Kanakuk Institute describes itself as “deliver[ing] applicable essentials of seminary, preparing students to live a Christ-exalting life in any occupation” through its eight-month discipleship training program for college graduates. Incorporated as a separate 501(c)3 nonprofit in 2002, its students receive a “Certificate of Leadership and Biblical Studies.” The program has graduated over 1000 students and takes place on Kanakuk Kamps Hawaii-themed family camp campus called K-Kauai in Branson, MO.
Although the program is not accredited, John Brown University (JBU) and three seminaries recognize Kanakuk Institute credit hours. JBU’s student newspaper The Threefold Advocate published a 2021 article arguing that Kanakuk’s history of covering up child sexual abuse should not be met with a forgiveness focus but rather accountability from its leaders.
Keith Chancey is the founder and president of Kanakuk Institute. He began working for Joe White at Kanakuk Kamps in 1979, in lieu of a professional football career, and he continues as the Director for K-Seven, a one-week term that serves Kanakuk campers ages 12-18. He also leads Kanakuk’s football specialty program.
Keith also co-founded the HP Dallas chapter of KLIFE with close friend Todd Wagner, and they have been featured together on KLIFE’s facebook page. Wagner is also a co-founder and former senior pastor and elder of Watermark Community Church in Dallas. He has a long history with Joe White and Kanakuk, in addition to his role with KLIFE, including serving on the teaching faculty of Kanakuk Institute and working as a counselor for Kanakuk Kamps. In September 2020, Wagner took a break from his embroiled role as senior pastor of Watermark to “address the sin of pride.” Wagner returned to his role for a brief period before resigning in April 2021 when he was also stripped of his “Elder Emeritus” role. Nevertheless, Wagner has since been a featured speaker at Kanakuk Institute as recently as September 2021. Wagner is also the author of the “Conflict Resolution Policy” featured in the Kanakuk Institute Handbook.
Keith’s wife, Karen Chancey, serves as Kanakuk Institute’s Director of Women and has also served as the Women’s Director of K-Seven and on the staff of KLIFE in Dallas. Karen has explained that she likes sending her children to Kanakuk because they get to be with friends who also see the Kanakuk culture as “the normal Christian life.” She is a former cheerleader for the Kansas City Chiefs, whose owner, Clark Hunt, is an avid supporter of Kanakuk Kamps, KLIFE and KAA.
Joe White, founder and CEO of Kanakuk Kamps, describes Keith and Karen as his “best buds,” and Karen Chancey as a “twin” to his wife Debbie Jo White. Keith and Karen Chancey’s daughter has also been on the Kanakuk Institute payroll.
Kanakuk Institute fundraises to offset the cost of tuition for students. They report that full tuition costs $20,750 but students are only charged $13,000, thanks to their generous donors and the requirement that Institute attendees are required to put in at least 150 free labor hours for Kanakuk property and operations during their work-study program. The Institute has regularly received donations from Kids Across America, Kanakuk’s set of segregated camps for “urban youth.”
Kanakuk Institute describes its relationship with Kanakuk Ministries as being “related through common control” on several of its 990 tax forms. Kanakuk Ministries-affiliated directors held the majority of the vote on Kanakuk Institute’s board of directors for 13 years. Kanakuk Ministries executives have served on the Kanakuk Institute board of directors for extended periods of time, as follows:
- Doug Goodwin, President and COO of Kanakuk Ministries has served as the Institute’s board secretary for all 20 years of its existence.
- Kris Cooper, former Executive Director of Kanakuk Ministries, served on the board for 13 years and has held the titles of Chairman and President.
- Joe White, founder and CEO of Kanakuk Ministries served on the board for six years.
- Dana Thomas, former COO of Kids Across America and former board member of Men at the Cross, served on the board for eight years. He and his wife were featured speakers at K-Kauai family camp in summer 2021 as well.
- Ron Baldwin, board member of Kanakuk Ministries since 2005, recently joined the Institute board and has served for two years.
Lynn Stucky, a Republican member of the Texas House of Representatives, has been a director for the duration of Kanakuk Institute’s existence. As of 2021, Stucky serves as the institute’s chairman of the board. In 2020, Stucky received criticism for his failure to resign from the board given the Kamp’s history of covering up child sexual abuse and the Kamp’s use of KKK acronyms. Despite Kanakuk Institute’s self-disclosure as being related to Kanakuk Kamps, Stucky submitted a response to the Dallas Observer that “the institute is an entirely separate entity” and “he has no role in what goes on at the summer camps.” Joe White has donated to Stucky’s campaign.
A majority of Kanakuk Institute’s staff members are also employed through Kanakuk Ministries and/or have family members also employed by either Kanakuk or Kanakuk Institute.
Kanakuk Institute has a strict dress code similar to Kanakuk Kamp’s dress code referred to as the “All American Look.” As of the 2021/2022 academic year, Kanakuk Institute requires women to dress modestly at all times including “modest armholes.” Men must have clean cut haircuts and facial hair must have a “distinctive edge.” In a podcast interview, Keith Chancey is described as having a mullet and wearing short shorts when he began working for Kanakuk, which remains a running joke between him and other camp leadership.
Kanakuk Institute students must participate in a practicum with four sections. At least two of the sections of practicum must be done with Kanakuk Kamps. These practicums “are positions within the Kanakuk Kamps Directors offices.” Business ministry practicum is “through the Kanakuk business offices.” Students are encouraged to spend one-on-one time with children they interact with through their practicum and are provided with guidance on how to request this from parents, including a phone call script.
Students are matched with a Branson-based host family and are required to spend time with them at least six times per semester. The institute asks that students “be aware of awkward situations such as female student with Dad or male student with Mom.” Babysitting is encouraged and spending nights in the host family’s home is allowed, despite Kanakuk’s history of child sexual abuse taking place when staff or counselors stay in camper homes.