Wait a minute...
Did she say Fellowship?!?
Back in September of last year, Kathryn Joyce and Jeff Sharlet of Mother Jones magazine reported on Sen. Clinton's "Fellowship":
Through all of her years in Washington, Clinton has been an active participant in conservative Bible study and prayer circles that are part of a secretive Capitol Hill group known as the Fellowship. Her collaborations with right-wingers such as Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) and former Senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) grow in part from that connection. "A lot of evangelicals would see that as just cynical exploitation," says the Reverend Rob Schenck, a former leader of the militant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue who now ministers to decision makers in Washington. "I don't....there is a real good that is infected in people when they are around Jesus talk, and open Bibles, and prayer." ***Aw hell, go read the whole thing.
When Clinton first came to Washington in 1993, one of her first steps was to join a Bible study group. For the next eight years, she regularly met with a Christian "cell" [their own word!] whose members included Susan Baker, wife of Bush consigliere James Baker; Joanne Kemp, wife of conservative icon Jack Kemp; Eileen Bakke, wife of Dennis Bakke, a leader in the anti-union Christian management movement; and Grace Nelson, the wife of Senator Bill Nelson, a conservative Florida Democrat.
Clinton's prayer group was part of the Fellowship (or "the Family"), a network of sex-segregated cells of political, business, and military leaders dedicated to "spiritual war" on behalf of Christ, many of them recruited at the Fellowship's only public event, the annual National Prayer Breakfast. (Aside from the breakfast, the group has "made a fetish of being invisible," former Republican Senator William Armstrong has said.) The Fellowship believes that the elite win power by the will of God, who uses them for his purposes. Its mission is to help the powerful understand their role in God's plan.
Clinton declined our requests for an interview about her faith, but in Living History, she describes her first encounter with Fellowship leader Doug Coe at a 1993 lunch with her prayer cell at the Cedars, the Fellowship's majestic estate on the Potomac. Coe, she writes, "is a unique presence in Washington: a genuinely loving spiritual mentor and guide to anyone, regardless of party or faith, who wants to deepen his or her relationship with God." ***
When Time put together a list of the nation's 25 most powerful evangelicals in 2005, the heading for Coe's entry was "The Stealth Persuader." "You know what I think of when I think of Doug Coe?" the Reverend Schenck (a Coe admirer) asked us. "I think literally of the guy in the smoky back room that you can't even see his face. He sits in the corner, and you see the cigar, and you see the flame, and you hear his voice—but you never see his face. He's that shadowy figure."
Coe has been an intimate of every president since Ford, but he rarely imposes on chief executives, who see him as a slightly mystical but apolitical figure. Rather, Coe uses his access to the Oval Office as currency with lesser leaders. "If Doug Coe can get you some face time with the President of the United States," one official told the author of a Princeton study of the National Prayer Breakfast last year, "then you will take his call and seek his friendship. That's power." ***
Coe's friends include former Attorney General John Ashcroft, Reaganite Edwin Meese III, and ultraconservative Rep. Joe Pitts (R-Pa.). Under Coe's guidance, Meese has hosted weekly prayer breakfasts for politicians, businesspeople, and diplomats, and Pitts rose from obscurity to head the House Values Action Team, an off-the-record network of religious right groups and members of Congress created by Tom DeLay. The corresponding Senate Values Action Team is guided by another Coe protégé, Brownback, who also claims to have recruited King Abdullah of Jordan into a regular study of Jesus' teachings.
The Fellowship's long-term goal is "a leadership led by God -- leaders of all levels of society who direct projects as they are led by the spirit." According to the Fellowship's archives, the spirit has in the past led its members in Congress to increase U.S. support for the Duvalier regime in Haiti and the Park dictatorship in South Korea. The Fellowship's God-led men have also included General Suharto of Indonesia; Honduran general and death squad organizer Gustavo Alvarez Martinez; a Deutsche Bank official disgraced by financial ties to Hitler; and dictator Siad Barre of Somalia, plus a list of other generals and dictators. Clinton, says Schenck, has become a regular visitor to Coe's Arlington, Virginia, headquarters, a former convent where Coe provides members of Congress with sex-segregated housing and spiritual guidance. ***
Throughout her time at the White House, Clinton writes in Living History, she took solace from "daily scriptures" sent to her by her Fellowship prayer cell, along with Coe's assurances that she was right where God wanted her. (Clinton's sense of divine guidance has been noted by others: Bishop Richard Wilke, who presided over the United Methodist Church of Arkansas during her years in Little Rock, told us, "If I asked Hillary, 'What does the Lord want you to do?' she would say, 'I think I'm called by the Lord to be in public service at whatever level he wants me.'") ***
The Fellowship isn't out to turn liberals into conservatives; rather, it convinces politicians they can transcend left and right with an ecumenical faith that rises above politics. Only the faith is always evangelical, and the politics always move rightward.
This is in line with the Christian right's long-term strategy. Francis Schaeffer, late guru of the movement, coined the term "cobelligerency" to describe the alliances evangelicals must forge with conservative Catholics. Colson, his most influential disciple, has refined the concept of cobelligerency to deal with less-than-pure politicians. In this application, conservatives sit pretty and wait for liberals looking for common ground to come to them. Clinton, Colson told us, "has a lot of history" to overcome, but he sees her making the right moves.
These days, Clinton has graduated from the political wives' group into what may be Coe's most elite cell, the weekly Senate Prayer Breakfast. Though weighted Republican, the breakfast — regularly attended by about 40 members — is a bipartisan opportunity for politicians to burnish their reputations, giving Clinton the chance to profess her faith with men such as Brownback as well as the twin terrors of Oklahoma, James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, and, until recently, former Senator George Allen (R-Va.). Democrats in the group include Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, who told us that the separation of church and state has gone too far; Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is also a regular. ***
Senator Brownback understood the temptation [of hating Hillary Clinton]. He used to hate Clinton so much, he told us, that the hate hurt. Then came the Clintons' 1994 National Prayer Breakfast appearance with Mother Teresa, who upbraided the couple for their pro-choice views. Bill made no attempt to conceal his anger, but Hillary took it and smiled. Brownback remembers thinking, "Now, there's gotta be a great lesson here." He didn't know what it was until Clinton got to the Senate and joined him in supporting DeLay's Day of Reconciliation resolution following the 2000 election, a proposal described by its backers as a call to "pray for our leaders." Now, Brownback considers Clinton "a beautiful child of the living God."
Then, as now, Clinton confounded secularists who recognize public faith only when it comes wrapped in a cornpone accent. Clinton speaks instead the language of nondenominationalism — a sober, eloquent appreciation of "values," the importance of prayer, and "heart" convictions — which liberals, unfamiliar with the history of evangelical coalition building, mistake for a tidy, apolitical accommodation, a personal separation of church and state. Nor do skeptical voters looking for political opportunism recognize that, when Clinton seeks guidance among prayer partners such as Coe and Brownback, she is not so much triangulating—much as that may have become second nature—as honoring her convictions. In her own way, she is a true believer.
And read Barbara Ehrenreich's Nation magazine follow up on "Hillary's Nasty Pastorate."
And while you're at it, pre-order Sharlet's forthcoming book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.