The Family: Doug Coe’s 1989 Sermon to the Navigators – Jesus Demands Total Commitment

Throughout the Netflix documentary The Family, clips of Family leader Doug Coe preaching a sermon to a Christian audience are played. The clips come from his sermon to the Navigators, a Colorado based Christian mission group, on January 16 1989. This sermon — titled Jesus Demands Total Commitment — had not been available online until 2010 when Coe sent the video to me to post on YouTube. He felt his words had been taken out of context and wanted the entire sermon posted.

The video doesn’t include Coe’s introductory remarks about George Bush and is also cut short. Bruce Wilson has the entire audio available which does have several minutes of Coe praising Bush for his Christianity and asking the audience to pray for him. One thing that is typical of Coe in those remarks is that he doesn’t ask for the audience to pray for Bush to pursue certain policy goals (e.g., end abortion, appoint judges), but instead to make godly decisions. While Coe might have had preferences, he did not seem as interested in specific policy outcomes as the current crop of evangelical leaders surrounding Trump.

I believe this is the only posted video of the event which begins just after the sermon begins. Given YouTube guidelines at the time, I had to break it up into four parts.

More on Doug Coe.

Remembering Doug Coe

With the advent of The Family documentary mini-series (based on a book by Jeff Sharlet) on Netflix starting next Wednesday August 9, there will be renewed interest in Doug Coe. Coe was the leader of the Fellowship Foundation for many years before his death in 2017. Although he wasn’t the founder, he did as much as anyone to shape the Fellowship into the organization it is today.

In 2009, I emerged as a vocal opponent of the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill and more broadly criminalization of homosexuality worldwide. Author Jeff Sharlet initially made the connection between the bill and the Fellowship. Because Ugandan members of the Fellowship and Prayer Breakfast movement were the main supporters of the bill in Uganda, the Fellowship leaders in the U.S. had to decide whether to take a public position on the matter.

Although there were many U.S. influences on the Ugandan legislators, the Fellowship leaders were divided about how to oppose the bill. Some wanted to quietly persuade the Ugandan people to withdraw, while others favored a more active, vocal opposition. However, taking a public position meant increasing public awareness of the organization. This went against the organization’s historical pattern.

For awhile, those favoring more transparency won out and I was invited to interview several Fellowship members including Ambassador Andrew Young, Representative Tony Hall, and Coe.  My write up of the Coe 2010 prayer breakfast interview where he condemned the bill and criminalization was published by Christianity Today.

David Bahati, the parliamentarian who co-introduced the Ugandan bill, later said that the American leaders betrayed him and really wanted the bill to succeed. I think Bahati interpreted the initial silence of some Fellowship leaders as support. However, I believe Doug Coe and other Fellowship leaders were sincere when they spoke with me at the 2010 National Prayer Breakfast.

The series begins next Wednesday August 9. Over the five episodes, I will post more information I have about the Fellowship including links to speeches of Coe’s which he allowed to upload to my Youtube account which had not been previously posted.  The trailer for the series is below.

Doug Coe, Spiritual Leader of the Fellowship Foundation, Died Today

Late this afternoon, the family of Doug Coe shared with friends and associates that Doug Coe died today at the age of 88.

Dear friends and associates,
Because of how much you mean to our family, we wanted you to be among the first to be informed that Doug Coe, 88, passed today, Feb 21, 2017 at 4:20pm from complications following a heart attack and stroke. Despite our personal sadness, we have joy in knowing that he is now with Jesus and at peace. All for which he gave his life and tirelessly revealed to so many makes complete sense to him now. He is with family and friends who have gone on before, perhaps saying, “See, I told you…”

Coe was for many years the spiritual leader of the Fellowship Foundation, a non-profit organization that is best known for organizing and hosting the National Prayer Breakfast. Every president since Eisenhower has spoken at the event.

According to Coe’s and his family’s wishes, there will be a small memorial service.

Doug begged us not to make his passing about him, but rather continuously showed us how to make it about Jesus. We realize that our grief is more for us than him, so we will do a small memorial service only to say goodbye. He didn’t want a big affair. His wish was that this family of friends around the world would each gather with one or two in their small group in their own location at their next regularly scheduled time, and continue the prayer from Luke 10:2 that was his life focus.

Everywhere the Lord would allow him to go, Doug would pray to the Lord of the harvest “to raise up laborers, for the harvest is ready, but the laborers are few.” Continuing that prayer would be the highest tribute you could give to Doug, and we know you will be together with us in spirit as we bid him farewell in this earthly life until we are reunited with him one day in heaven for eternity.

Instead of flowers, the family suggests gifts “to the Doug Coe Memorial Fund. Checks may be made out to The International Foundation (memo: Account 501-000) and sent to The International Foundation, PO Box 23813, Washington DC, 20026.”

Doug Coe with me in 2010

I met and interviewed Coe at the 2010 National Prayer Breakfast. The interview was later published in Christianity Today as one of only a handful of interviews Coe granted to writers throughout his career. He was a behind the scenes kind of person who cultivated relationships with world leaders and helped spread the prayer breakfast concept around the globe.

My connection to the Prayer Breakfast came as a consequence of my opposition to the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2009. Ugandan members of the prayer breakfast movement had offered the bill much to the eventual consternation of the American members. I was allowed to interview Coe in part to record his opposition to the Ugandan bill in person.

Doug wrote to me after my open heart surgery in 2012 to let me know he prayed for me. I will always remember his personal warmth and genuine desire to make his life about following Jesus.

I feel sure that Doug will rest in peace.

UPDATE:
Christianity Today has a write up about Doug.

A. Larry Ross has been designated to handle any media questions. See also his detailed bio about Doug.

National Prayer Breakfast travelogue

On February 3-4, I attended various meetings associated with the National Prayer Breakfast. By invitation of Bob Hunter and the various hosts, I was able to attend the African Prayer Breakfast, the International Luncheon and a dinner hosted by a group of people who put on prayer breakfast meetings in the western US. On the day of the prayer breakfast, I was allowed to watch the proceedings in the African Suite. One of the highlights of my visit was the opportunity to meet and interview Doug Coe which was published yesterday by Christianity Today.

The 2010 National Prayer Breakfast African Breakfast was held at 8:00am on Wednesday, February 3. The formal invitation was extended by Rep. John Boozman (R-AK). Andrew Marin also attended the meeting along about 300 invited guests, mostly from Africa, or the African diplomatic corps in Washington DC. The purpose of the breakfast was printed on a card at each table.

Purpose of this Breakfast:

To provide a unique gathering to advance three principles:

  1. To communicate the power of small groups that meet regularly around the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
  2. To create an environment of dialog in order to help create lasting relationships.
  3. To follow the Acts 2:42 model to hear the disciples’ teachings and fellowship, to eat together, and to pray.

The value of a small group:

With the Spirit of Jesus at the center, this ancient idea of gathering together meets a long-felt spiritual need of men and women at all levels of society in our modern world. People find acceptance, understanding, confidence, and hope for the future through a deepening relationship with God and in discovering the secret of true brotherhood with their fellow men and women. The primary goal of a small group is to build trust, fellowship, and closer bonds of friendship through the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

“Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20

The African Breakfast featured an array of religious and political figures from around the continent. Rep. John Boozman opened by welcoming the crowd on behalf of the Congress. I will have more to say about various presentations in another post. For now I want to list each event and the speakers.

African Breakfast – This event featured Rwanda’s Minister of Education, Charles Murigande, as the keynote speaker. He told his story of moving from a Howard University professor back to his homeland of Rwanda as the holocaust was taking place. Andrew Marin provided his thoughts about the presentation on his blog. The opening prayer was delivered Sophie Boyoya (Burundi), with an Old Testament reading delivered by Mouloud Zaid (Western Sahara), a New Testament reading by Antonio Sumbana (Mozambique) and short speech on the importance of small group prayer meetings by Dr. Inonge Mbikusita-Lewanika (Zambia).

International Luncheon – The invitation for this event came from Senators Amy Klobuchar and Johnny Isakson, co-chairs of the National Prayer Breakfast. The luncheon was described as

A luncheon for international guests and the Diplomatic Corps will be held at the Hilton Washington in the International Ballroom on Wednesday, February 3, 2010…This luncheon is the first official event for our international guests attending the 58th National Prayer Breakfast.

Former Ohio Representative and current Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, Tony Hall, welcomed the audience and led the opening prayer. The speakers for the luncheon were Yuli-Yoel Edelstein (Israel), Rajai Muasher (Jordan), Grace Pinto (India) and Andrey Makarov (Russia). Mr. Edelstein is Minister of Public Affairs and the Diaspora in Israel and noted that a prayer breakfast small group meets in the Knesset. Mr. Muasher gave what sounded like a political speech, specifying his belief that peace in the Middle East would come in exchange for land. Moving from the political, Ms. Pinto described her large religious school in India. I had to leave during Mr. Makarov’s speech in order to meet Doug Coe.

Rounding out the day, I attended a dinner of representatives from the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain region. Hawaiian Senator Daniel Akaka moderated the event and introductory speeches were given by Rev. Richard Foth, and Chaadi Massaad from Lebanon. Gen. Mick Kicklighter was the keynote speaker with The Shack author, Paul Young giving the closing prayer. 

The diversity of speakers and topics was impressive, with a hint of what I was to learn in my meetings with various Prayer Breakfast leaders. For instance, one speaker said he was a Muslim follower of Jesus. He told the crowd that Christians do not own Jesus. While I think different people mean different things by this statement, it appears that changing religious labels is not a requirement to be a follower of Jesus in this movement. As noted in yesterday’s post, the Prayer Breakfast movement puts a focus on what they called, “the main thing” – which is loving God and one’s neighbor.

More to come.

Christianity Today: Doug Coe’s vision for the Fellowship

Last year and early this year, as a component of reporting on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, I wrote a bit about the Fellowship Foundation. Author Jeff Sharlet reported in November of last year that the main movers of the Ugandan proposal were associated with the Fellowship. As the matter unfolded, it has become clear that those behind the bill are associated with the Fellowship, but outside of Uganda, many other Fellowship associates oppose the bill. In particular, former Ford and Carter administration official, Bob Hunter offered vigorous public opposition on behalf of the Fellowship. To get the context, Jeff Sharlet’s guest post here on the subject is well worth reviewing.

The signature event associated with the Fellowship Foundation is the National Prayer Breakfast. The Fellowship organizes the event for the Congress with the President sometimes taking an active role in inviting guests from around the world. Held the first week of February, speculation was high in January about who would attend from Uganda. In relationship to my reporting on Uganda, I was invited to come to the National Prayer Breakfast to learn more about the event and the group behind it.

As an aspect of that visit, I was given a rare opportunity to sit down with spiritual leader of the Fellowship, Doug Coe. He grants few interviews, in fact, I only know of a handful, but he was glad to affirm to me that Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill was completely inconsistent with his vision for the Fellowship. Today, Christianity Today published the rest of the interview on their webite.

Over the next week or so, I will be reporting more on my visit to the National Prayer Breakfast. In this post, I want to begin by providing the talking points for a meeting where delegates from Africa were given information about the essential aspects of the National Prayer Breakfast work. In the legislatures of many nations, Fellowship groups conduct prayer breakfast meetings with similar aims as the US version. What follows is a document used to explain the Fellowship at an African gathering at this year’s event.

Eight Core Aspects of the vision and methods – the National Prayer Breakfast work:

  1. Based on Long Term Relationships:  There are a circle of friends connected with this that go back several decades in some cases.  Sometimes we simply call ourselves the fellowship or a family of friends.  Family refers to the nature of relationships and friends speaks to the quality of our relationships.
  2. It’s a Wide Vision but grounded in Small Groups:  It’s world-wide – we have members coming from very many different nations – it’s a very wide vision – but at the same time the whole thing is composed of friends gathering regularly in small groups for fellowship and to pray for their nations, their leaders and the leaders of the world.
  3. We focus on Jesus as the Common Ground:  Any movement needs to have a strong ideal of shared values holding its members together.  Many initiatives that try to promote unity across religious divides – can often end up with the ‘lowest common denominator’ when trying to create common ground.  We are seeking the highest common denominator and so we reference our core values and methods to the principles, precepts and person of Jesus.
  4. We work across all that is dividing humanity:  Nearly all of the conflicts and wars in the world today are being fought because of religious or ideological difference and ethnic differences.  And part of the vision of our family of friends – is to raise up a movement of people who can cross these divides – who can ‘stand in the gap‘ – who can love ‘ the enemy.’
  5. It’s also call for Personal Transformation:  A personal transformation – by Divine influence.  All of us are works in progress… we experience changes in ourselves as we follow this Way of Jesus.  And this happens the more we reflect His thinking, His way of speaking these actions – his love.  The hope for the transformation of society – lies with transformed individuals.
  6. It’s about faith for a Better World:  As human beings making up the family of nations in the world – we can do much better than what we have done so far.  We can do better than this.  We need to articulate and communicate a vision that is big and inspiring enough for people to buy into with whole-hearted, life-long commitment.  A vision for a new way of living, this is what Jesus’ concept of the kingdom of God was all about.  The world in its present state is not at all in line with the ideals of God’s Kingdom.  That is, it is not operating by the values of God. This is why we see wars, injustice, poverty, crime and so forth.
  7. We Focus on the Essentials:  By the time of Jesus – in his religion there were over 600 commandments.  Jesus boiled them down to two.  He said “Love God with all you heart, mind and should and Love your neighbor as yourself.”  This he said was the Sum of all…..the other commandments.  The sum of the law and the prophets.  This was the greatest commandments.  The main thing.  And the main thing to keep the main thing the main thing. 
  8. Finally – we work with Leaders but only have one leader that we give our lives to and that is Jesus:  One of the earlier followers of Jesus – Paul was given a special mission: “This man is my chosen instrument to take my name…before the Gentiles and their kings….Acts 9:15,”  This group of friends has helped to carry on this mission in regards the “king” – or other leaders of our world – who hold enormous influence – for better or worse – over vast numbers of people including billion of the poor – “the least of these” for whom Jesus has a special concern.

Number 7 echoes what Coe said during the interview:

Coe said that Lincoln was always faithful to go to church, but never joined a church. When asked why he stayed unaligned, President Lincoln replied, “When I find that church which has as its only creed ‘to love God with all its heart, mind, soul and strength,’ I will gladly join.” Coe seems to want the Fellowship to be the kind of group Lincoln could join.

For now, let me note that Coe rarely speaks in public and rarely takes public positions on issues. He was willing to do so in order to say that the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was inconsistent with his vision of following Jesus.

I am very interested in observations and dialogue regarding the interview and the summary points above. There were many more questions I will ask Mr. Coe if given the opportunity. I suspect this will have an interest to many outside the Ugandan anti-gay bill so I hope the discussion will not be limited to it.

Doug Coe confirms Fellowship Foundation opposition to Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill

UPDATE – 5/13/10: Click here to read more about the interview with Doug Coe and new information regarding the National Prayer Breakfast work.

………..

Yesterday, I met with Doug Coe, considered by many to be the spiritual leader of the Fellowship Foundation. Organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast which convenes this morning at the Washington Hilton, the Fellowship Foundation has been accused of supporting Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill. All my contacts with the Foundation yesterday were uniform in opposing the specific tenets of the legislation as well as the spirit and intent of the bill.

Mr. Coe told me in the interview that he believes Jesus loves all people regardless of sexual orientation. He and other Fellowship leaders told me that imposing the death penalty and criminalization of homosexuality is contrary to the principles of love and compassion that Jesus taught and lived and upon whose life and teachings the Fellowship is based. Furthermore, the National Prayer Breakfast movement’s mission is to build bridges of understanding between all people, religions and beliefs.

Mr. Coe also confirmed to me that his good friend and associated Bob Hunter is authorized to speak for the Foundation on this issue. Hunter has been outspoken in opposition to the bill. Hunter has a long time relationship with Uganda and has publicly called on David Bahati to withdraw the bill. Yesterday, Hunter was quoted in the New York Times and confirmed to me that “about 30 Family members, all Americans, active in Africa recently conveyed their dismay about the legislation to Ugandan politicians, including Mr. Bahati.”

This opposition seems entirely consistent with the events I attended here yesterday. For instance, the welcome card for the African Breakfast described this “value of a small group”

With the Spirit of Jesus at the center, this ancient idea of gathering together meets a long-felt spiritual need of men and women at all levels of society in our modern world. People find acceptance, understanding, confidence, and hope for the future through a deepening relationship with God and in discovering the secret of true brotherhood with their fellow men and women. The primary goal of a small group is to build trust, fellowship, and closer bonds of friendship through the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

As noted repeatedly by all I talked to here yesterday, including Ugandans present, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill is completely inconsistent with this statement.

Click here for all posts on Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill.