On Monday, I had the great privilege of speaking with the co-founders of GiveSendGo, the number one Christian crowdfunding site. Heather Wilson and Jacob Wells told me they founded GiveSendGo about six years ago in order to “share the hope of Jesus in the world.” The site gained renewed attention last August after it allowed Kyle Rittenhouse to fundraise on the platform.
Perhaps an excessive focus on political news has made me something of a cynic. At first, I didn’t quite connect the dots. “What does crowdfunding have to do with sharing the Hope of Jesus?” I thought. Then, it clicked.
People resort to crowdfunding because they’re desperate. Take Kyle Rittenhouse, for example. This 17-year-old boy traveled to Kenosha, Wisc., which had turned into a battleground during the destructive Black Lives Matter/antifa riots over the summer. He went there to defend property and help people out. Before the shootings that made him infamous across the country, Rittenhouse provided medical help to some of the Black Lives Matter protesters.
That fateful evening, as Rittenhouse was fleeing some hecklers, he heard the sound of gunfire and shot a person pursuing him. In another altercation, he fired his rifle as he fell to the ground, chased by several people. According to videos released by The New York Times, it seems Rittenhouse fired in self-defense.
Yet the legacy media rushed to brand Kyle Rittenhouse a “white supremacist.” Much of the news coverage suggested he traveled to Kenosha to attack “peaceful protesters.” Rittenhouse tried to raise money for his legal defense, but crowdfunding sites booted him from their platforms.
When he came to GiveSendGo, Rittenhouse found thousands of people willing to encourage him and send him some cash to help him defend himself in court. He found support and comfort amid what must have been deep despair.
“With crowdfunding, one of the benefits is you can feel support. It can help you from feeling alone,” Heather Wilson explained.
Jacob Wells told the story of Jake Gardner, a military veteran who served in Iraq and who opened fire after his bar got attacked in the Black Lives Matter riots last summer.
At first, police said they weren’t going to press charges because Gardner’s case apparently involved self-defense. Yet activists forced a grand jury and Gardner went into hiding. In May and June, he found himself vilified with little to no support.
In August, Rittenhouse raised money for his legal defense, and that seems to have inspired Gardner to reach out. He set up a campaign on GiveSendGo, but his story had fallen away from the news cycle. In his thank-you emails for the campaign, Gardner put his personal phone number “because he was desperate for connection,” Wells said.
The grand jury came back and said authorities would press charges against Gardner. At the end of his rope, the man committed suicide.
“To me, this is a literal death murder by deplatforming,” Wells told PJ Media. “Facebook, Twitter, GoFundMe, his blood is on their hands because they cut him off from being able to receive that support.”
“Kyle Rittenhouse received that support. He was able to make it through his time in jail. Jake Gardner didn’t get any of that. He was completely cut off and in a place of despair,” Wells said.
“He felt alone, helpless, and hopeless. We wanted to share hope with him,” Wilson told PJ Media.
Crowdfunding can give hope to the hopeless. It is a concrete way for people to encourage one another and say, “You’re not alone.”
GiveSendGo has faced criticism recently because the crowdfunding site allows people who have been charged with federal crimes related to the Capitol riot to raise money for their legal defense on the platform.
Wells compared his work with GiveSendGo to Jesus’s outreach to “sinners” during His ministry.
“Jesus was labeled a friend of sinners, that’s what the moralists of the day said about him,” the co-founder said. He said GiveSendGo aims to “share hope with people from whatever stripe.”
Christians believe that God didn’t just make the world and make humans in His image — He sacrificed His only Son so that sinful humans who rebelled against Him could find reconciliation and hope. This week is Holy Week in the Western Christian calendar, the week during which Christians remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, His Last Supper on Maundy Thursday, His Crucifixion on Good Friday, and His Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Jesus paid the ultimate price for those who believe in Him, and He gave them the right to become children of God, not just to enjoy Heaven forever but to be fulfilled in the presence of the One who created the universe and whose heart brims with love for them all. This ultimate hope is the wellspring of all Christian hope, and it should inspire Christians to give everyone a second chance — because God gave us the ultimate second chance.
GiveSendGo does not condone the violent lawbreaking of the Capitol riot, but it does offer those who are facing federal charges related to the riot a place to find support and a path forward. These people have a right to a robust legal defense, and more importantly, they’re the kind of “sinners” that Jesus wants His disciples to help.
Christians know how important it is to offer forgiveness and redemption without condoning sin and violence. Wilson and Wells put that hope into practice. Their website shows the heart of God for the lost.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.