The Family and the “Heathen Chinese”

Over at my personal blog, I’ve posted a link to religion blogger Richard Bartholomew’s post on the Taipei Prayer Breakfast and followed it up with some documents on the relationship between China and the Family from my archives. Since I know some KtB readers found us via The Family, I’m cross-posting it below. Be warned: it’s a data dump, not an essay.


Since I’ve decided to make this blog a sort of record of “outtakes and bonus materials” to The Family (at least for the time being), I’m keeping my eye out not just for documents from my archives but for news from the world that illuminates the function of the Family. In that regard, I’m recommending this post on the Taipei Prayer Breakfast, by the brilliant religion blogger Richard Bartholomew:

…as with “prayer breakfasts” in other countries, the event was useful to all concerned; the political leader gets a boost, while the church leaders get a national pulpit:

The sermon in Taiwanese was delivered by Rev. Hsiao Shiang-hsiu, who reminded the audience through his sermon that God wanted Taiwan to become a country that loved justice, mercy, and peace. He also lauded President Ma’s moral integrity and urged him to continue leading the country in the way of righteousness.

It should come as no surprise that the Republic of China has a strong relationship with the Family, which has always provided a veneer of piety for U.S. allies on the front lines of any struggle — in this case with China. A 1942 Fellowship pamphlet titled “Finding the Better Way” explained that God worked not democratically but through powerful individuals, noting, “In China, a single indiviual in a post of authority, Chiang Kai-Shek, has done more to Christianize that heathen country than thousands of equally sincere but obscure fellow worshippers.” (This pamphlet can be found in the periodicals section of collection 459 at the Billy Graham Center Archives.) The Fellowship worked to build relationships with Taiwanese politicians over the year, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that the effort started paying off. In 1965, the Fellowship’s German leader, Gus Gedat — a prominent writer and public speaker who at the beginning of the Nazi regime had tried to “find a synthesis between the new party and Christianity” — toured Taiwan on a goodwill tour. It evidently worked. A Fellowship briefing (the term “Family didn’t come into usage until the 1970s) for members of congress associated with the movement, by then-Rep. Al Quie (R.-Mn.), dated December 12, 1966, notes that Taiwan — along with Indonesia and Seoul, two other Cold War allies — has instituted regular Fellowship prayer meetings for Taiwanese politicians. (folder 2, box 362, collection 459, BGCA)

On October 5, 1967, Fellowship leader Senator Frank Carlson (R.-Ks) writes to Taiwanese contacts that Vice Admiral William E. Gentner, Jr., Commander of the U.S. Taiwan Defense Command, has sent a “report” informing the Fellowship that “you [the Chinese] are perhaps ready for a Presidential Prayer Breakfast with your great leader Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek.” Carlson asks that all accommodations be made for the Fellowship’s “field associate” for Asia, who will be coming to Taiwan to meet with national leaders. “This service will be deeply appreciated.” (Folder 16, Box 365, Collection 459, BGCA).

On October 21, 1968, Fellowship leader Doug Coe requests from Chiang Kai-Shek (along with Ferdinand Marcos, Heilee Selassie, and Napolean Alcerro, an accessory to the Honduran dictatorship) a special congratulatory letter for the new Brazilian dictator General Costa e Silva, who’ll be presiding over Brazil’s new Fellowship Prayer Breakfast despite the fact that he’s Catholic. Coe makes these requests through “key men.” In France, for instance, the key man responsible for organizing support for the dictator is Jean Fernand-Laurent, who had distinguished himself before the war by pressing for anti-Semitic Vichy-style reforms before the Vichy government had even taken over. In Taiwan the key man is businessman John K.C. Liu, president of the United Orient Corporation, a member of the “international planning team.” Liu doesn’t come through — Chiang Kai-Shek wants to send a proper letter instead of a cable, and it won’t make it in time. (I believe this document is located in folder 1, box 183, collection 459, BGCA.)

A tape recorded message to Fellowship members dated January 4, 1971, by Doug Coe and Fellowship field associate Clif Robinson, tells of meetings with the leadership of South Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Taiwan. Reports Robinson: “We went to meet American Ambassador Walter McConaughy, a model of the way a diplomat of responsible trust can also become a part of this message. A unifying force, a catalyst for God. … then to the head of the head of the state bank of China, comparable to Federal Reeserve, a man who was so completely open to the concept… with John Liu taking responsibility in a personal way… Secretary General of what we would call the Security Council. Full session middle of the day, the generalissimo and all the others were there. Felt awkward walking up that red carpeted stairway, ushered into next room, Secretary-General gave his gavel over to another man to come out and spend time with us. Said ‘I think what we’re doing in this room is far more important than what we’re doing in this other room.'”

Robinson, who believed that the Fellowship should fight a sort of spiritual guerrilla warfare in S.E. Asia, got more excited as he spoke of meetings with Cambodians and Vietnamese. “As men go, and BECOME a part of this LIVING outreach of the unknown, of this living God that we know, God that we know but he’s part and parcel of the great God beyond him, not two gods, not three gods, not 1000, One! We know a little bit, we have seen a little bit of him and what we’ve seen we want to throw our lives away on behalf of… And so as we do this we don’t do it in the POWER of men. We don’t, don’t do it because we have a program that WORKS. We don’t do it because ….Who can we send? Who can we have to go to Manila? Who can we have to go to Saigon? Who can we have to go to Jakarta? We’ve only got this man and this man and this man who knows the score. Isn’t that sort of ridiculous. I believe that somehow GOD has got his men who knows the way. … This is where we come in… WE must pray into being THIS LIVING MESSAGE. The Word become flesh. Maybe the man doesn’t have to go from the United States to Manila. Maybe he needs to go from China [Taiwan] to Manila. Or from Manila to China. Maybe there’s already somebody right there… just waiting for this RELEASE of spiritual ENERGY that in some mysterious way has been committed to OUR keeping. We can unlock it if we will…” (tape 109, collection 459, BGCA)

The March 1971 briefing for Fellowship-linked members of congress, sent by Senator B. Everett Jordan, a North Carolina segregationist Democrat notes advances in the overseas Prayer Breakfast circuit, with the U.S. military producing 1,400 prayer breakfasts, simultaneous with the main event in Washington and “including all units in South East Asia” — treated to tapes messages from President Nixon and Defense Secretary Melvin Laird, on the “moral and spiritual values which undergird our way of life.” These same sentiments, reports Jordan, found foruns in Fellowship prayer breakfasts in South Korea, the Philippines (again, Marcos), and Taiwan, where Vice-President and Premier Dr. CK Yen had begun working with Liu on an event to simultaneously pray for Nixon and Yen. (Folder 2, box 363, collection 459, BGCA)

In late 1980, Doug Coe wrote Liu, then in the National Assembly of the Republic of China, that he would be dispatching Senator Sam Nunn (D.-Ga.) to meet with him. (folder 2, box 411, collection 459, BGCA).

And so the relationship continued. The most recent dispatch from behind-the-scenes came in 2000, when Sara Fritz, an Asian correspondent, reported for the St. Petersburg Times on the Taiwanese connection. I’m pasting in her article, dated April 10, 2000, below in its entirety, a fine example of reporters doing what reporters are supposed to do:

Not even prayer breakfast immune from power game

When voters in Taiwan recently elected a leader of the opposition party as their president, they also may have dealt a blow to a traditional Washington ritual: the annual National Prayer Breakfast.

What, you may ask, do the Taiwanese have to do with the National Prayer Breakfast? The answer is money. In past years, Taiwan’s long- ruling Kuomintang (KMT) party has been a major financial backer of the prayer breakfast and many other such events in the United States.

The party contributes to the prayer breakfast as part of an unpublicized, but highly effective effort to maintain Taiwan’s influence with Washington politicians. The KMT’s strategy was developed after then-President Richard M. Nixon broke off formal diplomatic relations with the tiny island nation in the early 1970s.

In addition to funding the annual prayer breakfast, which is usually attended by the president and hundreds of members of Congress, the Kuomintang also has funded numerous travel junkets for politicians in Taipei and celebrity-political events, such as the annual Danny Thompson Memorial Golf Tournament in Sun Valley, Idaho, and the annual festival of the Very Special Arts organization founded by Jean Kennedy Smith.

For their donations, Taiwanese officials get to participate in these functions, where they can rub elbows with influential U.S. officials who are not easily accessible to a country that does not have formal diplomatic relations with the United States.

After the annual prayer breakfast earlier this year, for example, Hsu Shui-teh, president of the Examination Yuan in Taipei, boasted to reporters that the event allowed him to have a private chat with President Clinton.

These strategic acts of charity by the Taiwanese have been so successful, in fact, that rival Chinese leaders in Beijing have in recent years tried to use a similar strategy to develop friendships with influential people in Washington. Their copy-cat strategy is surprising when you consider that Beijing enjoys full diplomatic relations with the United States.

Most of the people who attend the prayer breakfast apparently don’t know about the Taiwanese connection, which I first learned about several years ago while interviewing KMT leaders on an assignment in Taipei.

I was told the Taiwanese ruling party’s contribution in 1997 was $10,000. At that time, prayer breakfast organizers refused to confirm it, saying only that prayer breakfast financial records are not available to the public.

When I began to inquire about these matters again recently, I received a telephone call from a man who identified himself as a volunteer press spokesman for this year’s prayer breakfast in February. He said he did not know how the prayer breakfast was funded, but he doubted it had received Taiwanese support.

“I can’t imagine a foreign political party making a contribution to the National Prayer Breakfast,” he said. He promised to check into the matter and get back to me. I never heard from him again.

Nevertheless, Taiwanese support for the prayer breakfast and other charitable activities could come to a screeching halt when President- elect Chen Shui-bian takes office May 20. Chen’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) does not have the vast financial resources of the KMT, which is said to control bank accounts containing billions of dollars.

“We are not as rich as the KMT; KMT is the richest party in the world,” conceded I-Chung Lai, director of the DPP’s office in Washington.

Lai said that while DPP leaders recognize that the KMT’s generosity to institutions and causes in the United States has been good for promoting Taiwan’s interests, some things may have to be curtailed. He said his party would review all such contributions as part of the transition of power from KMT to DPP.

“We have to reassess how effective and appropriate they are,” Lai said.

Of course, winning has been good for the DPP treasury. Many Taiwanese business executives who once supported the KMT have begun making contributions to the DPP, according to Lai. Contributing to the winner is a political tradition in every country – East and West.

My purpose in writing about this matter is not to lament the potentially precarious funding of next year’s National Prayer Breakfast, or any of the other causes that receive Taiwanese support. In fact, I assume that if the Taiwanese withdraw their money, other groups will fill the void.

I am interested in the funding of the National Prayer Breakfast primarily because I think it reveals the double-edged nature of virtually everything that happens in the nation’s capital. Nothing that goes on here – not even something as worthy and other-worldly as a prayer breakfast – is completely divorced from the influence game.

Jeff Sharlet is a founding editor of Killing the Buddha, coauthor with Peter Manseau of Killing the Buddha: A Heretic's Bible (2004) and co-editor of Believer, Beware (2009). Sharlet is also the author of Sweet Heaven When I Die, (2011), C Street, (2010), and the New York Times bestseller The Family (2008).