In 2010 on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, author Jeff Sharlet publicly accused “The Family”, which hosts the National Prayer Breakfast, of being directly responsible for the notorious Uganda Anti Homosexuality Bill that was signed into law in early 2014. As this Center Against Religious Extremism (CARE) special report demonstrates, The Family is also tightly linked, through its affiliate The Gathering, to the controversial Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case which gave broad new religious freedom rights to private corporations.
In March 2012, Eric Metaxas, heir-apparent to Family consigliere the late Charles Colson, warned a Catholic audience that the “HHS mandate” of the Affordable Care Act represented a moment “oddly similar to where [the German theologian Dietrich] Bonhoeffer found himself” when Bonhoeffer confronted Nazism, Hitler, and the rising Third Reich. Declared Metaxas, “if we don’t really use all our bullets now, we will have no fight five years from now. It’ll be over. This it. We’ve got to die on this hill.”
[image, right: cover of The Gathering Summer 2011 newsletter, featuring Eric Metaxas]
A few months earlier at the Family’s main event, The National Prayer Breakfast, the former Veggie Tales writer turned biographer used his 2011 book on Dietrich Boenhoffer as a moral cudgel with which to repeatedly bash President Barack Obama, whose address followed Metaxas’ speech, over Obama’s support for legal abortion and his administration’s reproductive health care mandates attached to the Affordable Care Act.
A year before that, Metaxas had launched his Boenhoffer biography from The Family’s premier meet-and-greet event, America’s top forum at which hard right evangelicals with big ideas are introduced to deep-pocketed investors who can fund their projects: The Gathering.
In the months leading up to the momentous and disturbing Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, reports from liberal media uncovered several pieces of a larger but previously unnoticed pattern that – as revealed in this Center Against Religious Extremism (CARE) report – ties Burwell v. Hobby Lobby to the globally influential, secretive evangelical network known as The Fellowship, or “The Family”, which hosts the National Prayer Breakfast.
“An oddly obscure event”
From September 12-15 2013, in Scottsdale, Arizona, an oddly obscure yearly gathering of billionaire funders from the theocratic-leaning wing of the evangelical right brought together under one roof key funders, litigants, and plaintiffs of the Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and Conestoga Woods v. Sebelius cases which helped trigger the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Supreme Court ruling – perhaps the most significant expansion of corporate personhood rights since Citizens United, and a decision which threatens to unleash a wave of corporate religious objections to Obamacare. It was not coincidence.
“How many of you know the phrase ‘Separation of Church and State’? Anybody know where that shows up in the Constitution ? It doesn’t. The truth is, it doesn’t.” — Alliance Defense Fund lawyer Paul Weber, addressing The Gathering in 2006
One of those participants, the Alliance Defending Freedom law nonprofit – profiled in a May 11, 2014 New York Times story, reportedly played a major supporting role in the Hobby Lobby case. But the agenda of the ADF, the Christian right’s biggest law nonprofit, is far broader.
The Alliance, which according to Human Rights Campaign vice president Fred Sainz is “easily the most active antigay legal group”, has provided the bulk of pro-bono legal muscle in the national evangelical legal campaign to block same-sex marriage. And, it has also won several 2014 Supreme Court victories which, in what one commenter calls “radical [judicial] incrementalism”, are eroding separation of church and state including McCullen v. Coakley, which struck down a Massachusetts law mandating buffer zones around abortion clinics, to protect clients from antiabortion protestors, and Town of Greece v. Galloway, that held explicitly Christian prayer by public officials at public events to be constitutional. The Galloway case, the ADF argues, strengthens its legal battle with the city of New York, for churches to be able to rent out weekend space in public schools for worship services, a practice now ongoing in numerous states including Massachusetts.
The ADF, whose leaders have proclaimed the principal of separation of church and state to be absent from the Constitution, is funded by a community of quietly but deeply radical billionaire Christian patrons helping bankroll a mounting global onslaught against LGBT rights, who have led attacks on public schools and unions and heavily fund creationism and global warming denialism, and whose principle yearly meeting was launched in 1985 from the headquarters of the group that hosts the National Prayer Breakfast.
The connection of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby to The Family/Fellowship comes through the elite yearly gathering, born in the mid-1980s at the Family’s Arlington, VA headquarters, of these Christian patrons – America’s top evangelical right philanthropists whose ranks include billionaire families from the Tea Party-leaning spectrum of the Republican Party.
[image, right: 2008 book by journalist Jeff Sharlet, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism At The Heart Of American Power, shed light on the Fellowship's globally influential neo-fundamentalist network which operates at the highest levels of Washington politics, as a shadow government.]
The community represented at this annual event – whose membership and foundations give upwards of one billion dollars a year in grants – serves as the financial wing of The Family and represents the main private funding stream bankrolling the ongoing culture wars (see Twocare.org special report, The Gathering: The Religious Right’s Cash Cow), including the mounting international onslaught on LGBT rights and the legal campaign against Obamacare.
In March 2014, a Salon.com story by Eli Clifton exposed the relationship between the Green family, at the heart of the Hobby Lobby decision, and the National Christian Foundation. The same month, an investigation published by the reproductive rights advocacy website RH Reality Check revealed the enormous role played by the $40 million a year law nonprofit Alliance Defending Freedom, in what author Sharona Coutts called “The Invisible Hand in the ‘Hobby Lobby’ Case”.
In September 2013, one week before the Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and Conestoga Woods v. Sebelius cases were referred to the Supreme Court, those three pieces of the puzzle – the Green Family, the Alliance Defending Freedom, and the National Christian Foundation – came together at a luxury hotel in the Arizona desert. It was no accident.
Three generations of Greens in Scottsdale
Last year, from September 12-15, 2013 at the plush Phoenician Hotel in Scottsdale – a Versailles of the desert which bills itself as “Arizona’s premier luxury resort destination”, leading American evangelicals on the hard religious and political right, members of multimillionaire and billionaire clans – including owners of the Hobby Lobby chain – who represent some of the world’s biggest fortunes gathered, socialized, dined and, as they do every year at The Gathering, laid plans for the slow motion religious, cultural, legal, and governmental re-engineering of, and Christian supremacist hegemony over, America and the world.
The Gathering community includes many of the richest family dynasties on the Christian right. In any given year at the Gathering one might find members and representatives of the billionaire Green, Coors, DeVos, Prince, Friess, Maclellan, DeMoss, and Ahmanson families, as well as heads of the Templeton foundation and the gargantuan National Christian Foundation, now the 12th biggest charitable foundation in America that raises money from private sources according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy.
The NCF is one of the biggest single funders of The Fellowship Foundation and the Wilberforce Foundation, The Family’s two key nonprofits (see footnote.) NCF funding of these two nonprofits, from 2001-2012, topped $5.4 million dollars.
Giving their testimony of faith at the inaugural speech of The Gathering 2013 – inside the lavish air-conditioned hotel ensconced by The Phoenician’s water park and 27-hole golf course sustained by extravagant irrigation amidst the red crumbling hills of drought-plagued Arizona – were Mart and Tyler Green of the Green Family, whose patriarch Hobby Lobby founder David Green has been identified by Forbes magazine as the “Biblical Billionaire Backing The Evangelical Movement”, the biggest funder of evangelical causes in America.
Enthused Mart Green, “We enjoy having three generations here at The Gathering.” His family’s credo, he explained, was: “Love God intimately, live extravagant generosity.” Green spoke about his ongoing project to facilitate the translation of the Bible into developing world languages; his son Tyler talked of the burden of wealth – the need to give wisely.
It was not the first time Greens had addressed The Gathering – in 2008, Mart Green briefed The Gathering community on his family’s $70 million-plus bailout of financially troubled Oral Roberts University. But there was nothing in Mart and Tyler Green’s brief, almost perfunctory 20-minute testimony to explain what pressing reason might have led three generations of Greens to make the nearly 1,000 mile multi-generational pilgrimage from their Oklahoma City area homes to Scottsdale, near Phoenix, Arizona, to attend The Gathering 2013.
But suspiciously close at hand were the Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and Conestoga Woods v. Sebelius cases destined to soon be merged into the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case in which, in a momentous and highly controversial June 30, 2014 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the contraceptive mandate that had been added to the Affordable Care Act by the Department of Health and Human Services and held that private corporations such as Hobby Lobby can have religious freedom rights.
Joining the Greens at The Gathering 2013 was Alan Sears, president of the biggest Christian law nonprofit in America, the Alliance Defending Freedom, which was then litigating a whopping 19 out of the 40-odd lawsuits – including the Conestoga Woods v. Sebelius case – filed in Federal district courts across the country that sought to exempt private for-profit corporations from reproductive health care mandates in the Affordable Care Act.
The choice to hold The Gathering 2013 in Scottsdale is quite suggestive of the major role the ADF played in the event – Scottsdale, Arizona happens to be the headquarters of the massive Alliance Defending Freedom. And it was not the first time The Gathering has been held in the Arizona location. In 2006, as legal battles over same-sex marriage were breaking out across the nation, The Gathering was also held in Scottsdale.
Then in 2009 – as the pivotal Hollingsworth v. Perry case challenging the constitutionality of California’s anti-same sex marriage ballet amendment Proposition 8 was underway, with Alliance Defense Fund lawyers litigating in favor of Prop 8 – The Gathering was again held in Scottsdale, though the official program of the conference made no mention of an ADF briefing. Hollingsworth v. Perry was one of the ADf’s rare defeats; the law nonprofit boasts that it has won 80% of its cases.
[Note: The Gathering members, and Gathering-funded nonprofits and their board members represented an astonishing 7 out of the top 12 contributors who funded the 2008 pro-Proposition 8 campaign. Howard Ahmanson, Jr.'s Fieldstead & Co. gave $1,395,000; John ("Jack") Templeton, head of the John Templeton Foundation, gave $1,100,000; the National Organization for Marriage gave $1,041,134.80; Focus On the Family chipped in $539,643.66; the American Family Association contributed $500,000; Elsa Prince-Broekhuizen, mother of Erik Prince and Betsy DeVos, and who has served on the boards of several NCF and The Gathering-funded nonprofits including Focus On The Family, Focus On The Family Action, and the Council For National Policy, gave $450,000; Concerned Women for America kicked in $409,000.]
During a special ADF briefing at The Gathering 2006, ADF President Sears – who is co-author of the 2003 anti-gay book “The Homosexual Agenda: Exposing The Principle Threat To Religious Freedom Today”, which accuses the LGBT rights movement of having “followed a strategy akin to what Hitler used in the 1920s and 1930s to take over Germany” (page 27) – painted for his Gathering audience a bleak portrait of the dark days prior to the launch of the ADF in 1994: “Hillary Health Care was on its way… Much of country’s religious heritage had been decimated…”
During that briefing, Alliance Defense Fund lawyer Paul Weber explained how the Alliance’s strategic vision and approach had matured since its early days of “guerrilla warfare”; ADF campaigns, suggested Weber, had evolved into something more like modern theater warfare as it would be carried out by a first-rate military power :
“We were used to really nice rifles and really nice hand grenades, and maybe a bazooka or two. And we had no concept of aircraft carriers, and fleets of bombers, and cruise missiles, Normandy Beach D-Day invasions. We were more into this guerrilla warfare thing.”
Later in the three and 1/2 hour presentation, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins pinpointed the leading threats that menaced America :
“I think we’re at great threat, externally, from radical Islamists who want to destroy us and our way of life…
The second greatest threat I think this nation faces is internally, and it’s from the radical homosexuals that want to destroy the underpinnings of our nation…”
Unlike the 2006 ADF briefing from which the above quotes are drawn, a recording of ADF President Alan Sears’ 2013 briefing to The Gathering is not publicly available.
While the Becket Fund, which provided lawyers to argue on behalf of the Greens and Hobby Lobby in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, gained greater media exposure for that role, the overall contribution of the Alliance Defending Freedom may have been greater. In a March 24, 2014 investigative story, the reproductive rights advocacy website RH Reality Check reported,
“In the world of big lawsuits, they call it “air traffic control”: One person, or organization, becomes the point person for recruiting plaintiffs, coordinating multiple legal briefs, and ensuring that everyone submits their filings on time…
…[In] the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases, which are being heard together—the role of air traffic controller was played by some of the nation’s most radical anti-choice and free-market groups on the political right, according to emails obtained by RH Reality Check through public records requests.
The documents consist of emails between dozens of anti-choice and free-market groups, and high-level state employees in Ohio, Michigan, Alabama, and West Virginia. They reveal that the role of air traffic control in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga litigation was played by the Alliance Defending Freedom, an Arizona-based nonprofit with just over $40 million in assets, according to its most recent auditor’s report.”
As The Gathering’s Summer 2013 newsletter described Sears’ planned presentation at The Gathering 2013,
“Alliance Defending Freedom (formerly Alliance Defense Fund) is a servant ministry building an alliance to keep the door open for the spread of the Gospel by transforming the legal system and advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family. Join us as Alan Sears, President and CEO and General Counsel, shares ADF’s winning strategies in these critical battles.”
One of those battles was Conestoga Woods v. Sebelius, which was being litigated by Senior Alliance Defense Fund Legal Counsel Matt Bowman, who is mentioned in the RH Reality Check story as one of the “air traffic controllers” for the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods cases.
In the 2006 Alliance Defense Fund briefing to The Gathering, ADF lawyer Jordan Lorence boasted that Bowman, a member of the ADF’s Blackstone Fellows program, had been clerking for Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito in October 2005 when President George W. Bush nominated Alito to replace the retiring Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court.
Bowman continued clerking for Alito even after the new justice began his tenure as the ninth justice on the court. As highlighted in a July 2, 2014 Center Against Religious Extremism report, years later Matt Bowman would help litigate, working for the Alliance Defense Fund, Conestoga Woods v. Sebelius; and Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito would write the majority opinion in the 5-4 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling.
Exactly one week after Mart and Tyler Green addressed The Gathering 2013, on September 19, the Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius case was kicked up to the U.S. Supreme Court, along with Conestoga Woods v. Sebelius, for a decision.
Besides these connections, funding trails also led directly from The Gathering to the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods cases.
In his March 27, 2014 Salon.com story Hobby Lobby’s secret agenda: How it’s quietly funding a vast right-wing movement Eli Clifton showcased a normally confidential “Schedule B” tax form from the 2009 990 tax return filed with the Internal Revenue Service by the National Christian Charitable Foundation. The NCF’s 2009 Schedule B form revealed a more than $54 million dollar contribution to NCF from Hobby Lobby’s CFO Jon Cargill, making Hobby Lobby-related contributions to the National Christian Foundation the NCF’s biggest single source of revenue that year.
The NCF has funded both the Becket Fund and the Alliance Defending Freedom. In 2012, the National Christian Foundation gave the ADF over $10,000,000, and from 2011 to 2012 NCF funding of the Becket Fund For Religious Liberty increased over 900%, surging from a perfunctory $10,000 in 2011 to $94,340 in 2012.
Meet The Gathering
In 2005 Fred Smith recounted how, in 1985 at The Cedars – the Arlington, Virginia mansion retreat overlooking the Potomac River that serves as the headquarters for the elite evangelical network known as “The Family” – a small meeting of friends launched the annual meeting of like-minded philanthropists which over the decades has evolved into what is now known as The Gathering.
[image, right: column from the Fall 2005 newsletter of The Gathering, by The Gathering President Fred Smith, mentioning 1985 founding at The Cedars.]
Most of the $1 billion dollars or more in grants given out yearly from foundations associated with The Gathering finance the ongoing project of evangelizing the globe, build up the infrastructure – notably schools and churches – of the evangelical right in the U.S., and fund ministries that address human needs.
But a disturbing portion, perhaps hundreds of millions annually, also goes to organizations in the vanguard of America’s culture wars – such as Focus on The Family, the Family Research Council, the American Family Association, Campus Crusade For Christ, the American Center For law and Justice, and the Alliance Defending Freedom – which are now actively working to provoke similar culture war conflicts in countries across the globe, from Russia to Uganda.
The Gathering has long evaded secular media scrutiny by hiding under a bland veneer of selfless Christian philanthropy. What is The Gathering ? Explains Fred Smith, President of the nonprofit The Gathering foundation that hosts the yearly event – in a video punctuated by soft-focus shots of nature scenes and accompanied by a swelling musical score that would fit a homeowner’s insurance ad,
” ‘What is The Gathering?’ is a good question I’ve been asked many times. Perhaps the simplest way of putting it is, we connect a community of givers. We do that by creating a learning community – for you, for an individual, for a family, for a foundation. All of us come to The Gathering to expand our vision, to make and renew relationships, and to learn from extraordinary resources. We do this in a variety of ways, but primarily through an annual conference called ‘The Gathering’. Here, we bring committed Christian givers together in a setting that allows for learning, worship, new ideas, and fellowship. Above all it is a safe place to meet with others… In the end, I don’t believe The Gathering is about wealth, but about joy. It’s not really about philanthropy but about stewardship.”
[image, right: in the Spring 2012 newsletter of The Gathering, Gathering president Fred Smith reiterated that The Gathering was conceived during a 1985 meeting at "The Cedars"]
In another official Gathering video, titled “Competent and Joyful”, Smith provides a more concise definition. When asked by strangers who know nothing of The Gathering, Smith explains, “I just tell people it’s a network, [an] informal network, of individuals, families, and foundations who give to Christian ministries around the world.”
While these descriptions are not inaccurate, they elide both The Gathering’s financial heft, the underlying far right political and ideological nature of The Gathering community, and the extreme nature of many of the causes it funds. An April 30, 2014 Center Against Religious Extremism special report profiled some of the findings from a CARE survey of the tax filings from 2001-2012 of the biggest foundation represented at The Gathering, the National Christian Charitable Foundation:
- 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.
The once and future Christian nation
While the stance of Gathering members on political and social issues is hardly monolithic, its party allegiance is nearly so. In 2002 at The Gathering, a rare liberal speaker at the event was introduced with,
“When I talked with Jim the first time about being a speaker at the Gathering… I told him there were a number of Democrats at The Gathering. A few days later I was reminded that zero is not a real number.”
In 2008, frequent The Gathering speaker Michael Cromartie, whose Faith Angle Forum has become a premier all-expenses-paid event for elite American journalists covering the religion and politics beat, told The Gathering, “I just want to assure the two or three Democrats in the audience that this is not going to be a partisan talk.”
The Republicans of The Gathering, moreover, do not represent the secular wing of the GOP, if that even exists today. Rather, they tend towards Christian nationalism’s skewed readings of American history and contempt for church-state separation:
Only a few months before three generation of Greens had made the trek to The Gathering 2013 in Scottsdale, Green largesse had financed, in partnership with David Barton’s Wallbuilders ministry, a full-page July 4, 2013 Denver Post ad featuring the distorted, mangled, and decontextualized founding father quotes of American history fabulist Barton, whose life has revolved around the herculean project of creating an entire pseudo-history genre to show Barton’s readers that America’s founders expressly created the United States as a “Christian nation” and inform them that the original meaning of the “separation of church” has been co-opted by scheming liberals and secularists.
[image, right: Denver Post ad financed by Green family, in partnership with David Barton's Wallbuilders ministry]
In recent years, Barton – who has ties to, and ideological affinities with, the Christian Reconstructionism movement – has taken to claiming that key ideas in the Constitution derive from the Old Testament, including from the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Barton’s Wallbuilders website has long featured writing, from one of the Wallbuilders board members, which appears to justify biblical slavery.
While most at The Gathering would likely prefer a somewhat higher caliber of Christian nationalist scholarship than Barton’s, nonetheless the Greens’ Denver Post ad was not far out of step with the political culture of The Gathering, that has in recent years featured dueling briefings from the Discovery Institute, which promotes Intelligent Design, and the Alliance Defense Fund, whose speaker informed The Gathering at the 2006 briefing,
“The truth is, is that marriage is between one man and one woman. The truth is, is that children are best served when they’re raised in a two-parent home of opposite-gendered people, married, together. That’s the truth of the case. That’s step one, in truth.
Step two is, there’s the truth of the Constitution and the truth of who the founding fathers were. The founding fathers approached the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence from a Judeo-Christian perspective. How many of you know the phrase “Separation of Church and State”? … Anybody know where that shows up in the Constitution ? [audience murmurs, 'it doesn’t'] It doesn’t. The truth is, it doesn’t.” — Alliance Defense Fund lawyer Paul Weber, addressing The Gathering in 2006
The high ground territory of the extended evangelical right community that includes The Family and participants in The Gathering, which is defined by the National Prayer Breakfast, is hardly immune from David Barton-esque torturing of founding father quotes however.
Repeatedly, over the last decade, the National Prayer Breakfast has showcased a manufactured quote, known as “Washington’s prayer”, incorrectly attributed to the first U.S. President, George Washington. “Washington’s prayer” has also been cited on the floor of the U.S. Senate, in 2003 by Senate Chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie. In the same year, Ogilvie took the ceremonial role of head pastor at The Gathering, by giving its customary leading sermon.
The National Christian Foundation, The Gathering, and The Family
Underscoring the tightly symbiotic relationship of the NCF to The Gathering, one of the current trustees of The Gathering nonprofit is tax lawyer Terry Parker, one of three co-founders of the National Christian Foundation. For many years, The Gathering’s quarterly newsletter featured a financial advice column by Parker, considered the inventor of the NCF’s complex hybrid donor-advised fund model. Parker has served on the board of the Family Research Council, a major recipient of NCF grants.
In 2006, FRC president Tony Perkins, who now heads the Council For National Policy (numerous members of the CNP attend The Gathering and serve as leaders of its many foundations), addressed The Gathering at a three and 1/2 hour special briefing by the Alliance Defense Fund (now Alliance Defending Freedom). The Alliance Defending Freedom, which receives roughly 25% of its $40 million dollar annual budget from the NCF, also addressed The Gathering in 2013. One of the co-founders of the Alliance Defense Fund was the late Christian financial adviser Larry Burkett, one of the three cofounders of the National Christian Foundation.
The ADF works with over 100 Christian organizations and law nonprofits, and litigates wide array of issues. ADF lawyers have litigated to uphold California’s anti-same sex marriage Proposition 8 and against LGBT rights in cases across the nation. The ADF has also advised members of the Russian Duma (legislature) in the vanguard of passing anti-gay legislation.
Another of the three NCF cofounders, Christian financial adviser Ron Blue, has served on the board of trustees of the Maclellan Foundation, one of the top yearly funders of NCF, as well as the board of Campus Crusade For Christ International (another top recipient of NCF funding.)
At The Gathering 1997, Campus Crusade vice president Paul Eshleman told The Gathering about Campus Crusade’s major role in a 1992-1997 program called The CoMission in which American fundamentalist ministries carried out the indoctrination of millions of public school students in Russian and former Soviet-block countries. More recently, Campus Crusade has worked to spread viciously anti-LGBT propaganda throughout Africa.
National Christian Foundation board member emeritus Anthony Wauterlek has served on the boards of Focus on The Family (one of the top Christian right nonprofit recipients of NCF money) as well as its political arm Focus on the Family Action. Focus on the Family founder James Dobson has been a featured speaker at The Gathering, as has current FoF President Jim Daly.
In turn, The Gathering has over the years featured numerous speakers associated with The Family/Fellowship and the National Prayer Breakfast. To name a few: the late Charles Colson (twice featured at The Gathering), his heir-apparent Eric Metaxas (who spoke at The Gathering in 2011 and gave the keynote address at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2012), former Bush scriptwriter Michael Gerson (who also ghostwrote Chuck Colson’s book “Kingdoms in Conflict”), Dennis Bakke, Rick Warren (who has addressed The Gathering multiple times), Luis Palau, longtime U.S. Senate Chaplain Lloyd Ogilvie, Billy Graham’s daughter Anne Graham-Lotz, Former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett, and Bob Goff, who participated in a symposium in human trafficking at the 2012 National Prayer Breakfast also was a featured speaker the same year at The Gathering.
The National Christian Foundation is one of the top funders of the Fellowship Foundation, the Family’s principal nonprofit – one of whose listed (and paid) associates is Douglas Coe, the longtime head of The Family. Both Coe and Rick Warren are known for their strikingly similar emphasis, [see 1, 2] that Christians should follow Jesus with the level of zealotry shown by the followers of Hitler, Lenin, and Mao.
Warren’s version of the exhortation, which may well originate with Coe, specifically mentions the Hitler Youth. At The Gathering 2007, Rick Warren was a featured speaker along with Wess Stafford, then-president of the Christian charity Compassion International, who in a book published the same year made a closely related point on the indoctrination of children – in which Stafford also cited the Hitler Youth:
“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)
Secrecy, and Links to Christian Reconstructionism
[image right: in The Gathering's Summer 2012 newsletter, Fred Smith admitted that many Gathering participants consider The Gathering to be a "secret society"]
In the Summer 2012 quarterly edition of The Gathering’s newsletter, The Gathering President Smith described a conversation with one “long-time Gathering friend” who confessed to Smith, “frankly, I think of The Gathering as something of a secret society”. That “friend” was not the only The Gathering participant who thought so, admitted Smith, who nonetheless assured his readership that The Gathering was anything but a secret society.
Despite Smith’s blandishments, sometime in early 2014 most of the free trove of almost two decades of audio recordings of The Gathering’s conference sessions, dating back to 1996, disappeared from The Gathering’s website. The last three years’ worth, from 2011 to 2013 are still available from The Gathering for free, and individual conference sessions from 2006 to 2010 can also be purchased for $9-$15 a session, so that the audio archive of those combined sessions can be had for the prohibitive cost of about $1,000. But, an entire decade’s worth of audio recordings of The Gathering, from 1996-2005 – which contains some of the most incriminating material – has simply vanished.
There were compelling reasons at hand which might explain The Gathering’s decision to disappear and make prohibitively costly most of its audio archive; with two op-ed columnists from the New York Times currently scheduled to speak at The Gathering 2014, the Gathering community appears intent on mainstreaming its image.
But as explored in a Center Against Religious Extremism report focusing on the many links between the Alliance Defending Freedom and the overtly theocratic Christian Reconstructionism movement, The Gathering community has from its inception had organizational and ideological linkages to Christian Reconstructionism, whose leaders advocate a form of radical laissez-faire theocratic libertarianism that would include the imposition of biblical law (sometimes referred to as theonomy.)
One of the most dedicated and strategic funders of anti-LGBT activism in America has long been Saving and Loan fortune scion Howard Ahmanson, Jr., who up until 1995 served on the board of the Chalcedon Foundation, Christian Reconstructionism’s top think tank. Ahmanson was at Christian Reconstructionism founder R.J. Rushdoony’s dying bedside in 2001.
In 1997 at The Gathering, program director for Ahmanson’s Fieldstead and Company Don Schmierer led a presentation which outlined a master plan for combating “organized homosexuality”. Soliciting funds to implement the plan was a program manager for the Maclellan Foundation.
Twelve years later Schmierer, still working for Fieldstead – which serves as the unincorporated vehicle for Ahmanson’s philanthropic giving, was one of three presenters at a Kampala, Uganda conference whose focus, according to organizer Ugandan Stephen Langa, was “the gay agenda — that whole hidden and dark agenda” and which has been credited with provoking anti-gay hatred in Uganda to new levels of intensity.
As revealed in an ongoing Center Against Religious Extremism research project that catalogs the over 100 notably anti-gay ministries and organizations funded by the NCF, the National Christian Foundation funds a number of Christian Reconstructionist ministries and organizations and is very likely the most prolific funder of anti-gay groups in America.
The Christian Reconstructionist agenda envisions the imposition of biblical law which would include instituting the death penalty for a long list of offenders including adulterers, homosexuals, un-chaste women (who have sex before marriage), witches, and “incorrigible” juvenile delinquents. While the proposition that especially rebellious children should be executed has in the past been the subject of considerable scorn (see the brilliantly sardonic 1998 Reason magazine article, Invitation To A Stoning, by Walter Olson), nonetheless the idea was quite publicly floated to The Gathering community in late 2005.
The Unruly Child
In the Spring 2012 Gathering newsletter, President Fred Smith again recounted the birthplace of The Gathering and the original motivation for the event:
“What began in 1985 with five people in a room at The Cedars in Arlington, Virginia, has grown larger, but the purpose is the same: we needed a group of peers with whom we could talk candidly.”
It is reasonable to assume that most of the candid conversations between Gathering participants which have happened over the years have not been recorded for posterity. But the Gathering’s newsletter archive from two decades of the event, and its audio archive – that until recently offered almost two decades of recordings from the event – are telling enough, especially because The Gathering’s leadership willingly made these materials public.
One astonishing indication of The Gathering’s underlying radical political and ideological nature is an op-ed, published in the Winter 2005 newsletter of The Gathering, by Christian Reconstructionist pastor Kenneth L. Gentry, who argued that, per the biblical prescription of Leviticus 20:9, parents should sanction the execution of children who have broken “God’s holy Law”.
[image, right: op-ed published in the Winter 2005 edition of The Gathering's newsletter argues that Jesus' position was, per Leviticus 20:9 and other relevant Old Testament scripture, that parents sanction the execution of disobedient and morally incorrigible children who have broken "God's holy Law".]
This hardly proves that even a minority of The Gathering holds such a radical Christian Reconstructionist position. It does, however, suggest that the leaders of The Gathering felt that pastor Kenneth L. Gentry’s op-ed fell within the spectrum of reasonable opinion and would not unduly upset The Gathering’s billionaire patrons.
Gentry’s op-ed was not buried within the newsletter; it was one of two featured columns advertised on the cover page of the Winter 2005 newsletter along with the full text of a short piece from Gathering President Fred Smith, concerning a choir of ex-addicts who had performed at The Gathering 2005. Wrote Smith,
“Several people walked over afterwards to tell me how amazing it was for them to hear those men whose lives had been so radically changed by the Spirit of God. They were off key and off pitch, and their rough voices were anything but professional…but the power of God to change lives was never more real to us in that room.”
The other featured story on the cover was an op-ed by writer and frequent Gathering eminence Andy Crouch who, it would seem, was not unduly disturbed that his thoughtful column, which observed that even upper middle class Americans such as himself were nonetheless rich by world standards, was advertised alongside a column which argued that Jesus condoned the execution of troublesome children. In 2012 Crouch became the Executive Editor of Christianity Today.
In 2004 at The Gathering, Crouch could be found an panel discussion along with Howard Ahmanson, who up into 1995 was the leading financier of the Chalcedon Institute, Christian Reconstructionism’s leading think tank. The same year, in a 2004 interview with the Orange County Register, Howard Ahmanson, in an apparent reference to Christian Reconstructionism’s invocation of pre-Talmudic biblical law, told the Register that he “no longer consider[s] [it] essential” to execute people who have committed certain immoral acts. Ahmanson qualified his position somewhat, however, adding,
“It would still be a little hard to say that if one stumbled on a country that was doing that, that it is inherently immoral, to stone people for these things. But I don’t think it’s at all a necessity.”
In March 2009, a program director for Ahmanson’s Fieldstead and Company could be found at the Uganda epicenter of a campaign to institute a law mandating capital punishment for homosexuality. Due to heavy international pressure, the eventual legislation signed into Ugandan law in 2014 mandated mere life imprisonment.
That Fieldstead & Company program director, Don Schmierer – who on Fieldstead’s behalf has supervised the creation of an entire line of “ex-gay” books complete with a DVD and classroom workbook – first traveled to Uganda in 1994, a full eight years before a leader of Bill Bright’s Campus Crusade For Christ arranged for Scott Lively’s first trip to Uganda.
According to Lively, in 2002 Campus Crusade director Warren Willis arranged for Lively’s first trip to Uganda, for Lively to co-lead a Campus Crusade conference on pornography with Ugandan Stephen Langa, currently accused along with Lively, in an ongoing court case, of conspiring to strip LGBT Ugandans of basic rights.
“A conspiracy to overthrow the world”
The roots of The Gathering trace straight back to the theocratic-leaning organizers and financiers of the early Christian right that arose as a political force in the latter half of the 20th Century. Key was the late Bill Bright, who once boasted that his Campus Crusade For Christ organization, which was built with heavy funding from John Birch Society member and financial patron Nelson Bunker Hunt, was a ‘conspiracy to overthrow the world’.
Campus Crusade founder and longtime head Bill Bright’s closet ideological affinity with Christian Reconstructionism appears to influence Campus Crusade leadership up to the present day. As revealed in a May 2013 Truth Wins Out special report, in early 2013 Campus Crusade hosted a pan-Africa conference dubbed Pamoja III.
Held near Lagos, Nigeria, Pamoja III featured three star speakers; two Campus Crusade vice presidents, and Ethiopian Dr. Seyoum Antonios – who leads a push in Ethiopia to implement the death penalty for homosexuality and repeatedly shouted, to a cheering audience of several thousand young evangelical African leaders from across the continent, that “Africa will become a graveyard for homosexuality!” As Truth Wins Out reported,
“Antonios claimed, among other things, that seventy percent of gay men have “fecal sex,” which involves ingesting large amounts of feces; that thirty-three percent of gay men are pedophiles, and that gay couples are coming to Africa to “steal their children” and turn them into homosexuals; that homosexuality has come to Africa “to kill us,” and thus must be eradicated; that gays are fifteen times more likely to be murderers; and that Africans should reject aid from Western organizations that are “trying” to infiltrate their continent with the homosexual agenda. Much of his talk seems to be lifted directly from anti-gay American researchers like Dr. Judith Reisman of Liberty University and the widely discredited Paul Cameron.”
In 1982, two financial planners who had worked for Bright’s Campus Crusade organization, Larry Burkett and Ron Blue, co-founded the National Christian Foundation – which would become what is now by far the biggest nonprofit of The Gathering.
In a series of meeting from 1974 through 1975, Bright organized key Christian right leaders and financiers to push back what Bright saw as anti-Christian forces – associated with communism, liberalism, the social and political activism of the 1960s, and a perceived moral decline of the nation associated with legalized abortion, rising crime, and other social indicators – that Bright and his fellow evangelicals feared would overwhelm America.
Funding for plans that arose from Bright’s meetings, which led to the purchase of a publishing house that printed Christian nationalist books and manuals for Christian involvement in politics, came from Insurance industry tycoon Art DeMoss and Amway founder Richard DeVos – who has been called “the quiet Godfather and financial angel of the Religious Right Movement” and who served as the Finance Committee Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1981-1982. In 1976 DeMoss publicly admitted the goal was to “rebuild the foundations of the Republic as it was when first founded-a ‘Christian Republic.’”
Bright would later become a closet participant in the most important political front for the spread of ideas from the overtly theocratic Christian Reconstructionism movement into wider evangelicalism, the 1980s Coalition on Revival which according to one key participant was dominated by Christian Reconstructionist leaders under guidance of the movement’s founder R.J. Rushdoony. COR signatories pledged to give their lives, if necessary, to implement biblical law.
In his book “Kingdoms at War: Tactics For Victory in Nine Spiritual War Zones” (Here’s Life Publishers, 1986), co-authored with COR signatory Ron Jenson, Bill Bright advocated the use of stealth and deception, including the use of “front groups” to advance his movement’s objectives. In his book Bright openly promoted COR and also the writings of top Christian Reconstructionists including R.J. Rushdoony and Gary North – who has advocated the use of stones for carrying out the executions demanded under the pre-Talmudic version of biblical law Christian Reconstructionists hope to implement. Asked North, “Why stoning?” His answer: “There are many reasons. First, the implements of execution are available to everyone at virtually no cost.” Explained North, “executions are community projects–not with spectators who watch a professional executioner do ‘his’ duty, but rather with actual participants.”
In 1997, in a presentation led by Don Schmierer, a program manager for the Fieldstead and Company of frequent Gathering participant Howard Ahmanson, Jr., former Fieldstead program director Herbert Schlossberg laid out an ambitious plan for combating “organized homosexuality”. In a late 1980s interview with Gary North, in which North noted that R. J. Rushdoony had called Schlossberg’s book “Idols For Destruction” one of the most important books of the 20th Century, Schlossberg admitted that his book and thinking had been deeply influenced by North’s writing.
Longtime Campus Crusade head Bill Bright is widely credited as a co-originator of the so-called “Seven Mountains” concept, which encourages believers to seek positions of influence and power on tops of the “7 Mountains” which represent key sectors of society: government, business and finance, media, arts and entertainment, education, religion, and the family.
Richard DeVos’ son Dick DeVos has continued in his father’s footsteps, through continued leadership and funding of a covert campaign to dismantle America’s public school system. Dick DeVos has also championed anti-union, so-called “right to work” laws and has been accused by Mother Jones magazine of hatching a master plan to “defund the left”. He is married to Betsy DeVos, the sister of Erik Prince – founder of the world’s largest private mercenary army that was formerly known as Blackwater, who is now maneuvering for security and logistical contracts with with China’s biggest state-owned conglomerate working to tap Africa’s stupendous natural resources.
Other billionaire dynasties represented at The Gathering include the Coors clan, widely recognized as leading financiers in the creation of the ‘new right’, the Friess clan, whose patriarch Foster Friess financed the 2012 presidential bid of former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, and the Greens – whose scion Mart Green has recently stated his hope that one day the four-year Bible study curriculum that the Greens are financially underwriting will become mandatory in schools.
The National Christian Foundation has long been a mainstay of financial support for The Family’s principal nonprofit, the Fellowship Foundation (EIN 53-0204604), that sometimes operates under the name The International Foundation. Below are NCF contributions to The Fellowship Foundation, 2001-2012
2001 – 57,050
2002 – 76,500
2003 – 54,338
2004 – 139,200
2005 – 110,749
2006 – 424,316
2007 – 538,399
2008 – 515,409
2009 – 525,418
2010 – 503,150
2011 – 564,750
2012 – 688,176
Total – $4,197,455
In 2002, journalist Jeff Sharlet, whose two definitional books on the subject paint a dark portrait of The Family – which serves as an evangelical shadow power structure with both national and global influence, spent several months at The Family’s “Ivanwald” house where promising young men were groomed as possible leaders to be plugged into The Family’s secretive networks. Ivanwald was then being run by the Wilberforce Foundation, which has been listed on Fellowship Foundation tax forms as a “supporting ministry”. Below are National Christian Foundation grants to the Wilberforce Foundation (EIN 72-0973244), 2001-2012:
2007 – 1,103,000
2008 – 18,000
2009 – 10,000
2010 – 40,000
2011 – 12,800
2012 – 22,710
Total – $1,206,510