Monday, January 22, 2007

Sam Brownback's Strange Bedfellows and Opus Dei Connections

Note: This is being cross-posted on Raising Kaine. Also, I am not reviving AIAW on a regular basis. But Rob from Raising Kaine had suggested that I cross post back here when I do a diary for them. It seems like a good idea just to keep my domain from becoming public and being taken over by somebody hawking Viagra or Cialis. So, once in a while - very rarely - when something disturbs me enough, there will be a new post, probably in both places.

Kansas senator, Sam Brownback, formally threw his hat into the Republican presidential ring with yesterday's announcement. On the surface, he's the ideal candidate for the pro-life, religious values voters. But his real agenda goes far beyond what even a lot of them want to see for our government.

Indeed, over the years, Brownback has burrowed himself into the leadership role in a network of secretive cabals with a dangerous theocratic agenda that most Americans, even the so-called values voters, don't support. And in some cases, his view is extra-biblical, relying not simply on biblical principles but on the rule a religious elite who believe they know Christ's true plan for our nation and are dedicated to imposing it on the rest of us. Their goal is nothing short of the abolition of free will and individual conscience.

Most people don’t expect Brownback to actually win the Republican nomination, but as this Rolling Stone article points out:

"Brownback is unlikely to receive the Republican presidential nomination -- but as the candidate of the Christian right, he may well be in a position to determine who does, and what they include in their platform. 'What Sam could do very effectively,' says the Rev. Rob Schenck, an evangelical activist, is hold the nomination hostage until the Christian right "exacts the last pledge out of the more popular candidate."
But Brownback's role as the deal maker for the right is no where near the only threat posed by the softspoken Kansas senator who manages to carry a big stick with a great deal of political clout.

Brownback has managed to amass a movement that is nothing less than an old-fashioned tent revival meeting, composed of far right evangelicals and traditionalist Roman Catholics from the ultra-orthodox Opus Dei movement.

According to Terry Mattingly’s On Religion website: (please note, emphasis is mine)

"This latest ceremony at Catholic Information Center will not draw the attention of the Washington Post. But that happened last year when Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas entered the fold. Some of McCloskey's earlier converts also caused chatter inside the Beltway -- columnist Robert Novak, economist Lawrence Kudlow and former abortion activist Bernard Nathanson."

Father C. John McCloskey III, the priest referred to in the above article, is a brilliant Catholic apologist with an Ivy League education, who has worked for Merrill Lynch and Citibank on Wall Street before becoming a priest in the personal prelature of Opus Dei.

For all his brilliance, Fr. McCloskey certainly doesn’t win any points for religious tolerance. Again, from On Religion.

"In addition to winning prominent converts, McCloskey has bluntly criticized the American Catholic establishment's powerful progressive wing, tossing out quotations like this zinger: 'A liberal Catholic is oxymoronic. The definition of a person who disagrees with what the Catholic church is teaching is called a Protestant.'

"It is also crucial that McCloskey openly embraces evangelism and the conversion of adults from Judaism, Islam and other world religions. For many modern Catholics this implies coercion, manipulation, mind control and, thus, a kind of "proselytism" that preys on the weak.

" 'That's pure trash. That's a false ecumenism,' said McCloskey. 'That's simply not Catholic teaching. The Catholic church makes exclusive truth claims about itself and cannot deny them. It doesn't deny that there are other forms of religion. It doesn't deny that these other forms of religion have some elements of truth in them. ...

" 'But we are proclaiming Jesus Christ and where we believe he can be most fully found and that's the Catholic church. We cannot deny that.' This issue will become even more controversial as America grows more diverse. "
But what’s especially bothersome about Fr. McCloskey's narrow minded views is his cultivation of those in power:

"But words like 'conversion' and 'evangelism' draw attention when a priest's pulpit is located on K Street, only two blocks from the White House. The flock that flows into the center's 100-seat chapel for daily Mass includes scores of lobbyists, politicians, journalists, activists and executives"
However, Opus Dei is actually just the tip of the iceberg for Brownback. Much more troublesome is his long term association with a shadowy group in Congress called The Fellowship. Here’s a rather lengthy description of them, their goals, worldview, and influential members, taken from the Rolling Stone piece cited above:

"One of the little-known strengths of the Christian right lies in its adoption of the 'cell' -- the building block historically used by small but determined groups to impose their will on the majority. Seventy years ago, an evangelist named Abraham Vereide founded a network of 'God-led' cells comprising senators and generals, corporate executives and preachers. Vereide believed that the cells -- God's chosen, appointed to power -- could construct a Kingdom of God on earth with Washington as its capital. They would do so 'behind the scenes,' lest they be accused of pride or a hunger for power, and 'beyond the din of vox populi,' which is to say, outside the bounds of democracy. To insiders, the cells were known as the Family, or the Fellowship. To most outsiders, they were not known at all.

" 'Communists use cells as their basic structure,' declares a confidential Fellowship document titled 'Thoughts on a Core Group.' "The mafia operates like this, and the basic unit of the Marine Corps is the four-man squad. Hitler, Lenin and many others understood the power of a small group of people.' Under Reagan, Fellowship cells quietly arranged meetings between administration officials and leaders of Salvadoran death squads, and helped funnel military support to Siad Barre, the brutal dictator of Somalia, who belonged to a prayer cell of American senators and generals.

"Brownback got involved in the Fellowship in 1979, as a summer intern for Bob Dole, when he lived in a residence the group had organized in a sorority house at the University of Maryland. Four years later, fresh out of law school and looking for a political role model, Brownback sought out Frank Carlson, a former Republican senator from Kansas. It was Carlson who, at a 1955 meeting of the Fellowship, had declared the group's mission to be 'Worldwide Spiritual Offensive,' a vision of manly Christianity dedicated to the expansion of American power as a means of spreading the gospel.

"Over the years, Brownback became increasingly active in the Fellowship. But he wasn't invited to join a cell until 1994, when he went to Washington. 'I had been working with them for a number of years, so when I went into Congress I knew I wanted to get back into that,' he says. 'Washington -- power -- is very difficult to handle. I knew I needed people to keep me accountable in that system.'

"Brownback was placed in a weekly prayer cell by 'the shadow Billy Graham' -- Doug Coe, Vereide's successor as head of the Fellowship. The group was all male and all Republican. It was a 'safe relationship,' Brownback says. Conversation tended toward the personal. Brownback and the other men revealed the most intimate details of their desires, failings, ambitions. They talked about lust, anger and infidelities, the more shameful the better -- since the goal was to break one's own will. The abolition of self; to become nothing but a vessel so that one could be used by God.
They were striving, ultimately, for what Coe calls 'Jesus plus nothing' -- a government led by Christ's will alone. In the future envisioned by Coe, everything -- sex and taxes, war and the price of oil -- will be decided upon not according to democracy or the church or even Scripture. The Bible itself is for the masses; in the Fellowship, Christ reveals a higher set of commands to the anointed few. It's a good old boy's club blessed by God. Brownback even lived with other cell members in a million-dollar, red-brick former convent at 133 C Street that was subsidized and operated by the Fellowship. Monthly rent was $600 per man -- enough of a deal by Hill standards that some said it bordered on an ethical violation, but no charges were ever brought.

"Brownback still meets with the prayer cell every Tuesday evening. He and his 'brothers,' he says, are 'bonded together, faith and souls.' The rules forbid Brownback from revealing the names of his fellow members, but those in the cell likely include such conservative stalwarts as Rep. Zach Wamp of Tennessee, former Rep. Steve Largent of Oklahoma and Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma doctor who has advocated the death penalty for abortion providers. Fellowship documents suggest that some 30 senators and 200 congressmen occasionally attend the group's activities, but no more than a dozen are involved at Brownback's level.

"The men in Brownback's cell talk about politics, but the senator insists it's not political. 'It's about faith and action,' he says. According to 'Thoughts on a Core Group,' the primary purpose of the cell is to become an 'invisible 'believing' group.' Any action the cell takes is an outgrowth of belief, a natural extension of 'agreements reached in faith and in prayer.' Deals emerge not from a smoke-filled room but from a prayer-filled room. 'Typically,' says Brownback, 'one person grows desirous of pursuing an action' -- a piece of legislation, a diplomatic strategy -- 'and the others pull in behind.'

"In 1999, Brownback worked with Rep. Joe Pitts, a Fellowship brother, to pass the Silk Road Strategy Act, designed to block the growth of Islam in Central Asian nations by bribing them with lucrative trade deals. That same year, he teamed up with two Fellowship associates -- former Sen. Don Nickles and the late Sen. Strom Thurmond -- to demand a criminal investigation of a liberal group called Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Last year, several Fellowship brothers, including Sen. John Ensign, another resident of the C Street house, supported Brownback's broadcast decency bill. And Pitts and Coburn joined Brownback in stumping for the Houses of Worship Act to allow tax-free churches to endorse candidates.

"The most bluntly theocratic effort, however, is the Constitution Restoration Act, which Brownback co-sponsored with Jim DeMint, another former C Streeter who was then a congressman from South Carolina. If passed, it will strip the Supreme Court of the ability to even hear cases in which citizens protest faith-based abuses of power. Say the mayor of your town decides to declare Jesus lord and fire anyone who refuses to do so; or the principal of your local high school decides to read a fundamentalist prayer over the PA every morning; or the president declares the United States a Christian nation. Under the Constitution Restoration Act, that'll all be just fine.

Brownback points to his friend Ed Meese, who served as attorney general under Reagan, as an example of a man who wields power through backroom Fellowship connections. Meese has not held a government job for nearly two decades, but through the Fellowship he's more influential than ever, credited with brokering the recent nomination of John Roberts to head the Supreme Court. 'As a behind-the-scenes networker,' Brownback says, 'he's important.' In the senator's view, such hidden power is sanctioned by the Bible. 'Everybody knows Moses,' Brownback says. 'But who were the leaders of the Jewish people once they got to the promised land? It's a lot of people who are unknown.'

"Every Tuesday, before his evening meeting with his prayer brothers, Brownback chairs another small cell -- one explicitly dedicated to altering public policy. It is called the Values Action Team, and it is composed of representatives from leading organizations on the religious right. James Dobson's Focus on the Family sends an emissary, as does the Family Research Council, the Eagle Forum, the Christian Coalition, the Traditional Values Coalition, Concerned Women for America and many more. Like the Fellowship prayer cell, everything that is said is strictly off the record, and even the groups themselves are forbidden from discussing the proceedings. It's a little 'cloak-and-dagger,' says a Brownback press secretary. The VAT is a war council, and the enemy, says one participant, is 'secularism.'

"The VAT coordinates the efforts of fundamentalist pressure groups, unifying their message and arming congressional staffers with the data and language they need to pass legislation. Working almost entirely in secret, the group has directed the fights against gay marriage and for school vouchers, against hate-crime legislation and for 'abstinence only' education. The VAT helped win passage of Brownback's broadcast decency bill and made the president's tax cuts a top priority. When it comes to 'impacting policy,' says Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, 'day to day, the VAT is instrumental.'"
Sorry for the very long quote, but if I tried to paraphrase any of this, you wouldn’t believe me or would think that I was just being paranoid.

In addition to Opus Dei, The Fellowship, the Values Action Team and his other shadowy, undemocratic cells, Brownback announced that one of the major advisers to his presidential exploratory committee will be Thomas Monaghan,, the founder of the ultra-conservative and controversial Ave Maria University, which you can read about here. In addition to moving Ave Maria from Michigan to Collier County, Florida, Mohaghan is attempting to build his own theocratically governed private town, also named Ave Maria. The town will be set up and governed on orthodox Catholic principles such as banning pharmacies from distributing contraceptives

According to this report from the Media Transparancy website:

"Tom Monaghan 'is putting his money and influence' into making Brownback "the next president of the United States," McClatchy Newspapers' Matt Stearns recently reported. The extremely wealthy, and controversial conservative Catholic, 'is advising the 2008 presidential exploratory committee for Brownback, a longtime social conservative who converted to Catholicism a few years ago,' Stearns pointed out.

" 'In the Catholic community, he's looked upon as kind of on the fringes,' the Rev. Robert Drinan, a liberal Roman Catholic priest and former Democratic congressman who teaches at Georgetown University, told Stearns. 'The worldview is, "We have to get back to a Catholic civilization." They want to go back to a Christian society imposed from above...It's just another world they want to build.'"
If this all frightens you, it frightens me too. There are a lot of good, sincere people out there who oppose abortion, worry about the increasing crudeness that passes for culture in our society, and sincerely believe that religion has value in the public square. But what Sam Brownback is involved with goes way beyond that well-intentioned debate about societal reform.

Brownback is not just involved but is the leading force in groups whose goal is to remake America as an authoritarian theocracy, guided by biblical law as dictated by an annointed few. Incredibly, they believe that "the Bible is for the masses," and their vision is for an extra-biblical dictatorship, perhaps based on biblical principles, but ruled by a small cabal who impose their religious and social views on everybody else. These are people who have made alliance with the leaders of El Salvadoran death squads and brutal Somalian dictators. Theirs is a scary vision for America, indeed for the world.

Brownback, the Fellowship, and their fellow travelers like Jim DeMint, Ed Meese, Tom Coburn, and others mentioned above need to be taken seriously and watched carefully. Theirs would be a dangerous America indeed.