The tightrope between church and state

Laura Hennawi, Associate Editor

… the exploitation of religion for political gain is unconstitutional, misrepresenting American democracy.”

Religion: the most prized controversy. A subject of debate for centuries, faith shaped the course of our world’s history and politics. Religion is a powerful instrument employed in governments worldwide, but how far has religion gone here in the United States?
The Family–also known as the Fellowship–is a Christian organization influential in government, with contacts and missionaries worldwide, and avid members of the organization in government. Investigative journalist Jeff Sharlet unveiled the innerworkings of the organization, going undercover as a member to investigate.
The new Netflix docuseries “The Family” details the organization. Sharlet himself describes his experiences in association with the Family, especially his temporary residency in the fraternity-like Ivanwald. With ties to the Fellowship, Ivanwald housed young men from around the United States in a single house in Washington, D.C. They went over the Bible daily and helped politicians with absolutely anything, even toilet-cleaning. A “brotherhood,” they saw themselves as the chosen ones who are destined for power. Juxtaposed with Potomac Point—a sorority-like house for women with further ties to the Fellowship—Ivanwald is seen as superior, the epitome of Christian livelihood, while the women at Potomac Point are supposed to be obedient and silent, looking up to the men instead of taking on important opportunities.
The Fellowship’s renowned National Prayer Breakfast, an event started back during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency, allows politicians and leaders from all around the world gather for—you guessed it—prayer and breakfast. But this breakfast is different; not only does it last three days, but it’s a beacon for political communication and even infiltration, as seen with Marina Butina, a Russian right-wing sensation who pleaded guilty to acting as an illegal agent but was explicitly invited to the Prayer Breakfast. The National Prayer Breakfast is exploited for political gain under the name of religion that is blatantly against the basics of American democracy.
Politicians connected to The Fellowship, like senator James Inhofe and ex-representitive Mark Siljander, have had suspiciously friendly relations with terrorist leaders. Also, attempts of anti-gay rights legislation in Romania and Uganda were covertly supported by The Family, religion used as a device to garner support for laws that are blatant human rights violations. The legislation failed, but it is vital to note how the prominence of American exceptionalism in religion endangers people around the world.
The freedom for people to believe and express their faith is what shapes America as a democratic haven for the world, but the exploitation of religion for political gain is unconstitutional, misrepresenting American democracy. This “nation, under God” should encompass any religion people believe in, not just a mechanism for political gain.