Exceeding Glad

 In Community, Conference, Culture, Faith, Foundations, Fred's Blog, Giving, Money, Philanthropy, Theology

Many ministries and nonprofits have a section on their website for interviews and articles about them in the media. As you can guess, all are positive and speak in glowing terms about the work and impact of the ministry. You might wonder why The Gathering doesn’t have a tab like that. Honestly, it is because most of our press is not what you like to have said, and until now I’ve been reluctant to share any of that.

From the start, we have been labeled as shadowy and secretive. Conservative evangelical magazines have questioned our being fully Christian, while left-leaning publications have skewered us for being intent on eradicating every belief but our own fundamentalist Christian views. While we did not make the much-coveted cover of Rolling Stone, an article in the magazine this month making mention of us reads like we lounged around the patio pool sipping cocktails in 2001 while the Twin Towers were still smoldering and thousands of our fellow citizens had been killed.

As we are getting ready for this year’s announcement of The Gathering in California, I have wondered what it is about us that attracts shelling from both sides. I read a book many years ago titled Are You Misunderstood? and I wish I could find and read it again. It said that the burden of being understood is first on the one who speaks and only then the one who hears. But, in the end, both need to listen. T.S. Eliot is so right when he wrote, “Men tighten the knot of confusion into perfect misunderstanding.”

A good friend has this quote by George Bernard Shaw at the bottom of his email signature: “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” It’s true and that is why I am working on telling the story of The Gathering in such a way as not to be misunderstood – if that is possible.

As I’ve said before in a blog, there was a time when we were once mesmerized by the lives of the very rich, but now we are headed toward a revolution against these invisible but ominous figures – right and left – behind so much of what seems wrong with our country. Every week we read more accounts of conspiracies of billionaires steering the course of our lives from behind a curtain of secrecy or an interconnected web of 501(c)4 organizations:

“In the past, they gave us momentary escapism or the simple relief of entertainment, but there was always something of value that both sides brought to the relationship. They needed us as an audience for their magic, and we needed them to fill a void. Without them our lives would be reduced to the ordinary. Without us they would be actors without a stage. Yes, they were mostly imaginary but that was part of the draw. They were different – but not alien. They were flawed but not hollow. They had faces and names. Even as the rogues they often were, there was some redemptive quality that kept us curious and not repelled. They glittered.”

No more.

Maybe now we are better described by Rudyard Kipling’s observation: “We’re all islands shouting lies to each other across seas of misunderstanding.”  If so, then maybe the role of The Gathering is, while still misunderstood, more relevant than ever.

WORLD Magazine in 1996: “Two years ago they gathered at the swank Four Seasons in Seattle. Last year they gathered in Cancun. Next week to the Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia they will doubtless come again, bringing their checkbooks with them for a Nov. 1 and 2 conference. ‘They’ are scores of wealthy believers looking for ways to use their earthly riches to advance the heavenly kingdom. In a good example of upper-class understatement, their organization is called simply The Gathering. What the group lacks in rhetorical flourish, however, its members more than make up for in net worth. Imagine Abraham, Job, and the father of the Prodigal Son getting together for a seminar, and you have a pretty good idea of The Gathering. Not to mention the extent of their wealth. Unlike secular foundations that often produce lavish annual reports listing their endowments and the causes they support, Christian givers are much less forthcoming with such information. Not surprisingly then, the words ‘secretive’- even ‘shadowy’- are most often associated with Christian philanthropy.”

What is the essential difference in philosophy between Christian and secular philanthropy?”

Daily Beast in 2014: “The Gathering is a conference of hard-right Christian organizations and, perhaps more important, funders. Most of them are not household names, at least if your household isn’t evangelical. But that’s the point: The Gathering is a hub of Christian Right organizing, and the people in attendance have led the campaigns to privatize public schools,  redefine “religious liberty” (as in the Hobby Lobbycase), fight same-sex marriage, fight evolution, and, well, you know the rest. They’re probably behind that, too. The Gathering promotes “family values” agenda: opposition to gay rights and reproductive rights, for example, and also a global vision that involves the eventual eradication of all competing belief systems that might compete with The Gathering’s hard-right version of Christianity.”

Rolling Stone in 2017: “A few weeks after September 11th, 2001, with the nation reeling from the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., about 400 or so of the country’s leading Christian conservative investors convened at the luxury Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. They were there for the 17th annual meeting of the Gathering, a four-day, invitation-only philanthropic and networking event for the Christian donor class, whose members often describe themselves, simply, as ‘believers.’ The perks awaiting them in their off hours included a 27-hole golf course, nine crystalline swimming pools and a luxury spa. At dusk, the ruddy hues of the desert rippled across the stone patios where, warmed by fire pits, some of the most important funders of Christian charity, and the Christian right, sipped cocktails and talked about expanding the Kingdom of God.”

As Jesus said, “Rejoice and be exceeding glad” so that is what we are doing around here this week. We are exceeding glad.

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    Thanks Fred. I too have on occasion read something about The Gathering by someone who not there and found it to be inaccurate and even offensive. I recently re-read The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer, and chapter 9 on meekness and rest jumps back at me as I read your blog about the words of others. I find myself convicted by his words. He says in relation to our pride and others perceptions about us “As long as you set yourself up as a little god to which you must be loyal there will be those who will delight to affront your idol. .. The hearts fierce effort to protect itself from every slight, to shield its touchy honor from the bad opinion of friend and enemy, will never let the mind have rest. .. Such a burden as this is not necessary to bear. Jesus calls us to His rest, and meekness is His method. The meek man cares not at all about who is greater than he, … is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather, he may be in his moral life bold as a lion and strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. …. As he walks in meekness he will be happy to let God defend him. … Then also he will get deliverance from the burden of pretense (our desire to put the best foot forward and hide from the world our real inward poverty). … To men and women everywhere Jesus says “Come unto me and I will give you rest”. The rest he offers is the rest of meekness, the blessed relief which comes when we accept ourselves for what we are and cease to pretend”. I am personally challenged by that to continue to find my sense of self in Christ, and rest in Him through meekness. Letting Christ defend me and Himself. As a result, I think we can and do say confidently through The Gathering, yes, find your gladness and rest in Jesus, as we have.

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