The son of Pastor Douglas Wilson of the controversial Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, and a close associate made significant inroads into mainstream culture in America with a successful streaming cartoon.
The Guardian has previously explained how the church, which aims to create a theocracy in the United States, has increased its power and influence in its hometown, while campaigning vehemently against efforts to curb the coronavirus pandemic. These developments come amid a wider rise of the right wing in the United States.
Prominent people within Christ Church use television and book publishing to enter American popular culture and promote Christian messages.
Wilson’s son Nathan Wilson and his manager and close associate Aaron Rench simultaneously attempted to fund a creationist nature documentary starring Douglas Wilson’s brother Gordon and continued to market youth fiction. adults through a mainstream editor.
In recent years, the couple have taken control of two companies associated with Christ Church through limited liability companies that have limited legal and financial reporting obligations.
Church watchers have raised questions about the extent to which church-aligned businesses and crowdfunding campaigns can advance its agenda in the arena of popular culture.
The Guardian’s investigations have shown how Christ Church has accumulated power, concentrated in the hands of the family of Douglas Wilson and a few others.
Nathan Wilson and Rench’s relationship is evident in a sprawling, lucrative business that integrates publishing, media production, and real estate.
Wilson, writing under the name ND Wilson, is the author of a number of bestselling books for young adults and children. Some of these are published by Canon Press, a conservative Christian publisher that Wilson and Rench bought from the church in 2013.
But most are published with mainstream publishers, including two trilogies and two stand-alone books with Penguin Random House and one trilogy with Katherine Tegen Books, an imprint of Harper Collins.
Rench, who is a member of Christ Church with his brother, Gabriel, is the literary agent for Nathan Wilson through his own literary group Leaptide.
The pair have also branched out into media production.
This year saw the fourth season of a children’s animated program, Hello Ninja, screened on Netflix. The series is based on a picture book written by Wilson and published by the children’s publishing house of Canon Press.
The books and the series feature children transforming into ninjas and entering a magical kingdom.
Rench and ND Wilson are both listed as executive producers of the show’s first series in 2019. Wilson remains credited as an executive producer and is credited as the show’s creator. Netflix is listed as a production company, but the couple’s production company, Gorilla Poet Productions (GPP), has elsewhere been identified as a co-producer.
Previously, along with other adaptations of ND Wilson books, GPP was involved in cultural war documentaries centered around Douglas Wilson.
In 2008, GPP and Rench produced Collision, which chronicles a series of debates between Wilson and the late writer and famous atheist Christopher Hitchens.
Then, in 2015, GPP was linked with another film, The Free Speech Apocalypse, which recounted the events at Indiana University in 2012 when students and others protested Wilson’s speech on the grounds of it. which they considered his homophobia.
More recently, Rench and Wilson sought crowdfunding for a nature documentary series, The Riot and the Dance, which is expected to feature the creationist views of Gordon Wilson – Nathan’s uncle, Douglas’s brother and senior history researcher. natural at Christ Church – New Saint Andrews Aligned College.
Kristin Du Mez is professor of history at Calvin University and author of Jesus and John Wayne, A Critical History of Evangelical White Christianity in the United States, which includes a close examination of Douglas Wilson’s leadership on Christ Church.
Asked about Wilson’s publishing and media businesses, Du Mez said, “Conservative evangelicals have a long history of promoting their religious and political values through popular culture.
She added that evangelicals produced media for other evangelicals seeking to protect themselves and their families from the “corrupt influences” of secular culture. Suddenly, Du Mez wrote that “it’s always good to follow the money”.
“Since there is a captive market that has been told to be wary of ‘secular’ culture, there is a lot of money to be made by producing religious-themed products, especially those aimed at a conservative audience,” he said. concluded Du Mez.
In an SEC filing that describes the crowdfunding effort, the rationale for the series is laid out.
“For too long, documentaries about nature, a multibillion-dollar sector of the entertainment industry, have been completely controlled by groups who do not believe in a divine creator,” the document said.
The documents show that while all production costs will be collected from the crowdfunding patrons, who will receive equity and a share of the profit if the production is successful, Wilson and Rench have been awarded more than 90% of the shares. with voting rights of the company after making no cash contribution. The pair say they created the series and that their contribution was not monetary but rather their time and skill.
Nathan Wilson did not respond to a request for comment.
Netflix declined to say if they are still in partnership with Wilson and Rench, or the nature of any partnership.
This article was last modified on January 7, 2021. An earlier version incorrectly suggested that the books and films produced by Nathan Wilson and Aaron Rench were from Christ Church, while the subtitle incorrectly implied that Rench was a “chef” church. The article was edited at the same time to clarify that Hello Ninja was published by an imprint of Canon Press after Wilson and Rench acquired this publishing business from the church in 2013. A section relating to the couple’s business affairs has also been reissued, and their position regarding the allocation of shares in the company behind The Riot and the Dance has been added. GPP is owned by both Wilson and Rench, and although he was involved in The Free Speech Apocalypse, he did not produce the film as an earlier version suggested. Collision was released in 2009 but produced the year before.