Director of Netflix’s “The Family” Defends Portrayal of Secretive Evangelical Organization

The director of a Netflix documentary series about a secretive evangelical organization that founded the National Prayer Breakfast rejects critics’ accusations that his work unfairly maligns Christians.

On Aug. 9, Netflix debuted a five-part documentary series titled “The Family,” which analyzed the history of a Christian group commonly known by names like “the Family” or “The Fellowship.”

Headed by influential evangelist Doug Coe until his death in 2017, the Family oversees multiple ministries, most notably private small group Bible studies among members of Congress, meetings with world leaders in the Washington, D.C., area and abroad, and the annual National Prayer Breakfast.

The series is based off the work of Jeff Sharlet, a journalist who lived with a small group of men who were part of the Family and met Coe in person.

Sharlet had a book published about his experiences titled The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, which argues that the group holds troubling levels of influence on national and international events.

Since its release, the documentary series has garnered its share of critics. Denny Burk, president of the Commission on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, labeled the series “one of the most outrageous pieces of anti-Christian propaganda that I have ever seen.”

“There will be millions of viewers whose opinion of evangelicals will be distorted by this film. It catechizes viewers to be suspicious of Christians and to regard us as a clear and present danger to democracy,” he said.

Skye Jethani, an author, pastor, and host of the Holy Post podcast, took to Twitter to say that he considered the documentary series to be “a hatchet job, misleading, and dangerously biased even if it stumbled into some truth at times.”

However, Jesse Moss, director and producer of “The Family,” rejected the accusations of bias, telling The Christian Post in an interview on Wednesday that the series presented “a diverse set of views” and was done “in good faith.”

“We worked hard to represent a diversity of viewpoints, and it was important for me also to first of all provide room to those who considered themselves to be affiliates or inspired by the fellowship or the teachings of Doug Coe. But also to hear from the people who were critical of the organization and of Doug Coe himself,” Moss said.

“And if there were voices of criticism from within the faith community, to recognize those as well. So I didn’t want this to be a simple-minded outside-looking-in critique.”

Moss also told CP that he believes “the series is based on solid reporting.” And said he was “proud of the way we told this story.”

“I think audiences are smart, I think they’re are as many people who take issue with this musical choice or that particular editorial decision. There are going to be many more who really found the series compelling, intelligent, challenging,” Moss added.

“The series doesn’t need to resolve the question of what and how much influence do they have. I think it provokes a big and almost, in some ways, more important conversation about the teachings of Jesus and how in American democracy, faith and politics intersect.”

From ‘The Overnighters’ to ‘The Family’

Moss told CP that his interest in making “The Family” documentary series came in part from his experiences working on another faith-centered film titled “The Overnighters.”

The 2014 film centered on a Lutheran pastor who opens his North Dakota-based church to less fortunate men in the oil fields area so they could sleep overnight at the facility. However, the pastor’s decision to do so meets strong rejection from his congregation.

Moss, who noted that he was not raised in a religious home, told CP that he was impressed by the faith-based stance of the pastor.

“It was a really remarkably principled decision to really live the teachings of Jesus. Not just for him to preach them on Sunday but for him to practice them,” he said.

Moss read Sharlet’s book on the Family and became “captivated by the story Jeff told,” and “was intensely curious about the organization.”

He also wanted to examine how people in the public square practice their faith, “how the teachings of Jesus are not so theoretical but really lived and expressed in political life.”

“Like all of my films, I had this sort of idea and Jeff’s book, but didn’t know where it would lead me. I partnered with Netflix and Alex Gibney’s company, who I had worked with before, and we embarked on this journey and it was two years from start to finish,” Moss recalled.

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SOURCE: Christian Post, Michael Gryboski