When Charity Is Labeled “Hate”
The culture war has a new front: philanthropic giving. That is, charity. And Christians, once again, are in the crosshairs. Even if you’ve never heard of Guidestar, trust me, philanthropists are very familiar with the organization. Guidestar’s stated mission is “To revolutionize philanthropy by providing information that advances transparency, enables users to make better decisions, and encourages charitable giving.” To that end, Guidestar gathers and provides information “about each nonprofit’s mission, legitimacy, impact, reputation, finances, programs, transparency, governance, and so much more.” For two decades, Guidestar has provided a very valuable service to would-be donors. Recently, however that “so much more” part of their mission statement, temporarily turned the organization into a combatant in the culture wars. Earlier this year, in addition to their usual financial information, Guidestar also included a banner at the top of the webpage telling potential donors that certain groups had been designated as “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, or the SPLC. Back in 1981 the SPLC started publishing a quarterly report listing groups that, in its words, “have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.” For most of the next 36 years, the groups singled out were obvious racists ones, like the KKK or Nazis, or more subtle ones that the SPLC believed promoted white supremacy. Then, as Ed Stetzer put it on “BreakPoint This Week,” the SPLC’s focus moved from civil rights to the sexual revolution. In 2010, it listed the Family Research Council as a hate group, and last year, added the Alliance Defending Freedom to the list. Now calling the FRC a “hate group” is absurd. It doesn’t attack or malign anyone, unless merely holding traditional Christian beliefs on marriage and sexuality somehow constitutes “maligning” or “attacking.” And if FRC’s inclusion is absurd, ADF’s is, as Chuck Colson liked to say, outrageous. For starters, ADF isn’t even an advocacy group. It’s a legal defense group, the kind of mirror image of the ACLU. If ADF’s defense of Barronelle Stutzman constitutes attacking or maligning gays and lesbians, then why did the ACLU’s defense of Nazis who wished to march in Skokie, Illinois, not constitute a maligning of the town’s Jewish residents? So I agree with the group of forty-one conservatives who, in a letter to Guidestar protested its use of SPLC designations, saying that “The ‘hate group’ list is nothing more than a political weapon targeting people [the SPLC] deems to be its political enemies.” And it isn’t only conservatives who are critical of the SPLC. In 2009, left-wing journalist Alexander Cockburn, writing in The Nation, called the “Hate Group” designation a fundraising tool, designed to “[scare] dollars out of the pockets of trembling liberals aghast at his lurid depictions of hate-sodden America.” Now, the good news is that the controversy over including the designation resulted in Guidestar removing the offending information, as Guidestar put it, “for the time being.” The bad news is that Guidestar will continue to make “this information available to any user on request.” In other words, it’s still chosen to be a co-belligerent in the culture wars. But this whole story makes clear that the belief that holding traditional Christian convictions about marriage and sexuality constitutes maligning or attacking others is still very much with us. What’s happened with Guidestar is a reminder that the battle for religious freedom won’t only, or even primarily, be waged in the courts. That’s not to say that the recent Supreme Court victory in the Trinity Lutheran case wasn’t hugely important. Of course it was. But as Chuck Colson liked to say, influencing the culture, securing our freedoms, will take place over the backyard fence and at barbecues, and maybe even less likely places, like financial websites.