Friday, March 02, 2012

Why Health Care Leaders Remain Unaccountable: How the Family Invisibly Promoted the "Divine Right of CEOs"

We have frequently discussed the lack of accountability of health care leaders, which we sometimes have described as CEO exceptionalism. We have noted how health care leaders almost never seem to need to take responsibility for their organizations' misbehavior and its outcomes, (look here) and in fact can command ever increasing compensation, no matter how badly they or their organizations do. 

Some of the more recent examples of this phenomenon were:

  • William Weldon, soon to retire as CEO of Johnson and Johnson, has commanded eight-figure yearly compensation despite severe manufacturing problems leading to 30 product recalls since 2009, and multiple ethical lapses leading to legal settlements and guilty pleas (see this post).
  • Non-profit hospital system CEOs got bonuses and raises, or departed with golden parachutes as their systems faced financial losses and laid off employees, or after their medical staff questioned their management (see this post).
  • A non-profit hospital CEO got a golden parachute ostensibly because he engineered a successful merger.  However, the merger never took place (see this post.)
Others examples can be found here.  Moreover, such executive compensation is almost never justified with anything approaching evidence or logic.  When health care organizations can be bothered to try to explain executive compensation, they revert to rote compliments (executives are called "brilliant" or "visionary") without further explanation, e.g., look here and here and here), or even fall back to logical fallacies (e.g.look here).

Why Does Unaccountable Leadership Persist Unchallenged?

Why this absurd state of affairs persists and is getting worse, and why it is so little noticed outside of this blog, is a real question.  One explanation we just raised is that society has gotten used to "the divine rights of CEOs," partially because of the success of an ideology that has been called "economism," that in turn is based on some old and now rarely accepted religious teachings that have somehow infiltrated what is supposed to be a science.

The Family as a Supporter of the "Divine Right of CEOs"

A related explanation comes from The Family, published in 2008, written by Jeff Sharlet.  It suggests that such outmoded beliefs have been promoted by an extreme, nearly invisible, but influential religious sect called "The Family" that has been around since the 1930s.  The Family has powerfully promoted its fringe religious beliefs to influence policy and politics.  I strongly recommend reading the book for further details, or at least a summary article, Jesus Plus Nothing, Shalet published in 2003 in Harpers.

Let me summarize the relevant points.  Because many will seem far-fetched, I will provide quotes from the book to back each up, with page references from the Harper Paperback edition.  Italics were added for emphasis.


The Family, formerly the Fellowship, is secretive, and functions behind a variety of front organizations.

The family has operated under many guises, some active, some defunct: National Committee for Christian Leadership, International Christian Leadership, National Leadership Council, the Fellowship Foundation, the International Foundation. (P 20-21)

Extreme Theology
While nominally Christian, the Family is at the far extreme of the spectrum, and embraces beliefs that many would find far-fetched, or worse.

It discounts the Bible and the Holy Trinity, and hence is hardly fundamentalist in the usual sense of the word.

The Family’s
origins lie not in the New Testament, which is ultimately little more than a fabric from which the Family constructs contemporary realities....” (P 61)
Not Jesus plus scripture, since scripture, after all, contains a great deal besides Jesus. No burning bush, no voice in the whirlwind, no Daniel, no lions. (P 252).

It discounts the Holy Trinity.
[Current Family leader Douglas] Coe and his inner circle do believe in the trinity; a Washington fundamentalist activist told me,’ but they’ll given the Father and the Holy Ghost the weekend off. Because they clutter the conversation. Jesus is so easily presented. (P 252)

Some call it a dominionist sect, that is, one that seeks a return to the very earliest Christianity, before any organized churches.  
The Family’s beliefs appear closer to a more marginal set of theologies sometimes gathered under the umbrella term of dominionism, characterized ... by William Martin, a religious historian at Rice University, and Billy Graham’s official biographer.... Dominionist theologies hold the Bible to be a guide to every decision, high and low, from whom God wants you to marry to whether God thinks should buy a new lawn mower. Unlike neo-evangelicals, who concern themselves chiefly with getting good with Jesus, dominionists want to reconstruct early Christian society, which they believe was ruled by God alone. (P 44)

(Note, however, that the emphasis on the Bible as guide appears to contradict the discounting of scripture above.)

Links to the Powerful

The Family has had ties to numerous powerful politicians.
The Family is in its own words an ‘invisible’ association, although it has always been organized around public men. Senator Sam Brownback (R., Kansas), chair of a weekly off-the-record meeting of religious right groups called the Values Action Team (VAT) is an active member, as is Representative Joe Pitts (R., Pennsylvania),... Others referred to as members include senators Jim DeMint of South Carolina,...; Pete Dominici of New Mexico...; Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa); James Inhofe (R., Oklahoma); Tom Coburn (R., Oklahoma); John Thune (R., South Dakota); Mike Enzi (R., Wyoming); and John Ensign.... ‘Faith-based Democrats’ Bill Nelson of Florida and Mark Pryor of Arkansas,... are members.... (P18)

Many other politicians, some very well known, from both major parties appear as Family members or friends in the book.

Since the 1950s, the Family has supported the National Prayer Breakfast. (P 195). 

The "Divine Right" of Leaders

The Family believe that those who are powerful are those chosen by God to be powerful, and hence must obeyed.

Family founder Abraham Vereide, better known as Abram
“would become an exponent of religion for the elite - the ‘up and out,’ as he called them.... He termed this trickle-down faith the Idea, and it was really the only idea he ever had - the only one, he believed, God gave him. In one sense, it was nothing more than a defense of the status quo. It neither challenged power nor asked for anything from the powerful but their good intentions. ( P 91)
“Power lies in things as they are. God has already chosen the powerful, his key men. ( P 96)
‘We work with power where we can, build new power where we can’t.’ The words belong to Doug Coe, who seized the Fellowship’s top spot in a succession struggle following Abram’s death in 1969 and began transforming it into what I eventually encountered as the Family. ( P 121.)

The "Divinely Chosen" Leaders Need Not be Accountable to Any Man

The powerful, because they are chosen by God and are instruments of God’s will, need not be accountable, at least to any other humans.
This, Abram decided, was what it meant to die to the self: to turn all responsibility over to God. That such a transfer meant the abdication of any accountability for one’s actions, that it provided justification for any ambition, did not occur to him. (P 125)
A Fellowship tract titled Studies for Public Men, 10,000 of which were printed up by a Chevron Oil executive, claimed that such abuses [refers to an Army General who worked with Coe and was subsequently jailed for selling surplus weapons to 'Third World gangs'] are inevitable, but not attributable to the piety with which such men cloaked their misdeeds. When pious men committed crimes, went the thinking, godlessness was to blame - ‘secularism in its worst form!’ In a Section titled ‘Accountablity,’ the tract explained why the Fellowship should not be held accountable for the actions of its individual members.... ‘Persisting in the accusation of collective guilt immobilizes a society,’ advised the tract. Perhaps, but the Fellowship denied the very concept of guilt for the powerful. That was a legalistic notion, an encroachment on God’s sovereignty.... (P 220)
We’re all sinners, and thus shouldn’t judge those whom God places in authority. (P 241)

The "Divine Right" Extends Even to Dictators

The Family’s support of powerful, unaccountable leadership is suggested by how it tolerated, and sometimes supported vicious dictatorships.
Understand Abram’s weirdly ambivalent relationship with fascism.... (P 124)
In Frankfurt, Abram claimed, God personally revealed to Abram a key man to quietly help manage the internal affairs of Germany’s elite: Dr Otto Fricke, an austere German churchman with an uncomfortable past. ‘You are God’s man for this hour in Germany,’ Abram told him. Had Abram asked about Fricke’s role in Germany’s previous hour, Fricke would have begged off explaining his activities during the Third Reich. As a radio preacher, he’d been recruited by Goebbels to propagandize,.... (P 159)
Coe counseled a Haitian senator and then Haiti’s ambassador to the United States, easing both into commitments to a Christ-led nation, with the understanding the Christ Coe preached led not toward the socialism that tempts any bitterly poor people but toward an economics of ‘key men’ who would share their wealth as God instructed them. Senators Frank Carlson and Homer Capehart, both members of the Foreign Relations Committee, did the follow-up work, leading a Fellowship delegation of twelve businessmen to instruct the Haitian parliament in prayer cell politics. Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier, who would declare himself president for life but also the nation’s official ‘Maximum Chief of the Revolution’ and ‘Electrifier of Souls’ - he was the weirdest and most vicious dictator in the Western Hemisphere - impressed the senators with his spirituality.
Not only did South Korea hold a prayer breakfast, but its dictator, General Park Chung Hee, tried to use the Fellowship to channel illegal funding to congressional candidate’s of [President Richard] Nixon’s selection. (P 216)
In 1968, Abram declared [Indonesian dictator] Suharto’s coup a ‘spiritual revolution,’ and Indonesia under his rule an especially promising nation, hope for the future in Abram’s later years. (P 245)

The family also had cordial relationships with South Vietnamese leader General Nguyen Van Thieu (P 248) and Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos (P 249)
Sharlet's book suggests how the Family's increasing influence has led to the infiltration into the general society of the notion that all current leaders, including and particularly corporate CEOs, have a "divine right," and can thus not be held accountable by mortal men, even though that notion, if expressed this clearly, would seem ridiculous to a vast majority of the population.  It is possible that the major reason that most health care leaders have become unaccountable is some sort of subconscious acquiescence to the notions of economism (as discussed here), and promulgated by the Family.  However, this acquiescence then is largely by people who would likely reject the bizarre religious beliefs that underpin these notions if those beliefs and their origin were made clear.
All those who do not believe that all earthly leaders are divinely chosen need to challenge the leaders chosen by human to be accountable to humans. 
As a society we need to wake up from our dazed acquiescence to ideas that border on crazy.  We need to challenge rote justifications and talking points for that which makes no sense, but serve to make the powerful more powerful.


Anonymous said...

Excellent idea. May I suggest that you select the poignant from the past 5 years and post them from time to time?

The letters I must type to prove I am not a robot is getting close to the nuisance of CPOE devices. Do something about it.

Afraid said...

I mean, do you have any actual data to say that people of that creed or viewpoint have a higher degree of moral failing or are more blind when it comes to following their leaders?

If so, and I am unaware of it, please forgive me and educate me.

Roy, I support you, you know I do, but please, don't turn me away with this sort of commentary.

I see it as exactly what the 'powers that be' desire -- have the rabble like us fight so we don't organize. It keeps us disorganized, which is exactly what keeps them in power.

Perhaps this is the better explanation of the anechoic problem. The similarities between the Tea Party and the Occupy supporters are FAR more than their differences.

People of all religions, races, nationalities, etc. know things are wrong and upside down in America, and throughout the world.

Gosh it kills me when I see good people fight themselves when they should be banding together to oppose a common enemy.

Reach out to those who are different but have the same problem, make it a point to embrace them and utterly avoid that which may inflame them.


Roy M. Poses MD said...


Again, please read my post again.

It was not about whether members of the Family had or have moral failings.

It was about how some leaders and members of the family promulgated an idea that existing leaders ought not be held accountable, and that notion was based on religious teachings.

This is an idea about social and economic policy, and about politics. I hypothesized that this idea may be partly responsible for the existing lack of accountablity of many health care leaders.

Whether or not this idea was based on religious reasoning, it is not an idea about religion per se, but about economics, politics, and social policy. Therefore, this idea is open to question and criticism on its own merits.

I am not questioning the religious practices nor religious morality of those who espoused this idea.

Judy B said...

How do we make these people accountable? It's pretty daunting as they seem to only answer to their Board of Directors and the Board is also corrupt. The next question is how to take control back from the compromised Directors? Anyone have any idea on how to do that?

Afraid said...

I think only the government can do that Judy, and perhaps they are corrupted too.