Jason Russell, Invisible Children, and The Gathering
In 2005, 2007, and 2010, Invisible Children co-Founder Jason Russell made appearances at the elite neo-fundamentalist funding confab known as The Gathering, which brings together wealthy donors with leaders of evangelical-right social engineering ministry efforts.
Invisible Children bills itself as secular, but in late 2011 Russell characterized the venture, in a speech to Liberty University students, as decidedly evangelical; and during his 2005 appearance at The Gathering (see description, below transcript, on what The Gathering is), at a panel discussion titled "Just Do It: The Next Generation of Missions", Russell described Invisible Children as a "Trojan Horse" that could bring God's message into American schools (see transcript).
As described in an April 2012 story
from Truth Wins Out head Wayne Besen, Invisible Children is also registered as a ministry with the elite evangelical right funding nonprofit the Barnabas Group.
[introduction to recording of The Gathering panel session] "Welcome to The Gathering's 2005 Annual Conference, held September 29th through October 2nd, in San Antonio, Texas. We now join this session, recorded live, at the __ Resort. Panelists McCartney - Mosley - Russell - Vestal ]
Moderator : This is a whole different way of doing mission. This is a whole different way of communicating. There's something that happens that, once it's dropped in, and people begin to move, they know what their gifts are - yes, sometimes some immaturity - but for the most part you've never seen such faithfulness.
And so, as conversations began to go around The Gathering, as to `what are some new innovations that we need to be talking about ?' obviously the three spokesmen today couldn't become equipped to talk to the issue, the whole issue of the next generation of missions, under the title "Just do it!"
I'm going to give a quick intro of three of our panelists, and that's in hopes of kind of getting some of the basics out of the way and then we're goibng to hear from each one of them.
Moderator : "The fusion of Life and Faith" - "loves of significance" - these ae terms you often hear when you talk with these guys, and when you talk with Brian and his cohort. Brian is married to Robin, they have two girls, and they make their homes in Dallas Texas.
Our last panelist today is Jason Russell. Many of us have seen the film "Invisible Children" or were planning on seeing it tonight - with an eye and heart for the media arts - Jason was a quick study of his parents, actually, who helped him, who helped form and manage the Christian Youth Theater in Southern California. A church mission trip, though, in Kenya in the year 2000, kind of changed, altered his direction a bit - as he began to see people who were struggling and in great need, and in need of a storyteller - someone who could express what he was seeing.
With a film school degree from USC in 2002, Jason was joined by friends Bobby Bailey and Laren Poole, on an adventure to expose human suffering that would take on dimensions none of them had expected when they packed their bags...
So these are our three panelists today...
Jason Russell, 38:30:
"It was nothing that I planned. It was completely and totally God. As my good friend Kerry reminds me, 'Invisible Children is not yours. It's none of you three filmmakers. It's God's, it's his idea.' And our contact in - on the ground - who was driving the car when the rebels shot the truck actually always says, 'Invisible Children is God's. It's his, so just go along for the ride. You know, just ride the wave and experience what's going to happen.'
And it really has been an adventure, to say the least. We just can't believe the things we've bee able to see on our end. And, like Joel said earlier, we feel so much that people in America, especially the youth, want to live for more. They're dying to live for something more. And people in Africa, specifically Uganda - well I would say all of Africa - need more to live. They just need light. They just need a stove. They just need those simple things.
And so to bring those two worlds together, we really believe in our hearts it's God doing it. And to us what's been exciting is, what if 'Hotel Rwanda' came out the year the genocide took place? What if it was in the theaters 6 months after the genocide happened, and you could respond to it that quickly, and we could provide people with those stories, and aid, and resources, and have Westerners and other people going and visiting Rwandese? Not ten years later but that same time?
That's what we feel is happening with Invisible Children - that people, specifically the youth, are saying 'I want to be involved - I want to be a part of it. And we just pray and hope that we are able to provide them the tools and the resources and the connections to get them involved and become a part of the story. And what's been amazing is - possibly because of my missions trip, and having such a sour taste in my mouth afterwards, God said, :"Jason, open it up. You know, open it up. Do not limit it to the church, which often times can be the most divided, or the most secluded, or the most discriminatory against - open it up.'
So, coming in January, we're trying to hit as many high schools, colleges, and churches as possible with this movie. We are able to be the trojan horse, in a sense, going into a secular realm and saying, 'guess what - life is about orphans, and it's about the widow, and it's about the oppressed.' That's God's heart, and to sit in a public high school and tell them about that has been life-changing - because they get so excited. And it's not driven by guilt, it's driven by an adventure. And the adventure is God's and it's his story.
And so that's really been what Invisible Children has been evolving into and that's the film that we are a part of, that we get to be a part of. And we wake up every day and look at each other and say, 'I can't believe we do this for a living!' We'd never have dreamed it, and so it's a blessing. So that's what it's about."
What is "the religious right"? For years, in popular conception it's been Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, railing against gays and secularism on 700 Club broadcasts, or Westboro Baptist Church's screamingly vicious public protests at funerals of homosexual service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan; the "religious right" has been the subject of liberal scorn, a sideshow menagerie of tongue-talking, knuckle-dragging atavism, an inexplicable force that suddenly erupts into the American civic and political life: Sarah Palin!
But these things are epiphenomena, distractions. The real action is elsewhere.
The real action goes on at events like The Gathering, where captains of finance and industry, multimillionaires and billionaires, meet the architects of elite fundamentalism and together they conceive and finance plans to remake America, and steer the nation back to a godly path -- an imagined future in which evangelicalism dominates the globe, in which church-state separation has been eradicated, in which megachurches and churches cleverly disguised as 501(3)(3) nonprofits have supplanted Roosevelt's New Deal, a faith-saturated future in which brilliant innovators and pioneers, believers whose careers have been groomed, tracked, and accelerated by an underground system of social support and financing, have climbed to the top of all sectors of society, to influence, even dominate, societal spheres of media, education, business, and government.
The Gathering is probably America's premier yearly meeting of large-scale donors who fund the Christian right. Its principals have gathered yearly since the mid-1980s, when Howard Ahmanson and other influential funders of the dominionist religious right began meeting to discuss funding projects to advance their hard-right evangelical social and political agenda.
Active donors must give yearly at least $200,000 dollars, but that's little problem for many Gathering investors.
Attendees have included Truett Cathy, founder of Chick Fil-A, whose family and Winshape Foundation has been in the forefront of funding anti-gay organizations in the U.S.; David Green, head of Hobby Lobby and the 79th richest man in America, who in 2007 donated $70 million dollars to bail out Oral Roberts University; Amway fortune heirs Rich and Helen DeVos, in the forefront of efforts and strategies to privatize American public schools; AES Energy co-founder Dennis Bakke, whose current company is the largest manager of charter schools in America; various members of the Coors beer clan; Steve Friess, who manages the philanthropic efforts of billionaire investor Foster Friess (who bankrolled Rick Santorum's 2012 election presidential bid) and helped conceive James O'Keefe's infamous "sting" against ACORN; venture capitalist Ken Eldred, who boasts his own foundations and trusts collectively funded to the tune of $100 million and has contributed significant amounts of money to finance both the New Apostolic Reformation and also a 2012 get-out-the-vote effort known as United In Prayer, and Chuck Stetson, a venture capitalist who backs an effort to return Bible study to public schools.
Not surprising for an event that serves as a major hub for Christian philanthropy, significant figures associated with the multi-billion dollar endowed John Templeton Foundation - such as Steve Beck, co-Founder of SpringHill Equity Partners, can be found on panels at The Gathering too.
Beyond its astonishing stable of associated private investors and private foundations, The Gathering is also closely linked to the mammoth and fast growing cutting-edge funding entity known as the National Christian Foundation (NCF), which now disperses several hundred million dollars a year - similar in magnitude to the Ford Foundation. In addition, the NCF is linked into developing regional clone spinoff operations.