Doug Coe lives a quiet life, even though the Fellowship organization he founded appears often in the news. Last year, two politicians who confessed to adulteries drew attention to the Fellowship. Earlier this year, a group of pastors filed an IRS complaint over the tax-exempt status of the Fellowship's C Street house, where a small number of politicians live. Coe, who rarely gives interviews, spoke with Grove City psychology professor Warren Throckmorton at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this year. Throckmorton regularly blogs on sexuality issues and has reported on the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda. What follows is Throckmorton's analysis of the interview as submitted to Christianity Today.
In 2005, Time magazine selected Doug Coe as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in the nation. Coe provides spiritual leadership for the Fellowship Foundation, the entity that organizes the National Prayer Breakfast. This event brings together political leaders from around the world during the first week of February for prayer and networking. Attended by every President since Dwight Eisenhower, the event is the pinnacle of many smaller meetings involving thousands of world leaders and volunteers.
For more than a year, I have been writing about Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which, if passed, would make consensual homosexual intimacy a capital crime if one of the parties was HIV positive. Other same-sex intimacy would be punished with life in prison. People failing to report knowledge of others engaging in gay sex could also be jailed. Because the bill's sponsor, David Bahati, has been involved in activities related to the Fellowship Foundation, some observers thought the American associates promoted the bill as well. Interviews with people connected to the Fellowship led me to believe otherwise. I was invited to explore the Fellowship more openly by attending the prayer breakfast, and Coe agreed to sit down with me to provide a glimpse into his organization.
I began by asking Coe to describe the "Fellowship." He began by saying that the Fellowship was a "network of friends around the world attempting to be centered on the principles and teachings of Jesus." Coe added that, for many years, insiders described the Fellowship another way: "We are an informal association of concerned laymen bonded together to find through Jesus Christ 'the better way' of everyday living and to promote for home, community, nation, and world a more effective 'leadership led by God' at every level of society."
Coe told me that it is important for observers to understand that what is happening in the hundreds of little groups nationally and worldwide is a kind of "people-to-people—friend-to-friend" network. Each group, city, and nation is autonomous and independent. He emphasized that there is no central top-down leadership that speaks for all the groups throughout the nations. However, he said, "we all want to be friends and we are relationally together in spirit. That is the reason we call each other brother, sister, and friend as Jesus told us to do." The focus, Coe explained, is "to help each other with endeavors that help people, specifically the poor, widows, and orphans of the world."
He went on to say that the way you communicate the importance of Jesus' teachings is not primarily through spoken words, but "over 90 percent by example." Invoking the Golden Rule, he said Jesus taught that we should "do for others what you would like others to do unto you." According to Coe, expressing the teachings of Jesus is much more about deeds than about words. "One of the most important ways of communicating the precepts of Jesus is not to be judgmental of others, thinking yourself to be better than other people," he said.