The Family, “the most powerful group in Washington that nobody knows,” according to Bush White House special aide David Kuo, has been pushed into the news by the public revelations of Senator John Ensign’s and Governor Mark Sanford’s adulterous affairs — both of which involved the Family’s C Street House, about which I write in my book The Family. Governor Sanford even invoked a core teaching of the Family — the use, or perhaps abuse, of the King David story as a justification for power in the present-day world. “What I find interesting,” Sanford said, explaining his decision not to resign, “is the story of David, and the way in which he fell mightily, he fell in very very significant ways. But then picked up the pieces and built from there.” Following is an excerpt from The Family in which Family leader David Coe, identified by the Las Vegas Sun as one of the men involved in the Ensign scandal, explains the Family’s view of King David to me and a group of young men being groomed for future leadership — and why his example entitles Family members to hold on to power even when they abandon their principles.
A few weeks into my stay, David Coe, Doug’s son, dropped by Ivanwald. My brothers and I assembled in the living room, where David had draped his tall frame over a burgundy leather recliner like a frat boy, one leg hanging over a padded arm.
“You guys,” David said, “are here to learn how to rule the world.” He was in his late forties, with dark, gray-flecked hair, an olive complexion, teeth like a slab of white marble, dark eyes so big they didn’t need to move to take in the room. We sat around him in a rough circle, on couches and chairs, as the afternoon light slanted through the wooden blinds onto a wall adorned with a giant tapestry of the Last Supper. Rafael, a wealthy Ecuadoran, had a hard time with English, and he didn’t understand what David had said. He stared, lips parted in puzzlement. David seemed to like that. He stared back, holding Raf’s gaze like it was a pretty thing he’d found on the ground. “You have very intense eyes,” David said.
“Thank you,” Raf mumbled.
“Hey,” David said, “let’s talk about the Old Testament.” His voice was like a river that’s smooth on the surface but swirling beneath. “Who” — he paused — “would you say are its good guys?”
“Noah,” suggested Ruggi, a shaggy-haired guy from Kentucky with a silver loop on the upper ridge of his right ear.
“Moses,” offered Josh, a lean man from Atlanta more interested in serving Jesus than his father’s small empire of shower door manufacturing.
“David,” Beau volunteered.
“King David,” David Coe said. “That’s a good one. David. Hey. What would you say made King David a good guy?” He giggled, not from nervousness but from barely containable delight.
“Faith?” Beau said. “His faith was so strong?”
“Yeah.” David nodded as if he hadn’t heard that before. “Hey, you know what’s interesting about King David?” From the blank stares of the others, I could see that they did not. Many didn’t even carry a full Bible, preferring a slim volume of New Testament Gospels and Epistles and Old Testament Psalms, respected but seldom read. Others had the whole book, but the gold gilt on the pages of the first two-thirds remained undisturbed. “King David,” David Coe went on, “liked to do really, really bad things.” He chuckled. “Here’s this guy who slept with another man’s wife — Bathsheba, right? — and then basically murdered her husband. And this guy is one of our heroes.” David shook his head. “I mean, Jimminy Christmas, God likes this guy! What,” he said, “is that all about?”
“Is it because he tried?” asked Bengt. “He wanted to do the right thing?” Bengt knew the Bible, Old Testament and New, better than any of the others, but he offered his answer with a question mark on the end. Bengt was dutiful in checking his worst sin, his fierce pride, and he frequently turned his certainties into questions.
“That’s nice, Bengt,” David said. “But it isn’t the answer. Anyone else?”
“Because he was chosen,” I said. For the first time David looked my way.
“Yes,” he said, smiling. “Chosen. Interesting set of rules, isn’t it?” He turned to Beau. “Beau, let’s say I hear you raped three little girls. And now here you are at Ivanwald. What would I think of you, Beau?”
Beau, given to bellowing Ivanwald’s daily call to sports like a bull elephant, shrank into the cushions. “Probably that I’m pretty bad?”
“No, Beau.” David’s voice was kind. “I wouldn’t.” He drew Beau back into the circle with a stare that seemed to have its own gravitational pull. Beau nodded, brow furrowed, as if in the presence of something profound. “Because,” David continued, “I’m not here to judge you. That’s not my job. I’m here for only one thing. Do you know what that is?”
Understanding blossomed in Beau’s eyes. “Jesus?” he said. David smiled and winked. “Hey,” he said. “Did you guys see Toy Story?” Half the room had. “Remember how there was a toy cowboy, Woody? And then the boy who owns Woody gets a new toy, a spaceman? Only the toy spaceman thinks he’s real. Thinks he’s a real spaceman, and he’s got to figure out what he’s doing on this strange planet. So what does Woody say to him? He says, ‘You’re just a toy.’ ” David sat quietly, waiting for us to absorb this. “Just a toy. We’re not really spacemen. We’re just toys. Created for God. For His plea sure, nothing else. Just a toy. Period.”
He walked to the National Geographic map of the world mounted on the wall. “You guys know about Genghis Khan?” he asked. “Genghis was a man with a vision. He conquered” — David stood on the couch under the map, tracing, with his hand, half the northern hemisphere — “nearly everything. He devastated nearly everything. His enemies? He beheaded them.” David swiped a finger across his throat. “Dop, dop, dop, dop.”
Genghis Khan’s genius, David went on, lay in his understanding that there could be only one king. When Genghis entered a defeated city, he would call in the local headman. Conversion to the Khan’s cause was not an option, as Genghis was uninterested in halfhearted deputies. Instead, said David, Genghis would have the man stuffed into a crate, and over the crate’s surface would be spread a tablecloth, on which a wonderful meal would be arrayed.
“And then, while the man suffocated, Genghis ate, and he didn’t even hear the man’s screams.” David stood on the couch, a finger in the air. “Do you know what that means?”
To their credit, my brothers did not. Perhaps on account of my earlier insight, David turned to me. “I think so,” I said. “Out with the old, in with the new.”
Yes, he nodded. “Christ’s parable of the wineskins. You can’t pour new into old.” One day, he continued, some monks from Europe show up in Genghis Khan’s court. Genghis welcomes them in the name of God. Says that in truth, they worship the same great Lord. Then why, the monks ask, must he conquer the world? “I don’t ask,” says Genghis. “I submit.”
David returned to his chair. “We elect our leaders,” he said. “Jesus elects his.”
He reached over and squeezed the arm of Pavel. “Isn’t that great?” David said. “That’s the way everything in life happens. If you’re a person known to be around Jesus, you can go and do anything. And that’s who you guys are. When you leave here, you’re not only going to know the value of Jesus, you’re going to know the people who rule the world. It’s about vision. Get your vision straight, then relate. Talk to the people who rule the world, and help them obey. Obey Him. If I obey Him myself, I help others do the same. You know why? Because I become a warning. We become a warning. We warn everybody that the future king is coming. Not just of this country or that but of the world.” Then he pointed at the map, toward the Khan’s vast, reclaimable empire.
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).