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Uganda be kidding me: I love Jeff Sharlet

Video
  'The Family' member talks about secretive religious group
Jan. 5: Bob Hunter, longtime member of The Family, the secretive Washington D.C. religious group with the C Street House, explains to Rachel Maddow some of the ways he feels his group has been misrepresented.
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  'The Family's' role in Ugandan anti-gay hate
Jan. 5: Describes the relationship of The Family to members of the Ugandan government and the "kill the gays" bill pending in the Ugandan legislature.
Video
  Blurring the line between church and state
Jan. 7: Jeff Sharlet, author of "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power," talks with Rachel Maddow about the role of the secretive C Street religious group in Ugandan politics and how members of The Family blur the line between their official political capacity and the group's religious agenda.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING!

Before I get into any issues I have with Jeff Sharlet’s January 7, 2010 appearance on the Rachel Maddow show responding to my appearance two days earlier and to his new posting on the Maddow website, I think it is very important to make the point that the most important thing is that we have communicated frequently and have consistently agreed that the anti-homosexual bill in Uganda is wrong and should be defeated.  The bill is so far from Jesus’ teachings on love and compassion that we even are opposing it publically, the first time that anyone from the Fellowship has spoken for or against a proposed piece of legislation anywhere in the world that I know of. 

There is a reason for our not taking positions on legislation, even on “hot-button” issues like abortion and homosexuality; we are trying to attract people from all political positions to work together to bring more harmony, and even to be peacemakers in some situations, and to understand, through a focus on the teachings of Jesus, the need to prioritize helping the least among us, the poor.

I can honestly say that I love Jeff Sharlet.  Jesus calls me to love people I disagree with, even enemies (and I certainly do not see Jeff as an enemy).  I honestly wish him the very best, even as I debate some details with him. Not only do I love Jeff, I genuinely like him as a person, even though I think his reporting on the Fellowship is deeply flawed.  I am happy to continue to converse with him and work together to head off the Uganda bill, even as we respectfully disagree on many specific issues.

PROBLEMS WITH THE JANUARY 7, 2010 SHOW

As I said on air to Rachel, I thought she was very fair to me on the January 5, 2010 program.  There were some issues I had with the January 7, 2010 show, however.

a) I did not Mislead the Maddow Viewers Regarding The Ethics Minister

Here's the transcript of the ethics minister part of the January 5, 2010 show:

MADDOW:  Is the president of Uganda an associate of The Family?

HUNTER:  The president of Uganda is - there‘s no membership, but he is related to The Family.  I‘ve met with him several times, not for a decade, but I‘ve met with him several times.  I know his wife and I‘ve actually played games on the floor of his office with him.  So I -

MADDOW:  How about David Bahati, the legislator who‘s introduced the kill-the-gays bill?

HUNTER:  I met David Bahati.  He came here to a national prayer breakfast and so I met him when he was here.  I‘ve never heard of the other guy, the minister of ethics you talk about.  I never met him. 

MADDOW:  He also describes himself as an associate of The Family, which is why I described him that way, James Nsaba Buturo.

HUNTER:  Yes.  As I said, there are 10,000 groups around the world that are sort of affiliated with The Family.  Now, I agree that these guys are involved.  But when they came to the group at the national prayer breakfast in October in 2009, when Bahati came and said, “We‘re thinking of introducing a bill,” he got kicked back as Jeff Sharlet has reported from the members of The Family right there well before the bill was introduced, several days before.

I thought I was very honest about all three guys Rachel asked me about, saying that "Now, I agree that these guys are involved."  I went further, admitting a very close, play games on the floor, personal relationship with the President and meeting with Bahati here at a National Prayer Breakfast.  (I’ve had quite a few emails asking what Museveni and I did on the floor!)  On Buturo, I thought I had said, "I'd never heard of him.  I've never met him."  Maybe I misspoke and said, "I've" as the transcript has it rather than "I'd" as I thought I was saying.  I certainly did not say what Mr. Sharlet said I said on the show two nights later, which was "quote, 'I don’t know the guy,’” but Jeff is also allowed a slip of the tongue.  Obviously I had heard about Buturo, in the media, in the New York Times story, and even in the introduction to my appearance on the very program when I made the statements.  I discussed Buturo with Jeff and even sent him the transcript of our conversation (that I had transcribed at a cost paid for out of my own pocket).  On the show, I simply meant, in the context of talking about relationships I had with Museveni and Bahati, that I had no relationship with Buturo at all and had not even heard of him until this story broke, even from my Uganda friends.  I think I was misrepresented as if I was trying to mislead the viewers for what might be a part of one word blunder on my part that was corrected in the very next breath when I agreed that, “these guys are involved.”  There was no reason at all for me not to be fully open with you on all three people and I was.

b) Why it was OK to Use Prominent Politicians as “Bait”

There was talk on the show of me using politicians as “bait” to put Uganda on a "Jesus footing" whatever that means.  It is true that Andrew Young and Senator Grassley went with me to Uganda in the early 1980s as “bait” to get divided people - tribes, denominations, etc. - into the same room to start building trust leading toward peace talks.  However, rather than “working for me” as Jeff put it, they understood that was their role and agreed to it.   I never ordered them to do it, they volunteered when I explained the terrible situation in Uganda. In the relatively short run, their efforts to help me get leaders from opposing viewpoints in Uganda together did, in fact, lead toward peace in Uganda.  For a full discussion of how the events unfolded when I traveled to Uganda with Andrew Young and Senator Grassley, please look at the rather lengthy transcript from my discussion with Jeff posted on Box Turtle.

COMMENTS ON MR. SHARLET’S NEW POST

a) I Now Agree with Jeff that the Fellowship can be termed “political”

There are things Jeff and I agree on as I read his material, like clarifying what “political” means.  I meant it as not having a political agenda, which we do not.  But to try to understand if I was properly characterizing the Fellowship, I asked for input from Warren Throckmorton and from my own closest Fellowship friend, Kent Hotaling.  Both said I was wrong.  Warren says I should use “non-partisan.”  Kent’s comment, which I openly sent to Warren and allowed Warren to give to Jeff, is on Jeff’s post.  I stand corrected; the Fellowship is properly labeled as either Warren’s “non-partisan” or Kent’s “political but having no political agenda. “

b) The Fellowship has No Command and Control Mechanism in Place

The Fellowship has no command and control mechanism to control the thousands of people involved.  But Jeff disputes this now, whereas earlier he did not.  Here is what the transcript of Jeff’s conversation with me has on that subject:

Bob Hunter:
I’m not quite sure how the Fellowship produces a result -- a specific result somewhere just by these relationships.  It’s tricky.  There certainly is no control and command going on to organize -- there’s so many atomistic groups around --

Jeff Sharlet:
I don’t suggest there’s been control and command.  I’ve always argued that this is -- again, it’s a social movement, and it’s a culture, and I think this is the broader function.

Jeff now says there is control and command, citing a document I had not seen that talks of mentors and the Holy Spirit teaching the mentors how to live, what to think and what to say.  I determined that this document is not related to the overall Fellowship but is part of one of the 200 or so ministries under the Fellowship umbrella.  The overall Fellowship, which consists of thousands of atomistic small groups around the world, including groups in Parliament is one thing.  Quite different is the work of the Youth Corps, a ministry to underprivileged children in several countries.  The Youth Corps raises money to build or rent homes for the homeless children, pay their school fees, feed them, clothe them and so forth.  The mentors, usually volunteers, are trained to work giving oversight to the paid staff that runs these homes.  That is the document Jeff cites but it does not alter his conclusion stated to me that there is no command and control of the broader Fellowship itself.  The Fellowship has no membership card, no membership fees or dues, no mailings asking for money, no membership list; all we have is relationships.  To the extent there is any control and command, it is through the working of the Holy Spirit.

In a conversation with Jeff, he assures me that there are other indications of command and control in the documents, which may be true, but I have never been shown them or seen anyone in the Fellowship using them.

c) Mr. Sharlet’s Book Leaves Readers with a False Impression of the Fellowship

On the January 5, 2010 show, I make this statement: “I think a lot of what‘s been said historically has been inaccurate and Jeff Sharlet in interviews with me has admitted a lot of it has been inaccurate.” I was not talking about the book at that point, that came later.  Mr. Sharlet defends the cover, even though he did make these comments to me about it:

Bob Hunter:
How do you -- I want some definitions, because -- fundamentalists, because it’s right on the cover of your book.

Jeff Sharlet:
[inaudible]  Two things I’ll say there.  Nothing about the cover of that book is the way I want it.  This is a truth of publishing.  That’s not my title, that’s not my subtitle, and I thought the cover was horrible.

Bob Hunter:
Yeah, because it also has “right wing” or something on the flap. 

Jeff Sharlet:
Oh, that’s a blurb.  I don’t contribute that.

Then a few minutes later, this exchange completed the thought:

Jeff Sharlet:
But the fundamentalism, and I did -- I think this is something that’s sort of -- in the beginning of the book I try and make a definition.  I said I want to invent a new term, and in the footnotes I go to this guy -- I mean, I’m connected with a religious studies program at NYU, so I’m always one foot in sort of the academic debates, “What does fundamentalism mean?”  I said I want to get at this phrase, “an American fundamentalism,” which speaks to -- it’s not the traditional fundamentalism of the Separatists, the so-called “Come Outers,” as they were called in the 1950s.

Bob Hunter:
You’re not talking about people who believe the Earth is 500 years old or something like that.

Jeff Sharlet:
No, no.

Jeff says this does not admit an inaccuracy.  I think that the terms on the cover are misleading.

Also, as long as the issue of the book is raised, I do think the book is based on antiquated documents, contains little current information and leaves a false impression.  A prime example of this can be found on the July 10, 2009 Rachel Maddow Show:

MADDOW:  Wow.  When I—when I read your book, “The Family,” when it first came out in hardback, Jeff, I—my notes on, I write notes in the fly leaf about I‘m thinking about it.  And my notes about it, I went back and looked for that.  It was essentially to promote—its role (ph) is promoting American power worldwide, unfettered capitalism, no unions, no programs to help poor people—all with this idea that godly, powerful rich men should get at many resources as possible personally and they should just privately help everyone else.  That was the impression that I was left with.  Was I close?

SHARLET:  That‘s dead on the money. 

The note Rachel wrote to describe the book is the sort of impression a lot of people have about the Fellowship when they read it but that impression is, to be kind, an ancient and distorted picture of the Fellowship.  While the history may be accurate, I have not gone into the archives to determine that, it bears no relation to the Fellowship I have been known for 30 years.  I have never heard anyone ever speak about capitalism, unions, American power and helping the rich get richer.  Not once.  However, I have heard a lot of discussion about helping the poor and I have personally worked to help the poor in Uganda by helping two hospitals (an Anglican Hospital, Mengo, in Kampala and a Roman Catholic Hospital, Nyapea, in Nebbi) by raising significant resources.  I have also helped raise funds for returned abducted children in several homes in Northern Uganda as well as for care for returned abducted raped girls with unwanted children and no education (Gulu and Kitgum).  The later work, returned abducted raped girls is by Sister Rosemary in Gulu, has won the CNN Heroes’ Award.  One of the great honors in my Carole (my wife) and my life is the exalted title Rosemary calls us: “Mom and Dad.”

The book paints an inaccurate picture of the Fellowship because it is based on old documents.  The book is “dedicated” to 1935 to the 1980s, according to Jeff. But I do know the use of old documents presents real problems.  For instance, use of old documents led to a distorted understanding of the Fellowship on the point of our good works, viz.:

Jeff Sharlet:
It goes up -- and you know, it’s hard for me to know what’s going now, because the other thing I try to say to people is, “Look, I’m working from an archive and from some people like Brownback who talked to me a lot, but most of the book is dedicated to 1935 to the 1980s.”

Bob Hunter:
Okay.  You know, one of the things you mentioned, somewhere in your book, that there were a lot of good things coming out of it, I mean, there were 200-some odd ministries that are funded through the international foundation.  And a lot of really good works.  That somehow, that gets lost a little bit. 

Jeff Sharlet:
To say -- there’s a fair critique of the book in that.  The two things I would say to that is that, one, this will sound cynical but it’s not, that’s not news.  Someone has an orphanage somewhere?  Good.  There were orphanages before --

Bob Hunter:
It’s not news, you don’t want to paint a picture that the Family is just all bad.

To be fair, Jeff says that repeated requests for interviews were not accepted which may be the case. But there were people involved in the Fellowship, like me, who would have been happy to talk but we were not contacted.   Jeff did not verify or update his information with me, for instance.  He should have sought my input relative to pages 53 and 54 of his book where, by name, he discusses my role in Uganda:

Jeff Sharlet:
Well, what if -- fair enough, but what if there was transparency?  What if, instead of having to go to these documents -- which, when you look at that document in record, that’s what it looks like.

Bob Hunter:
You could have called me.  You never did.
 

CONCLUSION

While Jeff and I still argue vigorously about important (to us) details, we do agree on the only critical thing: the Uganda Anti-homosexual Bill must be stopped.  I commit to continue working on that with Jeff and others who seek that important outcome, including friends in high position in Uganda.  This discussion demonstrates the essence of how the Fellowship works; learning to love one another while not giving up our individual positions, even on issues we feel deeply about.

NEWS FLASH

After preparing this post, I learned that President Museveni appears to be moving in the right direction.  I am sure that Jeff is as pleased as I am to hear the good news!


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