The Bakke Plot To "Infiltrate" Secular Institutions
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Nov 30, 2016 at 11:38:00 AM EST
Back in 2012-2014 I did a lot of writing and research on The Gathering, the yearly meeting of elite evangelical right philanthropists who collectively distribute upwards of $1 billion dollars a year in grants and function as the funding wing of The Fellowship, which hosts the National Prayer Breakfast.

My research was based, at least initially, on an audio archive of talks at The Gathering which went back to 1996. That archive, along with a trove of The Gathering newsletters back to '96, used to be publicly available at the official website of The Gathering. Around 2013 or so, most of that archival material vanished. Fortunately, I had harvested it and have since made it available to select researchers.

I've also posted some of the audio online, such as this talk, from The Gathering 2008, led by Dennis and Eileen Bakke. Following Dennis Bakke's sale of his share in the lucrative AES energy company, the Bakkes moved on to become by 2010 the largest manager of charter schools in America, through their Imagine Schools business.

In the video below, the Bakkes describe their project of "infiltrating" institutions of secular society. The project has several dimensions. One is the Bakke's grooming of talented "believers" through their Mustard Seed Foundation Harvey Fellows program. Another is Imagine Schools itself - according to Dennis Bakke, 50% of the Imagine employees are "believers".

The convenient mixing of personal business and faith (and in some cases - as detailed below - government as well) is a feature, not a bug, of the form of "biblical capitalism" practiced by the Washington, DC based evangelical network known as The Family, which hosts the National Prayer Breakfast.

In his groundbreaking book on The Family (otherwise known as The Fellowship), author Jeff Sharlet provides some background to the genesis of the Bakke fortune:

"Dennis Bakke, former CEO of AES, the largest independent power producer in the world, and a Family insider, took the occasion of the 1997 Prayer Breakfast to invite Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, the Family's "key man" in Africa, to a private dinner at a mansion, just up the block from the Family's Arlington headquarters....

Bakke was one of the pioneer thinkers of energy deregulation, the laissez-faire fever dream that culminated in the meltdown of Enron. But there was other, less-noticed fallout, such as the no-bid deal Bakke made with Museveni at the 1997 Prayer Breakfast for a $500-million dam close to the source of the White Nile--in waters considered sacred by Uganda's 2.5-million-strong Busoga minority. AES announced that the Busoga had agreed to "re- locate" the spirits of their dead. They weren't the only ones opposed; first environmentalists (Museveni had one American arrested and deported) and then even other foreign investors revolted against a project that seemed like it might actually increase the price of power for the poor. Bakke didn't worry. "We don't go away," he declared. He dispatched a young man named Christian Wright, the son of one of the Prayer Breakfast's organizers, to be AES's in-country liaison to Museveni; Wright was later accused of authorizing at least $400,000 in bribes. He claimed his signature had been forged."

The Mustard Seed Foundation project seems to have borne significant fruit - beneficiaries of its Harvey Fellowship program have attained significant positions of influence within American academia - from which positions several Harvey Fellowship alumnae launched scathing attacks on Jeff Sharlet's two books on The Fellowship.

These detractors did not, needless to say, bother to identify themselves as associated with the evangelical network that Sharlet's books critiqued.

One especially noteworthy Harvey Fellow has been Jacqueline Fuller, who now heads the Google Foundation and who, at The Gathering in 2013, described how she infiltrated the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation during its early days before the effort even had a website.

Note: for a closely related The Gathering presentation, see this 2001 The Gathering talk by Dick and Betsy DeVos, concerning their efforts to "reform" (privatize) public education.

Below is my provisional, partial transcript of the 2008 Bakke/The Gathering talk.

Eileen and Dennis Bakke (The Gathering, 2008)

Panel - Andy Crouch (Christianity Today), Eileen & Dennis Bakke (AES, Imagine Schools, Mustard Seed Foundation), Michael D. Lindsay, Joel Carpenter (Pew, Calvin College)

Asking questions in Q&A: Peggy Wehmeyer (formerly ABC religion correspondent), Chuck Stetson (Venture capitalist, board member of Essentials in Education which launched the Bible Literacy Project), Ted Chen (Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies)

Eileen Bakke:

[16:50] “The Harvey Fellows Program, for us, was a real departure from our typical granting and even today it’s really the only program that we actually operate as a foundation, as opposed to funding others. So it’s unique, within even the Mustard Seed structure. But I think it does fit well, because about 15 years ago as we were starting Mustard Seed, and Dennis [Bakke] was developing AES, we were thinking a lot about the theology of ministry, and what does it mean for those of us whole, all, are called into full-time Christian work, not just pastors and missionaries, but all of us in marketplace - how do we bring The Kingdom into structures that are quote, unquote, “secular” (but we know they are God’s) ?

And I think we observed, as Dennis [Bakke] was in the business world, on Wall Street, meeting with international leaders, observed, very sadly, that the evangelical church, in the 20th Century, has abdicated many arenas, many of our arenas -- the university probably being the first one that comes to mind, media, the business world, government leadership, the arts.

And we started thinking, ‘What would be our strategy to reclaim those, to infiltrate, to re-infiltrate, and to be salt and light, and leaven - not just for evangelism, not just for personal witness, but the structures of those places need to be brought under truth, under the lordship of Christ.?’

And we looked at, Dennis I think, particularly, studied Joseph and Daniel [Dennis Bakke murmurs in agreement] as models of that. Daniel went into a totally pagan culture. He kept his faith but he was trained at the king’s college, he went into, you know, the -- he was the prime minister, he was -- God used him so powerfully in his history because of his faithfulness but because he was not a church leader, he was not off in a nonprofit trying to save the nation of Israel. He was right in the throes of -- and so our model for the Harvey Fellows is the Daniels, the Josephs, the Esthers, the Lydias [Dennis Bakke - “That’s right”] in scripture.

The name comes from -- the Harvey Fellowship is named for my parents, Helen and Brantley Harvey, and my father is a lawyer, and a politician -- government service in South Carolina for many years -- and in my life he embodied this notion that God had called him into public office, for service, and it was every bit as much an act of worship, and act of devotion, an act of service as being in the ministry, as being a missionary.

So we have, for the last 15 years, we funded graduate fellows, by application -- we fund them for up to 3 years, $16,000 a year, and instead of -- we fund the individual, not their institution, so it’s a scholarship to the individual that they carry with them to a top five institution in their field of study.

And we have -- about 50 percent of our fellows end up in higher education, in the academy, but we also have a strong emphasis in the sciences, in the arts, in international finance, in media particularly. You know, popular media -- We’ve sort of said what, “where are the areas that there are a dearth of Christians? What are the mission fields, the secular mission fields, where we need strong, talented believers who have gotten the credentials -- from Harvard, from Stanford, from Yale, from Oxford, from the University of Chicago -- they’ve gotten the credentials that the world recognizes, and that’s very important, I think, as you know. We have to be as credible, or more credible, in the world to be an effective witness.

[20:55] In the past 15 years we’ve funded almost 300 fellows, about $9 million dollars in funding, and we -- [It’s] very international, we started with very US but it’s spread and we funded fellows from 40 countries in about -- 25 countries, excuse me, in about 40 different disciplines.

And we’re just embarking, this year, on a fellows program called The Daniel Award, in India, where we will do the very same thing, with the top institutions in India, trying to stem the brain drain, the Christian brain drain, from India, so that hopefully those top leaders will stay in the country and be an influence.

And when we started this thing, Dennis [Bakke] said an interesting thing, he said, “This is a 20-year experiment”. And I think it’s very important. We are now in our 15th year, and we are seeing tenured faculty. We are seeing people who are in the International Monetary Fund. We’re - one of our early fellows is head of the Google Foundation. You know, Michael Lindsay, professor at Rice, and many others - but it’s a long-term strategy.

And we know that God’s going to bear fruit in this. It’s very risky - to fund a 22-year old, a 23-year old who has a vision for their lives. They may make it, they may not. So it’s - it’s definitely, we’re investing in people’s lives and we are trying to encourage them, we do a summer Institute of Faith and Vocation to try to help mentor them and equip them and network them with more senior fellows.

But it’s been an incredibly wonderful blessing in our lives because of the relationship with the fellows. But strategic - it will be a 20-25 year strategic vision, so I feel like we’ve been planting those seeds and I think it will be another generation before we see how that bears fruit.

Dennis Bakke:

One of the things that we’re trying to, we’ve also, as part of that -- and we don’t really know how to do it very well, and so maybe some of you have some good suggestions -- but we obviously want not just the top academics but we’d like the leaders in art, the leaders in drama, the leaders in newspaper -- you know, Pulitzer Prize winners, we want to win some of those. But we’d also, we want organizational leaders, whether business or --the top leaders.

But picking them out, you know, in graduate school, is really difficult. But that’s one of things we really would love to talk -- and we’re praying about -- is to figure out how to do that. And we’ve got, we have a few we think are moving in that direction, the top -- you know, the government leaders, political leaders, whatever. We would love to do that. And that’s probably the latest, kind of cutting edge is how to make that happen, and to find these people at ages you really don’t know for sure. So it’s risky as all get out. We don’t really know.

18:09: Bakke describes Harvey Fellow who has been named deputy director of grant making for the Rockefeller Foundation in Africa.

23:09 - Dennis Bakke - “We obviously want not just the top academics - like the leaders in art, the leaders in drama, the leaders in newspaper - you know, Pullitzer Prize winners, we’ve not had some of those, but we also want organizational leaders, whether business, or - the top leaders.”

27:00 - Describes placement of Harvey Fellows

33:30 - Andy Crouch - “We’re not trying to fund just explicitly Christian work. The output is not necessarily supposed to have a fish emblem magnet on the back.”

42:00 - Andy Crouch, what are examples of successes ?

42:30 - Joel Carpenter, formerly with Pew, now at Calvin College. “OK - Pew scholars programs. We had younger scholars programs similar to the Harvey Fellows but focused on academe, on humanities and social sciences, but we also had grants for people who are working in the fields already - research projects - that we thought had, you know, kind of “kingdom-ating potential”. And we helped to found collaborative projects and work of study centers at major universities but also at Christian institutions.” (mentions George Marsden)

43:30 - (Carpenter) The “evangelical mafia” (in social sciences)

44:00 - Influence of Pew funding in social sciences. Mentions John Green.

44:50 - Mentions Michael Cromartie - “the session down the way - Mike Cromartie from the Ethics and Public Policy Center - and he's had this "evangelicals and politics" study group going for a long time. And he's become a major convener of journalists on religion and politics. And he's introduced to them, evangelical scholars, as public affairs experts - and I think really shaped, in some ways that the news of this gets reported, and certainly helped build reporters' knowledge base.”

47:00 (Eileen Bakke) Harvey Fellows people at University of Virginia, Stanford, Princeton, Julliard School of Music.

47:30 (Dennis Bakke) “There’s one Harvey Fellow I like to brag on, his name is Wiebe Boer, and he’s a 1998 graduate at Calvin College, Harvey Fellowship, he went to Yale - PhD in African history - and went to work in Mauritania with World Vision as the project director then from there to McKinsey Associates in Atlanta - one of these really world power consulting and research firms and now he’s just been named the Deputy Director of Grant Making in Africa for the Rockefeller Foundation. So he’s moving his family to Nairobi. Harvey Fellow.

48:05 (Eileen Bakke) “So Rockefeller funds become kingdom funds.” (general laughter)

48:10 (Andy Crouch) “Which is kind of a turn of events.”

48:20 Question and Answer

48:30 Peggy Wehmeyer “battle out the culture war completely alone, with no fellowship”

50:20 “We’re losing this war”

51:50 - “If we’re going to win these culture wars we’ve got to mobilize whole teams of young people.”

53;30 (Wehmeyer) “These parachurch organizations - like I was in Campus Crusade For Christ - Young Life, Campus Crusade, the places where the believers gravitate at the big universities, when I was in college they said, ‘you’ve GOT to go into full time ministry.’ These parachurch organizations need to be encouraged to teach the young believers at the state university what they can do outside the ministry.”

53:58 (Carpenter, very loudly, talking over Wehmeyer and everyone else) “Their understanding of ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ is too small. And too truncated. That’s the problem. READ COLOSSIANS I ! Read Colossians I. You know - ‘All things belong to him.’ ”

54:50 Audience member asks about charter schools, Imagine Schools, “Because I know charter school is very different because it receives public funding and we still think the public square is inappropriate for spiritual content.”

55:00 (Eileen Bakke) “I think it goes back, I think Peggy’s [Wehmeyer] question about giving young people a vision goes back to ‘we’ve lost our vision.’ We’ve lost - we have allowed society to privatize our faith, we have really acquiesced, and I think the turnaround, the exciting thing is that there is a renewed determination to undo that. But it’s going to take some time.

And we have a bad theology, frankly. (Dennis Bakke - “Yup”) Our churches and our parachurch organizations have told Christians, you know - young people, and all of us - that your real Christian service is either giving money to missions, volunteering at the church, or going into fulltime Christian service. I’m sorry, but all of us are in fulltime Christian service.

And I bring as much passion and, hopefully, humility and integrity and, you know, God’s righteousness, to the charter school world as I would if I was doing Christian schools.

They are not Christian, they’re public. But I am determined, in my work, to be ‘salt and light’ and to make them as ‘kingdom centered’ and truthful and right and good as they can be. And I think if we give young people that vision, that is the ministry God’s called you to wherever it is. If you are a garbage collector, do it as unto the Lord, and God will use that.

So it’s not just leadership we have chosen, because we feel like the leadership often sets the tone for the rest of organizations. So, that is one strategy. But I think Dennis’ comment about teaching pastors - all of you are in local churches. Go home and challenge your pastors to talk about the sacredness of work. Commission your laywers. Commission you schoolteachers. Commission your young people who are going off to college in IT and in psychology and in, you know - they’re gonna - not just the people who - I mean, this Gathering, we love to fund people who are front and center for the Gospel, in witness and in evangelism and in service. But that’s, that’s a small part of the kingdom. That’s a very small part of it.

57:10 (Dennis Bakke) Read - have everybody read the last chapter of my book called, it’s titled, ‘Enter Into The Master’s Joy’. It’s really separate but it’s on that, on this very subject of, of what we’re suppsed to be doing in the secular world. I, you know I - you just have to keep going. We just have to keep going after it. It is interesting that we’ve changed the tenor of a - I don’t know, we have 5,000 employees now probably, almost all of them teachers. But I would guess that - just because of who we, what we stand for, in a public school system, I would guess that over 50% of them are believers.

57:50 “Chuck Stetson. I’m chairman of Essentials in Education...

Chuck Stetson was a National Organization for Marriage board member into 2010. NOM has in recent years emerged as one of the most aggressive opponents of LGBT rights among organizations on the evangelical right.

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