The separation of church and state is one of the fundamental principles of American democracy; Article VI of the Constitution states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Yet there have been plenty of people who’ve tried to erode that boundary, or at the very least work around it. In the March 2003 issue of Harper’s Magazine, Jeff Sharlet published a story that revealed (some of) the inner workings of one religious organization that has been at the task for decades: the Family. Since 1953, the Family has organized the National Prayer Breakfast—a seemingly innocuous nonpartisan event. Yet this annual celebration has allowed leaders from around the world—including dictators, warlords, foreign agents, and legitimate clergy—to covertly access the halls of power and exert influence. Espousing the ambiguous philosophy of “Jesus plus nothing,” the Family’s willingness to work with powerful but diabolical leaders arises from their interpretation of predestination—if you’re in power, it’s because God said so, and isn’t it better to have the wolf king on your side?
Jeff Sharlet’s reporting on the Family has led to several more articles and two books: The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power and C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy. Netflix and Sharlet recently adapted this reporting into a five-part documentary. Web editor Violet Lucca spoke with Sharlet and director Jesse Moss about adapting this wealth of material into a documentary, the difficulties of getting straight answers out of deeply secretive Family members, and the organization’s ascendant power.