Our dear friend!
Doug Coe, an evangelical leader who gained influence with powerful figures around the world as head of a prominent but secretive faith-based organization that sponsors the National Prayer Breakfast, an annual event in Washington and in many state capitals, died on Tuesday at his home in Annapolis, Md. He was 88.
A family spokesman, A. Larry Ross, confirmed the death, adding that Mr. Coe had been hospitalized briefly after having a heart attack and a stroke.
Under Mr. Coe’s guidance, the National Prayer Breakfast, begun in 1953, grew to become a Washington institution, attended by every sitting president since Dwight D. Eisenhower. President Trump spoke to religious leaders there on Feb. 2. Guest speakers have been as diverse as Mother Teresa and the Irish rock singer Bono.
Mr. Coe was regarded by many political and business leaders as a spiritual mentor who blurred the line between religion and philosophy. Many in his orbit, including presidents and members of Congress of both major parties, described him as a quiet organizer who used spirituality to build relationships, often with unlikely allies.
In her 2003 memoir, “Living History,” Hillary Clinton recalled Mr. Coe as “a genuinely loving spiritual mentor and guide to anyone, regardless of party or faith, who wants to deepen his or her relationship with God and offer the gift of service to others in need.”
As a senator from New York, Mrs. Clinton was also a frequent attendee of a smaller weekly prayer group for members of Congress that Mr. Coe led personally for years.
His proximity to so many high-ranking politicians made him an object of curiosity in Washington, while inviting speculation about his motives and ideology. He rarely spoke in public or to the news media. In private gatherings he was known to use improbable metaphors — likening Maoists and Nazis, for example, to religious zealots and extolling them as effective leaders.
Mr. Coe’s insistence that his personal counseling be done behind closed doors only contributed to his mystique. Time magazine, in listing him among the most influential evangelical leaders in the United States in 2005, referred to him as Washington’s “stealth Billy Graham.”
Much of Mr. Coe’s legacy was built through his work with the Fellowship Foundation, also known simply as the Fellowship or the Family. Those who identified as members or worked with Mr. Coe often adopted his official silence.
“I wish I could say more about it,” President Ronald Reagan said in 1985, “but it’s working precisely because it is private.” Speaking before the prayer breakfast in 1990, President George Bush commended Mr. Coe’s practice of “quiet diplomacy, I wouldn’t say secret diplomacy.”
On several occasions, including during Reagan’s presidency, some perceived a political undercurrent to Mr. Coe’s ostensibly religious work.
In the 1980s and ’90s he funded several trips for members of Congress to meet with African leaders who had been shunned by Western powers, among them President Mohammed Siad Barre of Somalia and President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan.
Those who took part in the trips, including Mr. Coe and his associates, maintained that the visits were personal in nature. But many American officials viewed them as an inappropriate form of back-channel diplomacy.
Some of the foreign leaders Mr. Coe met had been linked to atrocities in their countries, but he insisted that spiritual conversations with them could lead to productive cooperation.
In 2001, drawing on his connections in Africa, Mr. Coe invited the warring presidents Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Paul Kagame of Rwanda to his home — then in Arlington, Va. — for a casual meeting in the hope of fostering a peace deal. The two continued talks and eventually signed an accord in 2003.
Mr. Coe conceded that some of the leaders he met were unsavory, but he was unapologetic about associating with them.
“Most of my friends are bad people,” he told The New Yorker in 2010. “They all broke the Ten Commandments, as far as I can tell.” But, he added, “Jesus even met with the Devil.”
Mr. Coe attracted scrutiny over a handful of properties owned by the Fellowship in the Washington area in which a small community of congressmen and business leaders lived and prayed together. In 2003, it was reported that six congressmen were sharing a Fellowship-owned townhouse that was registered as a church and paying below-market rents.
Their relationship with Mr. Coe’s group was explored by the journalist Jeff Sharlet in 2008 in his book “The Family,” a history of the Fellowship in which he called the group a “self-described ‘invisible’ network of followers of Christ in government, business and the military” who see themselves as “a ‘core’ of men responsible for changing the world.”
Mr. Coe and his associates declined to speak about the Fellowship or the use of its properties. He said that the group’s privacy was intrinsic to its purpose as a worldwide “family of friends” that would support its members during difficult times.
“We’re not being secretive,” he told The New Yorker. “It’s just that no one advertises that we’ve got a guy here who’s an atheist and is having a problem with his life, or maybe stole money from his country’s treasury.”
Douglas Evan Coe was born on Oct. 20, 1928, in Medford, Ore., to Milton Evans Coe, the state superintendent of schools, and the former Loda Helene Davis. One of his grandfathers had been a circuit-riding preacher in the Cook Inlet region of southern Alaska, and a grandmother had ministered to indigenous people in the area.
Mr. Coe studied math and physics at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., and graduated in 1953, several months after marrying Janice Muyskens of Salem, who survives him, as do their children, Timothy, David, Debbie, Paula and Becky; 21 grandchildren; and 56 great-grandchildren. Another son, Jon, died before him.
After undergoing what he said was a religious awakening in college, Mr. Coe joined a handful of preachers traveling around the Oregon area to spread their evangelical message.
During this time he met Abraham Vereide, a Seattle Methodist preacher with right-wing political sympathies who had founded the Fellowship in Chicago in 1942 and moved his operations to Washington, where he founded the National Prayer Breakfast in 1953. Mr. Vereide took him under his wing. When he died in 1969, Mr. Coe took over running the organization.
Later in life Mr. Coe was said to have passed certain duties within the Fellowship on to his sons, but he never publicly retired, continuing to work behind the scenes. He told The Los Angeles Times in 2002, “If you want to help people, Jesus said you don’t do your alms in public.”Read More...