Revelation & Education: Rhee & Booker Join Hybels’ Christian Summit

-by Doug Martin

Next week (August 11-12), Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker and Michelle Rhee will speak at the Global Leadership Summit. Started in 1996 by Bill Hybels—guru at Willow Creek Community Church, the chief branch of the multi-church Willow Creek Association —the summit takes place just outside of Chicago in a $75 million auditorium and will be beamed via satellite to hundreds of churches in the U.S. and seventy countries, with an expected audience of 165,000.

Believing that the impact of the Church is felt when all of its Christ-centered leaders are at the forefront of establishing and growing well led local churches, companies, schools, governments and social enterprises,” Hybels and summit organizers pride themselves on recruiting church, state, and corporate “somebodies” like Tony Blair, Bono, Jack Welch, and Carly Fiorina to teach pastors and citizens free-market management and leadership skills.

Booker and Rhee, in fact, will not be the first “school reform” stalwarts to highlight the summit’s bill.

Reverend Floyd Flake appeared there in 2007. A longtime pro-voucher Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) member, former president of Edison Schools, and past Democratic U.S. congressman from Queens, Flake joined the Manhattan Institute in the late 1990s and found himself in cahoots with people like Clint Bolick, the right-wing Citizens Initiative on Race and Ethnicity commissioner and co-founder of the Institute for Justice, the anti-affirmative action law firm which has fought lawsuits against school vouchers in several states, currently Indiana.

At the 2008 Global Leadership Summit, Hybels interviewed Teach for America’s Wendy Kopp, who told the pastor that her “greatest asset” in the organization’s building was her “inexperience.” Although TFA’s “shake-and-bake” teachers (as George Schmidt calls them) only train a few weeks before miring in urban classrooms, Kopp insists her teachers say that “‘Teacher quality. Principle quality and Academic expectation for kids’ will make all the difference in America’s education.”

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ Lifetime Achievement Award winner, Bill Clinton, also wooed the Leadership Summit’s 2000 crowd. In fact, Bill Hybels was Clinton’s spiritual adviser when the president opened up our last frontier, the public schools, to the privatizing blitzkrieg of charter operators.

Both Hybels and his wife, Lynne, buddy with Barack Obama, too. In 2010, Mr. Hybels introduced the “Race to the Top” president for a speech on immigration reform at American University, and Obama recruited Lynne, this year, for the White House Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Lynne oversees the Middle East Engagement branch at Willow Creek and blogs at God’s Politics, a website administered by another advisory council member, Jim Wallis, Obama’s new spiritual adviser. Although Wallis has supported public school teachers (and TFA), he remains a school voucher advocate and often attacks the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Whereas Wallis has been deemed an “anti-capitalist” by conservatives, Hybels and his Willow group seem eager to promote a society dominated by free-market radicals merged into church and state.

Vouchers, charter schools, and corporate funding, in fact, could be key to this year’s summit.

Michelle Rhee should blend perfectly with the summit’s group of speakers (Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz, among others), fundraising for her ironically named StudentsFirst group, which she claims has 500,000 followers. In the midst of a breaking story on cheating scandals on standardized testing under her watch over the D.C. schools (which she blamed on “flat-earth” school reform opponents), Rhee, a pseudo-Democrat, traveled this year to Indiana, Florida, Wisconsin, and Tennessee to help pass voucher, charter school, and anti-teacher seniority bills.

After tag-teaming with Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett to celebrate the Betsy DeVos family’s American Federation for Children, Rhee will be blessed by Bill Hybels, who invited Rich DeVos of Amway, Betsy’s father-in-law, to the Leadership Summit in 2000. Two years later, his son Dick laid out the plan to use vouchers to destroy public schools at a speech at the Heritage Foundation, warning that conspirators must be “cautious about talking too much about these activities” for fear of a public backlash.

Hybels, himself, has received much backlash from fellow Christians, who accuse him of spreading “Christianity Lite” with his free-market approach to Jesus and millions in revenue from his many books, videos, and sermons. Often, his critics say, Hybels’ outfit sends facilitators to sell his REVEAL Spiritual Life Survey program to churches, so local pastors can research, market, survey, and track their church’s growth into a profitable business.

As an adviser to the Betsy DeVos family funded BAEO, Cory Booker’s visit to the Global Leadership Summit also seems predestined. Mayor Booker, who Glen Ford calls a “Trojan Horse for the rich ring-wingers” gung-ho on privatizing education, has paraded for school vouchers since he co-founded Excellent Education for Everyone (E3), whose current board sitter, BAEO’s Derrell Bradford, helps direct the St. Anthony Catholic High School and the Immaculate Conception High School in New Jersey. At the summit, Booker could rake in Christian money for his Newark school privatizing scheme, adding to the Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates coffers, not to mention the donations of Eagle Capital Management’s Elizabeth and Ravenel Curry, who have generously funded Education Reform Now, a group tied closely to the Democrats for Education Reform where their son is a board member and Booker is an advisor.

Hybels’ Christian school business, too, could benefit from Rhee and Booker. The Willow Creek Association operates the Washtenaw Christian Academy in Saline, Michigan, and is affiliated with the Lighthouse Community Church & Academy in Pennsylvania. Although Michigan voters killed vouchers this year, the Pennsylvania debate continues this fall, with a bill sponsored by BAEO’s Senator Anthony Hardy Williams, a charter school board director with Dawn Chavous, the cousin of BAEO leader Kevin Chavous and boss of the Students First PAC, a non-Rhee affiliated Keystone state pro-choice group which was awarded $1,100,000 from Betsy DeVos’ American Federation for Children this year. With 10,000 member-churches (and even child care centers) worldwide, Willow Creek also runs Student Impact, the High School Ministry of Willow Creek Community Church, and offers a $399.00 52-week Sunday school curriculum, as well as 7-week online courses for ministry leaders to develop their leadership and spiritual skills.

Tickets for the Global Leadership Summit satellite locations run $269.00 for individuals. Although it is unknown if Rhee and Booker will be paid for their wisdom, it sure looks like the stars will line up over Illinois for the leaders there this week. Frankly, only the Lord knows what Hybels, Rhee, and Booker can do when they put their funding sources and shenanigans together. The Garden of Eden for “school reformers” is about to get a lot more green.

A Walt Whitman scholar and poet, Doug Martin is based in Indiana and is a frequent contributor to Firedoglake.

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