Last week, I read an article in Rolling Stone about a new Netflix documentary titled The Family. The Rolling Stone article really piqued my interest because it suggests that the documentary reveals a vast right wing Christian conspiracy to undermine American democracy in order to transform the nation into a theocracy. The article was provocative, to say the least. So much so that I spent some time over the last several days watching the documentary for myself.
All I can say is that the documentary is one of the most outrageous pieces anti-Christian propaganda that I have ever seen.
Jesse Moss directs The Family and has based his work primarily on Jeff Sharlet’s 2009 book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. Like the book, the documentary attempts to uncover the inner-workings of an evangelical Christian ministry in Washington, D.C. called The Fellowship. This ministry was led by a man named Doug Coe until his death two years ago. The Fellowship Foundation’s signature event is the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.—an event that features Presidents from both political parties every year.
The documentary argues that while The Fellowship Foundation may pose as an evangelical parachurch ministry, it is actually a subversive political group attempting to undermine American democracy by turning the nation toward Christian principles. The late Doug Coe has met every president since Eisenhower and has had an outsized influence in Washington, D.C. As a result, his group has become a political force to be reckoned with—a force that the public is largely unaware of and which needs to be exposed. And that is what this documentary attempts to do.
I actually don’t know a great deal about The Fellowship Foundation or its related ministries. And my aim in writing this blog post is neither to defend nor denounce that particular ministry. I simply do not know enough about it to do so. My real aim is to take on what the documentary alleges to be the subversive elements of that ministry. It turns out the most subversive elements comprise core beliefs that are common among evangelical Christians in general.
Among other things, the documentary denounces the ministry for trying to influence political leaders for Christ. It also castigates Christians who bring their faith to bear upon public policy. The film sneers at specific Christian doctrines like the “headship” teaching of Ephesians 5:23 and the doctrine of election. In fact, film alleges that the doctrine of election is to blame for evangelical toleration of sexual immorality among conservative political leaders. The film excoriates Christian politicians who have opposed gay marriage both here and abroad.
In sum, this film tries to paint evangelicals and their beliefs as a threat to the social order and even to democracy itself.
What troubled me most about this film is how it mainstreams blatant anti-Christian propaganda. This film could not have been made fifteen years ago. It would have provoked massive blowback. But a lot has changed in the last fifteen years, and it is now okay to caricature Christians and publicly denounce them for their beliefs. And that is exactly what this film does, and it does so on one of the largest media platforms in the world—Netflix. There will be millions of viewers whose opinion of evangelicals will be distorted by this film. It catechizes viewers to be suspicious of Christians and to regard us as a clear and present danger to democracy.
This film is a sign of the times and a portent of things to come. America is a post-Christian nation, and practicing Christians are going to have to prepare themselves for their new, disfavored minority status. We need to be ready to love our neighbors and our enemies and to bear witness in a culture that is increasingly hostile toward us. Private citizens may someday face fines and other penalties for their convictions. Our churches may eventually lose tax exempt status. Any number of negative outcomes are possible in the approaching conflagration.
Ours will likely be a costly love and a costly witness. But this is precisely the kind of discipleship that Jesus has called all of us to, and it will be worth it in the end (Matt. 16:25). But we need to be ready. This film is a reminder of that.