Breakfast with The Family

Whom are we praying to again?

Whom are we praying to, again?

As I watch Obama’s speech at yesterday’s National Prayer Breakfast, I find that many of his words ring true, though not for the reasons he intended. The elephant in that room—and it was, quite literally, in that room—was The Family, the self-described “invisible” organization forced into visibility by KtB’s own Jeff Sharlet.

So when Obama admits that “something’s broken, that those of us in Washington are not serving the people as well as we should,” I completely agree. When he speaks of “division and distrust among our citizens,” I can understand why. When he insists, “neither side has a monopoly on truth,” I think of how The Family stands in tacit disagreement with that sentiment. And when he emphasizes the importance of “stepping out of our comfort zones,” I wonder why he couldn’t have stepped out of his own and refused to participate in the Family’s Breakfast.

It’s not like there weren’t alternatives. The National Prayer Hour founded in part to protest the Family, would have permitted me to hear Obama’s words as he meant them. It’s difficult to take him on face value when, writes Jeff, “the breakfast is regarded by The Family as merely a tool in a larger purpose: to recruit the powerful attendees into smaller, more frequent prayer meetings, where they can ‘meet Jesus man to man.’” The only thing holding Obama back is tradition—the event has taken place since 1953—but for a man dedicated to change, that’s no excuse at all.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington called for Obama to boycott the event in a letter detailing The Family’s activities, including their involvement in the proposed Ugandan anti-gay legislation that Obama spoke against on Thursday. David Bahati, the Ugandan politician who introduced that legislation, had his invitation rescinded in January, undoubtedly to deemphasize the inevitable controversy.

Jeff spoke with AlterNet about the Breakfast, in what amounts to the most thorough journalistic coverage that I’ve found. For those who haven’t read The Family, this provides a good introduction to why the Prayer Breakfast is so problematic.

Frank Schaeffer, former leader of the religious right and now full-fledged Buddha-killer, provides a scathing indictment of The Family, as well as of Obama for choosing to speak at the Breakfast. I found his perspective on The Family, founded upon his experiences in the religious right in the ‘70s, particularly compelling.

It is a relief that at least one major newspaper, The New York Times, emphasized The Family’s role in the Breakfast, as well as the extent of the protests to it.

It’s clear, then, that The Family is “invisible” no longer. So it should be surprising that many reports addressing the National Prayer Breakfast, and Obama’s comments there regarding the Ugandan legislation, either downplay or entirely omit mentions of The Family. Well, it isn’t really that surprising considering the media’s complicity with the ways of Washington.

Reuters’ article, entitled “U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday denounced as ‘odious’ a proposed anti-gay law in Uganda that has drawn international condemnation,” makes no mention whatsoever of the group.

The Washington Post mentions The Family once, but only in relation to CREW’s call for a boycott.

It’s sad that this otherwise ridiculous blog post, “Leftists whine over Obama at National Prayer Breakfast,” has proven so prescient. In an unfortunately spot-on prediction of both Obama’s performance and this response to it, the author writes,

Surely the secular left see in President Obama one of their own. But he knows how it would look if he broke stride with precedent, especially at a time when the public is not exactly jumping for joy over his performance. Look for Obama to go and his base to whine.

God bless the whiners.

Garrett Baer is a graduate student in religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.