What doth it profit religious demagogues to gain direct mail millions and lose their souls?

Jane Mayer’s New Yorker profile of culture warrior Bryan Fischer — the American Family Association’s professional hate-dispenser — is worth reading in full for it’s portrait of this frighteningly influential bigot.

But I want to highlight this brief tangent, in which Mayer cites religious right strategist Paul Weyrich’s explanation of why the anti-gay agenda has become so important to the culture warriors in the last 10 years.

Weyrich confirms what I’ve often argued here: It’s about money. The religious right is a direct-mail fueled fundraising machine fueled by fear. It sends out millions of fundraising letters designed to create, instill, nurture and exploit fear of The Other. The particular form of that Other-ing depends on which fundraising letters get the best returns:

Advocacy groups like the A.F.A. survive largely on direct-mail contributions. During the Presidency of George W. Bush, evangelicals went from outsiders to insiders, and it was a mixed blessing for them: with Republican ascendancy in Washington came grassroots complacency, slowing fund-raising. In 2003, Wildmon and a dozen or so other top Christian conservatives met to devise ways to energize the faithful. They decided to create a new organization, the Arlington Group, whose sole focus was opposing same-sex marriage.

In 2004, Paul Weyrich, a leading figure of the Christian right, told the Times, “Things have not gone well in the past couple of years,” but added that opposition to gay marriage “appears to be turning things around.” Fund-raising picked up, and socially conservative voters were drawn to the polls. Bush, who had received sixty-eight per cent of the evangelical vote in 2000, got seventy-eight per cent in 2004.

As Jesse Curtis writes:

These Christian leaders … met together to decide where to direct their energies, and their question was not, “Where is the most pain? Where is there injustice? Where can we help?” Their question was “What’s something we can all agree on that will get people stirred up enough to cut a check?”

Yes. The big gay menace has proved to be almost as lucrative as the Satanic baby-killers have been. If you want to understand the centrality of anti-abortion and anti-gay ideology in American evangelicalism, follow the money.

* * * * * * * * *

That’s also, by the way, the answer to Molly Ball’s question at The Atlantic: “Why Are There So Many Conservative Conferences?

There appears to be plenty of audience demand, despite the seeming danger that the marketplace is becoming too crowded. CPAC Chicago drew 2,000 attendees, while 1,500 attended all or part of Faith and Freedom. Tickets for the latter ranged in price from $35 (for students who skipped the banquet) to $224 (for the full program) …

If there is a tinge of profiteering or self-promotion to the welter of political exhibitions, their organizers say it is all in service of the cause. “In spite of the amazing lineup of speakers, the main focus is really on training and equipping grass-roots activists to go back to their respective states, organize at the precinct level, and educate, persuade, mobilize, register and turn out voters,” Faith and Freedom Coalition Chairman Ralph Reed told me. He noted that the Washington conference was supplemented by forums held in half a dozen states. …

These guys are glorified concert promoters.

* * * * * * * * *

In a blog-post following up on her profile of Bryan Fischer, Jane Mayer offers a revealing look at Fischer’s split with a former friend and colleague:

“I was struck by the difference between the ‘pro-family’ values he espouses and some of the choices he has made in his own life,” Mayer writes. Highlighting, in particular, “the broken friendship between Fischer and another conservative Christian activist, Dennis Mansfield.” Mayer writes that in 2000, Mansfield’s:

… hard-edged political ideology collided with heart-breaking realities in his own family. He was running for the Republican Party’s congressional nomination in Idaho, as a conservative Christian candidate. Six days before the Republican primary, his son Nate, who was then a senior in high school, was arrested for drug possession. (Eventually, after a long struggle with addiction, his son died.) The public arrest torpedoed Mansfield’s congressional bid. More importantly, he says, the episode, and the subsequent humility he learned from his son’s struggle, caused him to re-examine the way in which he was using his Christian faith as a cudgel in politics. …

While Mansfield’s family crisis caused him to reassess his earlier self-righteousness, Fischer, he says, reacted to it heartlessly, and told Mansfield that he was no longer fit to be an elder at the church where Fischer was preaching.

… In his blog post about his former friend, Mansfield writes, “When someone wraps their own hate speech in a ‘god blanket’ it makes it easier for a subset of people to accept, and eventually it may even gather a following. The problem is that anyone outside of that subset is turned away from not only that particular subset, but from the entire religion.”

… “Debating the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality in our culture is something that Bryan Fischer is actively engaged in, and has been for over a decade. You know what? I used to be there too. The term ‘righteous anger’ would have been an appropriate term to describe the ferocity with which I would debate this issue, and others. The problem is that it doesn’t work. Somebody who yells and screams makes for great entertainment, but little else. I’ve found that it is exponentially more difficult to shut my mouth, and listen. It is also exponentially more rewarding.”

More rewarding, perhaps, but not as lucrative financially. Just ask Paul Weyrich and Ralph Reed.

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  • Isn’t “follow the money” usually used in the context of a cynical conspiracy designed to foster corruptio…oh.  Right.

  • Sarah

    Dear Fred,

    You have probably seen David Blankenhorn’s Op-Ed in the NYT on his change of mind about same-sex marriage, but here’s a link just in case.


    If you have comments on it I look forward to reading them!

    Thanks for writing such a great blog.


  •  The religious right is a direct-mail fueled fundraising machine fueled by fear.

    I’m confused. Is the mail fueled by fear, and the religious right fueled by mail? Or is the machine fueled by mail and the religious right fueled by fear? 

  • PJ Evans

     The religious right is a direct-mail fueled fundraising machine fueled by fear.

    I think it makes more sense if you drop the first instance of ‘fueled’. But that’s my opinion.

  •  I understood it to mean a machine, fueled by fear, for raising funds which are fueled by direct mail. Which is admittedly a sloppy use of metaphor (since when do funds require fuel?) but hardly seems worth calling out.

  • ako

    If you want to understand the centrality of anti-abortion and anti-gay ideology in American evangelicalism, follow the money.

    You mean it’s not about the vital moral importance of opposing certain forms of sexual behavior that are condemned by certain sects of Christianity?  I may faint from shock!

  • Monala

    Reading about Mansfield reminds me of an experience I had when I was in my mid-20s, during the mid-90s.  I was sitting down with a life insurance agent to buy my first policy (per my mother’s recommendation, since she said it would be cheaper then than if I waited until I had a family and kids).

    The agent and I made small talk, about, among other things, my work in youth development for a nonprofit organization. He became really quiet for a minute, and then said this: “I’m a Republican, and I’ve always opposed funding for programs like yours. Then my son became addicted to drugs. He was able to enter a program that helped him get clean, finish his education, and get a job. I never knew how important programs like that are, until I needed one myself.”

  • Jared Bascomb

    “Follow the money”: 
    A phrase best delivered by Hal Holbrook in a raspy low voice/near whisper while in a parking structure and backlit with blue light.

  • Tybult

    The big gay menace has proved to be almost as lucrative as the Satanic baby-killers have been.

    As any RTC worth his salt will tell you, “Abortifacent Nazisatans? Pffft, more like abortofascist Gaytans, amirite?”

  • pharoute

    Stories like Mansfield’s and Fischer’s reaction always make me think of Thomas demanding to see proof. Blessed, and lucky, are those that don’t need such terrible tragedy to see.

    It also tells me everything I need to know of Fischer’s “faith.”

  • I heard Michael Wilson, the former Canadian finance minister, also gained a new appreciation for some of the programs he had little time for back in the 1980s when he needed to help his son.

  • reynard61

    Republicans/Teabaggers always seem to be against things like police departments, fire departments, public health departments and such — until they get robbed, their house catches fire, or they eat an e. coli-laden hamburger. Then they absolutely *demand* that *SOMETHING BE DONE TO ADDRESS THEIR PROBLEM RIGHT NOW!!!*

    And then, of course, once their immediate personal crisis is over they go right back to being against things like police departments, fire departments, public health departments and such — at least until they get robbed, their house catches fire, or they eat an e. coli-laden hamburger — *again*…


  • pharoute

    You forgot “socialist atheist-muslim”

    /”big gay menance” sounds like a “queer eye for the straight guy” marathon

  • Tricksterson

    So Pretty much his statement can be summed up as “I won’t admit I was wrong but I know when I’m licked”  One could hope for better but it’s better than nothing…I suppose

  • Tricksterson

    Or Big Gay Al’s cousin.

  • I’ve decided it truly is a lack of imagination as much as anything. I was raised in a rural area where nothing happened; but I got a great imagination out of it.

  • Mary Kaye

    I have to say, Blankenhorn’s essay put me off. 

    I often get the feeling that such people are more concerned about theoretical kids than real ones.  There’s no hint in the essay of “There are a lot of kids who need concerned, loving parents; hurrah that we can remove barriers to them having such parents.”  My state has hundreds of older kids in desperate need of parents.  We allow gay adoption and the gay couple in my adoption-training group provided an excellent home to their son, whose prospects were otherwise dismal.  Where’s Blankenhorn’s concern about what the opposition to gay parenthood has done to kids like him in other states where gay adoption is either not allowed or ridiculously difficult?  Where, for that matter, is his concern about the biological kids of members of gay partnerships, who have to deal with the prejudice against their families–or for that matter with any kid who is not living with his birth parents and has to deal with that?  The essay sounds to me like he’s hung up on the impossible “right” of kids to be with their birth parents at the expense of trying to make good lives for the kids that really exist, some of whom are not and cannot be with their birth parents.

    “Your family is inferior” is a hell of a message to send kids, and I do not think that Blankenhorn has gotten past that.  As the parent of an adopted child I take it real personally, too.

  • PJ Evans

    Blankenhorn still hasn’t gotten past the idea that same-sex partners have an inferior kind of sexual relationship. Which means that his change of heart on that is not yet complete. I hope he sees the light, so to speak, on that, too.

  • Yes. The big gay menace has proved to be almost as lucrative as the Satanic baby-killers have been. If you want to understand the centrality of anti-abortion and anti-gay ideology in American evangelicalism, follow the money.

    The solution to this kind of thing is simple:  kill the fear.  

    If they think that Dungeon’s & Dragons promotes Satan, get them a copy of the Player’s Handbook.  If they think that gay people are dragging America into damnation, introduce them to some personable gay persons.  If they think that science is chipping away at their faith, then educate them about science.  

    These fear-mongering money-sink organizations get their funding from those who do not know much about what they rail against, and do not want to know.  We must crack their wall of willful ignorance,  no matter how much they resist.  We will starve their fear of the ignorance that is its sustenance, and in doing so, end it.  

  • Tricksterson

    From the essay it seems that he hasn’t quite grasped the idea that yes, gay men and lesbians do occasiomally have  biological chidren and bisexuals have them aplenty.  I suspect in fact that the concept of bisexuality may have escaped him entirely although I could be wrong.

  • Tricksterson

    Babysteps, PJ, babysteps.  Somtimes that’s the best you can hope for.

  • Tonio

    Now I feel stupid because I didn’t know about the fundraising letters, and was having trouble understanding how the wars on abortion and homosexuality could be just a big racket. The pseudo-secular ranters at least have obvious profit motives since they sell ad time and books.

  • It’s always like that. The stunning hypocrisy of political conservatives in particular who demand minimal government, low taxes, and in general TEH FREEDOM(TM) except for the moment when they bump into something they don’t like.

    Then it’s all about GET RID OF THIS RIGHT NOW I DON’T CARE HOW MUCH IT COSTS. And they don’t mind how intrusive the government gets in those cases.

    For a bunch of supposedly self-described “bedrock principles” people, right-wing politicians and voters seem to have rather plastic notions of what they’ll complain about. Too bad, really.

  • Box Turtle Bulletin has taken to making fun of one of these guys. Eugene Delgaudio, of the “Public Advocate of the United States”, who does nothing but send out scary e-mails with incidental requests for money on them. And then his organisation pays him a “consulting fee”. That’s it. At least, unlike Bryan Fischer, he doesn’t do any actual harm with the money. (Well, stirring up fear in his fundraising e-mails is a form of harm, but it’s indirect.)Interstingly, Mozilla Thunderbird warns on each of his e-mails “This message may be a scam.”TRiG.

  • Tonio

    My first impulse is to tell Blankenhorn to kiss my ass, since he’s acting like he’s doing gay couples a favor by giving his approval to their marriages. He’s not entitled to disapprove of those in the first place. His claim that marriage is about children sounds like a polite euphemism for the patriarchal concept of legitimacy, where wives and children are effectively husbands’ property. At least groups like NOM are somewhat more open with their sexism, claiming that SSM will somehow deprive children of fathers while making no comparable claim that it will also deprive them of mothers.

  • The claim that marriage is about children is so ridiculous, patriarchal, retrograde, and simply wrong, that all my impulses toward Blankenhorn are to tell him to kiss my ass as well. 

  • Au_catboy

    You think you are dealing with people who care about reality.  They do not.  They worship their own willful ignorance, and they will never allow such things as facts to get in the way of their ideology. 

  • Au_catboy

    For someone with the necessary mentality to feign the foaming-at-the-mouth message style, it could be very lucrative to set up a fake anti-gay organization that did nothing but ask gullible homophobes for money to battle an imaginary threat by unverifiable means (all of which involve begging for more money). 

  • reynard61

    “You think you are dealing with people who care about reality. They do not. They worship their own willful ignorance, and they will never allow such things as facts to get in the way of their ideology.”

    This. So, *SO* this…

  • veejayem

    Hatred sells. It sells especially well to people who would rather be confirmed in their own lazy prejudices than actually start using the brains they were born with. So much easier to think of the LBQT community as the depraved or tragic (take your pick) “Other”. If they do ordinary stuff like getting married, worrying over the mortgage, mowing the lawn and rearing children ~ then they become what they ALWAYS WERE, i.e. people. And Bryan Fischer’s “religious principles” are outed as plain vicious bigotry.

  • Mary Kaye

    I once had a (self-identified) fundamentalist friend who was also a very keen D&D player.  When the 700 Club ran a show on “D&D is the work of the devil” he wrote them a pained letter of protest.

    He got back a letter which said, “We’re glad you’re among the millions of Americans who are concerned about D&D.  Won’t you please make a donation to our important work?”

    He was still pissed about this when I heard the story,  several years after it happened.

  • The answer to the question posed in the post title is, of course, millions of dollars.

  • Keep in mind that it’s a lot of work to create and maintain a bubble of unreality like that. Punch enough holes in it, and some of them won’t have the strength to pull it back together.

  • Random

    Does it make me overly cynical or simply genre-savvy that the first thing I thought upon reading the headline was, “How much did he charge?” 
    After I read the article I felt very bad for thinking it.

  • What Ross said, one cannot deny reality forever.  And if necessary, I fully intend to drag them kicking and screaming into it.  Failing that, we just educate their children and wait for them to die off.  

    Fortunately, that plan seems to be proceeding well.  

  • Matri

    I’ve decided it truly is a lack of imagination as much as anything.

    Not at all. As you can no doubt see, they have an astoundingly impressive imagination.

    So much so that it has completely and utterly overwritten their reality perception.

  • Always remember that is not for sheep’s benefit that the shepherd looks after them. He’s after 3 things – wool, parchment and mutton.