The Conservative Baptist Network received a $50,000 contribution in 2022 from the far-right political group Turning Point USA, according to tax filings. Its purpose was “awareness of traditional American values.”
Turning Point USA is led by Charlie Kirk, who is one of the most visible advocates of Christian nationalism and Trumpism as a merger of church and state. The now defunct Falkirk Center at Liberty University was named by meshing the names Falwell and Kirk.
CBN, formed in 2020, seeks to push the Southern Baptist Convention further to the right politically and theologically. Although a loud presence, the group has been largely unsuccessful in getting its candidates elected and its agenda implemented.
In June 2022, during the SBC annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif., CBN held a breakfast rally attended by about 1,100 people. Charlie Kirk was one of the keynote speakers.
Journalist Robert Downen, then writing for the Houston Chronicle, reported: “Hours before the start of a consequential meeting on sexual abuse, a Southern Baptist splinter group hosted right-wing politico Charlie Kirk and decried Critical Race Theory and other hot-button political issues that they said were existential threats to the nation’s second-largest faith group.”
Kirk warned the breakfast crowd “of a coming wave of persecution of Christians that pastors must actively push back against,” Downen reported. One way Kirk said to resist that coming persecution was to vote for Tom Ascol, the CBN candidate for SBC president that year, who was not elected.
Kirk said many pastors have been “complicit” in attacks on Christianity: “It’s the pastor who walks in the (Black Lives Matter) march. It’s the pastor who puts a rainbow flag outside their church. It’s the pastor who says Jesus might have been a socialist or that the Bible” is not the literal word of God.
He lamented: “Our beautiful faith is under attack from within.”
Whether Turning Point USA funded the CBN breakfast is not clear. However, at typical hotel banquet rates of $40 to $50 a head, a $50,000 gift would have covered most of the expense for 1,100 people in attendance.
The donation was so large that Turning Point USA was required to report it on its 2021 federal Form 990. A copy of that tax filing was published on Twitter over the weekend by the Center for Media and Democracy and was retweeted by a user known as SBC Platform, who frequently critiques what some have derisively called “the Network boys.”
Making a $50,000 gift was easily done by Turning Point USA, which for tax year 2021 (July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022) reported $80.6 million in income and $71.9 million in expenses, including an $11 million distribution to Turning Point Endowment, a related entity that ended the year with $42.6 million in assets.
The group derived most of its income that year from “contributions and grants” totaling $79 million. Of that, $23 million came through fundraising activities and $56 million came through gifts and grants.
The amounts reported on various expense lines are extraordinary compared to the typical American nonprofit: $17.7 million on conferences and events, $5.5 million on advertising, $6 million on educational materials, $2.7 million on printing and publications, $12 million on grants and assistance to other domestic organizations.
Gifts and grants to Turning Point USA have grown exponentially over the past five years, from $10.8 million in 2017 to $79.2 million in 2021.
According to the tax filings, Kirk brings in just under $400,000 a year in compensation from Turning Point USA.
From the time of the “conservative resurgence” that captured the SBC in the 1980s and ’90s, the nation’s largest non-Catholic denomination has been closely associated with the Republican Party. The rise of Trumpism and Christian nationalism has divided traditional conservatives in the SBC from ultra-conservatives.
While Turning Point USA’s tax filings are public, BNG was unable to locate any public records for the Conservative Baptist Network. The group, which describes itself as a nonprofit, does not show up in a search of IRS records for recognized charities or on the website GuideStar, an independent aggregator of nonprofit data.
Normally, registered charities show up on the IRS website, even if they’re not required to file Form 990 because of being classified as a “church.”
CBN has not publicly responded to publication of its $50,000 contribution from Turning Point USA.
To learn more about Charlie Kirk, read Word&Way.