Netflix's latest docu-series, The Family, takes a deep dive into a secret Christian society that operates behind the scenes in Washington D.C.
The Family is a conglomerate of non-profit organizations that work together to spread the gospel and "with tentacles around the world... meet with presidents, foreign leaders, to spread their view of Jesus throughout the world."
For example, they are the major force behind the National Prayer Breakfast, which has been around since Eisenhower. In a nutshell, you can describe The Family as a Christian mafia.
In the first episode, journalism professor and religious scholar Jeff Sharlet takes a look at Ivanwald, a "cult" of young men who all live together serving Jesus and working for politicians, or as they call them, "men who are chosen by God for leadership."
Where is Ivanwald located?
Ivanwald is located in Arlington, Va., a suburb of Washington D.C. and according to Jeff, who joined shortly after 9/11, it had a "frat house kind of feel." And just like a frat house, there was strict criteria for living in Ivanwald.
Along with basic good health (and no past substance abuse problems) and a willingness to live in a fraternal setting, rules included no swearing, no drinking, and no sex. Oh, and the members were not allowed to watch any TV or read newspapers.
Who are the Ivanwald brothers in The Family?
If you resided in the "pious frat house" you were known as an Ivanwald brother. Former members Gannon Sims and Jeff Sharlet spoke out about their time in the Georgian mansion, and described it as a "sabbatical from regular life" and "spiritually dangerous."
The brothers were also required to work at The Family's headquarters, known as the Cedars (another impressive mansion in the neighborhood), raking leaves, cleaning toilets, and completing other menial tasks.
"It's important to remember, these brothers were not bad guys," Jeff explained on the Netflix series. "They were there because they wanted meaning in their life. They wanted to feel like they were part of something valuable."
Those in Ivanwald were also taught that they were "chosen" and as the chosen ones they had a different set of moral codes. As one leader put it, "We elect our leaders. Jesus selects his and we warn everyone the future king is coming."
Doug Coe was a huge influence at Ivanwald.
"Doug Coe was a saintly person who put other people first... and he didn't really want any accolades," Gannon shared before revealing that Doug asked him to take any reference of him off Google.
He was referred as the "stealth Billy Graham" and passed away in 2017.
Is Ivanwald still around today?
We can assume the Family still has a Ivanwald-esque location where they are breeding the next generation of leaders. However, in 2008, Jeff gave an update on some of his Ivanwald brothers, and what they are doing today.
For example, Luke, who introduced Jeff to The Family, returned to his job in finance and is doing well. Gannon, who was featured in the docu-series, worked as a State Department spokesman, and Greg Unumb went on to become an executive with Pride Foramer, an oil drilling company.
"This is a Christian network, with a few people running it. There are two types of people at Ivanwald. Sharp guys with leadership potential, and problem kids," Jeff told The Harper's blog. "The sharp ones use Ivanwald to build their network. If they do become successful, there’s an emphasis on maintaining contact."
Scary. Stream all five episodes of The Family on Netflix now.
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