Swans Commentary » swans.com December 28, 2009  



The Religious Right And World Vision's "Charitable" Evangelism


by Michael Barker





"We analyse every project, every programme we undertake, to make sure that within that programme evangelism is a significant component. We cannot feed individuals and then let them go to hell."
—Ted Engstrom (former president of World Vision International) (1)


(Swans - December 28, 2009)   Government organized foreign aid has long served as a vital means by which elite policymakers have cynically maintained a disparity of wealth between nations while simultaneously professing to do the opposite. In the United States, the major distributor of such "aid" is the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which presently has an annual budget in excess of $20 billion. Andrew Natsios, the former World Vision vice president, who has also served as the head of USAID (2001-05), demonstrated the manipulative nature of such large sums of money when he publicly acknowledged that he considers US-based organizations supported by this Agency to be "an arm of the U.S. government." It is however more normal for officials distributing such geostrategic funding to emphasize the apolitical nature of such monies. The mainstream media does little to challenge this myth and regularly plays up the altruistic intentions of the government. Unfortunately, this means that in recent years a large proportion of the US public has believed that foreign aid was one of the two largest items in the federal budget, even though "less than 0.5 percent of the budget went for anything remotely resembling foreign aid."

Despite their overestimation of their own government's altruism, the private philanthropy of many US citizens -- like those from many other wealthy countries -- is high. For example, according to the Giving USA Foundation, in 2005 "Americans gave away more than $260 billion to thousands of charities, philanthropies, churches, disaster relief funds, and myriad other do-good projects." This suggests that that if a sizable proportion of this money could be diverted to groups that addressed some of the root causes of injustice, the public alone could make a significant dent (independent of their government's own actions) in counteracting the influence of ruling elites. At present though, this is not the case, and most public donations are distributed (in good faith) to support charitable organizations that already obtain strong support from the US government. In part such public funding of elitist groups owes much to the fact that such organizations maintain favourable profiles in the mainstream media, and are also able to engage in expensive and sophisticated publicity campaigns to garner public support. World Vision is just one such group, and this article examines their historical ties to US foreign policy elites and New Right religious activists to demonstrate why buying a World Vision present for a loved one is not quite all it is cracked up to be.

World Vision's Cold Warriors

According to their Web Site, "World Vision began with the vision of one man -- the Reverend Bob Pierce" who, when on a trip to China in 1947, felt compelled to sponsor the upbringing of a "battered and abandoned" child named White Jade. Reverend Pierce then "began building an organisation dedicated to helping the world's children, and in 1950 World Vision was born." World Vision now works with children from all over the world, but their "first child sponsorship programme" was launched in 1953 "in response to the needs of hundreds of thousands of orphans at the end of the Korean War." The initial focus of World Vision's activities is particularly noteworthy because of the integral role that the Korean War fulfilled in the history of US militarism. (2)

Although not mentioned on World Vision's official "History" page, since 1947 Reverend Pierce had been a full-time travelling evangelist for the Youth for Christ movement -- an organization born in the mid-1940s -- which shortly took Pierce "to Asia to evangelize American servicemen." So it is intriguing that David Stoll observes that World Vision "was a product of the Cold War"; noting that one of Reverend Pierce's first overseas campaigns was in China, "where Youth for Christ hoped that evangelical Christianity would stiffen the resistance to communist advance." (3) Conceived as a bulwark against communism, World Vision's work in Vietnam and Cambodia was "heavily subsidized by USAID, [which] rais[ed] understandable fears about its objectives." (4)

In her book Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right (South End Press, 1989), Sara Diamond writes of the "disastrous implications" of the "unchecked intervention in the culture and political economy of Third World communities" as manifested in the "escalation of Christian Right missionary relief and development work, [which is] increasingly organized in such a way as to attract both more participants and more grant money from the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID)." (5) Greg Grandin concurs with this analysis, observing how during the 1980s: "In order to bypass public and Congressional opposition, the White House outsourced the 'hearts and minds' component of its Central American wars to evangelicals." This war on people's minds is clearly a massive growth industry and the U.S. evangelical missionary project now "has an annual income of two billion dollars, equivalent to one fifth of aid transferred by [nongovernmental organizations] worldwide." (6) Given such well-funded trends, it is not surprising that in Ecuador (as reported in 1981) the Catholic human rights organization Pax Christi denounced World Vision as a "Trojan Horse" for US foreign policy. (7) Thus as Stoll writes:

One of the first things Ecuadorians noticed about World Vision was the discrepancy between what it said and what it did. Although the group described itself as Christian, not evangelical, it was channeling its help exclusively through evangelicals. Instead of working through the cabildo -- the elected council in Quichua villages -- it was bypassing them and turning its funds over to evangelical leaders. The ensuing quarrels were breaking up mingas, the communal workdays in Quichua culture.

Ecuadorians were still debating a similar discrepancy in the work of the Summer Institute of Linguistics. Despite claims to be a non-sectarian scientific organization, it had turned out to be an evangelical mission. Now that SIL had lost its government contract, Ecuadorian opponents suspected that World Vision had inherited the same objectives. It was as if the whole operation was calculated to sharpen conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, divide communities, and make it harder for peasants to fight for their rights. (p.289)

Billy Graham's Evangelical World Vision

To gain a little insight into the controversial nature of World Vision's humanitarian forays it is important to examine the influence of Youth for Christ's first full-time employee, the Reverend Billy Graham. Graham is an integral character in the global evangelical project, and the former president of World Vision International, W. Stanley Mooneyham (1969-82), had prior to taking up this appointment served as Graham's personal assistant, and then as vice president of international relations for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Indeed, World Vision provides an excellent example of the philosophy of new evangelicalism in practice, and their work responds to the National Association of Evangelicals' call "for the application of Christianity to every aspect of life including the social." (8) Here of course it is vital to note that Graham played an important role in "leading the way" at the National Association of Evangelicals, ensuring that new evangelicalism was rapidly "transformed from a small group of denominational leaders into a national movement." (9) Furthermore, Graham's ties to World Vision continue through his son, Franklin Graham, as when Pierce was forced to resign from his position as World Vision's president in 1967, he founded a new organization, Samaritan's Purse, and Franklin "became Pierce's protégé"; then when Pierce died in 1978, the young Graham became Samaritan Purse's new president (a position he maintains to this day).

While Billy Graham is largely heralded by the mainstream media as an apolitical crusader for justice, this myth has been utterly dispelled by investigative journalist Cecil Bothwell. Indeed, Bothwell concludes his book-length review of Graham's life by surmising: "In every way, Graham was the spiritual father of today's right-wing religious leaders who inject themselves into the realm of politics." Bothwell adds: "More than any other public figure in our history, Graham undermined the Founders' sceptical deism and sought to rebrand the United States as a Christian nation, its armies the rightful instruments of Christian crusade and empire." (10) So while in the past Graham's evangelical career has been associated with moderate evangelism, in actual fact his pragmatic approach quickly brought him into close alliances with more conservative forces. Bearing this in mind it is appropriate that the well-known funder of the Religious Right, the Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation, has been a major supporter of Graham's son's group, Samaritan Purse, as well as funding the work of other conservative groups like Campus Crusade for Christ (whose founders included Billy Graham; see later) and Servant Group International.

One reason so few people are aware of Graham's conservative pedigree is not least the support he has gained from the mass media. From his early days as an evangelist with Youth for Christ he had the backing of the strongly anti-communist Hearst media empire. Moreover, Graham's ability to harness the arts of "Madison Avenue" in the service of evangelism also helped ensure that he received the backing of "the hierarchy of New York's mainline Protestant denominations." As Gerard Colby and Charlotte Dennett recount in their book, Thy Will Be Done, the Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil (HarperCollins, 1995), in the 1950s:

A vision of global missions persuaded [John D. Rockefeller] junior to OK a $50,000 donation. It was done quietly, without press releases or fanfare, a secret affirmation that helped make the New York Crusade "a turning point in Graham's American ministry." It also was a turning point for Fundamentalism, ending its isolation on the fringe of American religious life and giving the movement the second wind it needed to make its postwar revival a durable mass phenomenon.


Billy Graham's enormous success with Manhattan's business elite in 1957 signified that the U.S. Christian Fundamentalist movement, like the United States herself, was at the edge of a major transition. Graham's organization gave the movement a new corporate cohesiveness; his moderate evangelizing of modernist Protestants set the tone for the movement's future success. This success, in turn, fed upon a United States that was in cultural discontinuity with the old order. In the 1950s, the era of small-business ethics finally gave way in mainstream America to the march of the modern corporation and its big-business ethic of efficiency and conformity within a mass culture. (p.294) (11)

In addition to these excellent elite connections, Graham created his own evangelical media empire to further consolidate his views in the popular consciousness of US citizens, and one small but significant publication in this regard was Christianity Today. Founded in 1956 with the financial support of J. Howard Pew (of Pew Charitable Trusts fame), Christianity Today's founding executive director was Graham's father-in-law, L. Nelson Bell, who served in this position until his death in 1973. Here it is important to recognize that when Graham began dating L. Nelson Bell's daughter (and his future wife) Ruth McCue Bell in the 1940s her father was considered to be "one of the most powerful men in the Christian missionary world." Later in the 1960s, L. Nelson Bell even served as the head of the Asheville chapter of the radical anti-communist witch-hunters, the John Birch Society. (12)

Bible Translators, and the Vision (for a New Right) World

Long-time John Birch Society supporter Nelson Bunker Hunt (a man "not known for his scruples... own[ing] oil and gas leases all over the world") (13) can at this point be indirectly connected to Graham through the controversial Wycliffe Bible Translators -- an organization that works closely with the aforementioned Summer Institute of Linguistics. (14) This is because Graham served on Wycliffe's board of directors "from about 1958 until 1961," while some time later Hunt acted as a trustee of the Wycliffe Bible Translators' "largest undertaking to date, the International Linguistic Center." (15) Although Graham left Wycliffe's board because of a "dispute over the founder's fundraising tactics," his Billy Graham Evangelistic Association "continued to provide funds to Wycliffe well into the 21st Century." (16) Given these links it is fitting that just prior to his death in 1982, Wycliffe Bible Translators' founder, Cameron Townsend, was...

... listed as one of several dozen Christian leaders in the Religious Roundtable, a New Right vehicle "to fight in the political arena for pro-God, pro-family, pro-American causes." The Roundtable was organized in 1979 by a former Wycliffe Associates board member, E.E. McAteer, who had just introduced a flag and Bible entrepreneur named Jerry Falwell to his associates in Washington, thereby helping to launch the Moral Majority. (17)

Here it is important to pause to examine the organizations that eventually evolved into the Religious Roundtable, as the...

... first major effort to build a national movement of conservative evangelicals came in 1974. Arizona Congressman John Conlan and Bill Bright, president and founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, devised a plan to politicize and educate people in every Congressional district who would become part of a national grassroots effort to elect evangelical Christians sharing a conservative political agenda. At the center of their plan was Third Century Publishers, organized in 1974 to publish books and other materials promoting a conservative political and economic philosophy based on scriptural principles. Its chief publication was One Nation Under God by Rus Walton, intended for use in the study of "Christian economics." In addition to his post as editor-in-chief of Third Century, Walton was a director of the National Association of Manufacturers and the American Conservative Union. (18)

In the same year John Conlan and Bill Bright created the soon to be defunct Christian Embassy, an organization whose board included "religious leaders such as Billy Graham, W. A. Criswell, Norman Vincent Peale, and Harold Lindsell of Christianity Today." (19) Graham was a "long-time friend" of Bright, and upon his death in 2003, he commented: "He is a man whose sincerity and integrity and devotion to our Lord have been an inspiration and a blessing to me ever since the early days of my ministry."

Bright is best known for founding the Campus Crusade for Christ in 1951 with the help of Billy Graham amongst others -- an organization Bright had led until 2000 when he passed the reigns of the Crusade over to Steve Douglass (who presently leads the organization along with the associated Campus Crusade for Christ International). Not surprisingly, given the conservative nature of this organization, the right-wing philanthropist Nelson Bunker Hunt rears his head again, as he served as the past chairman of the executive committee of Campus Crusade for Christ International's Here's Life Campaign, and funded the production of Bright's world-famous Jesus film (1979). In 1994 Bright went on to co-found the right-wing Alliance Defense Fund with Larry Burkett (amongst others), (20) an individual who just over a decade earlier had founded the National Christian Foundation with Terry Parker (an individual who went on to serve as a board member of the neoconservative Family Research Council), and Ron Blue (who is presently a board member of Campus Crusade for Christ International). (21)

Returning to the conservative Wycliffe Bible Translators, to this day Wycliffe's work remains connected to World Vision luminaries. For example, Wycliffe board member Atul Tandon is the senior vice president of donor engagement for World Vision U.S. Furthermore, Wycliffe board member, and author of The U.S. Military/NGO Relationship in Humanitarian Interventions (US Army Peacekeeping Institute, 1996) Chris Seiple is the son of the former long-serving president of World Vision U.S., Robert Seiple (1987-98). (22) Like his father, Chris is intimately enmeshed within powerful elite networks and he is a senior fellow at the neoconservative Foreign Policy Research Institute, (23) a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (London), (24) and serves as the president of the Institute for Global Engagement (which was co-founded by his father). (25)

The current chair of the Wycliffe Bible Translators' fourteen-person-strong board of directors is former World Vision International board member Brady Anderson. Prior to becoming the US Ambassador to Tanzania (1994-7), Anderson had spent six years working with Summer Institute of Linguistics (in Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania), and after vacating his post as the US Ambassador to Tanzania, he served for two years as the USAID administrator (1999-2001). (26) In 2001 Anderson was succeeded at USAID by Andrew Natsios, an individual who had previously served as a vice president of World Vision (from 1993 until 1998). As if this evidence of the intimate relations maintained between World Vision and the US government were not enough, in an interview conducted in 2004 Anderson observed how World Vision had been "the largest handler of food in the world, and almost all the food was donated by the U.S. government." (pdf) An important point given that the US government does not donate food out of generosity; rather their food distribution networks are considered to be an integral weapon through which to promote their geostrategic interests. (27)

The affiliations of another Wycliffe board member, Tom Lin, further serve to expand our understanding of the type of work being undertaken by World Vision, as he is presently the regional director (central US) of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship -- an "evangelical campus mission" that was formed in 1941. Again the Fellowship is directly connected to right-wing elites, as their Internet editor and media coordinator, Gordon Govier, is the secretary of the arch-conservative organization Gegrapha. (28) Incidentally, World Vision's former events and communications director T. Diane Bryhn was appointed (in 2003) to be Gegrapha's first executive director. (29) World Vision also maintains direct connections to the Fellowship as the latter's board of trustees includes Dolphus Weary, who is a former board member of World Vision U.S., and the former president of the Fellowship, Stephen Hayner, is a board member of both World Vision International and the International Justice Mission. (30)

Finally, considering the longstanding allegations that global evangelism has served the foreign policy interests of the US government and their allied mining corporations, it is fitting that Kevin Jenkins, the new head of World Vision International, is a board member of the Canadian-based global energy company Nexen, a corporation that is involved in the highly destructive mining of Canada's tar sands on the land of Canada's First Nations people.

Concluding Notes

If you believe in the goals of Christian evangelism, or alternatively are a strong supporter of the US government's brutal foreign policy, then World Vision is the charity for you. If, however, you identify with neither of the above, then spending your hard earned wages on financing Christian imperialism is not sensible. (31) Contrary to the popular imagery presented in their celebrity-backed promotional materials, World Vision is not helping to make the world a better, more just place. To be fair though, few, if any, of the huge nongovernmental organizations vying for our attention (or money) administer more than Band-Aids to help cover-up the ongoing exploitation and destruction of life. That said, million dollar Band-Aids do provide an effective means of letting otherwise concerned citizens sleep well at night under the misapprehension that they have compensated for their government's unjust foreign policies. Yet meaningful solutions require more than Band-Aids; indeed, equitable solutions demand an active citizenry that engages in the politics of life and death, and the rejection of the anti-democratic initiatives promoted by elite powerbrokers, be they Christian or otherwise.

The old saying goes: "Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime." However, if there are no fish to harvest because they have been stolen to support the "teachers'" conspicuous overconsumption, what then? Spending money on, or buying "presents" for, those who are oppressed by capitalism's endless quest for profit does not sustain democracy or address the root causes of exploitation. By all means we should maintain solidarity with the oppressed, but before we send "aid," we must ensure that we have done everything in our power to end the manner by which we benefit from their hardship. There is no doubt that the downtrodden will find it much easy to rise up from poverty when they are not being crushed by imperialism.

First and foremost we need to understand how our political system thrives off global inequality. In 1948, for example, the reasons for this enduring exploitation were put on the (then secret, now declassified) record by the head of the US State Department Policy Planning Staff, George Kennan. He observed:

[W]e have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3% of its population. [...] In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.

Lending your support to massive nongovernmental organizations, like World Vision, will not address the problems caused by such antidemocratic governmental objectives. Instead we must challenge such unjust applications of power at all levels. The solution is simple: join or create a locally-based group run on equitable principles, invite your friends to join you, and be sure to address the root causes, not the symptoms, of our world's problems.


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1.  Graham Hancock, Lords of Poverty: The Power, Prestige, and Corruption of the International Aid Business (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1991), p.9.  (back)

2.  David Horowitz, From Yalta to Vietnam; American Foreign Policy and the Cold War (Penguin, 1967); Jon Halliday, "What Happened in Korea? Rethinking Korean History 1945-1953," Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, 5, (1973); Bruce Cumings, North Korea: Another Country (The New Press, 2004).  (back)

3.  David Stoll, Is Latin America Turning Protestant?: The Politics of Evangelical Growth (University of California Press, 1990), p.284, p.282. "After the Kuomintang regime fell, Pierce led campaigns in South Korea just before war broke out in 1950. As the red tide surged forward, he came home with movie footage showing the plight of refugees and began raising money to help them." (p.282)  (back)

4.  Ellsworth Culver served as the executive vice president of World Vision International from 1958 until 1961, "and led the organization's expansion throughout Asia and Latin America." Later during the "Cambodian refugee crisis" he became executive vice president (1978-81) of Food for the Hungry, a group that was founded in 1971 and which "embraces an intensely personal and biblical response to God's call to end physical and spiritual hungers worldwide." Food for the Hungry's current president, Benjamin Homan, recently and simultaneously acted as the chair of USAID's Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid. In addition, before joining Food for the Hungry as vice president of mobilization in 2003, Marc Kyle and his wife Beth served seven years in the Philippines with Wycliffe Bible Translators. One particularly interesting sponsor of Food for the Hungry's work is the right-wing religious activist, Howard Ahmanson, who is also a member of the secretive Council for National Policy (see footnote #21). In 1982, Culver co-founded the Christian nongovernmental organization Mercy Corps, and went on to serve as their president from 1984 until 1993 (for further details see "Alternative Dispute Resolution or Revolution"). World Vision International continues to maintain close connections to US foreign policy priorities in Asia as evidenced by their current board member Kleo-Thong Hetrakul, who from 1998 until 2000 was the executive director at the International Monetary Fund, "looking after 12 countries in South-East Asia and the Pacific."

According to World Vision U.S.'s 2007 Annual Report their total revenue for 2007 was $957 million, $427 from private cash contributions, $220 from government grants (23%), $301 million from gifts-in-kind, and $9 million from other income. In terms of expenses 86% went on programs, 9% on fundraising, and 5% on management and general. $185 million was utilized for child sponsorship, and $166 million for the gifts in kind (52% of which were classified as pharmaceuticals and medical supplies).  (back)

5.  Sara Diamond, Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right (South End Press, 1989), p.vi. "'Humanitarian aid' and 'psychological operations' are two areas of 'total war' where the Christian Right serves U.S. foreign policy objectives best. Acting either as 'private' benefactors or as agents of the U.S. government, Christian Right 'humanitarian' suppliers and promoters of anticommunist ideology use religion to mask the aggressive, cynical nature of 'humanitarian' projects. Cloaked as missionary evangelism, the 'spiritual warfare' component of counterinsurgency escapes serious attention by anti-intervention activists who are justifiably preoccupied with stopping more massive, direct forms of U.S. militarism." (p.162) "The U.S. AID is an arm of the U.S. State Department, and its relief and development projects are designed to increase Third World political and economic dependence on the United States. Because World Vision's evangelism and humanitarian programs are woven together in a seamless web, AID directly finances World Vision's proselytization of Third World aid recipients." (p.220) Diamond provides an overview of World Vision's dubious record of collaborating with US foreign policy elites (pp.220-2).  (back)

6.  Julie Hearn, "The 'invisible' NGO: US evangelical missions in Kenya," Journal of Religion in Africa, 32 (1), 2002, p.40. "Although primarily perceived as an aid agency, evangelism lies at the heart of World Vision's work. It has spent years working on how to bring conversion with development and in 1997 launched a two-year research project into their relationship. Its newsletter explains, 'often it takes a deep look into the culture of a particular people to discover those issues that will ultimately determine whether a given development effort will bring spiritual transformation'." (p.54)  (back)

7. David Stoll, Is Latin America Turning Protestant?, p.268. See, Frank Viviano, Pacific News Service, "CIA Church Group in Honduras," Guardian (New York), August 26, 1981, p.13.  (back)

8.  Erica Bornstein, The Spirit of Development: Protestant NGOs, Morality, and Economics in Zimbabwe (Stanford University Press, 2003), p.19, p.20. "The theology of World Vision and that of the new evangelicals grew both out of and in reaction to Fundamentalism. The Fundamentalists of the 1920s were reacting to secularizing tendencies in the United States, and in the process, they developed an anti-modernist doctrine called 'dispensationalism.' Dispensationalism was a version of pre-millennialism: the doctrine that Christ will return personally to found a kingdom in Jerusalem where he will reign for one thousand years. ... Fundamentalism's anti-modernist interpretation of the Bible insisted on the inerrancy of biblical scripture. Every word was the perfect word of God. Fundamentalists interpreted cataclysmic biblical prophecies literally." (p.19)

"Ties between Fuller's mission school and World Vision, the mission organization, ran deep. In 1954, one of World Vision's board members was Carlton Booth, Professor of Evangelism at Fuller Seminary. In 1966, the Missions Advance Research and Communications Center (MARC) began at World Vision in association with Fuller, as the research and publishing arm of World Vision. Fuller's School of World Mission trained World Vision staff, and World Vision staff taught, and continue to teach today, at Fuller Seminary. There was such cross-fertilization between Fuller and World Vision that a World Vision employee said in a 1994 interview, 'The idea of World Vision was started in conversations in the basement of Fuller Theological Seminary." (p.20)  (back)

9.  David Farber and Jeffe Roche, The Conservative Sixties (Peter Lang Publishing, 2003), p.129.  (back)

10.  Cecil Bothwell, The Prince of War: Billy Graham's Crusade for a Wholly Christian Empire (Brave Ulysses Books, 2007), p.196, p.197.  (back)

11.  "Key support for Graham came from Robert J. McCracken, Rev Harry Fosdick's successor at Riverside Church; Union Theological Seminary president Henry Pitney Van Dusen, a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation; and mining scion Cleveland E. Dodge." (p.293) "Billy Graham's New Testament of a living, forgiving God, now projected on television screens in millions of homes, offered solace to the lonely, the alienated, the guilt stricken, and the powerless. His predecessor, Dwight Moody, had attacked satanly labor unrest and sinful cities and stoked millenarian hopes among hard-pressed smallholders for the Second Coming and an end of the world that was ruining them; in so doing, he had married his career to the solid citizens of the industrial trusts who were bringing this corporate world into being -- families like the Rockefellers. His own son-in-law, Rev. Arthur Packard, even ended up working for Nelson's father in Room 5600. Five decades after Moody's first triumphant 'campaign' in New York, it was left to Billy Graham to usher into the corporate culture the last vestiges of the rural population that had migrated to the new corporate suburbias." (p.294) However, such Rockefeller-backed evangelism took an undesirable turn in the 1960s, when fundamentalist preachers obtained "corporate angels like the Pews of Philadelphia and the Hunts of Texas, men whose wealth offered Fundamentalism unprecedented financial means to enter politics on a more sophisticated level. Through the modern corporation and the armed forces, Fundamentalism had experienced men and women who had seen the world and learned modern organizational, fund-raising, communication, and transportation skills. So armed, all the furies of the Religious Right focused their hatred on the one man standing in the way of the Republican nomination of ultraconservative Barry Goldwater: the quintessential liberal of the Eastern Establishment, Nelson Rockefeller." (p.408) Indeed, as Steve Bruce writes in The Rise and Fall of the New Christian Right: Conservative Protestant Politics in America, 1978-1988 (Oxford University Press, 1988), in the 1950s "John D. Rockefeller gave a large gift to the newly formed World Council of Churches -- the fundamentalists' 'great Satan'." (p.53)

"Most of the well-known names of American revival religion -- Oral Roberts and Billy Graham since the 1940s and 1950s, and Pat Robertson, Jimmy Swaggart, and Jim Bakker among contemporaries -- are Pentecostals. Only a few are fundamentalists, such as Jerry Falwell and Tim LaHaye. There used to be considerable differences in doctrine and organizational style between fundamentalists and Pentecostals, to the point of bitter animosity. These differences narrowed gradually in the context of the American postwar consensus and in particular since they came together in a then-political alliance with the New Right in the mid-1970s; even so, the differences remain significant enough to bear in mind." Jan Nederveen Pieterse (ed), Christianity and Hegemony: Religion and Politics on the Frontiers of Social Change (Berg Publishers, 1992), p.8.  (back)

12.  Cecil Bothwell, The Prince of War, p.20.  (back)

13.  During the 1960s the billionaire Nelson Bunker Hunt was a financial and vocal supporter of the John Birch Society, and in the late 1970s he became a council member of the Society. More recently Bunker has rejoined the John Birch Society as a council member. Bunker has been a major funder of the Right and has been closely associated with the secretive Council for National Policy, a former haunt of the infamous televangelist Reverend Pat Robertson. Furthermore, Bunker was an important financial funder of Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, and he even played a significant role (in the mid-1980s) in supporting a campaign to help Pat Robertson become the president of the United States.  (back)

14.  Wycliffe Bible Translators was established in 1942 by a former missionary named William Cameron Townsend, who had "resolved that every man, woman and child should be able to read God's Word in their own language." Named after John Wycliffe, the man who first translated the Bible into English, Townsend who was based in Guatemala, had initially founded "Camp Wycliffe" in 1934 (as a linguistics training school), but by 1942, this camp "had grown into two affiliate organizations, Wycliffe Bible Translators and the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL)." David Stoll writes in his book Fishers of Men or Founders of Empire? The Wycliffe Bible Translators in Latin America (Zed Books, 1983), that "although SIL denies that it evangelizes ... [c]onveniently enough, Bible translation is an intensive form of Bible study." (p.6) Indeed, Stoll points out how SIL's "aura of scientific legitimacy evaporated after 1973, when a shoe-string anti-imperialist research body partially supported by WCC sources, the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), published Laurie Hart's `The Wycliffe Translators: Pacifying the Last Frontiers'. Based on Barbados positions and Wycliffe's own literature, Hart demonstrated that SIL and WBT were one disturbing organization. Highlights included: 1) its enthusiasm for the Vietnam War; 2) its view of indigenous religion as 'Satan's stronghold'; 3) the Ecuadorian branch's use of airplanes, wing-mounted loudspeakers and converts to push hostile Auca Indians out of the way of U.S. oil companies and into a reserve; 4) the Colombian branch's alleged complicity in police and army repression of Guahibo Indians in 1970; and 5) its immunity from protest due to friends high in government." Although Stoll does not agree with political implications undergirding this anti-imperialist report -- in fact, he regularly refers to such authors as conspiracy theorists -- he writes that: "With the important exception of the Guahibo charge, the factual basis [of the report] was beyond dispute." (p.142) With regards conspiracies, Stoll adds: "Dismissing SIL's explanations, conspiracy theorists interpreted its activities as a mode of North American infiltration designed to control strategic areas, facilitate internal repression, and establish a popular base for a repeat of history: eventual U.S. military intervention." (p.227)

Stoll notes how: "Even if one does not care to accept SIL members' claims to innocence, they may be sincere. 'We don't even know what the CIA is,' a member despaired as her branch was driven from Mexico with a CIA reputation. The danger her organization poses is not primarily that of a 'front' for something else. While the Summer Institute was organized as an intrigue, it is clearly an evangelical intrigue with its own jealously guarded objectives. The deeper problem is the group's naivete, its capacity for looking the other way and serving dictatorships, if that will serve the Great Commission, its susceptibility to contractual extortion and right-wing propaganda, such that members can easily come to believe that the trap into which they have stepped is the Lord's plan. Of this there is no better illustration than Bible translation in Vietnam." (pp.85-6)

Enrique Mayer in his review of Soren Hvalkof and Peter Aaby's edited book Is God an American? An Anthropological Perspective on the Missionary Work of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (Survival International, 1981) surmised that: "The SIL claims that it does not force anyone to become a Christian, yet the local situations that they consciously manipulate create enormous pressure for the natives, so that the choice given to them to convert or not to convert is, in reality, no choice at all. People who refuse to convert are ostracized and marginalized; communities are split into warring factions and the real defenders of native traditions become outcasts in their own societies." American Ethnologist, 10 (3), (1983), p.618.  (back)

15.  David Stoll, Fishers of Men or Founders of Empire? The Wycliffe Bible Translators in Latin America (Zed Books, 1983), p.261. He adds, the International Linguistic Center "is modest, even humble compared to another of Bunker's charities, the Campus Crusade for Christ of Wycliffe supporter Bill Bright. By 1982, Hunt and Bright plan to raise $1 billion for world evangelism." (p.262)  (back)

16.  Cecil Bothwell, The Prince of War, p.65.  (back)

17.  Gerard Colby and Charlotte Dennett, Thy Will Be Done, the Conquest of the Amazon: Nelson Rockefeller and Evangelism in the Age of Oil (HarperCollins, 1995), p.262. Edward McAteer "was more than a friend of Cam Townsend; he was a major figure on the board of Wycliffe Associates." Colby and Dennett continue: "The sheer human energy amassed by Wycliffe Associates was impressive, but the financial core was fueled by reliable wealthy SIL backers like North Carolina's James A. Jones, one of the largest contractors for military bases in Vietnam, and oilman Nelson Bunker Hunt of Texas. 'Bunker Hunt had helped me considerably,' McAteer freely offered." (p.805) "Cam was one of those who followed McAteer into the founding meeting of the Religious Roundtable. If he had any reservations about where this would lead SIL and how it would play in Latin America (where Reagan's name was anathema because of his condemnation of Carter's Panama Canal treaty), Cam's base of support in the homeland and his top financial backers left him little choice. He was, at the end of his career, trapped by the Far Right Fundamentalist base on which he had built Wycliffe's success at home." (p.805)  (back)

18.  Robert Wuthnow and Robert Liebman, The New Christian Right: Mobilization and Legitimation (Aldine Transaction, 1983), p.50.  (back)

19.  Robert Wuthnow and Robert Liebman, The New Christian Right, p.51.  (back)

20.  For criticism of the Alliance Defense Fund, see Bill Berkowitz, "Crusade for a Christian nation," Zmag, June 2005.  (back)

21.  The "strategic partner" of the National Christian Foundation is the longstanding Christian youth group, Young Life (an organization that was formed in 1941). Notably E. Peb Jackson formerly served as a senior vice president of public affairs for Young Life, before later becoming a founding board member of the right-wing pressure group Focus on the Family, and a board member of the Council for National Policy (1998-99 and 2001-03) -- a "secretive group of the foremost right-wing activists and funders in the United States" whose early supporters included Nelson Bunker Hunt. Jackson is presently the vice president of global initiatives at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church/Purpose Driven Ministries "where he oversees the Ministry's... work in Africa, especially Rwanda." (Incidentally, Pastor Rick Warren has stated that one of his "most important role models" is Billy Graham.)

The Council for National Policy (CNP) "was founded in 1981 when Tim LaHaye, a leader of Moral Majority, proposed the idea to wealthy Texan T. Cullen Davis. Davis contacted billionaire Nelson Bunker Hunt, and from that point on they began recruiting members. By 1984, the Council had four hundred members." Tom Ellis succeeded LaHaye in 1982 as president of the CNP, and "[a]fter Ellis' one-year term as president of CNP in 1982-83, he was succeeded by Nelson Bunker Hunt, Pat Robertson, and Richard DeVos of the Amway Corporation." Not surprisingly, the John Birch Society's (JBS) "influence on the political goals of the CNP is significant. ... By 1984, John Birch Society Chairman A. Clifford Barker and Executive Council Member William Cies were CNP members." Russ Bellant, The Coors Connection: How Coors Family Philanthopy Undermines Democratic Pluralism (South End Press, 1991), pp.36-7, p.38. Also see, Deborah Huntington and Ruth Kaplan, "Whose Gold is behind the Altar? Corporate Ties to Evangelicals," in: Marlene Dixon, Susanne Jonas and Tony Platt (eds), World Capitalist Crisis and the Rise of the Right (Synthesis Publications, 1982).

Formed as an offshoot of Young Life, in 1961 the Young Life Foundation was established "for the sole purpose of financially encouraging the strategic ministry work of Young Life," and their current board of trustees includes conservative notables like Newton Crenshaw, who is the vice president of the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Company, L. Brooks Entwistle, who is the managing director and CEO of Goldman Sachs India, and Bruce Hosford who serves on the chairmans' council of the neoliberal "environmental" group Conservation International.

The current executive vice president and chief operating officer of the International Justice Mission is Scott Lewis, who prior to joining the Mission in 2006 had spent 21 years working with Young Life. Another person who like Lewis has devoted a large chunk of his life to working with Young Life is Jay Grimstead, who similarly worked for them for 20 years. Grimstead is the founder and director of the theocratic Coalition on Revival. Set up in 1984 the Coalition is a Reconstructionist/Dominionist group, and another notable person who has signed up to the Coalition on Revival's Manifesto is Ted Engstrom, who is a former president of World Vision International. (Not surprisingly given this background Grimstead considers Francis Schaeffer to be "his mentor" and close personal friend.) According to Martin Durham, Reconstructionism was "[c]reated initially by the Presbyterian thinker (and John Birch Society activist) R. J. Rushdoony at the end of the 1950s"; see Martin Durham, The Christian Right: The Far Right and the Boundaries of American Conservativism (Manchester University Press, 2000), p.109.  (back)

22.  From 1987 until 1998, Robert Seiple was president of World Vision U.S., and just prior to this he had spent five years as president of Eastern College and Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary. After leaving World Vision in 1998 he joined the Clinton administration spending two years as the first U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. Then in 2000, Seiple along with the aid of his wife co-founded the Institute for Global Engagement, a faith-based NGO that at present "sponsors two educational divisions," the Council on Faith and International Affairs, and the Global Engagement Network. Notable members of the Institute's six-person-strong board of directors are Nicole Bibbins Sedaca (who is the senior director in the U.S. Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor), John Jenkins (who is a board member of the National Association of Evangelicals), and the Institute's president Chris Seiple (the son of Robert Seiple).

The nexus between neoconservatives and evangelical "humanitarianism" was highlighted by Conn Hallihan in his article "The Right's stuff in Africa: Necons, evangelicals and Sudan" (Counterpunch, March 15, 2007). Hallihan demonstrated how when the infamous neoconservative Elliot Abrams was appointed chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (in 1999), he "began levering U.S. foreign policy away from a concern for poverty toward a focus on 'religious persecution' in the Sudan, Russia and China." Fellow Commission member Robert Seiple was specifically mentioned along with former USAID administrator Andrew Natsios as one of the "key actors for the Bush Administration in Sudan." For a detailed analysis of the problems associated with calls for a humanitarian intervention in Sudan, especially from the religious Right, see "The Project for a New American Humanitarianism: Olympian ambitions from Darfur to Tibet and Beijing."  (back)

23.  Harvey Sicherman, the President and Director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, formerly served as Special Assistant to Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig, Jr. (1981-82) and was a member of the Policy Planning Staff of Secretary of State James A. Baker III (1991-92). At present Sicherman is an adjunct scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank that is affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.  (back)

24.  The British-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (whose US-branch counts Peter Ackerman among its board of directors). For criticism of Ackerman see http://michaeljamesbarker.wordpress.com/icnc/  (back)

25.  Chris Seiple's presidency of the Institute for Global Engagement is particularly interesting as the Institute sponsors the Council on Faith and International Affairs, which publishes a journal called the Review of Faith and International Affairs. Here on the journal's multi-faith advisory board one finds individuals like Larry Jones (who is the director for field programs for the Wycliffe affiliate, The Seed Company), Bryant Myers (who is vice president for development and food resources at World Vision International), and Jean Bethke Elshtain, the secretary of the notorious National Endowment for Democracy (an organization that undertakes overtly the type of democracy-manipulating work that used to be undertaken covertly by the CIA). Additionally, two other notable advisory board members of the Review of Faith and International Affairs are Dudley Woodberry, who formerly acted as the coordinator and acting senior associate of the Muslim track of Billy Graham's Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, and Gary Haugen, who is the president and CEO of the International Justice Mission (see footnote #30).  (back)

26.  Brady Anderson has also served as the former chair of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. Earlier still he had served as Special Assistant to Governor Bill Clinton (from 1979-81).  (back)

27.  Susan George, How the Other Half Dies: The Real Reasons for World Hunger (Penguin, 1976), see Chapter 8, "Food Aid?... Or Weapon?" As George writes: "Herbert Hoover was the first modern politician to look upon food as a frequently more effective means of getting one's own way than gunboat diplomacy or military intervention, and as a means of supporting US farmers in the bargain." (p.193)  (back)

28.  According to their Web site, "Gegrapha began as a small prayer group in the mid-1980s when a group of Christians working for several media outlets in Washington began gathering to pray for the life of Terry Anderson, the one-time bureau chief for Associated Press who was abducted in 1985 by Muslim extremists. By the time Terry was released in 1991, the group had become close-knit and its participants wanted to continue meeting."

Gegrapha was loosely brought together in the mid-1980s by David Aikman, a senior correspondent for Time magazine, however, their website notes that: "Beginning in late 1998, the Fieldstead Foundation gave two generous grants that enabled the prayer group to consolidate itself as an international fellowship for Christians in the secular media under the umbrella of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington." These connections are significant as the Fieldstead Foundation was set up by the arch-conservative religious philanthropist, Howard F. Ahmanson, Jr., while the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) which was formed in 1976 has been described by Tom Barry as "the first neocon institute to break ground in the frontal attack on the secular humanists." He continues that since founding the Center it "has functioned as the cutting edge of the neoconservative-driven culture war against progressive theology and secularism, and the associated effort to ensure right-wing control of the Republican Party. It explicitly sought to unify the Christian right with the neoconservative religious right, which was mostly made up of agnostics back then." Barry writes:

"Elliott Abrams, when serving as EPPC president, said that human rights should be a 'policy tool' of the U.S. government. Working closely with Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress, EPPC together with the Christian Coalition and Family Research Council lobbied for the creation of a new permanent commission that focused on religious persecution. The main countries of concern listed in the congressional deliberations were China, Sudan, North Korea, Cuba, Laos, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia, as well as general condemnation of Muslim nations. Abrams became a founding member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and served as its chairman until mid-2001, when he joined the Bush administration."  (back)

29.  She presently serves as a communications advisor at AGR Petroleum Services, and as the executive producer at Winged Victory Films.  (back)

30.  Founded in 1997, the International Justice Mission describes itself as a "human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression." Gary Haugen's International Justice Mission is a member of a controversial antislavery umbrella group known as the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (see "Combating [Some] Slavery"). Haugen himself was a Ford Foundation scholar in international law (at University of Chicago), and in 1994 he "served as the Officer in Charge of the U.N.'s genocide investigation in Rwanda." He worked for controversial group Human Rights First during the 1980s, and is the author of Just Courage: God's Great Expedition for the Restless Christian (IVP Books, 2008).

Current board members include Renee Stearns, who is the wife of World Vision U.S. president Richard Stearns, 1998 to present (who as recently as 2006 served on USAID's Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid), and Jacquelline Cobb Fuller, who is head of advocacy and communications for Google Foundation, and had previously served as deputy director of global health at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Fuller ghost-wrote the award winning autobiography of the well-known conservative Kay Coles James, Never Forget, Transforming America: From the Inside Out (Zondervan, 1995). James is a trustee of the Heritage Foundation, and was the former Dean of the School of Government at Pat Robertson's Regent University -- Robertson is of course an infamous neoconservative Christian Zionist.

Jan Nederveen Pieterse writes how: "In the United States, the major popularizer of Christian Zionism as a political prophecy was William E. Blackstone, author of the bestseller Jesus is Coming (1881). Blackstone organized the first American lobby for the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine and initiated an intensive campaign which had the support of U.S. senators, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and business figures such as John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, and Charles B. Scribner." Later, Pieterse writes how in 1981 Rabbi Marc Tannenbaum of the American Jewish Committee noted that: "The evangelical community is the largest and fastest growing block of pro-Israeli, pro-Jewish sentiment in this country. Since the 1967 War, the Jewish community has felt abandoned by Protestants, by groups clustered around the National Council of Churches, which, because of sympathy with third world causes, gave an impression of support for the PLO. There was a vacuum of public support to Israel that began to be filled by the fundamentalist and evangelical Christians." Jan Nederveen Pieterse, "The history of a metaphor: Christian Zionism and the politics of apocalypse," in Jan Nederveen Pieterse (ed), Christianity and Hegemony: Religion and Politics on the Frontiers of Social Change (Berg Publishers, 1992), pp.215-6, p.219.  (back)

31.  James Petras criticises the manner by which millionaire nongovernmental organizations like World Vision "collaborate with Euro-American imperialism," noting that they are so well supported by Western governments precisely because their work "undermine[s] social movements via class collaborationist 'community' and 'family development'" schemes. James Petras, The New Development Politics: The Age of Empire Building and New Social Movements (Ashgate, 2003), p.149.  (back)


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About the Author

Michael Barker is an independent researcher who currently resides in Australia. In addition to his work for Swans, which can be found in the 2008 and 2009 archives, his other articles can be accessed at michaeljamesbarker.wordpress.com.



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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published December 28, 2009