(RNS) — In the early 2000s, Jeff Sharlet was invited to live at Ivanwald, an Arlington, Va., house run by the Fellowship Foundation, the nonprofit group behind the National Prayer Breakfast.

He thought the experience would fit in a book he was writing about religion in America. Instead, he stumbled into the story of a lifetime, about a secretive Christian group whose membership, largely elected officials and wealthy businessmen, has helped shaped our politics for more than 50 years.

They call themselves the Family. They work behind the scenes through relationships forged at Bible studies, prayer breakfasts and private meetings with leaders from around the globe.

Family members have befriended dictators such as Ferdinand Marcos, Moammar Gadhafi, Suharto – offering friendship in the name of Jesus

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