Cover Story

All in the family

"All in the family" Continued...

Issue: "The ABCs of C Street," Aug. 29, 2009

"Does this provide an enabling environment? Or does this provide an environment of discipline? I've seen it do both," said Halverson about the Fellowship.

With his father's influence, Halverson, 65, became involved in Fellowship activities at age 18 but left the group a little over 10 years ago. He said he felt marginalized after his father's 1995 death, could no longer afford to live in the Cedars neighborhood, and was increasingly bothered by what he described as the group's "pathologies"-its obsession with privacy and problems in the areas of discipline, accountability, and theology. The gospel of the cross, he said, looked more like "the gospel of the kingdom of God triumphant."

Halverson can recite the organization's "catechism" by heart: "What is the purpose of life? To love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. What is the gospel? The gospel is the person of Jesus Christ. What is the work of God? The work is to believe in Him who He has sent."

And among the Fellowship's three leaders, his father was the only one to have obtained a seminary degree. Richard Halverson was a full-time pastor (serving at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Md., for 23 years before he became the Senate chaplain). He worked behind the scenes and deferred to the leadership of Vereide or Coe-neither of whom had theological training. Some said theological rigor drained away from the organization after Halverson's death.

Beyond that, the Fellowship distances itself from the institutional church through its informal policy of refusing to call any ordained pastor working with them by his title, like "reverend." Coe has said one must take Jesus out of His "religious wrapping."

The word "Christian," also, is taboo. Fellman explained, "You would have to understand Doug's definition of a Muslim or Hindu. Was Jesus a Christian? Did Jesus ever utter the word Christian?. . . They are not becoming Christians, they are following Jesus."

Fellman said that Coe believes in "the inerrancy of Scripture" but that it should be interpreted on one's own, outside of "denominations." And he contends that "denominations break [Jesus'] heart."

Regarding Fellowship participants, Sen. Inhofe explained, "Some of them are Muslims. Some of them are Christians. But they meet in the spirit of Jesus, so it's not a denomination thing, it's not even a Christian thing, it's a Jesus thing."

Those sentiments have led to controversial Fellowship-sponsored interfaith dialogues with Islamic strongmen. And over the years Coe has raised eyebrows meeting with world leaders like Indonesian dictator Suharto, Nicaraguan Anastasio Somoza, and Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

That, said Cromartie, "is a form of Christian innocence and naïvete." The Fellowship approaches world leaders, he said, as if disagreements are misunderstandings that can simply be solved through reconciliation.

Rice University's Lindsay sums up the group as "sort of a free-floating spiritual formation group" that "is very indifferent to local churches."

In addition to "a number of issues raised about their theology," Lindsay said, "there are elements of the Fellowship which indeed are not in line with what we would consider mainstream evangelical theology."

Lindsay decided to delve into understanding the Fellowship after interviewing more than 360 of the nation's top political leaders for a book on faith and power. He discovered that lawmakers mentioned the Fellowship more than any other organization when asked to name a ministry with the most influence on their faith: "It has relationships with pretty much every world leader-good and bad-and there are not many organizations in the world that can claim that."

One of the most publicized relationships is with Chuck Colson, a former Nixon adviser convicted in the Watergate scandal and founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries. Colson has described the key role the Fellowship and Doug Coe played in his conversion in his 1975 memoir Born Again, and he is quick to praise the group's work in his life as a young Christian. But Colson told WORLD he now has concerns about politicians using the C Street group, for example, as a replacement for church. "It's a mistake," he said. "A leading figure ought to belong to a church."

Richard Halverson preached a sermon in 1987 saying, "God created people to master their environment, to subdue it, to replenish it-but under God's authority. If people will not be under God's authority then they become victims rather than masters of their environment."
(Editor's note: This article has been edited to reflect that Sen. James Inhofe is 74 years old.)

Following the money

By Emily Belz

The Fellowship reported a $2.5 million surplus on $19 million in revenues, according to its most recent tax filing in 2007. The organization operates as a grant-making entity, sending checks annually to more than 50 nonprofits in the United States and around the world. It is best known for its Washington, D.C., activities like the annual National Prayer Breakfast, on which the Fellowship spends about $1 million. It also funds a variety of properties, events, and traveling abroad.

It draws its fundraising revenue mainly as missionary-type support; individuals in the organization raise money for, say, a trip to Brazil, and donors make their checks out to the Fellowship or its alternate name, the International Foundation. Nonprofit 501(c)3s like the Fellowship aren't supposed to funnel donations to non-501(c)3s, but in 2007 the Fellowship granted $1.2 million to a Ugandan charity called Cornerstone Development. Granting funds to foreign charities is legal, though the IRS has imposed more restrictions on those transactions since 9/11. Cornerstone on its website directs its donors to give to the International Foundation, with a note that it is for Cornerstone. "This is a US registered nonprofit that passes on to us 100% of the donation. And you will receive a tax-deductible receipt from them," the site explains.

Because the Fellowship is so diffuse, people all over the world oversee different grants. Charles McLeod, for example, lives in Rochester, Mich., and he receives a number of checks for grants to various organizations at his home.

"I like to send a personal note with a check," he said. "We're all trying to do it through relationships."

On a dead end road in Annapolis, Md., reside the leaders of another public charity affiliated with the Fellowship, an even lower-profile group called the Wilberforce Foundation.

"Just about everything about the Wilberforce Foundation is odd," said Rod Pitzer, managing director of research at the nonprofit watchdog Wall Watchers. Pitzer noted that Wilberforce has no employees, it transacts thousands of dollars back and forth with the Fellowship, and its president Jerry Jonker lives in Michigan while the three other organization officers live in the Washington area, including David and Tim Coe, Fellowship head Doug Coe's sons. In 2007, Tim sold his house to Wilberforce, though tax records say he abstained from the decision to buy the house and the process for determining the price. The organization has no conflict-of-interest policy. The Fellowship does, but employs 11 of Doug Coe's family members-his sons, a daughter, daughters-in-law, and five grandchildren, as of the 2007 return.

The Wilberforce mission is to "aid, train, educate, and encourage young people in the principles of faith and relationship skills [and] provide food and shelter if needed." But Eric Fellman, a board member who helps oversee the budget, said the Maryland-based organization was set up "to hold properties," because under D.C. liability law, all of the Fellowship's assets could be accessed to cover a lawsuit. So if someone were injured at one of the Wilberforce properties and sued, only the Wilberforce assets would be fair game.

The C Street Center has no publicly accessible financial records because it is registered as a church with the IRS. Fellman said the Fellowship is audited every year by an independent firm.

The Cedars (Arlington, VA)

The $7.8 million mansion, formerly property of George Mason, offers a meeting place and retreat for public figures. On the same street sit two group homes, one for young women, Potomac Point, and one for young men, Ivanwald.

The Wilberforce Foundation (Annapolis, MD)

This is the listed address for the foundation, though David Coe, a Fellowship employee and son of Doug Coe, is the owner. Several Fellowship employees and associates have homes on the same street.

The Wilberforce Foundation (Annapolis, MD)

Tim Coe, a Fellowship employee, Wilberforce board member, and son of Doug Coe, sold this house to the Wilberforce Foundation in 2007, though documents say that he abstained from any involvement in the decision to buy the house or determine the price.

The Jonathan House (Washington, DC)

The Fellowship raised the money to start this house for young Christian men in the 1980s, but it now belongs to a church, Washington Community Fellowship, which provides administrative oversight. The house is named for Doug Coe's son, Jonathan, who died of lymphoma at the age of 27.

The 19th Street House (Washington, DC)

The Fellowship runs a home in Trinidad, one of Washington's most crime-ridden neighborhoods, to give students and single moms a safe place to come after school.

The C Street Center (Washington, DC)

The $1.8 million historic home hosts Bible studies, prayer meetings, and serves as a home to a number of male lawmakers who pay $950 a month. The house, a registered church, is owned by the C Street Center, an organization under the umbrella of the Fellowship.

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