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power,[2] and an article in Harper's[16] about his experience serving as an intern in the Fellowship, has stated that the organization fetishizes power by comparing Jesus to "Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Bin Laden" as examples of leaders who change the world through the strength of the covenants they had forged with their "brothers".[14][15]



Fellowship Foundation was incorporated by Abraham Vereide in Chicago in 1942 as Fellowship Foundation, Inc. and also acquired the names International Christian Leadership (ICL), Fellowship House, and International Foundation as venues of global outreach ministry expanded.[7][17]

The Fellowship Foundation, Inc. does most of its business as the International Foundation,[6] which is its DBA name.[18]

The Fellowship was founded in 1935 in opposition to FDR's New Deal.[19] Fellowship Foundation traces its roots to founder, Abraham Vereide, a Methodist clergyman and social innovator, and a month of prayer meetings he convened in 1934 in San Francisco.[7] Vereide was a Norwegian immigrant who founded Goodwill Industries in Seattle in 1916 to assist the city's unemployed Scandinavian immigrant population. Goodwill Industries soon occupied a city block, where they repaired and processed discarded clothing and furniture and converted "waste to wages". His work spread down the West coast and eventually to Boston.[20]

In April 1935, Vereide, and Major J.F. Douglas invited 19 business and civic leaders for a breakfast prayer meeting.[20] By 1937, 209 prayer breakfast groups had been organized throughout Seattle.[7]

By 1936, Vereide had already made his first entrée into the White House.

In 1940, 300 men from all over the state of Washington attended a prayer breakfast for the new governor, Arthur Langlie.[7] Vereide traveled through the Pacific Northwest, and later around the country, to develop similar groups.[7] The nondenominational groups were meant to bring together civic and business leaders informally to share vision, study the Bible, and develop relationships of trust and support.[7]

By 1942, there were 60 breakfast groups in major cities around the country, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington and Vancouver. That same year, Vereide began to hold small prayer breakfasts for members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, meetings of informal fellowship, mutual prayer and encouragement. Vereide began publishing a monthly newsletter called The Breakfast Luncheon Fireside and Campus Groups that contained a Bible study that could be used by the groups, as well as information about activities of different groups and international meetings. He also published a newsletter through the years under various names, including The Breakfast Groups Informer (ca. 1945–46), The Breakfast Groups (ca. 1944–53), International Christian Leadership Bulletin (ca. 1953–54), Bulletin of International Christian Leadership (ca. 1954–56), Christian Leadership (ca. 1957–61), ICLeadership Letter (1961–66), International Leadership Letter (ca. 1967), and Leadership Letter (ca. 1963–70).

In 1942, the Fellowship was incorporated in Chicago, Illinois, Vereide's center of national outreach to businessmen and civic and clergy leadership. Vereide had moved the group's offices from Seattle to the more centralized location of Chicago, headquarters of the businessmen's luncheon outreach, "Christian Businessmen's Committee", which Vereide led with industrialist C.B. Hedstrom. Also in 1942 the Fellowship Foundation established a delegation ministry on Massachusetts Avenue at Sheridan Circle named "Fellowship House". Vereide later described it as the nerve center of the breakfast groups.

In 1944 Vereide held his first joint Senate-House prayer breakfast meeting. He held another breakfast on June 16, 1946, attended by Senators H. Alexander Smith and Lister Hill, and US News and World Report publisher David Lawrence.

In 1946 Vereide wrote and released a book with Reverend John G. Magee, chaplain to President Harry Truman, entitled Together(Abingdon Cokesbury). In the book, Vereide explained his philosophy of visionary discipleship and gathering together in what he termed spiritual cells:

Man craves fellowship. Most of us want an opportunity to make our feelings known, to relate our personal experiences, to compare notes with others, and, in unity of spirit to receive renewal, inspiration, guidance, and strength from God. Such groups as we are thinking of have characterized every spiritual awakening. Jesus began with Peter and James and John. He had the twelve and the Seventy. At Bethany he established a cell... there you have the formula... faith embodied the same close informal fellowship... one common practice — gathering together in the name of Jesus.

In January 1947, a conference in Zurich led to the formation of the International Council for Christian Leadership (ICCL), an umbrella group for the national fellowship groups in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Norway, Hungary, Egypt, and China. ICCL was incorporated as a separate organization in 1953. ICL and ICCL were governed by different boards of directors, joined by a coordinating committee: four members of ICCL's board and four from the ICL's executive committee.

In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower attended the Senate Prayer Breakfast Group. He was invited by fellow Kansan, Frank Carlson. By that time, Vereide’s congressional core members also included Senators Frank Carlson, Karl Mundt, Everett Dirkson, and Strom Thurmond.

By 1957, ICL had established 125 groups in 100 cities, with 16 groups in Washington, D.C.. It had set up another 125 groups in other countries. During 1958, a new small group mentor, from The Navigators, Douglas Coe,[21][22] joined Vereide as assistant executive director of ICL in Washington, D.C.

After over 35 years of leading the Fellowship Foundation, Vereide passed away in 1969 and was succeeded by Richard C. Halverson as executive director, Halverson and Coe worked side by side until Halverson's death in 1995.

In 1972, according to the Fellowship archives, after consultations among leaders in the prayer breakfast movement, including Douglas Coe, Richard Halverson, Dr. Wallace Haines and Senator Mark Hatfield, and others, the organization was reprofiled to be "even more low key". The Fellowship archives reveal that, "in effect, the group adopted an even lower profile, serving as a channel of communication and a catalyst." of global outreach in the spirit of Jesus. The goal was to be less institutional in bearing and more relational and relevant to the global cultures, so that each geographic area had its own identity of personal ministry, not strictly metropolitan but relevant to ranchers, miners, people in jungles, deserts, villages and on remote islands. That they might experience fellowship in Christ in their own sphere of human identification.[7]


Prominent evangelical Christians have described the organization as one of the most, or the most, politically well-connected ministries in the world.

D. Michael Lindsay, a Rice University sociologist who studies the evangelical movement, said “there is no other organization like the Fellowship, especially among religious groups, in terms of its access or clout among the country’s leadership.”[11] He also reported that lawmakers mentioned the Fellowship more than any other organization when asked to name a ministry with the most influence on their faith.[1]

In 1977, four years after he had converted to Christianity, Fellowship member and Watergate conspirator Charles Colson described the group as a “veritable underground of Christ’s men all through the U.S. government.”[12]

Former Senate Prayer Group member and current Kansas Governor Sam Brownback has described group members' method of operation: “Typically, one person grows desirous of pursuing an action”—-a piece of legislation, a diplomatic strategy—-“and the others pull in behind.” [23] Indeed, Brownback has often joined with fellow Family members in pursuing legislation. For example, in 1999 he joined together with fellow Family members, Senators Strom Thurmond and Don Nickles to demand a criminal investigation of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, and in 2005 Brownback joined with Fellowship member Sen. Tom Coburn to promote the Houses of Worship Act.[24]

The Reverend Rob Schenck, founder of the Washington, D.C. ministry Faith and Action in the Nation’s Capital, described the Family's influence as "off the charts" in comparison with other fundamentalist groups, specifically compared to Focus on the Family, Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, Traditional Values Coalition, and Prison Fellowship.[14] (These last two are associated with the Family: Traditional Values Coalition uses their C Street House[14] and Prison Fellowship was founded by Charles Colson.) Schenck also says that "the mystique of the Fellowship" has helped it "gain entree into almost impossible places in the capital."[6]

A talk from 1970 for college students encouraging mentoring and discipleship stated: “If you want... there are men in government, there are senators who literally find it their pleasure to give any advice, assistance, or counsel.” [25]

Lindsay also interviewed 360 evangelical elites, among whom “One in three mentioned [Doug] Coe or the Fellowship as an important influence."[11]

The Fellowship also has relationships with numerous non-U.S. government leaders. Lindsay reported that it "has relationships with pretty much every world leader—good and bad—and there are not many organizations in the world that can claim that."[1]

“The Fellowship’s reach into governments around the world is almost impossible to overstate or even grasp,” says David Kuo, a former special assistant in George W. Bush’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.[13]

Beliefs and theology

The Fellowship Foundation's 501(c)(3) mission statement is:

To develop and maintain an informal association of people banded together, to go out as "ambassadors of reconciliation," modeling the principles of Jesus, based on loving God and loving others. To work with the leaders of many nations, and as their hearts are touched, the poor, the oppressed, the widows, and the youth of their country will be impacted in a positive manner. Youth groups will be developed under the thoughts of Jesus, including loving others as you want to be loved.[18]

Newsweek reported that the Fellowship has often been criticized by conservative and fundamentalist Christian groups for being too inclusive and not putting enough emphasis on doctrine or church attendance.[15] NPR has reported that the evangelical group's views on religion and politics are so singular that some other Christian-right organizations consider them heretical.[19]

David Kuo, staffer in President George W. Bush's Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives, who has been affiliated with the Fellowship since college, said of the Fellowship:

For all the hysteria about Christian organizations, the irony that the Fellowship is being targeted as a bad egg is jaw-dropping. This is so not Focus on the Family, this is so not the Christian Coalition. There are other Christian groups that are truly insane. Who purport to follow Jesus Christ and who I would submit do not. The Fellowship is a loosely banded group of people who have an affinity for Jesus.[15]

Current Fellowship prayer group member and former U.S. Representative Tony P. Hall (D-OH) said, "If people in this country knew how many Democrats and Republicans pray together and actually like each other behind closed doors, they would be amazed." The Fellowship is simply, "men and women who are trying to get right with God. Trying to follow God, learn how to love him, and learn how to love each other." When he lost his teenage son to leukemia, Hall says, "This family helped me. This family was there for me. That's what they do."[15]

Hillary Clinton described meeting the leader of the Fellowship in 1993: “Doug Coe, the longtime National Prayer Breakfast organizer, is 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 to God.”[26]

Journalist Jeff Sharlet did intensive research in the Fellowship's archives, before they were closed to the public. He also spent a month in 2002 living in a Fellowship house near Washington, and wrote a magazine article describing his experiences.[16] In his 2008 book about the Family,[2] he criticized their theology as an "elite fundamentalism" that fetishizes political power and wealth, consistently opposes labor movements in the U.S. and abroad, and teaches that laissez-faire economic policy is "God's will." He criticized their theology of instant forgiveness for powerful men as providing a convenient excuse for elites who commit misdeeds or crimes, allowing them to avoid accepting responsibility or accountability for their actions.[27]

Sharlet's book was endorsed by several commentators, including Frank Schaeffer, once a leading figure of the Christian right, who called Sharlet's book a "must read ... disturbing tour de force," and Brian McLaren, one of Time's "25 most influential evangelicals" in the U.S., who said: “Jeff Sharlet [is] a confessed non-evangelical whom top evangelical organizations might be wise to hire—and quick—as a consultant."[28][29] Lisa Miller, who writes a column on religion at Newsweek, called his book "alarmist" and says it paints a "creepy, even cultish picture" of the young, lower-ranking members of the Fellowship.[15][30]

Leadership model

Jeff Sharlet and Andrea Mitchell have described Fellowship leader Doug Coe as preaching a leadership model and a personal commitment to Jesus Christ comparable to the blind devotion that Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot demanded from their followers.[31][32] In one videotaped lecture series in 1989, Coe said:

Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler were three men. Think of the immense power these three men had.... But they bound themselves together in an agreement.... Two years before they moved into Poland, these three men had... systematically a plan drawn out... to annihilate the entire Polish population and destroy by numbers every single house... every single building in Warsaw and then to start on the rest of Poland." Coe adds that it worked; they killed six and a half million "Polish people." Though he calls Nazis "these enemies of ours," he compares their commitment to Jesus' demands: "Jesus said, ‘You have to put me before other people. And you have to put me before yourself.' Hitler, that was the demand to be in the Nazi party. You have to put the Nazi party and its objectives ahead of your own life and ahead of other people.[31][32]

Coe also compared Jesus's teachings to the Red Guard during the Chinese Cultural Revolution:

I’ve seen pictures of young men in the Red Guard of China... they would bring in this young man’s mother and father, lay her on the table with a basket on the end, he would take an axe and cut her head off.... They have to put the purposes of the Red Guard ahead of the mother-father-brother-sister -- their own life! That was a covenant. A pledge. That was what Jesus said.[31][33]

NBC News also reported that David Kuo stated that comparisons such as these are taken out of context and aren't representative of the picture Douglas Coe was trying to paint:

Kuo says Doug Coe wasn’t lauding Hitler's actions.
“What Doug is saying, it’s a metaphor. He is using Hitler as a metaphor. Jesus used met....” Kuo said. For what? “Commitment,” Kuo answered. [A] close friend of Coe told NBC News that he invokes Hitler to show the power of small groups—for good and bad. And, the friend said, most of the time he talks about Jesus."

Jeff Sharlet, in contrast, told NBC News that when he was an intern with the Fellowship "we were being taught the leadership lessons of Hitler, Lenin and Mao" and that Hitler's genocide "wasn't an issue for them, it was the strength that he emulated."[31]


In a report on the Fellowship, the LA Times found:

[Fellowship members] share a vow of silence about Fellowship activities. Coe and others cite biblical admonitions against public displays of good works, insisting they would not be able to tackle their diplomatically sensitive missions if they drew public attention. Members, including congressmen, invoke this secrecy rule when refusing to discuss just about every aspect of the Fellowship and their involvement in it."[6]

The Fellowship has long been a secretive organization.[34][35] The Reverend Rob Schenck, who leads a Bible study on the Hill inspired by C Street, wrote that “all ministries in Washington need to protect the confidence of those we minister to, and I'm sure that’s a primary motive for C Street's low profile.”[36] But he added, “I think The Fellowship has been just a tad bit too clandestine.”[36]

Prominent political figures have insisted that confidentiality and privacy are essential to the Fellowship's operation. In 1985, President Ronald Reagan said about the Fellowship, "I wish I could say more about it, but it's working precisely because it is private."[37]

At the 1990 National Prayer Breakfast, President George H.W. Bush praised Doug Coe for what he described as “quiet diplomacy, I wouldn’t say secret diplomacy.”[13]

In 2009, Chris Halverson, son of Fellowship co-founder Richard C. Halverson, said that a culture of pastoral confidentialty is essential to the ministry: "If you talked about it, you would destroy that fellowship."[1]

In 1975, a member of the Fellowship's inner circle wrote to the group's chief South African operative, that their political initiatives

...have always been misunderstood by 'outsiders.' As a result of very bitter experiences, therefore, we have learned never to commit to paper any discussions or negotiations that are taking place. There is no such thing as a 'confidential' memorandum, and leakage always seems to occur. Thus, I would urge you not to put on paper anything relating to any of the work that you are doing...[unless] you know the recipient well enough to put at the top of the page 'PLEASE DESTROY AFTER READING.'[38][39]

In 1974, after several Watergate conspirators had joined the Fellowship, a Los Angeles Times columnist discouraged further inquiries into Washington's "underground prayer movement", i.e. the Fellowship: “They genuinely avoid publicity...they shun it.”[40][41]

In 2002, Doug Coe denied that the Fellowship Foundation owns the National Prayer Breakfast. Jennifer Thornett, a Fellowship employee, said that "there is no such thing as the Fellowship".[6]

Former Republican Senator Willliam Armstrong said the group has “made a fetish of being invisible”.[42]

In the 1960s, the Fellowship began distributing to involved members of Congress notes that stated that “the group, as such, never takes any formal action, but individuals who participate in the group through their initiative have made possible the activities mentioned.”[43]

On January 5, 2010, Fellowship member Bob Hunter gave an interview on national television in which he stated:

But I do agree with you, that The Fellowship is too secret. We don't have a Web site. We don't have – we have a lot of good ministers, 200 ministers doing good works that nobody knows about. I think that's wrong, and there's a debate going on among a lot of people about whether and how we should change that.[44]

The Fellowship maintains no public website and conducts no public fundraising activities.


National Prayer Breakfast

Fellowship Foundation is best known for the National Prayer Breakfast, held each year on the first Thursday of February in Washington, D.C.[19][27] First held in 1953, the event is now attended by over 3,400 guests including dignitaries from many nations. The President of the United States typically makes an address at the breakfast, following the main speaker's keynote address. The event is hosted by a 24-member committee of members of Congress. Democrats and Republicans serve on the organizing committee, and chairmanship alternates each year between the House and the Senate.

At the National Prayer Breakfast, the President usually arrives an hour early and meets with eight to ten heads of state, usually of small nations, and guests chosen by the Fellowship.[45][46]

G. Philip Hughes, the executive secretary for the National Security Council in the George H.W. Bush administration, said, "Doug Coe or someone who worked with him would call and say, 'So and so would like to have a word with the president. Do you think you could arrange something?'"[6]

However, Doug Coe has said that the Fellowship does not help foreign dignitaries gain access to U.S. officials. "We never make any commitment, ever, to arrange special meetings with the president, vice president or secretary of State," Coe said. "We would never do it."[6]

At the 2001 Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearings for State Department officials, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), whose wife was on the board of the Fellowship, lamented that the State Department had blocked then-President Bush from meeting with four foreign heads of state (Rwanda, Macedonia, Congo and Slovakia) at the NPB that year.[6]

Senator Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) said of Nelson's complaint: "I'm not sure a head of state ought to be able to wander over here for the prayer breakfast and, in effect, compel the president of the United States to meet with him as a consequence.... Getting these meetings with the president is a process that's usually very carefully vetted and worked up. Now sort of this back door has sort of evolved."[6]

“It [the NPB] totally circumvents the State Department and the usual vetting within the administration that such a meeting would require,” an anonymous government informant told sociologist D. Michael Lindsay. “If Doug Coe can get you some face time with the President of the United States, then you will take his call and seek his friendship. That’s power.”[47]

Year Keynote Speaker Chairpersons
2006 King Abdullah II of Jordan and humanitarian/musician Paul Hewson (Bono)[48] Senators Norm Coleman (R-MN) and Mark Pryor (D-AR)
2007 Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Human Genome Project Reps. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-MO) and Jo Ann Davis (R-VA)
2008 Edward Brehm, Chairman of the United States African Development Foundation[49] Senators Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Mike Enzi (R-WY)
2009 Former Prime Minister Tony Blair[50] Reps. Heath Shuler (D-NC) and Vernon Ehlers (R-MI)
2010 Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)[51]
2011 Screenwriter Randall Wallace[52] Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) and former Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-AZ)[53]

Prayer Breakfast movement

A primary activity of the Fellowship is to develop small support groups for politicians, including Senators and members of Congress, Executive Branch officials, military officers, foreign leaders and dignitaries, businesspersons, and other influential individuals. Prayer groups have met in the White House, the Pentagon and at the Department of Defense.[54] By the early 1970s, prayer groups, breakfasts, and luncheons, including those sponsored by ICL, had become commonplace in the Pentagon.[55]

J. Edwin Orr, an advisor to Billy Graham and friend of Abraham Vereide, helped shape the prayer breakfast movement that grew out of ICL.[56]

Role in international conflicts

The Fellowship was a behind-the-scenes player at the Camp David Middle East accords in 1978, working with President Jimmy Carter to issue a worldwide call to prayer with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.[6]

President Carter hosted former Senator Harold E. Hughes, the President of the Fellowship Foundation, and Doug Coe, for a luncheon at the White House on September 26, 1978.[57] Six weeks later, President Carter and the First Lady traveled by Marine helicopter to Cedar Point Farm, Hughes' home on Maryland's Eastern Shore, where he placed a telephone call to Menachim Begin.[58]

The author Jeff Sharlet has criticized the fellowship's influence on US foreign policy. He argues that Doug Coe and the "networking" (or formation of prayer cells) between foreign dictators and US politicians, defense contractors, and industry leaders has facilitated military aid for repressive foreign regimes. Sharlet did intensive research at the Billy Graham Center, before the Fellowship Foundation archives were closed to those other than divinity scholars. Sharlet published a book about the history of the groups and their influence on US domestic and foreign policy from the 1920s to the present.[27] Sharlet in particular details the relationship with General Suharto of Indonesia in the 1970s, and with Siad Barre of Somalia in the 1980s. Also, in the archives, there are at least two nearly full boxes of documents describing the relationship with Brazil's long dictatorship of the Generals.[59]

Regarding his relationships with foreign dictators, Coe said in 2007, “I never invite them. They come to me. And I do what Jesus did: I don’t turn my back to any one. You know, the Bible is full of mass murderers.”[60]

Private diplomacy

The Los Angeles Times examined the Fellowship Foundation's ministry records and archives (before they were sealed), as well as documents obtained from several presidential libraries and found that the Fellowship Foundation had extraordinary access and significant influence over U.S. foreign affairs for the last 75 years.[6]

The Fellowship has funded the travel expenses of members of Congress to various hot spots throughout the globe, including Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Al.) to Darfur,[61] Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Ok.) to Lebanon,[62] Rep. Aderholt to The Balkans,[63][64] and Reps John Carter (R-Tex.) and Joseph Pitts (R.-Pa.) to Belarus.[65][66]

In 2002, Reps. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), Tony P. Hall (D-Ohio) and Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan on a fact-finding congressional trip, meeting with the leaders of both Muslim countries. According to Pitts, "The first thing we did when we met with [Afghan] President Karzai and [then Pakistan] President Musharraf was to say, 'We're here officially representing the Congress; we'll report back to the speaker, our leaders, our committees, our government. But we're here also because we're best friends.... We're members of the same prayer group'".[6]

Doug Coe has been dispatched to foreign governments with the blessing of Congressional representatives and has helped arrange meetings overseas for U.S. officials and members of Congress.[6] In 1979, for instance, Coe messaged the Saudi Arabian Minister of Commerce and asked him to meet with a Defense Department official who was visiting Riyadh, the capital.[6]

The Fellowship has brought controversial international figures to Washington to meet with U.S. officials. Among them are former Salvadoran Gen. Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova, who in 2002 was found liable by a civil jury in Florida for the torture of thousands of civilians in the 1980s. He was invited to the 1984 prayer breakfast, along with Gen. Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, then head of the Honduran armed forces who was linked to a death squad and the Central Intelligence Agency.[6][67]

Coe was quoted in a rare interview regarding the Fellowship's associations with despots as explaining, "The people that are involved in this association of people around the world are the worst and the best, some are total despots. Some are totally religious. You can find what you want to find."[6]

Coe also has claimed that the Fellowship does not help foreign dignitaries gain access to U.S. officials. "We never make any commitment, ever, to arrange special meetings with the president, vice president or secretary of State", Coe said. "We would never do it". The LA Times found that "the archives tell another story”.[6]

In January 1991, Fellowship associate and financial supporter Michael Timmis met President Pierre Buyoya of Burundi on behalf of the Fellowship, then flew to Kenya with Arthur (Gene) Dewey, the former second-in-command at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and Sam Owen, then living in Nairobi.[68] Timmis wrote that he had obtained permission to fly over Tanzanian air space, even though the U.S. Department of State had ordered American citizens to stay clear of Tanzania.

The Fellowship has promoted reconciliation between the warring leaders of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, and Rwanda. In 2001, the Fellowship helped arrange a secret meeting at The Cedars between Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila and Rwandan President Paul Kagame — one of the first discreet meetings between the two African leaders that led to a peace accord in July 2002.[6]

In 1994 at the National Prayer Breakfast, the Fellowship helped to persuade South African Zulu chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi not to engage in a civil war with Nelson Mandela.[69]

According to Jeff Sharlet, Senator Sam Brownback (R.-Kan.) is a Fellowship member who leads a secret "cell" of leading U.S. Senators and Representatives to influence U.S. foreign policy.[70] Sharlet reports that the group has stamped much of U.S. foreign policy through a group of Senators and affiliated religious organizations forming the "Values Action Team" or "VAT".[70] One victory for the group was Brownback's North Korea Human Rights Act, which establishes a confrontational stance toward North Korea and shifts funds for humanitarian aid from the UN to Christian organizations.[70]

The Fellowship is behind an international project called Youth Corps, a network of Christian youth groups that attract teenagers, and only later steer them to Jesus.[16][71] The Youth Corps web site does not mention an affiliation to the Fellowship or religion.[72] A non-public, internal Fellowship document, “Regional Reports, January 3, 2002,” lists some of the nations where Youth Corps programs are in operation: Russia; Ukraine; Romania; India; Pakistan; Uganda; Nepal; Bhutan; Ecuador; Honduras and Peru.[16][71]

Fellowship funds have gone to an orphanage in India, a program in Uganda that provides schooling, and a development group in Peru.[6]

The Fellowship and Uganda

The Fellowship, through Representative Joe Pitts (R.-Pa.), redirected millions in US aid to Uganda from sex education programs to abstinence programs, thereby causing an evangelical revival, which included condom burnings.

In a November 2009 NPR interview, Sharlet alleged that Ugandan Fellowship associates David Bahati and Nsaba Buturo were behind the recent proposed bill in Uganda that called for the death penalty for gays.[73]

Sharlet reveals that David Bahati, the Uganda legislator backing the bill, reportedly first floated the idea of executing gays during The Family's Uganda National Prayer Breakfast in 2008.[74] Sharlet described Bahati as a "rising star" in the Fellowship who has attended the National Prayer Breakfast in the United States and, until the news over the gay execution law broke, was scheduled to attend the 2010 U.S. National Prayer Breakfast.[74]

Fellowship member Bob Hunter gave an interview to NPR in December 2009 in which he acknowledged Bahati's connection but argued that no American associates support the bill.[75]

President Barack Obama, in his address to the Fellowship at their National Prayer Breakfast in early 2010, directly criticized the Uganda legislation targeting gay people for execution. In calling for a renewed emphasis on faith and civility, Obama stated, "We may disagree about gay marriage, but surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are — whether it's here in the United States or, as Hillary [Clinton] mentioned, more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda."[76]

Relationships with other organizations

The Fellowship Foundation is linked to numerous other organizations:

International roots

Sir Vivian Gabriel, a British Air Commission attaché in Washington during World War II, established a branch of the Family (International Christian Leadership Association) in the United Kingdom.[86] Ernest Williams, a member of the directing staff of the British Admiralty and a member of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Evangelism, served as its president in the 1960s.[86] Williams worked closely with Harald Bredesen, a British intelligence operative who went on to personally mentor Rev. Pat Robertson in the United States.[86]

Current and former members

Fellowship involvement in extra-marital affairs of politician members

In 2009, the Fellowship received media attention in connection with three Republicans politician members who reportedly engaged in extra-marital affairs.[5][89][90][91] Two of them, Senator John Ensign, chairman of the Republican Policy Committee in the Senate and the fourth ranking in his party’s Senate leadership, and South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, immediate past Chair of the Republican Governors Association and U.S. Representative from 1995–2001, were considering running for President in 2012.[5][89][90][92][93] The affairs of Ensign and then-Congressman Chip Pickering, R-Miss., took place while they were living at the C Street Center.

Role in the affair of John Ensign

Ensign, a Fellowship member and longtime resident of the C Street Center, admitted in June 2009 to an extra-marital affair with Cindy Hampton, his campaign treasurer and the wife of his co-chief of staff, longtime friend and fellow worshipper Doug Hampton.[94]

The Washington Post reported that the C Street "house pulsed with backstage intrigue, in the days and months before the Sanford and Ensign scandals" and that residents tried to talk each politician into ending his philandering, escalating into an emotional meeting to discuss "forgiveness" between Hampton, the husband of Ensign's mistress, and Senator Tom Coburn.[5]

Hampton said he was not directly advised by the Fellowship to cover up Ensign's affair with his wife, but instead to "be cool". Hampton said they felt they needed a more powerful voice to confront Ensign, and reached out to Coburn, a C Street resident.[94] After initially denying it, Coburn admitted that he tried to broker a settlement between Hampton and Ensign that would have prevented Ensign's affair with Cindy Hampton and his dealings with Doug Hampton from being exacerbated in TV talk shows.[94]

Coburn, with Timothy and David Coe, leaders of the Fellowship, attempted to intervene to end Ensign's affair in February 2008 by meeting with Hampton and convincing Ensign to write a letter to Hampton's wife breaking off the affair.[5][89][90] Ensign was chaperoned by Coburn and other members from C Street, where Ensign lives with Coburn, to a Federal Express office to post the letter.[5][89][90] Ensign called Hampton's wife hours later to tell her to ignore the letter and flew out to spend the weekend with her in Nevada.[5][89][90]

In connection with the affair, Ensign reportedly engaged in conduct which, if true, would amount to felonies, according to Melanie Sloan, executive director of the liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.[94] The reported misconduct includes a $96,000 payment from Ensign's parents which Hampton claims was an unreported severance payment for the termination of his position as co-chief of staff for Ensign;[94] Hampton receiving a job as a lobbyist allegedly at Ensign's behest;[94] Ensign allegedly helping Hampton in his role as a lobbyist to lobby the Senator in violation of a one year lobbying ban on ex-Senate staffers;[94] and Hampton's additional charge that Ensign sexually harassed his wife.[95] The Senate Ethics Committee and the Department of Justice are investigating the charges related to illegal lobbying and subpoenas have been issued. Intimacy between government employees is reassessed as it affects the dignity of the environment.[96]

Hampton said he feels his friends at C Street have abandoned him by choosing to close ranks around Ensign, and that for them the episode "is about preserving John [Ensign], preserving the Republican party, this is about preserving C Street."[94]

Role in affair of Mark Sanford

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who served as a Congressman from 1995 to 2001, admitted in June 2009 to having an extramarital affair and said that during the months prior to news breaking he had sought counseling at the C Street Center.[97][98]

Sanford’s affair was revealed when, during his last secret trip to Argentina in June 2009, he left no contact information and told his staff that he was hiking the Appalachian trail.[99]

When asked during a press conference if his wife and family knew about his affair before his last trip to Argentina, Sanford said, “Yes. We've been working through this thing for about the last five months. I've been to a lot of different — as part of what we called "C Street" when I was in Washington. It was, believe it or not, a Christian Bible study — some folks that asked members of Congress hard questions that I think were very, very important. And I've been working with them.”[98]

Sanford "was a frequent visitor to the home for prayer meetings and meals during his time in Congress".[91]

Pickering case

Chip Pickering was a U.S. Reprentative from Mississippi from 1997 through 2008. In 2009, his wife filed suit against Elizabeth Creekmore Byrd, his former college sweetheart and alleged mistress.[91][100] Mrs. Pickering alleged that her husband restarted his relationship with Byrd while he was "a United States congressman prior to and while living in the well-known C Street Complex in Washington, D.C."[91][100]

C Street Center

The Fellowship runs a $1.8 million three story brick mansion in Washington D.C. known as "C Street."[101][102][103][104][105][106] It is the former convent for nearby St. Peter's Church. It is located a short distance from the United States Capitol. The structure has 12 bedrooms, nine bathrooms, five living rooms, four dining rooms, three offices, a kitchen, and a small "chapel".[6]

The facility houses mostly Republican members of Congress.[5][6][107] The house is also the locale for:

  • Tuesday night dinners for members of Congress and other Fellowship associates.

C Street has been the subject of controversy over its claimed tax status as a church, the ownership of the property and its connection to the Fellowship, and the reportedly subsidized benefits the facility provides to members of Congress.

Property holdings


Fellowship Foundation purchased a large old house in 1978, named the Doubleday Mansion. The home which also has a detached two story garage and a gardener's cottage, is zoned as a worship and teaching center. The home is used as a center for Bible studies, counseling, hymn sings, life mentoring, prayer groups, prayer breakfasts, luncheons, dinners, and hospitality receptions for international reconciliation and conflict resolution iniatives. The home was once surrounded by cedar trees and so was renamed Cedars. Its location is near Georgetown University in the Arlington Woodmont community. It is a historic landmark house and is situated adjacent to a commemorative recreational county park, once the homestead of writer C. F. Henry.[109]

Coe has described Cedars as a place "committed to the care of the underprivileged, even though it looks very wealthy." He noted that people might say, "Why don't you sell a chandelier and help poor people?" Answering his own question, Coe said, "The people who come here have tremendous influence over kids." Private documents indicate that Cedars was purchased so that "people throughout the world who carry heavy responsibilities could meet in Washington to think together, plan together and pray together about personal and public problems and opportunities."[6] Cedars is host to dozens of prayer breakfasts, luncheons and dinners for ambassadors, congressional representatives, foreign religious leaders and many others.

In March 1990, YWAM (which also previously owned the C Street Center) purchased a nearby property located at 2200 24th Street North for $580,000.[110] The property, was used as another gathering place for bible study. Ownership of 2200 24th Street was transferred to the C Street Center on May 6, 1992, and again to the Fellowship Foundation on October 25, 2002. This house had been owned by Timothy Coe, who sold the property to his father, Douglas Coe on November 30, 1989, for $580,000.

A second property, located at 2224 24th Street North and assessed at $916,000, is used as a men's mentoring ministry, known as a Navigator house. This property was purchased by Jerome A. Lewis and Co. in 1986, and sold to the Wilberforce Foundation in 1987. In 2007, the Wilberforce Foundation transferred it to the Fellowship Foundation for $1 million. Jerome A. Lewis is a trustee emeritus of the Trinity Forum and the former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Petro-Lewis Corporation.[111]

Douglas Coe once owned a lot at 2560 North 23rd Road, which he sold to Ohio Congressman Tony P. Hall (D-OH) and his wife on September 22, 1987, for $100,000.[112] Upon leaving Congress in 2002, Hall donated some of his excess campaign funds including $20,000 to the Fellowship Foundation on September 4, 2002,[113] $1,500 to the Wilberforce Foundation,[114] and $1,000 to the Jonathan Coe Memorial of Annapolis, Maryland during the 2001 campaign cycle.[115]

The residence located at 2244 24th Street North, assessed at $1,458,800, is owned by Merle Morgan, whose wife, Edita, is on the board of the Cedars.[116] It also is identified as the offices of the greeting card firm of Morgan Bros. Corp. (d/b/a Capitol Publishing). Missionary Fred Heyn and his wife owned 2206 24th Street North.

LeRoy Rooker, the one-time treasurer of Cedars and former Director of the Family Policy Compliance Office at the U.S. Department of Education, and his wife own 2222 24th Street North.[117]

Arthur W. Lindsley, a Senior Fellow at the C.S. Lewis Institute owns 2226 24th Street North.[118]

Cedar Point Farm

According to White House records dating from 1978, President Jimmy Carter traveled to Cedar Point Farm by Marine helicopter on November 12, 1978, to attend a Fellowship prayer and discussion group.[58] President Carter placed a call to Menachim Begin while at Cedar Point Farm.[58] The White House records reflect that Cedar Point Farm was owned by Harold Hughes, a former Senator from Iowa and the President of the Fellowship Foundation.[58] Cedar Point Farm was later used by the Wilberforce Foundation.

Other Fellowship properties

  • "Southeast White House", located at 2909 Pennsylvania Avenue, Southeast, which is a center of urban reconciliation, youth mentoring, community prayer breakfasts, Bible studies, life principle teaching and racial relational healing initiatives. University students come for internships in urban reconciliation and in community service for the bereft.[119] This property is assessed at $736,310 for 2009 tax year.[120]
  • "19th Street House," a two-story, brick apartment building located at 859 19th Street NE,[1] in the Trinidad neighborhood of northeast Washington, D.C., which is assessed at $358,250 for the 2009 tax year.[121] The 19th Street Center is used for afterschool activities.
  • Mount Oak Estates, Annapolis, Maryland. One residential property, formerly owned by Timothy Coe, was sold to Wilberforce Foundation, Inc. for $1.1 million. A second residence is owned by David and Alden Coe and a third is owned by Fellowship associate Marty Sherman. Another nearby property, 1701 Baltimore Annapolis Boulevard, was owned by the Fellowship Foundation.
  • Until 1994, the Fellowship Foundation owned the aged French revival historic "Fellowship House", the former base of Vereide's ministry located at 2817 Woodland Drive in Washington, D.C., which was sold to the Ourisman Chevrolet family for $2.5 million and which was then fully architecturally and historically restored and preserved.


The Fellowship Foundation, which since 1935 has conducted no public fundraising programs, relies totally on private donation. In 2007, the group received nearly $16.8 million to support the 400 ministries.[18] Among the Fellowship's key supporters are billionaire investor Paul N. Temple, a former executive of Esso (Exxon) and the founder of the Institute of Noetic Sciences and the Three Swallows Foundation. Between 1998 and 2007, Three Swallows made grants totaling $1,777,650 to the International Foundation, including $171,500 in 2004,[79] $203,500 in 2005,[80] and $145,500 in 2006.[81]

Another supporter, Jerome (Jerry) A. Lewis, established Denver-based Downing Street Foundation to provide support to three organizations: the Fellowship Foundation, Denver Leadership Foundation, and Young Life. Between 1999 and 2007, Downing Street donated at least $756,000 to the Family,[122] in addition to allowing the group to use its "retreat center."

Madelynn Winstead, a Downing Street director, was paid $21,600 by the Fellowship Foundation as managing director of the retreat center.[123]

The Kingdom Fund (Kingdom Oil Christian Foundation t/a Twin Cities Christian Foundation) also provides support to the Family and World Vision.[124]

The Fellowship Foundation earns more than $1,000,000 annually through its sponsorship of the National Prayer Breakfast.[18]

See also


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