By Bruce Wilson, TWOCARE Director (Edited by Wayne Besen and Evan Hurst)
In the mid-1980s, far-right Christian strategists birthed a yearly conference of like-minded, immensely wealthy, Protestant evangelical activists with extensive ties both to the Republican Party and the overtly theocratic Christian Reconstructionism movement.
The goal was to pool their fortunes to roll back objectionable aspects of modernity – especially women’s rights, gay rights, the teaching of evolution and environmentalism in schools, and return America to its alleged biblical foundations. They also envisioned a bold new era of muscular ‘biblical capitalism’ and a strategic partnership between churches, corporations, and the state.
Their event – which each year brings pious billionaire donors together with “idea men” who have bold plans to remake America and the world – became known as “The Gathering”. In 2012, foundations associated with The Gathering gave away almost $1 billion dollars in grants.
You may not have heard of “The Gathering” – few people have — but it is time that you learned about it. At this annual event, elite plutocratic funders of the Religious Right’s philanthropic community dole out upwards of one billion dollars in grant money annually.
Some of that money goes toward honorable, mainstream causes that improve the world and save lives. However, a disturbing portion finances infrastructure of the dominionist evangelical right, which seeks control of all major societal institutions, and goes to spread The Gathering’s politicized, bigoted version of Christianity to the ends of the Earth.
Money distributed at The Gathering drives the culture wars, deepening America’s cultural and political divide; and around the globe it bankrolls the export of anti-LGBT hate and the spread its intolerant, religious supremacist form of the faith.
This is the initial report for Truth Wins Out’s Center Against Religious Extremism (TWOCARE). We begin our journey by focusing on The Gathering because it is arguably the centerpiece of the Religious Right’s ambitious plan to remake the world in its image. Author Jeff Sharlet drives home this strategy in his best selling 2008 book, The Family. In his tome, Sharlet quotes The Family’s (aka The Fellowship) leader Doug Coe:
One day, Coe believes – not yet – America (and Old Europe, too, the Germans and French and Italians who drifted from Christ once their prosperity was assured) will “wake up and find itself surrounded by a hundred tiny God-led governments…” (pp. 223)
Funding aimed at creating these theocratic “God-led” foreign governments, as well as similar efforts in the United States and Europe, can be traced to The Gathering.
While much of the media’s attention has been focused on the impact the wealthy Koch brothers have had on American politics, this far-right evangelical funding source is of comparable scale and arguably wields even greater influence, both in the U.S. and worldwide. But Koch and The Gathering funding streams are not at odds; their dual affect is complimentary and converges towards a vision conceived by revolutionary Christian strategists, towards the biblical reconstruction of America and the world. According to its quarterly newsletter, “The Gathering” was conceived in 1985 by a small band of friends at the Arlington, Virginia, retreat center known as The Cedars, which is run by the evangelical network that hosts the annual National Prayer Breakfast. This stealthy network is known, as we previously noted, as The Family or The Fellowship – which has been widely condemned for having helped inspire Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, signed into law by President Yoweri Museveni in early 2014. This draconian law punishes gay people with life imprisonment if they are convicted for “aggravated homosexuality” (which means a repeat offender).
Like its familial evangelical parent The Family, The Gathering takes the coercive moral authoritarianism inherent to anti-LGBT laws being passed (aided and encouraged by The Gathering-funded groups) from Uganda to Russia, and fuses it to the radical economic libertarianism of the Koch brothers – which would privatize much of the public sphere. Key to bringing about such a theocratic libertarian society is the indoctrination of youth. Featured speakers at The Gathering have, in public speeches and books, argued that children should be indoctrinated like the Hitler Youth, the Taliban, and Chairman Mao’s Red Guards, and they have argued that participants in their heavily partisan, politicized strain of Christianity should be as dedicated as were members of those violent movements.
For the collective American liberal and secular mind, especially elite readers of media venues such as the New York Times, the New Yorker, Vanity Fair and The Atlantic, it has been all-but unthinkable that such a public relations, finance, and tech-savvy neo-fundamentalist juggernaut as The Gathering – at war with the Enlightenment itself and yet availing itself of all the best technologies the Enlightenment has spawned – could possibly exist.
Many Americans have come to imagine Christian fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism as somehow cognitively handicapped, mired in a knuckle-dragging atavism, too clumsy to use sophisticated technology, public relations, and modern social science to advance its agenda – let alone conceive and carry out elaborate stealth strategies for infiltrating secular society and cultivating hegemonic influence in secular institutions.
But the Gathering does indeed exist, and for three decades it has quietly funded an army of organizations, ministries, institutions, and activists working to advance its agenda. As will be covered in detail in this new series of investigative reports, The Gathering’s foundations have had a remarkable, global influence on culture and public policy.
They have bankrolled, from Uganda to Russia, the mounting international war on LGBT rights; evangelical opposition to healthcare reform and action to curb climate change; the promotion of young-earth creationism and Intelligent Design; ministries training African leaders in the “biblical worldview”; legal efforts that have fought against same-sex marriage and LGBT rights in the United States, and have forced anti-gay fundamentalist bible clubs into thousands of U.S. public schools and allowed religious supremacist churches to rent out public school facilities on the weekends; ministries that conducted the mass-moral indoctrination of public school children in Russia and Eastern Europe in the 1990s; a constellation of ministries whose leaders advocate rebuilding America and the world upon biblical principles and biblical law; and American networks of crisis pregnancy centers as well as fundamentalist private colleges and K-12 schools now receiving public funding.
Its foundation heads are plaintiffs in a legal challenge to healthcare reform now before the U.S. Supreme Court and they are leading efforts to attack organized labor and defund public schools.
THE 800-POUND GORILLA: THE NATIONAL CHRISTIAN FOUNDATION (NCF)
The colossus of The Gathering is the National Christian Foundation, which gave out an estimated $670 million dollars in grants in 2013 and has rocketed, in just two years, from spot number 34 to number 12 on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s “Philanthropy 400” list.
Since its founding in 1982, the NCF has given out over $4 billion in grant money, and almost 2.5$ billion of that has gone out in the last five years, from 2009-2013.
While the NCF funds a wide array of non-controversial charities — The Boys and Girls Clubs, Habitat For Humanity, United Way, Amnesty International, etc. — the bulk of NCF funding builds, within the U.S., far-right evangelical movement infrastructure – flagship organizations driving the “culture war”, churches, schools, and think tanks; and outside the U.S., NCF funding bankrolls a staggeringly ambitious, multi-decade program to evangelize the world.
The Gathering also funds countless ministries of evangelical leaders, from the non-controversial British theologian John Stott to open advocates for the imposition of biblical theocracy such as South African evangelist Peter Hammond who writes, concerning the late Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“King was not a legitimate reverend, he was not a bona fide PhD, and his name was not really ‘Martin Luther King, Jr.’ What is left? Just a sexual degenerate with a Marxist agenda…Even in the 1960s, ‘the controlled’ media and politicians were determined to push their racial mixing program on America. King was their man and nothing was allowed to get in their way.”
One reason the National Christian Foundation, a donor-advised fund, has been so successful is that it ensures anonymity for its philanthropists. Many of these individuals may fear a backlash, given the controversial causes that they support.
The National Christian Foundation’s own yearly reports underline NCF funding priorities. Little more than a quarter of NCF giving addresses poverty, medical care, hunger and other humanitarian needs. Even among those efforts, many NCF funded groups regard addressing human needs as primarily a means for gaining access to evangelize.
But the bulk of NCF funding goes to spread the National Christian Foundation’s politicized, bigoted gospel, to building up institutions that share its ideology and political goals, and to educational and outreach efforts that target youth.
In his forward to the 2009 book “The 4/14 Window: Raising Up a New Generation to Transform the World”, then-president of Compassion International, Wess Stafford, who was a featured speaker at The Gathering in 2007, outlined the grand vision:
“Every major movement in history has grasped the need to target the next generation in order to advance its agenda and secure its legacy into the future. Political movements (like Nazism and Communism) trained legions of children with the goal of carrying their agenda beyond the lifetimes of their founders. World religions have done the same with the systematic indoctrination of their young-even the Taliban places great emphasis on recruiting children… the Christian evangelical movement is one of the few that has allowed children to remain a second-rate mandate…”
Stafford’s Compassion International, funded by the NCF and The Gathering, printed the book in which author Luis Bush sketched out the imperative for targeting children between the ages of four and fourteen, the so-called “4/14 Window” :
“Unless the teachers and administrators are Christ followers, the worldview that is taught will not transform the minds of the 4/14ers… Secular education does not enlighten; rather, it dims one’s grasp of the ‘real reality’ rooted in the truth of Scripture… Godless, secular indoctrination is an age-old problem.” (pp. 22, “The 4/14 Window”, Compassion International, 2009)
In a book published in 2007, the same year he addressed The Gathering, Wess Stafford had put forth his message even more bluntly:
“Every major movement in world history has recognized the strategic importance of mobilizing children. The Nazis had their Hitler Youth bands. The Chinese Communists had their Red Guards. The Taliban in Afghanistan had their madrasah schools to instill extremism in the young. The great omission seems to be unique to Christians.” (pp. 7, Wess Stafford, “Too Small to Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most”, Waterbrook Press 2007)
His movement is not a pipe dream and has already carried out a national-scale program to indoctrinate Russian children.
In the wake of the Soviet Union’s breakup, American evangelical groups, funded, in part, by the National Christian Foundation and The Gathering, flooded into Russia at the invitation of Russia’s Ministry of Education. From 1992 to 1997 they indoctrinated an entire generation of Russian public school children in Christian morals and ethics.
That indoctrination effort, called The CoMission, included the teaching that Christian societies have fewer social problems than secular societies, and the premise that the Bible is literally true and presents an accurate account of history.
Margaret Bridges, a member of the CoMission Executive Committee who has helped found Christian schools in France, Poland, Russia, and Romania spoke boldly about the foreign indoctrination efforts:
“Children are always the prize in a spiritual battle because if Satan controls how children are taught and trained, he controls their future ideology and the future of their nation.
It was ironic to me that in Russia I was participating in something that never would be possible in the United States.” (pp. 178, “The CoMission: The amazing story of eighty ministry groups working together to take the message of Christ’s love to the Russian people”, Moody Publishers, Chicago, 2004)
Another major component of The Gathering’s long march towards a biblical world and a biblical America is the tearing down of secular institutions and the simultaneous funding of parallel Christian institutions, which can eventually replace them.
The National Christian Foundation and The Gathering funders financially support Koch brothers efforts such as Americans For Prosperity, because much of The Gathering’s leadership and donor base – conservative business owners – shares the Koch’s radically libertarian, radically pro-corporate economic agenda.
As secular institutions at the heart of American pluralistic democracy – such as public schools – are privatized, defunded and degraded, growing Christian institutions funded by the NCF and The Gathering can gradually fill the void.
NCF and The Gathering also fund a network of state level Family Policy Councils and Family Institutes which push state-level “family values” legislation (typically hostile to LGBT and reproductive rights). These “family values” organizations also collaborate with think tanks in the Koch brothers-funded State Policy Network that promotes state-level legislation crafted by the radically pro-business American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Here are a few key facts about the NCF:
- The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that in 2013, the NCF was the twelfth largest philanthropy in America that raises funds from private sources.
- The NCF gave away approximately $670,000,000 in grants in 2013 and $601,401,875 in 2012.
- From 2001-2012, the National Christian Foundation gave $163,384,998 to leading anti-LGBT organizations. These include Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, the Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund), Campus Crusade for Christ (aka CRU), the National Organization for Marriage, and the Alliance for Marriage.
- From 2001-2012, the NCF gave grants totaling $24,822,793 to at least ten organizations listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as hate groups.
- From 2001-2012, the NCF offered $7,525,701 in grants to organizations promoting creationism and “intelligent design.”
- From 2001-2012, NCF gave $144,916,675 to organizations that deny climate change, some of which depict efforts to combat global warming as part of a satanic conspiracy aimed at creating a one-world government.
* NCF 990 tax forms, 2001-2012, submitted to the Internal Revenue Service, The Foundation Center
(While the NCF is the 800-pound gorilla, it is important to note that The Gathering includes other major players such as The Maclellan, DeVos, DeMoss, Prince, Coors, Friess, and Templeton foundations.)
MAINSTREAM CONSERVATIVES ATTEND THE GATHERING
The Gathering has featured superstars such as Rev. Rick Warren, who gave a prayer at Barack Obama’s 2009 presidential inauguration. Additionally, New York Times op-ed columnist Ross Douthat and the Washington Post’s Michael Gerson, leaders of evangelical international aid behemoths Compassion International and World Vision, and even the current head of the Google Foundation, Jacqueline Fuller, have been speakers at The Gathering.
Are these ostensibly moderate figures averting their eyes so they don’t see the extremism? Or, do these radical ideologies funded by The Gathering’s donors represent what they actually believe, even as they present a mainstream face to polite society?
Why is New York Times columnist and National Public Radio commenter David Brooks scheduled to address The Gathering’s September 25-28, 2014 conference at the Ritz in Orlando?
The bottom line is that The Gathering represents a relatively clandestine effort to finance Christian fanaticism across the globe. In opposition to the ethic of pluralism that has come to represent what is best in America, the deep-pocketed benefactors at this meeting are leveraging their fortunes to implement a radically different vision for the world. Their twisted ideology is one in which both the values of democratic pluralism and The Enlightenment are rejected, to be replaced by Christian theocracies across the globe – a vision of unbridled Christian supremacy, with draconian penalties and consequences for those who hold opposing views.
In the immortal words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”
It is imperative that we bring their dark actions and agenda into the light of day, so they can be properly disinfected. We have already seen the devastation caused when these fundamentalists are allowed to operate under the radar in places like Russia and Uganda.
As we have briefly demonstrated, the foes of liberty are lavishly funded, which gives them the ammunition to cause trouble at home and export hate overseas. Only by matching their fantastic stamina and financial support will we win this global battle of ideas.
TWO’s Center Against Religious Extremism (TWOCARE) is designed to monitor, counter, and ultimately serve as a bulwark against this ignoble enterprise. In the coming weeks, months, and years, we will tirelessly work to shine a light on these dangerous reactionaries and their totalitarian ideas.