How Big Foundation Money Is Subverting Traditional Christianity

A commentary on the recent attacks on Abbot Tryphon and Patristic Faith

Originally appeared at: Rachel's Newsletter

There is a struggle within Christianity right now between those who want to retain its traditional moral and social teachings and those who seek to modernize and conform Christianity to the liberal democratic order of the west. We saw this in Protestant churches immediately after the Reformation with some of the more radical reformers fleeing Europe to settle in America. Once here, they were preaching social gospel and egalitarianism by the mid-nineteenth century. We saw it again in the Roman Catholic church in the mid-twentieth century, beginning with Vatican II. In both Protestant and Catholic churches, traditionalists have been drowned out by modernists. Many Protestant churches now accept female ministers, LGBT clergy, and even gay marriage and abortion in some cases. Pope Francis embodies all the modern liberalization within the Roman Catholic church. From his banning of traditional Latin Mass to leading interfaith prayers at pagan temples and advocating for socialist policies, Francis has all but completed the liberalization of the Roman Catholic Church.

It’s often argued by modernists that Christianity must stop resisting change and get with the times. People with this view warn that church attendance will drop if Christianity fails to embrace progressive values, while traditionalists argue that church attendance has already dropped off in the last couple of decades precisely because most churches have embraced progressive values to some degree. A quick glance at the statistics shows that Christianity is indeed in decline in the west. A 2020 Gallup poll found that only 47% of Americans said they belong to a church, down from 70% in 1999. Church membership numbers in America had remained steady until this point since Gallup started keeping track in 1937 when 73% church membership was recorded. Something big has changed in the last 20 years in western churches. Are these changes organic? Is the modernization and decline of Christianity inevitable as science and social progress take over? There is evidence that the decline of western Christianity is not the natural result of modern times, but has been facilitated by social engineers with ulterior motives. For more on this, there’s a very good video on the subject here. 

Since western Christianity has been largely co-opted by modernizing progressive forces, Eastern Orthodox Christianity has seen a rise in new converts from the west. Christians who believe that the church must remain as Christ founded her in the world rather than becoming like the world have been converting in unprecedented numbers. The Orthodox church has been able to resist most attempts to liberalize her. This is thanks to the fact that the church grounds its teachings in tradition and Apostolic succession. Also, its ecclesiastical structure does not rest on one man as it does in Roman Catholicism, nor is it so decentralized that it is fragmented as in Protestant churches. Because of this, there are renewed efforts to corrupt and modernize the Orthodox church and anyone who stands in fervent opposition to these efforts. A recent example of this are the social media attacks on Abbot Tryphon and Patristic Faith as far-right radicals or white supremacists by self-proclaimed progressive activist Sarah Riccardi-Swartz and her associates. 

Last week, a photo of the Abbot and several young men who attended the Orthodox Montanica conference was shared by Riccardi-Swartz. The photo shows the group on a historic tour of Butte, including the old mining town jail as well as a century-old speakeasy. Tour participants are encouraged to take fun photos of themselves with props from the tour by the tour guides. In this photo, Abbot Tryphon is holding a toy tommy gun prop included in the tour of the speakeasy as a relic of America’s Prohibition period. Of course, before doing any journalistic investigating to determine the context of this photo, Riccardi-Swartz and her followers circulated it all over social media as evidence that Abbot Tryphon and the other conference attendees were some kind of right-wing militant group. Once it was made clear to Riccardi-Swartz that this was a prop from a tour she doubled down, saying that her assertions about the Abbot and the conference were still valid. Many people were confused by this. Why would this woman want to paint a kindly church elder as a violent extremist even after being corrected about the nature of the photo? If you look at her professional affiliations, funding, and educational background the answer becomes clear. Sarah Riccardi-Swartz is employed and financed by the same organizations who have already succeeded in destroying the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches by making them bastions of progressive activism rather than stewards of the gospel of Jesus Christ. These organizations seek to neutralize Christianity and make it compatible with progressive, globalist agendas. The Orthodox church has become their new target since it stands as the last stalwart against this agenda. 

Sarah Riccardi-Swartz’s current employment is as a postdoctoral fellow at Recovering Truth: Religion, Journalism, and Democracy in a Post-Truth Era. This is a three-year interdisciplinary research project at Arizona State University meant to combat what this group of academics sees as threats to expertise and democracy in the west. Their website explains:

 “Authoritarian, anti-democratic, and anti-expertise movements are surging in the United States and around the world. The credibility of scientists, journalists, educators, and civil servants erodes as trust in the institutions of civic life falls away. Religious actors and institutions play ambivalent roles, in some cases resisting and in others supporting the traffic in fabrications and falsehoods.”

It seems that Riccardi-Swartz sees Orthodoxy, particularly Russian Orthodoxy in the U.S., as one of these “problematic” institutions. She spent a year infiltrating an Appalachian parish of ROCOR (Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia) converts under false pretenses to write her book Between Heaven and Russia: Religious Conversion and Political Apostasy in Appalachia. Understandably, the members of this parish felt exploited and betrayed by her less than positive portrayal of them as crazy extremists and a social media frenzy ensued. Since the book’s publication in April 2022, Riccardi-Swartz has become increasingly hostile to all but the most progressive elements inside Orthodoxy. This seems especially true regarding members of ROCOR, since she has repeatedly said she sees them as extremists with Russian nationalist sympathies and enemies of the progressive American hegemony she holds dear.

Prior to working with Recovering Truth, Riccardi-Swartz was a fellow at The Religion, Spirituality, and Democratic Renewal (RSDR) Fellowship of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC). This is another academic organization which states that its goal is to “bring knowledge of the place of religion and spirituality into scholarly and public conversations about renewing democracy in the United States.” This mission statement is almost the same as the one put forth by Recovering Truth. Riccardi-Swartz also has a close working relationship with Fordahm University’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center. In fact, they are her book’s publisher.

What Fordham OCSC, Recovering Truth, and the SSRC all have in common is that they receive the bulk of their funding from the Henry Luce Foundation, as all three mention on their websites. The Luce Foundation is a multi-billion-dollar NGO which says its purpose is to carry on the work of it’s founder, Henry Luce, the creator of Time Magazine. You might be wondering why the Luce Foundation would be funding all three of these otherwise unconnected academic organizations. The reason has to do with the foundation’s origin and mission. 

Henry R. Luce created Time magazine with his fellow Yale alum and Skull and Bones initiate, Briton Hadden. Luce had ties to many exclusive, elite clubs and organizations including the infamous Bohemian Club. As he garnered more wealth, power, and influence throughout his life, Luce also became intimately involved with the CIA, Ivy League elites, banking elites, and international steering committees. It’s been well established that Luce’s companies worked closely with the CIA under Luce’s close friend, John Foster Dulles, to promote what Luce called “the gospel of democracy” as outlined in a February 1941 editorial in his own magazine, Life. In this editorial essay entitled “The Great American Century,” Luce called for a new kind of evangelism. If you go back and read this influential editorial now, it reads as a globalist manifesto reminiscent of the George W. Bush era of intervention around the world. Luce was the son of two Presbyterian missionaries. He compared spreading progressive democratic values to Christian missionary work, saying this was the new American evangelism. He described his vision for a New American Century as one of worldwide revolution, with great changes that would upend the structure of society. Luce said America must embrace the logic of internationalism and become the Good Samaritan of the world, putting a secular new world order agenda ahead of any religious loyalties. Out of this desire the Henry Luce Foundation was born in 1936.

Upon Luce’s death in 1967, the Luce Foundation became the major beneficiary of his estate. In 1968, the Luce Professorship Program was created with the intention of placing academics loyal to the progressive cause in positions of power and influence in academia. Over three decades, the program placed 72 new faculty appointees at more than 50 colleges and universities around the country. By 2005, the foundation was ready to launch the Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion and International affairs. This initiative was aimed at policy makers and scholars who inform them in order to influence domestic and foreign policy decisions. Over the 16 years it was operating, the initiative awarded more than $60 million in grant money to academic, public policy, and media organizations. The initiative supported projects focused on “the role of religion, environment and sustainability, political economy and development, geopolitics, health and education, gender, race and sexuality, law and human rights, social movements, migration and humanitarianism.”  Columbia University was awarded one of these generous grants to create the Center for Democracy, Toleration, and Religion (CDTR) which seeks to wedge feminist, LGBT, and other progressive ideologies into acceptance in tradition religions such as Orthodox Christianity, Traditional Catholicism, and Islam.  

Another Luce Foundation program which seeks to influence religion is the Henry Luce III Fellows in Theology Program. Among the goals of this program are to foster interreligious dialogue and prepare future American Christian leaders for “America’s growing religious diversity.” Barbara Rossing, professor of New Testament at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, used the Luce fellowship to conduct research on the relationship between global warming and current religious notions of the Apocalypse. Luce Theology Fellow Douglas Burton-Christie’s Contemplative Ecology project applied the teachings of early Christian monastic traditions to modern ecological problems. This paragraph from a Luce Foundation paper celebrating 75 years of its influence is very revealing:

“One distinguishing component of the Luce theology fellowships is the requirement that Fellows make their scholarship accessible to broader audiences. This focus on dissemination has yielded impressive results. Fellows have produced more than one hundred books to date, and many have published articles in scholarly journals, church publications and national magazines. Fellows have also become important voices in the media—writing blogs and giving radio and television interviews that provide a scholarly religious perspective on a range of pressing contemporary issues.”

In other words, the foundation uses its tremendous resources to influence religion and policy making as well as public opinion of these topics just as Luce’s magazines cooperating with the CIA have done for 80 years. The foundation allows this to be done under the guise of philanthropy.

Luce Foundation money has certainly put plenty of effort into influencing the Orthodox Church in recent years. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is The Fordham Center for Orthodox Christian Studies Luce-funded 2019 Oxford conference on Orthodox Christianity, Sexual Diversity and Public Policy. The project’s organizers claim it is simply an attempt at “open dialogue” about the reality of LGBT issues in the modern world, condemning any attempt to establish that they have a pro-LGBT agenda. Perhaps contributions such as this one from Gayle Woloschak could be the reason many see this project as a thinly veiled attempt to push LGBT acceptance on the church:

 “We need to consider, as Church, new questions that were not discussed until recently. In relation to sexuality, this will invite us to ask how far we should go in expecting people to ignore genetic inclinations? Are human beings just about evolution (reproduction is the only real driver of evolution) or are we also about relationship and communion? Have we articulated a theology to deal with same-sex behaviors? As in science, so in theology: there is much work to be done.”

The same attitude and agenda shows up time and again in Sarah Riccardi-Swartz’s work. But you don’t have to take my word for it. She says so herself right on her website. In describing one of her latest projects, she says:

“Within conservative forms of Christianity, such as Eastern Orthodoxy, women’s roles have historically been monitored and minimized, with institutional hierarchs silencing the voices of women and members of the LGBT community. What does it mean to be a progressive female activist in a church that historically refuses to acknowledge her equality? … How will conservative Christianity be transformed by women who are leading the way to create a new status quo in the Orthodox Church, one that focuses on inclusivity and intersectionality? This project will reveal how Orthodox feminist activists are pushing back against the hegemony of patriarchal Christianity, seeking not to upend tradition but to transform it, even through socio-religious transgression.”

This is classic gaslighting. People who represent wealthy, influential organizations like the Luce Foundation love to tell us we are imagining a plot to infiltrate the church with far-left ideology while also telling us right to our face on their own websites that they are doing exactly that. There are so many other examples of characters within this network pushing obvious progressive-left agendas inside Orthodoxy that this would turn into a book if I cited even half of them. They all share the same academic affiliations and funding from the United States to England to Greece. As the late comedian George Carlin once said, “it’s a big club, and you aint in it.” These folks claim to be Orthodox Christians, and it is certainly not up to me to judge whether that’s true. However, their own words and actions prove that they put their progressive globalist agenda first when it comes to their work. Once you understand this, you can see why a harmless photo of a jolly old monk on a historic tour might be portrayed as evidence of a sinister right-wing plot to install Putin as theological dictator of America. That assertion is just as absurd as Riccardi-Swartz’s assertion that she does not have a glaring progressive bias.

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