“After all, we are bound together by Jesus’s blood,” my pastor said. “Anyone who knows Christ and has accepted him as their Lord and Savior is my brother.” This call to solidarity was ringing in my ears nearly 17 years after the words had left his lips. Strangely enough, it was a 324-page tax return that resurrected his words in my mind. It wasn’t my tax return, I barely even glance at those. It belongs to the hydra-esque National Christian Charitable Foundation or National Christian Foundation (NCF) for short.

Never heard of the NCF? You have surely seen the fruits of its labor. Perhaps you live in one of the twelve states where the law mandates “In God We Trust” to be scrawled on the walls of your public schools. Or you live somewhere with that legislation still in the works. Maybe you’ve visited the massive Bible museum in DC which recently got in trouble for illegally acquiring antiquities. Seen any large-scale anti-abortion or anti-LGBTQ protests? Or maybe you’ve heard the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) arguing for the sterilization of trans people? Pretty much any movement, organization, or event that could be confused with an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale is likely to have had at least some portion of its budget filter through the NCF.

According to the organization’s website, it has dished out more than $14 billion since 1982 to around 63,000 different groups, making NCF one of the largest nonprofits in America. An investigation by the anti-corruption magazine Sludge pins the NCF as the eighth-largest public charity in the country. 

Not all the organizations that receive grants from the NCF are political heavyweights like the ADF or the infamous Family Research Council. Before I left Evangelicalism, I worked for several youth ministries which had received grants from the NCF. Essentially, any entity which qualifies for nonprofit status and generally aligns itself with the NCF’s worldview can receive funding. The group’s core beliefs are fairly straightforward: belief in the inerrant and literal nature of the Bible, Jesus dying for sins, there only being two genders, and the belief that Christ will soon return to Earth. 

While the NCF signs the checks, the money does not originate with the organization. That’s because the NCF is a Donor Advised Fund, a special type of non-profit that is allowed to donate funds to other organizations, serving as a sort of pass-through entity for people who wish to give anonymously to intended recipients. On top of that, the donors receive better tax breaks than if they gave directly to the organization itself. Sure, the NCF ultimately has the last call on where the money ends up, but as long as the desired nonprofit aligns itself the NCF’s few fundamentalist tenets, there won’t be a problem.

“I haven’t seen anything like NCF in all the years since I began monitoring charities…They’ve created a money making machine far beyond anything. There’s certainly nothing comparable on the progressive side, nothing that comes close to generating this amount of capital…It’s a one-stop shop for conservative funders,” Rick Cohen, the former head of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy said in a 2005 interview. “Here’s a place to park their money and put it to work. These people have discovered every conceivable mechanism to generate capital. It’s unparalleled.”

The NCF is far from alone in being a massive donor-advised fund that directs funds to far-right organizations. Donors Trust is another similar group, historically backed by Charles and David Koch, which had expenditures of $145 million in 2018 alone. Even more traditional, non-partisan groups like Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund, America’s largest such organization, have been used to give over $100,000 to a white nationalist magazine and website.

It wasn’t the familiar names or even spotting a former employer that had conjured the sermon by my former pastor. As I scanned the interminable list of entities receiving funds from the NCF and the donors those funds represent, I was struck by how disparate they appeared on the surface. Baptist, Pentecostal, or Catholic it didn’t seem to matter. Apparently, people at the NCF didn’t care overly much about age-old squabbles between denominations.

They had something far grander in mind, Christian nationalism, a term which Clemson researcher and sociologist Andrew Whitehead and University of Oklahoma sociologist Samuel Perry define in their book, Taking America Back for God, as “a cultural framework that blurs distinctions between Christian identity and American identity, viewing the two as closely related and seeking to enhance and preserve their union. It is undergirded by identification with a conservative political orientation (though not necessarily a political party), Bible belief, premillennial visions of moral decay, and divine sanction for conquest. Finally, its conception of morality centers exclusively on fidelity to religion and fidelity to the nation.”

Beyond defining the term, Whitehead and Perry also utilized a series of quantitative surveys done over multiple years with thousands of people as well as in-depth qualitative interviews done by the authors themselves. Based on their research, the authors found that 78 percent of American Evangelicals are either casual supporters of Christian nationalism (which they called being “accomodators”) or ardent supporters of it (“ambassadors.”)

Catholic respondents were somewhat more interested in pluralism, but still, 52 percent were either accomodators or ambassadors for Christian nationalism, more than enough to build a large-scale political movement designed to wrest control of society from the majority of people who disagree. A shared belief that all Scripture is “breathed out by God” allows for concrete and unchangeable bedrock that Christian nationalists can use to anchor themselves.

Interpretations of the source may differ, but as long as all agree that the source itself is perfect, they can join the party. The “fidelity to religion and fidelity to the nation” has granted their interpretation of the Constitution with a God-given nature of its own. When mixed with a persecution complex and a large helping of reactionary dogma, the final product is an incredibly potent demand that America return to a mythical Christian heritage.

The National Christian Foundation’s structure itself is a synecdoche of the intricate and complex system of the national religious right with its labyrinth of affiliated organizations with overlapping boards. The group’s management of a constant flow of money in and out of networks is so complicated that only a subpoena could sort it out, tying together people from differing denominations and theologies to accomplish a common goal: fundamentalist control of American society at every level.

The heads of the NCF meet yearly with religious leaders and conservative politicians at the ominously named event called “The Gathering.” According to the conference’s website, the Gathering was established in 1985 as a “time each year to find a safe, neutral place to relax, talk and learn – and to hopefully bring their families.” 

The website provides no mention about attendees or membership and no longer mentions that The Gathering was created at an Arlington, Virginia, retreat center known as The Cedars. Perhaps this is because The Cedars belongs to “The Family” of Netflix notoriety. For those yet to watch the documentary, or read the books on which it’s based, The Family or the “Fellowship” is a extremist Evangelical group which holds the National Prayer Breakfast each year and commands a significant amount of influence in DC and around the world in pursuit of what scholars of contemporary religion refer to as “Dominionism.”

What is Dominionism? Essentially, Dominionists view the Great Commission as a command to spread Christian dominion over the entire world. They assert that Christians must gain absolute authority over the entire planet before Jesus can return. They have even come up with a corporate-sounding strategy to rid the planet of secular society and thus hasten the end of the world called the “Seven-Mountain Mandate.”

By seizing control of the world’s “seven spheres, or mountains, of societal influence” Dominionists believe they will have fulfilled the necessary Biblical prophecies for Christ’s return. The Seven Mountains are Religion, Family, Education, Government, Media, Arts & Entertainment, and Business. Looking through the NCF’s tax returns, I can see hundreds of climbers cresting each mountain.

Hundreds of think tanks, para-church organizations, megachurches, lobbyists, super PACs, legal defense funds, activist groups, and countless others all working in tandem for a singular purpose? Feels a bit tinfoil hat doesn’t it? Completely understandable. However, the connections aren’t tied together by red strings on a corkboard. They are stated clearly in mission statements and tax returns. Think of it as a market economy. Inside of a market economy, each corporation or business shares the same goal, to make money. A nefarious mastermind pulling the strings in the background isn’t needed to make the system work. Simply replace money with Christian hegemony and you get the picture, although there is plenty of money to be made in the process as well.

But if there’s no bald man at the top plotting the overthrow of democracy with his white cat. What can be done? Men can be jailed and cats placed with nice elderly couples who crochet. How do you even begin to tackle something as wily as an ideology? A classic dilemma, but a good place to start is by dismantling the infrastructure necessary to funnel unaccountable money to political organizations. A close second would be reevaluating how churches, para-church organizations, and nonprofits are defined within the law and tightening the regulations governing how they can act politically. No single action will be perfect or enough, but we have to start countering Christian nationalism wherever we spot it. A pluralistic society and healthy democracy demand it.