Taxpayer Supported World Relief Responds Evasively to CAMERA Challenge

World Relief is the humanitarian arm of the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella organization of Evangelical Protestant churches in the United States.

In 2010, World Relief, headquartered in Maryland, launched an organization called “The Justice Conference,” a peace and justice organization that hosts events in a number of countries throughout the world.

Just to get a sense of the deep connections between World Relief and the Justice Conference it is important to know up front that in 2014, World Relief obtained the trademark for the Justice Conference name and logo from the United States Trade and Patent Office.

Discussions about the Arab-Israeli conflict feature prominently at Justice Conference events. For example, Lynne Hybels, who has promoted anti-Israel propaganda at the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference in 2012, is scheduled to speak at the upcoming Justice Conference taking place in Chicago.

In early March, the Justice Conference hosted an event in South Africa at which Clint Le Bruyns spoke. Le Bruyns, a theologian who teaches at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, has posted some troubling images on his Facebook page, one of which appears to endorse anti-Israel violence, specifically, rock throwing, an activity that has cost several Israelis their lives. The image in question is posted below. Note the machine gun painted on the wall behind the man holding the rock.

A proponent of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Le Bruyns participated in an anti-Israel flotilla as part of the Palestinian Solidarity Alliance.

He has also posted images that lionize Che Guevara, who was responsible for executing hundreds, if not thousands, of people during the Cuban revolution.

Le Bruyns’ postings seem to contradict one of the main tenets of the Justice Conference movement — a commitment to nonviolence. Justice Conference’s website states “Violence begets more violence and never repairs the relational wounds of the historic past.”

Upon discovering Le Bruyns’ postings and support for anti-Israel BDS activism, CAMERA made phone calls and sent emails to officials at both the National Association of Evangelicals and World Relief. CAMERA asked about World Relief’s support for the Justice Conference in South Africa.

In particular, CAMERA asked about the financial support World Relief provides to the Justice Conference in South Africa. “Does World Relief provide assistance to the Justice Conference in South Africa? If so, how much?” CAMERA asked.

The NAE responded by stating that CAMERA should direct its inquiry to Jenny Yang, Senior Vice President for World Relief. CAMERA sent an email to World Relief on March 23 and was assured that it would be sent to Yang. CAMERA never received a response from Yang, nor did Yang respond to a message left on her voice machine.

World Relief’s failure to disclose its financial support for the Justice Conference contradicts its stated commitment to transparency and accountability.

Both donors and taxpayers have an interest in knowing how much support World Relief gave to the Justice Conference. According to World Relief’s tax form for 2015, the organization received approximately $42 million (more than 70 percent of its overall income) from government grants and public sources. The remainder — approximately $16 million — apparently came from private donors.

Five days after asking about World Relief’s support for the Justice conference (and getting no answer), CAMERA researcher Dexter Van Zile posted an article on the Times of Israel website. The article highlighted the connections between World Relief and the Justice Conference of South Africa. The article, which can be read here, reads in part:

The ties between the Justice Conference movement and the NAE’s World Relief organization have historically been pretty strong. Stephan Bauman, who served as World Relief’s President/CEO from 2011 to 2016, is the founder of the Justice Conference movement and World Relief has sponsored Justice Conference events. On its website World Relief declaresthat it “partners” with the Justice Conference “so that the lives of the vulnerable can thrive and grow.”
Exactly what does all this mean financially? It’s tough to know because World Relief is not saying. An inquiry to the National Association of Evangelicals press office about World Relief’s current involvement with the Justice Conference movement, and in particular in South Africa was met with a referral to the press officer at World Relief (who has not responded to a phone and email inquiry). (Emphasis added.) [Note: In attempting to get a response from World Relief, CAMERA reached out to Jenny Yang, whose official title is “Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Policy.”]
Regardless of how much financial support World Relief provides to the Justice Conference, its involvement with the movement provides cover for anti-Israel and pro-violence messaging from folks such as Le Bruyns.
Christian organizations should not be sponsoring events or “partnering” with organizations that give the podium to people who lionize rock throwers and murderers like Che Guevara.

The article concluded by asking: “How will World Relief and its parent organization, the National Association of Evangelicals, respond?”

Apparently, the article had an impact. Soon after its publication, Justice Conference South Africa removed any reference to the speakers at its March event from its webpage. It also removed some of the more provocative and overtly political images from its site.

World Relief’s Evasive Response

On March 29, 2017 World Relief posted the following response to the Times of Israel article on its website. The statement quotes World Relief’s CEO, Tim Breene as follows:

World Relief is not a political organization and it does not take policy positions except in extenuating circumstances. Though, World Relief condemns all forms of anti-Semitism. The blog published by The Times of Israel was grossly inaccurate and mischaracterized World Relief. (Emphasis added.) With regard to the referenced conference in South Africa, World Relief had no part in the selection of any of the speakers, and our organization outright and unequivocally condemns all of those who advocate for or allude to any type of violence whatsoever.

Breene’s response does not address the questions first directed to Jenny Yang in late March: “Does World Relief provide assistance to the Justice Conference in South Africa? If so, how much?”

In the statement, Tim Breene declares the article in the Times of Israel was grossly inaccurate and that it mischaracterized World Relief — without saying exactly how the article got it wrong. As noted below, CAMERA has made subsequent efforts to elicit a response from World Relief but has heard nothing directly from the organization.

World Relief Given Awarded Trademark for “The Justice Conference”

The central issue is World Relief’s connection to the Justice Conference, which is well documented and is much deeper than was outlined in the Times of Israel article.

As stated previously, the United States Patent and Trademark Office awarded World Relief the trademark for “The Justice Conference” and its logo in 2014. The Justice Conference South Africa uses this logo in its materials. Readers can search the database for the USPTO themselves here. The trademark registration number is 4636649.

CAMERA contacted the NAE, World Relief and World Relief’s PR company asking if it still owns the trademark for Justice Conference’s logo. The NAE responded by directing CAMERA to World Relief and its PR company. “As you have reached out to them, we do not have anything to add,” the NAE representative declared in an email sent on April 13, 2017. Neither World Relief nor its public relations company has responded to queries about the Justice Conference trademark.

The connections between World Relief and the Justice Conference are substantial. The Justice Conference’s website declares the following: “In 2010, Ken Wytsma (of Antioch Church in Bend, Oregon) and Stephan Bauman (of World Relief) founded The JUSTICE Conferencewith a group of like-minded friends in Bend, Oregon.”

At the time of the Justice Conference’s founding in 2010, Stephan Bauman, mentioned above, was serving as World Relief’s Senior Vice President of Programs and was elected president and CEO the following year.

In 2015 the Washington Post published an op-ed by Bauman. The bio underneath the article describes him as follows: “Stephan Bauman is president and CEO of World Relief, which empowers the worldwide church to overcome global poverty and injustice. He is also executive director of The Justice Conference…”

In other words, Bauman worked as head of both World Relief and the Justice Conference concurrently. That indicates a pretty deep relationship between the two organizations.

Bauman no longer works for World Relief, but there is another staff member who currently works for both The Justice Conference and World Relief. His name is Mark Reddy.

The website for the Justice Conference states that Reddy, who serves as the organization’s executive director “is also the current SVP of Brand at World Relief USA.” In other words, one of the Senior Vice Presidents of World Relief is in charge of the operations of the Justice Conference.

There’s more. A World Relief press release issued in early 2016 declares that World Relief “launched The Justice Conference, a global movement seeking to meaningfully combine faith and action.” Elsewhere on its website, World Relief declares that it “partners” with the Justice Conference.

Despite “launching” the Justice Conference, declaring it a partner, obtaining its trademark and sharing staff members with the movement, World Relief is, through a statement from its CEO, attempting to distance itself from the speakers and content of the conference in South Africa declaring, “With regard to the referenced conference in South Africa, World Relief had no part in the selection of any of the speakers…”

Did it vet the speakers? Given the tight, interlocking relationship between World Relief and the Justice Conference, World Relief bears responsibility for the content of the Justice Conference whether it chose the speakers or not. Breene’s statement indicates that World Relief did not exercise proper oversight over the Justice Conference’s actions.

Interestingly enough, Breene’s statement did not even mention the name of the conference being discussed. This is interesting given that early last year, World Relief took credit for launching the Justice Conference movement.

The upshot is this: The Justice Conference is a creature of World Relief, which according to its tax documents is officially called the World Relief Corporation of National Association of Evangelicals.
While there is some institutional distance between the NAE and the Justice Conference, at least some responsibility for the content at the event in South Africa leads back to the NAE.

Most of the responsibility, however, leads back to World Relief. World Relief cannot take credit for its support of the Justice Conference and then walk away from the content when controversy erupts. It apparently owns the trademark for the movement — which it founded — and one of its senior staffers, Mark Reddy is executive director of the movement.

Both the NAE and World Relief need to exercise greater oversight over the Justice Conference and ensure that the events it holds do not promote anti-Zionist hostility and violence.

World Relief also needs to come clean about its financial support and managerial oversight of the Justice Conference. World Relief does important work, work that is supported by private donors and American taxpayers who have a right to know if the organization is supporting anti-Israel activists even in far away places like South Africa.

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