So back in my freshman year of college, I’d just joined my fraternity and I was invited by some guys in the house to go on a trip for Spring Break to Washington D.C. We drove all the way to D.C. from Manhattan, KS and the agenda for the trip was basically this: we’d do lots of site seeing, of course, but the real reason for the trip was that we’d be staying with this “group of friends” in D.C. and be taking part in lots of Bible studies and things like that. It’s really hard to describe this actually, because in hindsight, I recognize how freaky it sounds, but it didn’t seem that odd at the time. Really.
So there were basically two groups of people on this trip: a group of really active, deeply religious people (these were the people planning the trip) and then a smaller group of four or five people (including me) who weren’t not religious, but I’d say the bigger factor in our saying “yes” to the invitation was that we’d never been to D.C. and had no plans for Spring Break. The whole Christian theme to the thing just sort of made it seem slighly more noble than, say, Cancun. We were all friends with one another at school, but there were still clearly two cliques there. The group also, by the way, included its fair share of campus leaders: one current and one past student body presidents, for example.
So at the time, my stance on both religion and politics were considerably different than they are now. I was basically apolitical, and I identified as a Christian, but as a very sort of unattached, free floating Christian. I didn’t attend church or anything. In other words, I wasn’t exactly suspicious of this mysterious group of Christian “friends” in Washington D.C., but I was also enough of an skeptic with respect to religion to not swallow anything too radical without some resistance. So here’s a brief run-down of what I remember:
Anyway, so a year or two ago, a guy who was also in the “skeptical but along for the ride” crowd with me emailed me this article, Jesus Plus Nothing, in Harper’s by Jeffrey Sharlet, a journalist. The guy stayed in the exact same house we stayed in. He played the same silly basketball game and both my friend and I recognized many of the people he described. He met with the mysterious Doug Coe and talks about Brownback and everything. Damn! Of course, by the point that I read this, I had very different positions regarding religion and politics (as anyone visiting this page probably knows already) than I did than, and I hadn’t really thought about that trip all that much since then. I cannot imagine Current Jon being able to get through that week incident-free (or ever being invited, for that matter). My memories of it had been typical vacation memories (the drive itself, the site seeing, football games in “Ivanwald’s front yard, etc.) and I’d kind of forgotten the whole religious & political backdrop.
But anyway, the same friend just emailed me another article just published in Rolling Stone, again by Sharlet, this time on Sam Brownback specifically, called God’s Senator. It’s a fascinating read if you’re interested (and scared) of how much power the Christianists have in Washington. But Sharlet, being as he wrote the first article on “The Friends,” spends a lot of time discussing the group again and Brownback’s relationship with them. Another fascinating read.
Both are quite lengthy, but I highly recommend them. The Harper’s one, especially, does a good job of communicating the most important point that I remember learning from my trip: they make this stuff sound downright progressive. Remember how I said I was enough of a skeptic to be suspicious of anything too radical? It was true. I was a pretty “liberal” Christian I suppose, and there was enough of that “liberal-ness” in there to make the type of Christianity they were pushing seem very appealing - or at least not scary. This type of Christian discourse has really become popular and influential as well. It has a very populist, individualist flavor to it. I remember them specifically downplaying denominational groups, for example, because Christianity is all about your “personal relationship with Jesus” and about how we’re supposed to care for others and not get caught up in materialism and consumerism and all that stuff. All nice liberal stuff - until you start to get to the whole “Ok, how exactly do we do all of this?,” but who has time to get that far along, really?