If you've come across the docuseries, The Family, while scrolling through Netflix, you may wonder what you're about to get yourself into, since the title doesn't give much away. So, what is The Family about? Despite its unassuming name, The Family examines a potentially dangerous place where church and state intersect. So, it's an important one to watch. But let me give you a little bit more context before you press play.
Netflix's official description of The Family as reported by The Wrap says:
Every February, on the first Thursday, at the same hotel, dignitaries and guests from 100 countries gather in America’s capital for a blessing. While more than 3,000 people attend the National Prayer Breakfast — including every U.S. president since Dwight Eisenhower — the host organization has long shrouded itself in secrecy. Technically, it’s called The Fellowship, but former “brother” members like New York Times bestselling author Jeff Sharlet know the group as The Family. As he learned firsthand and documented in The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, The Family believes the separation of church and state is unnecessary, and political affiliation is irrelevant. The Family grooms and supports leaders, teaching them that the Bible is a story about power, not mercy – that leaders are chosen by God, not elected.
I had more questions than answers after reading that statement. First, what is The Fellowship Foundation? According to The Fellowship Foundation official website, it is "a network of friends from all walks of life and all ages joined together by our interest in the specific person, wisdom and reconciling power of Jesus."
But the group begins to sound slightly more ominous when it implies that its members may intersect with governments. The statement on the website continues, "The mission to leaders involves facilitating candid, intimate, and thus private, relationships among their peers in governments, businesses and other organizations, based on the leadership principles taught and practiced by Jesus." Overall, "The Foundation believes that Jesus transcends all forms of government and belief."
It seems like involvement with an overtly Christian organization like this would violate the longstanding U.S. governing principle of a separation between church and state, as dictated in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which forbids government from action that unduly favors one religion over another or prefers religion over non-religion or vice versa.
Executive producer of The Family Jeff Sharlet said in the trailer above that he "stumbled his way in" to The Fellowship Foundation (the organization also known as The Family) while doing research for another project focused on religious life in America, according to an article published by Dartmouth News, where Sharlet is an associate professor.
The docuseries is based on Sharlet's books The Family and C-Street about Sharlet's time in the organization. The series is directed by Jesse Moss and features interviews with Sharlet and other skeptics of the organization.
But it also features on-camera interviews with members of The Family — an unprecedented occurrence. “I give a lot of credit to Jesse Moss, not least of all because he got lots of people from the Family to talk on camera, which hasn’t happened before,” Sharlet said in Dartmouth News.
If you are interested in the intersection of religion and politics this is a can't-miss series that will give you a front row seat to one of the government's best kept secrets.
The Family is now streaming on Netflix.