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.
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.
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.
Often titles with questions are ways of saying something without committing to it. In this case, I really don’t know the answer to the question.
Today is the annual National Prayer Breakfast, an event facilitated by the Fellowship Foundation but one with the feeling of government sponsorship due to the involvement of numerous Representatives and Senators as well as every president since Eisenhower. Trump will speak today.
Of late, TYT Network’s (The Young Turks) Jonathan Larsen has been doing extensive reporting on the operations of the Fellowship Foundation. In a story out Tuesday, Larsen sited a 2018 blog post in which I noted that Fellowship volunteer leader Doug Burleigh seemed unusually partisan toward Donald Trump.
Larsen reports evidence that those now leading the Fellowship Foundation fund Republican political causes and are strongly in Trump’s court. If this becomes a wide spread perception around the world and in Washington, I think the Fellowship’s influence will decline. Being perceived as non-partisan was a value of the late Doug Coe and accounted for the success of Coe in attracting an impressive array of political figures from both parties to their list of supporters.
In a previous article, Larsen also reported that the Fellowship implemented new rules designed to make clear the Fellowship’s opposition to use of the NPB for influence peddling. For those interested in the NPB and the work of the Fellowship, I recommend that article and a review of those new rules which the Fellowship supplied to Larsen in full.
In March of this year, one of the organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast Doug Burleigh joked about Russian collusion with Jesus prior to delivering a sermon at a church in Tacoma, WA. Then last week, in a federal indictment, it was alleged that Russian national Maria Butina used her connections with the NPB to carry out conspiracy activities. Although the prayer breakfast organizer was not named in the indictment, Mr. Burleigh is the NPB member responsible for coordinating with the Fellowship’s representatives from Russia.
Prior to his sermon, Burleigh told his audience that MSNBC talk show host Joe Scarborough found out the number of Russians attending the NPB in 2018. However, Burleigh dismissed any concerns about that as “fake news.”
Burleigh told the group that he had 61 Russians and 52 Ukrainians at the event this year. Then at 1:02, he said:
Thursday was the breakfast, the 8th of February, and I started getting texts from all over the country. ‘What’s the deal with the Russian collusion?’ Well, I’m going to personally share with you a little fake news okay that I ran into is the morning guy on MSNBC who hates Trump Joe Scarborough, he goes, ‘I hear that there’s more Russians than have ever come to the prayer breakfast before and that’s true. But what he didn’t know is that a lot of them were young professionals we invited to lift up Jesus and we had six wonderful times with them. He said, ‘there must be collusion, obviously there’s something going on, so I got friends from around the country going what’s the deal with the Russian collusion. And I said, ‘boy there’s big time collusion: it’s the Russians and Jesus, that’s the collusion.
In the July 14 indictment it is alleged that in 2017 two of the Russians who were supposed to be “colluding with Jesus” at the prayer breakfast were Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin. In fact, both Butina and Torshin may have been working the religious group on behalf of the Russian government. Because Butina asked, according to the indictment, the NPB organizer offered to give Butina 10 Russian spots for the 2017 event. It is not clear if that happened or if there were any requests for the 2018 event.
His Tacoma speech wasn’t the first time Burleigh expressed a dim view of the U.S. media. At a Russian prayer meeting in May 2017, Burleigh spoke to a group affiliated with the American Fellowship. After the meeting, he spoke to writer Andrei Tyunyaev.
At about 2:25, Tyunyaev asked Burleigh a question:
Tyunyaev – The fact that you are present here after a few years of a going down relationship between Russia and America and growing tension and so just for us it’s a good thing so what’s your impression, what’s your hope for the future?
Burleigh: I’m very hopeful. The reason I’m hopeful is Mr. Trump is a relational person. He’s a negotiator. He’s going to sit down with Putin and they’re going to talk. And I think, we have an expression in America – win-win. I think he wants a win-win situation. I’ll bet Mr. Putin wants a win-win situation. In other words, both sides win. So how’s that going to happen? When they get together and talk. You know in our country, it’s always strange to in divorces, the attorneys tell the husband and wife not to talk to each other. How can you possibly reconcile with somebody you can’t talk to? The real estate agent tells the seller not to talk to the buyer. You know why that is? He’s worried about losing his commission. He doesn’t care about them getting the best deal they can get.
So the reason I’m hopeful is I think our president really wants to talk to your president. I think they’re both intelligent people. Neither of them wants war. I know that. People always tell me Americans want war. No we don’t. And the reason I know you don’t is I’ve been coming here for 52 years. War to an American is going to Vietnam or Afghanistan. War to a Russian is the tanks coming down the streets of your house. You understand war far better than we do. And I tell my American friends that all the time, you don’t want war. So I’m hopeful.
By the way, some of my best friends are Russian. They’re loyal, faithful and loving. So some of my best friends are American, and they are loyal, faithful and loving. So we just gotta get them together.
Tyunyaev: So when we learned after the prayer breakfast that Mr. Trump would become the president of America, we were pretty cheerful and supportive of that fact. We can see the difficulties that he has to overcome to change the structure. We believe in Mr. Trump’s intelligent and smart approach to the issues, walking toward each other and not away from each other.
Burleigh: Yeah, and the problem in our country is press hates Trump, okay? And I think the press is so biased that you don’t get a true story from them. Let me give you an example from last week is the president said he would be honored to meet with the president of North Korea. I thought, ‘that’s the first time anybody’s ever said that.’ All the press could focus on was the word ‘honored.’ He said he be honored to meet with him!?
Tyunyaev: That’s a step of friendship
Burleigh: Of course it is. He went the extra mile to affirm him. What’s wrong with that?
National Prayer Breakfast: Non-Partisan?
Those close to the Fellowship Foundation that I have spoken to insist that the organization is non-partisan. In fact, one recently told me that if the Fellowship and NPB were perceived as pro-Trump (or pro anybody), the “group would self-destruct.”
In contrast, Burleigh portrays a positive stance toward Trump in these and other public statements. His criticisms of the press are startling and parrot the Trump talking points. In fact, the press coverage of Trump’s announcement in May 2017 about meeting Kim Jong-un was straightforward and only reported what Trump said. In reaction to Trump’s words, many pundits and experts criticized Trump which the press also reported. Furthermore, some raised the observation that conservatives criticized Obama when he offered to meet with our enemies without preconditions.
Has the Fellowship taken a pro-Trump, pro-Russia position? While I doubt it given some of the people still involved in it, I wonder what might happen over time now that leader Doug Coe has passed.
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With the indictment of Maria Butina for conspiracy and acting as an agent of the Russian government, public attention has come upon the Fellowship Foundation. Founded by the late Doug Coe, I crossed paths with the FF beginning in 2009 when Ugandan affiliates of that organization promoted the death penalty for GLB people in the Ugandan Parliament via the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. I took a strong stand against that bill which eventually led to an invitation to the National Prayer Breakfast, hosted each year by the Fellowship. While there, the American leaders allowed me to interview Doug Coe — one of only four published interviews of the reclusive founder — so that he could tell the public in clear terms that he did not favor criminalizing homosexuality.
Now via the documents describing the indictment of alleged Russian operative Maria Butina, the National Prayer Breakfast is again in public focus. The documents refer to an organizer of the prayer breakfast and various individuals who Butina contacted. While I don’t know for certain in each case who she contacted, a source close to the Fellowship told me that Doug Burleigh, the son-in-law of Doug Coe, is the person at the organization who handles networking with the Russian affiliates.
Burleigh Predicted Trump and Putin Would Have a Breakthrough
Almost exactly a year ago at the Russian version of the prayer breakfast, Doug Burleigh made a prediction. A news article from the Russian Evangelical Alliance tells the story:
On another note, Doug Burleigh from Washington’s National Prayer Breakfast forecast that “a breakthrough in relations between Russia and the USA is about to occur. The greatest possible hope for Russia and the USA is friendship between our nations. I believe that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump will yet become friends.” (Reverse translation from the Russian.)
I wonder how Burleigh knew such a breakthrough was about to happen. Prophecy? Or perhaps he was on the inside of efforts to make it so. According to the indictment documents, the National Prayer Breakfast organizers were aware of a desire to bring Vladimir Putin to the event. Butina also promised to keep them apprised of new developments in the effort to improve relations between the two nations and the two presidents.
The refusal of Donald Trump to criticize or hold Vladimir Putin accountable has puzzled numerous observers. Behind the scenes, an effort to craft a friendship between Trump and Putin has been in operation for several years.
Were the Russians using the National Prayer Breakfast as a ploy to advance political goals? Is the talk of faith a means to a darker end? Butina will have her day in court and I hope evangelicals who went along for her ride will watch and listen carefully.
How did this happen?
Louie Gohmert was co-chair of the Congressional Prayer Breakfast this year (along with Janice Hahn D-CA) and so it is possible that the prayer breakfast committee promoted this to the African leaders. It is also possible that Barton sponsored it and used his relationship with Gohmert to spread the word.
Hard to say which stories he told. Perhaps he told them Congress printed the first English Bible to use in schools, or that most of the founders had seminary degrees. Despite the fact that even the Family Research Council removed a video of this presentation, Barton is still giving it, this time to international leaders.
The Fellowship Foundation helps to plan and run the prayer breakfast. When I attended in 2010, I attended the African breakfast and other events and did not hear Christian nationalist messages. All in all, it seemed pretty tame from a political perspective. I cannot imagine how this presentation by Barton would support the mission often articulated by the Fellowship.
In another sign that David Bahati’s stock continues to rise in Uganda, Bahati presided over the recent opening parliamentary prayer fellowship dinner as chairman. From the New Vision:
The chairman of the parliamentary fellowship, David Bahati, said the caucus of God is bigger than all other caucuses and does not discriminate against political affiliations.
The parliamentary fellowship was founded in 1986 by the late Hon. Balaki Kirya, and has since 1991 been organising a prayer breakfast on every October 8.
Bahati said the fellowship, initiated some bills like the Anti- Homosexuality and Anti-Pornography believes in a God led country and God led policies.
Bahati here locates the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in the agenda of the Uganda Fellowship. Bahati’s position is contrary to the American group and that Bahati’s continued advocacy is a source of frustration for the Fellowship.
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:
To communicate the power of small groups that meet regularly around the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
To create an environment of dialog in order to help create lasting relationships.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Yesterday morning at the National Prayer Breakfast, keynote speaker, Hillary Clinton criticized the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and President Barack Obama called the bill “odious.” The reaction from leaders in Uganda and Ugandans attending the National Prayer Breakfast has been mixed.
Immediately Minister of Ethics and Integrity Nsaba Buturo reacted with defiance.
Buturo, one of the main Ugandan proponents of the bill which would further criminalise homosexuality and even gay rights advocacy, vowed that Ugandan MPs would not be swayed by US or any outside criticism.
“We cannot tell the Senate what to do. We cannot tell Congress what to do. So why do they feel that they can tell us what we should do in the interest of our people?” he asked.
“It is totally unacceptable,” Buturo added, in reference to any attempt by some of Uganda’s partners to reverse the adoption of the bill.
However, a bit later Minister of Foreign Affairs, Henry Okello Oryem said the bill will be changed.
“I am sure the bill will take a different form when it is tabled on the floor in parliament,” Mr Oryem told the BBC’s Network Africa programme.
However, he also pointed out that it was a Private Member’s Bill and so the government did not have the powers to alter it at this stage.
“Homosexuality is not a top priority for the people of Uganda,” he deputy minister said.
“Our priority is to make sure there is food on the table of our people – that we deal with the issue of disease.”
Ugandan delegates to the National Prayer Breakfast speaking to me anonymously agreed that the bill would almost certainly be changed, perhaps dramatically. One source told me that the section imposing death on a HIV positive person for “touching” should be changed to reflect an offense of knowingly spreading HIV without the consent of the other person. Others made it clear that they believe the aggravated homosexuality section of the bill should only relate to child abuse and rape of vulnerable people. None of those I spoke with believed that private conduct should be criminalized.
However, the delegates differed on their views of criminalization on public homosexual conduct. Some believed that homosexuality could be spread via societal acceptance, whereas others believed homosexuals should be respected as free agents to choose their own actions, even in public. All agreed that homosexuality is not socially acceptable in Uganda.
Some were concerned that Americans critical of the bill are not respecting the autonomy of Uganda. “You must respect our democratic process,” one delegate said. “The bill is only a proposal at this point, there are many chances for it to be amended,” he added. One delegate said emphatically that all input would be considered but that those who are critical should respect the right of Ugandans to govern themselves.
One Ugandan delegate who would only speak on condition of anonymity said that the rumor that people associated with the Fellowship had any influence on the writing of the bill were “totally untrue.” He said Bahati did not ask for advice on the bill and added, “This is not the kind of thing the Fellowship would support.”