The popularity of religion may declining but not its power. According to a survey done by Statistics Canada, Canadians increasingly say they have no religion. The Yukon and B.C. lead the country in non-believers.
But fear not. Our fallen province is about to be saved by American Baptists. They have designated Vancouver a “strategic focus city.” Professor John Stackhouse from Vancouver’s Regent College says that U.S. evangelicals see Vancouver as “shockingly pagan, with our low numbers of church attendance and high numbers declaring no religion (The Daily News, May 31, 2003).”
The idea of British Columbians being saved by Southern Baptists is mildly amusing. What’s not funny is the influence that religious forces have over the world’s hyperpower. An unholy union of state and religion guides President Bush and the U.S. government. Some of these religions are obscure.
I bet you’ve never heard of The Fellowship, for example. That’s the way they want it. The Fellowship is not like most religions that seek to convert the masses. It’s more like an covert council. Their goal is to sway the world’s decision makers, not to win converts.
“A Fellowship employee, went so far as to say that ‘there is no such thing as the Fellowship,’ even as she helped lead a group of 250 college students around Washington this month, part of a Fellowship-sponsored national leadership forum on faith and values,” writes Lisa Getter in The Los Angeles Times (Sep 27, 2002).
Even those who are influenced by The Fellowship don’t know exactly who they are. The administration of U.S. government is so closely entwined with The Fellowship that they appear seamless. Their annual big public event is the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. It has been attended by a succession of ambassadors, foreign dignitaries for years. Most attendees think the event is sponsored by Congress or even the president.
A Los Angeles Times review of the Fellowship’s archives kept at the Billy Graham Center reveals that The Fellowship has had extraordinary access and influence on foreign affairs for the last 50 years.
The Fellowship’s leader, Douglas Coe, 73, has befriended a succession of presidents and world leaders since arriving in Washington in 1959. Former U.S. President Bush Sr. once referred to Coe as “an ambassador of faith.”
Jeffrey Sharlet infiltrated The Fellowship at their boot camp for recruits in Arlington, Virginia. They don’t like to call themselves The Fellowship. They prefer “the Family.” They don’t even like to call themselves Christians. It’s “a term they deride as too narrow for the world they are building in Christ’s honor,” says Sharlet in the March issue of Harper’s magazine. Instead, they are “believers.”
The Family believes that the way to advance Christ’s will on earth is through intense personal bonds, or covenants, with world leaders. While in Arlington, Sharlet met Douglas Coe as he was counseling a congressman from Kansas about commitment to the Family. Coe summed up the influence of their minimalist religion, “That’s what you get with a covenant, Jesus plus nothing.”
It’s not just shadowy quasi-religions that influence the world’s most powerful nation. U.S. President Bush’s foreign policy is affected by Evangelical Christians who make up 25 per cent of the U.S. population.
Many of Bush’s supporters are Christian Zionists – – they believe that the return of the Jews to Israel is part of God’s plan. They include Evangelical groups headed by Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, Billy Graham and Jerry Falwell.
Their biblical interpretation of God’s plan was popularized by a maverick Irish Anglican priest, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882). He proposed history as a series of epochs in which mankind moved from catastrophe to catastrophe. First there was the expulsion from Eden, then the flood, the crucifixion of Christ. Now, with the return of the Jews to Israel, we are in an epoch which God will soon bring to a shuddering halt.
In the apocalyptic imaginations of Christian Zionists, Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein compete for the role of Antichrist.
President Bush hopes to bring peace between Israel and Palestine with his “road map.” His credibility as peacemaker is stretched, not just by his inclination to make war, but by his religious bias. How can his plan succeed when he regards one side as God’s chosen people and the other as evil terrorists?