The Global Leadership Summit Appears to Be Shrinking

At the beginning of 2018, the Willow Creek Association proclaimed that they had 700 venues participating in the simulcast of the Global Leadership Summit.

Today, on the conference website, two claims are made. On the front page, organizers say over 600 venues are available.

However, if you click on the link which allows you to find a venue near you, a different number comes up.

The entire list comes up along with this message:

A significant erosion has happened. The GLS started the year with 700 locations and now the organizers claim “over 500 locations nationwide.”

However, there is a problem. If you click the “show list” link and count the number of venues, only 494 are currently listed. I suspect, Willow Creek Association knows this but hasn’t changed the website again because less than 500 doesn’t sound as spectacular as “600+” as the front page of their website currently boasts.

What would a leader do?

 

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Churches Back Out of Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit Over Handling of Bill Hybels

Churches and speakers have dropped out of one of largest evangelical leadership gatherings of the year. Will it make any difference to Willow Creek?

Coming August 9-10 is the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. This international event has in the past involved over 600 locations in the U.S. and some of the biggest names in Christianity. Over the years, millions of Christians have watched on location at the church near Chicago or at a simulcast venue.

However, this year some changes in the speakers and the venues have happened as a result of the scandal which has engulfed the church since Bill Hybels announced in October 2017 that he would retire in 2018. Then in March of this year, the Chicago Tribune published a story with the disclosures of women alleging misconduct against Hybels. The next day Hybels denied the allegations and then in April he stepped aside from all Willow Creek activities, including the Leadership Summit.

Numerous observers have faulted Willow Creek’s leadership for their handling of the allegations before and after they became public. In reaction to the situation, three speakers who had planned to speak to the GLS — Denzel Washington, A.R. Bernard and Lisa Bodell — pulled out. You can see the full line up remaining here.

Churches are Dropping Out

Even though the show is going on, a unknown number of churches and venues have pulled out. According to Australian Benjamin Ady, 120 churches have canceled involvement in the GLS since April. Ady told me that altogether over 200 churches have backed out of hosting the event but he hasn’t confirmed the reasons. Ady contacted all the venues he could find to ask them to consider pausing their involvement to show support for the women who disclosed their experience with Hybels.

One church, Life Center in Tacoma, wrote me to say they indeed had canceled in response to the recent events. Other churches have made announcements pointing to Hybels and Willow Creek Church as the reason. For instance, Dave Rodriguez of Grace Church in Indiana preached a sermon regarding their decision to pull out.  The Vineyard Church in Cincinnati recently pulled out as well, announcing the move on their website:

Many of you know that we have been a host site for Willow Creek’s Global Leadership Summit for 14 years. Some of you may have heard that the pastor of Willow Creek Church, Bill Hybels, has recently resigned amid allegations of misconduct with women perpetrated over many years. (See CHRISTIANITY TODAY ARTICLES)

After much thought and prayer, we have decided that Vineyard Cincinnati Church will not be a host site of the Global Leadership Summit this year.

We are reminded from Scripture that God calls us to defend the vulnerable — the orphan, the widow, the oppressed and those who suffer under the misuse of power.

In short, God cares deeply how those who possess power use that power. We pray that women everywhere who have suffered would see that God’s people stand with them and love them and care for them.

Another large church pulling out is Christ Church Oak Brook (IL) with this explanation:

In light of the allegations now swirling around the former senior pastor of the Willow Creek Community Church AND the larger national movement drawing needed attention to the stories of women treated in harmful ways, this message comes to inform you that Christ Church will not serve as a host site for the Global Leadership Summit (GLS) this coming August. For those of you who have registered for the conference or planned to bring others, I know this may be a shock or an inconvenience. I apologize for that. This is why I am writing to you.

I wrote the Willow Creek Association to find out if the drop outs have hurt their registrations or projected attendance. After a day, I have not received a reply. I have not been able to independently confirm that all 120 churches have pulled out.

WCA did make one response to the controversy which was to inform their members and constituents that the conference would go on without Hybels, Denzel Washington, A.R. Bernard and Lisa Bodell (Read the letter here).

According to the website, there are plenty of locations if one must be schooled in Willow Creek methods of leadership. However, it may be worth reflecting on what leadership would look like in this situation. Some leaders have decided that the best lessons might come from not attending.

 

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Scott Lively and the American Evangelical Attraction to Russia

On July 18, Ruth Graham wrote in Slate “Mariia Butina’s cozy relationship with the Christian right makes total sense.” Butina is the Russian national who was recently indicted on charges of conspiracy and acting as a agent of the Russian government.

For certain, Butina had an easy time making friends with Christian right leaders such as Eric Metaxas and organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast.  Graham also wrote about why  that”cozy relationship” make sense:

Much of the Christian right views contemporary Russia with a surprising fondness, and it’s a coziness that predates the Trump administration.

Graham then mentions Pat Buchanan, Bryan Fischer, and Franklin Graham as evangelicals who have praised Putin’s hard line on gay and abortion rights. Despite Putin’s authoritarian tactics, some Christian nationalists like the morality he legislates.

Enter Scott Lively

Although there have been many influences on the development of current policies in Russia toward gays over the years, one simply cannot overlook the role of current GOP candidate for governor in MA, Scott Lively. In 2006 and 2007, Lively toured 50 cities in seven former Soviet bloc countries, including Russia spreading his anti-gay message. In a 2013 blog post, Lively celebrated the passage of a Russian law which banned teaching about homosexuality in schools.

On January 25th of this year the Russian State Duma, its highest legislative body, voted to prohibit homosexual advocacy to children, following the enactment of similar legislation in a number of Russian cities including St. Petersburg, and Novosibirsk (the capitol city of Siberia).

http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/59099.htm .  Go Ruskies!

I am personally very pleased to see this development, having called specifically for legislation of this sort in my speaking tour of the former Soviet Union in 2006 and 2007.  During that tour, which began in the Russian Far East city of Blagoveschensk and ended in St. Petersburg, I lectured in a variety of venues including numerous universities, churches and conference halls, and met with numerous government leaders at various levels of influence.  The entire tour spanned approximately 50 cities in seven countries: Russia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, and Belarus (we also passed through Kazakhstan but didn‘t speak there).

Toward the end of the tour I published, from St. Petersburg, A Letter to the Russian People (see below) which summarized my central message that I had shared in well over 300 lectures, sermons and media interviews during the prior year.

My pro-family message was warmly welcomed by the people of each of these countries, and to varying degrees the homosexual agenda has been slowed in all of them.  To my knowledge the only two Eastern European countries to pass pro-family legislation designed to curtail the spread of homosexuality are Russia and Lithuania, which are coincidentally, the only two countries to whose people I wrote an open letter.  My Lithuanian letter can be viewed online at www.defendthefamily.com.

Here you can watch Lively in action speaking in a Russian church. Notice how the audience begins to clap when Lively says a gay man dies.

He also appears in this Russian documentary.

Although it might giving Lively too much credit, he certainly deserves some responsibility for giving Russian leaders a wedge issue to use to compete with the West. In an interesting twist, American evangelicals who have excused Donald Trump’s moral failings have had practice by praising ruthless Putin for his support for traditional morality in Russian law.

Those waiting for an uprising of Christian leaders to condemn Donald Trump for softness toward an authoritarian dictator in Putin can keep waiting. Many evangelicals of the Christian nationalist persuasion think  evangelical morality can and should be legislated, even if you have to overlook some things.

 

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The Fellowship Foundation’s Doug Burleigh Jokes About Russian Collusion with Jesus

In March of this year, one of the organizers of the National Prayer Breakfast Doug Burleigh joked about Russian collusion with Jesus prior to delivering a sermon at a church in Tacoma, WA.  Then last week, in a federal indictment, it was alleged that Russian national Maria Butina used her connections with the NPB to carry out conspiracy activities. Although the prayer breakfast organizer was not named in the indictment, Mr. Burleigh is the NPB member responsible for coordinating with the Fellowship’s representatives from Russia.

Prior to his sermon, Burleigh told his audience that MSNBC talk show host Joe Scarborough found out the number of Russians attending the NPB in 2018. However, Burleigh dismissed any concerns about that as “fake news.”

Burleigh told the group that he had 61 Russians and 52 Ukrainians at the event this year. Then at 1:02, he said:

Thursday was the breakfast, the 8th of February, and I started getting texts from all over the country. ‘What’s the deal with the Russian collusion?’ Well, I’m going to personally share with you a little fake news okay that I ran into is the morning guy on MSNBC who hates Trump Joe Scarborough, he goes, ‘I hear that there’s more Russians than have ever come to the prayer breakfast before and that’s true. But what he didn’t know is that a lot of them were young professionals we invited to lift up Jesus and we had six wonderful times with them. He said, ‘there must be collusion, obviously there’s something going on, so I got friends from around the country going what’s the deal with the Russian collusion. And I said, ‘boy there’s big time collusion: it’s the Russians and Jesus, that’s the collusion.

In the July 14 indictment it is alleged that in 2017 two of the Russians who were supposed to be “colluding with Jesus” at the prayer breakfast were Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin. In fact, both Butina and Torshin may have been working the religious group on behalf of the Russian government. Because Butina asked, according to the indictment, the NPB organizer offered to give Butina 10 Russian spots for the 2017 event. It is not clear if that happened or if there were any requests for the 2018 event.

His Tacoma speech wasn’t the first time Burleigh expressed a dim view of the U.S. media. At a Russian prayer meeting in May 2017, Burleigh spoke to a group affiliated with the American Fellowship. After the meeting, he spoke to writer Andrei Tyunyaev.

At about 2:25, Tyunyaev asked Burleigh a question:

Tyunyaev  – The fact that you are present here after a few years of a going down relationship between Russia and America and growing tension and so just for us it’s a good thing so what’s your impression, what’s your hope for the future?

Burleigh: I’m very hopeful. The reason I’m hopeful is Mr. Trump is a relational person. He’s a negotiator. He’s going to sit down with Putin and they’re going to talk. And I think, we have an expression in America – win-win. I think he wants a win-win situation. I’ll bet Mr. Putin wants a win-win situation. In other words, both sides win. So how’s that going to happen? When they get together and talk. You know in our country, it’s always strange to in divorces, the attorneys tell the husband and wife not to talk to each other. How can you possibly reconcile with somebody you can’t talk to? The real estate agent tells the seller not to talk to the buyer. You know why that is? He’s worried about losing his commission. He doesn’t care about them getting the best deal they can get.

So the reason I’m hopeful is I think our president really wants to talk to your president. I think they’re both intelligent people. Neither of them wants war. I know that. People always tell me Americans want war. No we don’t. And the reason I know you don’t is I’ve been coming here for 52 years. War to an American is going to Vietnam or Afghanistan. War to a Russian is the tanks coming down the streets of your house. You understand war far better than we do. And I tell my American friends that all the time, you don’t want war. So I’m hopeful.

By the way, some of my best friends are Russian. They’re loyal, faithful and loving. So some of my best friends are American, and they are loyal, faithful and loving. So we just gotta get them together.

Tyunyaev: So when we learned after the prayer breakfast that Mr. Trump would become the president of America, we were pretty cheerful and supportive of that fact. We can see the difficulties that he has to overcome to change the structure. We believe in Mr. Trump’s intelligent and smart approach to the issues, walking toward each other and not away from each other.

Burleigh: Yeah, and the problem in our country is press hates Trump, okay? And I think the press is so biased that you don’t get a true story from them. Let me give you an example from last week is the president said he would be honored to meet with the president of North Korea. I thought, ‘that’s the first time anybody’s ever said that.’ All the press could focus on was the word ‘honored.’ He said he be honored to meet with him!?

Tyunyaev: That’s a step of friendship

Burleigh: Of course it is. He went the extra mile to affirm him. What’s wrong with that?

National Prayer Breakfast: Non-Partisan?

Those close to the Fellowship Foundation that I have spoken to insist that the organization is non-partisan. In fact, one recently told me that if the Fellowship and NPB were perceived as pro-Trump (or pro anybody), the “group would self-destruct.”

In contrast, Burleigh portrays a positive stance toward Trump in these and other public statements. His criticisms of the press are startling and parrot the Trump talking points. In fact, the press coverage of Trump’s announcement in May 2017 about meeting Kim Jong-un was straightforward and only reported what Trump said. In reaction to Trump’s words, many pundits and experts criticized Trump which the press also reported. Furthermore, some raised the observation that conservatives criticized Obama when he offered to meet with our enemies without preconditions.

Has the Fellowship taken a pro-Trump, pro-Russia position? While I doubt it given some of the people still involved in it, I wonder what might happen over time now that leader Doug Coe has passed.

 

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National Prayer Breakfast Organizer Doug Burleigh Predicted Putin and Trump Would Become Friends

With the indictment of Maria Butina for conspiracy and acting as an agent of the Russian government, public attention has come upon the Fellowship Foundation. Founded by the late Doug Coe, I crossed paths with the FF beginning in 2009 when Ugandan affiliates of that organization promoted the death penalty for GLB people in the Ugandan Parliament via the Anti-Homosexuality Bill. I took a strong stand against that bill which eventually led to an invitation to the National Prayer Breakfast, hosted each year by the Fellowship. While there, the American leaders allowed me to interview Doug Coe — one of only four published interviews of the reclusive founder — so that he could tell the public in clear terms that he did not favor criminalizing homosexuality.

Now via the documents describing the indictment of alleged Russian operative Maria Butina, the National Prayer Breakfast is again in public focus. The documents refer to an organizer of the prayer breakfast and various individuals who Butina contacted. While I don’t know for certain in each case who she contacted, a source close to the Fellowship told me that Doug Burleigh, the son-in-law of Doug Coe, is the person at the organization who handles networking with the Russian affiliates.

Burleigh Predicted Trump and Putin Would Have a Breakthrough

Almost exactly a year ago at the Russian version of the prayer breakfast, Doug Burleigh made a prediction. A news article from the Russian Evangelical Alliance tells the story:

On another note, Doug Burleigh from Washington’s National Prayer Breakfast forecast that “a breakthrough in relations between Russia and the USA is about to occur. The greatest possible hope for Russia and the USA is friendship between our nations. I believe that Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump will yet become friends.” (Reverse translation from the Russian.)

I wonder how Burleigh knew such a breakthrough was about to happen. Prophecy? Or perhaps he was on the inside of efforts to make it so.  According to the indictment documents, the National Prayer Breakfast organizers were aware of a desire to bring Vladimir Putin to the event. Butina also promised to keep them apprised of new developments in the effort to improve relations between the two nations and the two presidents.

The refusal of Donald Trump to criticize or hold Vladimir Putin accountable has puzzled numerous observers. Behind the scenes, an effort to craft a friendship between Trump and Putin has been in operation for several years.

Were the Russians using the National Prayer Breakfast as a ploy to advance political goals? Is the talk of faith a means to a darker end? Butina will have her day in court and I hope evangelicals who went along for her ride will watch and listen carefully.

READ THE AFFIDAVIT AND THE COMPLAINT.

Read Today’s Filing Asking the Court to Prevent Butina’s Flight

Jeff Sharlet’s book on the Fellowship can be found here.

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The NRA and Alleged Russian Operative Maria Butina

The NRA has been in the news repeatedly in connection with the Mueller probe of U.S. ties to Russian operatives. Back in April, Rolling Stone published a lengthy article by Tim Dickinson which detailed the efforts of Russian nationals connected to Vladimir Putin to infiltrate the NRA under the guise of supporting gun rights in Russia. A key event reported in that article was a trip to Russia arranged for NRA executives and donors and accompanied by Maria Butina, recently indicted by the Justice department for conspiracy and acting as a foreign agent.  From Tim Dickinson’s Twitter feed, here is photo of Butina and two NRA leaders in Moscow.

Read the affidavit and the complaint.

To read Tim Dickinson’s Twitter thread on Butina’s Republican contacts, click here.

Maria Butina Got Around

According to the indictment documents, Butina cultivated relationships within Republican party, the NRA, the National Prayer Breakfast, and other Christian right circles (including Eric Metaxas) in order to further the political ends of the Russian government.

In April, the NRA admitted receiving donations from Russians but denied any foreign money went to election ads for Trump. Butina’s indictment has raised new suspicions about why the NRA developed such a friendly relationship with an adversary of the U.S. And then just today, a new filing in federal court alleges that Butina was in a cohabitation relationship with Republican operative with close ties to the NRA (identified by the Rolling Stone and other news outlets as possibly Paul Erickson) as a part of her cover.

President Trump has denied any collusion with the Russian government. However, this indictment and others recently filed paint a picture of relentless activity on the part of the Russian government to infiltrate organizations friendly to Trump and his wing of the Republican party.

I have leaned conservative all my life and I can’t imagine trusting Russians who want to get this close to political power in the U.S. Once upon a time, it was progressives who were accused of being duped by the Russians. Now it appears that Trump Republicans have a special gullibility.

Read Today’s Filing Asking the Court to Prevent Butina’s Flight

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UPDATE (8/1/18) – An earlier version of this article referred to a possible connection to BN Media and Joe Gregory. I learned today from Joe Gregory’s attorney that Gregory sold his interest in BN Media in 2013 and therefore has no involvement with BN Media. I regret the misinformation and apologize to Mr. Gregory for any problem this may have caused. I have corrected this post to reflect this new information.

Court Evangelicals Franklin and Jack Graham Stick With Trump as Trump Sticks With Putin

Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX came out in support of Donald Trump’s acceptance of Vladimir Putin’s assurance that Russia didn’t meddle in the 2016 U.S. election. Trump said this in response to a question about who Trump believed: our intelligence community or Putin.

Franklin Graham tweeted something similar earlier today.

In contrast, fellow Southern Baptist Russell Moore had this to say after the Helsinki press conference:

Currently, Jack Graham is blocking followers who disagree with his tweet.

These tweets from the court evangelicals come from the White House talking points after today’s press conference.

UPDATE: Add Eric Metaxas to this list:

Over U.S. Intelligence, Donald Trump Accepts Putin’s Strong Denial of Russian Election Interference

Social media is ablaze with outrage over Donald Trump’s answer to a question about who he believes regarding Russian meddling in the 2016 election. In short, he said he has confidence in Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats but he believes Putin. Watch:

Let it sink in what Trump told the world. Russia mounted a cyberattack on the U.S. and he still sided with Putin. His rambling, tangential response deflected the question and yet still placed him in defense of Putin’s “strong denial.”

Ronald Reagan is dying many more deaths somewhere today. For an American president to cozy up to a former KGB agent, blame America for our poor relationship, and then to throw U.S. intelligence under the bus is collusion in real time. No need to prove anything covert. In my opinion, it just happened on the world stage.

Some readers may disagree. Let’s discuss.

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David Barton Again Uses Fake Abe Lincoln Quote on Education to Criticize Education

On Friday, David Barton tweeted a video of a talk he gave to legislators in 2017 about education. In it, he gave lots of statistics and what he claimed were historical facts. Much of what he said sounded either obvious or false but I can’t say for sure since I haven’t checked it all. However, at about 30 minutes into the talk, he said something that was vintage Barton. Watch:

He showed a picture of Abe Lincoln and claimed Lincoln said:

The philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.

Veteran Barton watchers will know where I am going. The quote can’t be found in Lincoln’s writings or speeches. At one time (as late as 2012), Barton considered it an “unconfirmed” quote. Barton knows the quote can’t be sourced to Lincoln but he attributed it to Lincoln anyway.

This isn’t how actual historians behave. They don’t try to fool their audiences into believing something that isn’t true. And this isn’t the first time with this exact same quote.

How can an audience rely on Barton’s claims when he fudges a quote he knows can’t be found in Lincoln’s works? A fair questions is: what is he fudging on more important claims?

Student Follows Teacher

One of Barton’s warnings to legislators is about professors who have the wrong philosophy. He asserts that liberal professors will turn students liberal. The fake Lincoln quote was designed to put the exclamation point on that principle and warn that liberal professors today mean liberal politics tomorrow.

(As an aside, I have to ask if that’s true, then where did Trump come from?)

In any case, I also have to ask if that’s true, what do we have to look forward to from Barton’s students? Find a quote you like and attribute it to your favorite historical figure. Go out of your way to stretch the truth to create an impression that helps you politically. Deceive your audience for the sake of Jesus and his chosen nation, America?

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Howmuch.net Removes FAIR’s Biased Illegal Immigration Information

Recently I posted a rebuttal to Wayne Grudem’s attempt to theologically defend Donald Trump’s border wall. A commenter on that post cited a Howmuch.net article claiming that the costs of illegal immigration are far greater than building Trump’s wall.

The source for that Howmuch.net article was the Federation for American Immigration Reform’s (FAIR) widely quoted estimate about costs of illegal immigration. Howmuch.net had reconfigured those claims and included them in their article. FAIR claims illegal immigration costs the states over $100 billion per year.

Another reader then contacted Howmuch.net and expressed concerns about the source of the information in the article. Earlier this week, I learned that Howmuch.net reviewed FAIR’s website and information about the organization and has now deleted the page from their website.

FAIR’s estimates have been widely condemned as biased and flawed. Those who founded FAIR have a clear bias against immigrants of color and have consistently sought to limit all immigration, not just illegal immigration. FAIR is an organization has supported Donald Trump when he takes their hard line.

A representative of Howmuch.net sent this statement to me about their decision to remove the article.

HowMuch.net seeks to provide interesting data visualizations and articles to explore financial and economic topics for a broad audience of readers. We always strive to use fair and impartial sources for our data. It was recently brought to our attention that an article using data from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) did not meet our standards for impartiality. We immediately took down the article from our website. We do not subscribe to or advocate for any particular public policy position, and as a result, FAIR does not meet our requirements.

The founder of FAIR, John Tanton, once remarked to supporters that whites were losing their majority and challenged them:

As whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?

The history of FAIR is in nativism and resistance to immigration of any kind which isn’t white.  I commend the proactive reader and the folks at Howmuch.net for their speedy response to the legitimate concerns.

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