Manhattan Declaration Direct-Mail Fundraising Inc.

The Manhattan Declaration — a 2009 anti-gay manifesto by right-wing persecuted hegemons — collected half a million names and addresses.

That’s quite a mailing list. More importantly, it’s a mailing list of reflexively fearful white Christians who have already proven they can be easily manipulated by scary stories about the Big Gay Menace, the Satanic baby-killers, and the evil secularists threatening Christian America.

And that was the whole point of the original declaration.

A list like this is a money-making machine. Quarterly fundraising letters sent to a list of 500,000 scared donors. Plus the usual guarantee of grant money from the right-wing donor machine — the DeVos, Koch, Scaife, Ahmanson, Bradley, etc., foundations that have, for decades, taken a throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach to reactionary capacity-building. You’re looking at, potentially, a $5 million annual budget with no expenses except compensation for staff, conference travel, and the seed money for all that lucrative direct mail.

The primary function of groups like this is fundraising. Manhattan Declaration Direct Mail Fundraising Inc. will push to get media appearances for its staff, and it will pretend that such appearances have something to with advancing its purported agenda of defending America from the scary secular gay abortionists. But those media appearances only exist because better name-recognition boosts the rate of return on those quarterly direct-mail solicitations.

That’s why the insular, preaching-to-the-choir nature of such media appearances — guest spots on Fox News or Christian radio — is a feature, not a bug. They’re not trying to influence the broader culture by getting their message and their arguments out to the widest possible audience. The widest possible audience has already heard that message and those arguments and is, correctly, unimpressed and unpersuaded. The fundraising organizations’ main focus, instead, is just on fleecing their base of conservative, fearful, anxious, white Christians.

One challenge for MDDMFI is that it’s entering a crowded market — one that seems like it’s already saturated with more than enough third-tier fundraising scams targeting the same niche of scared white Christians. Milking that niche is also getting harder every year, since this fundraising base, first tapped back in the 1980s, is quite literally dying off.

But then the market isn’t actually as crowded as it seems. It’s like when the new Taco Bell opens in the same block as the KFC and Pizza Hut. That may look like a lot of competition for the same fast-food dollars, but really it’s just three different faces of the same conglomerate.

That’s why the fledgling MDDMFI is being nurtured and groomed through staged events like this recent “panel discussion” reported on by the Christian Post. This is basically a combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell. The “panel” was a chance for Eric Teetsel — the young new director of MDDMFI — to workshop his media persona and audition his new catch phrases (“Oprah-doxy!”) in a safe environment alongside middle-managers from other brands of the conglomerate, including the Institute on Religion & Democracy, the Family Research Council, the Heritage Foundation, and the Christian Post.

Where did this “panel” discussion take place? The Christian Post article doesn’t say, but based on the photo, it looks like it was held in a conference room at IRD. (I’ve visited the headquarters of IRD, Heritage and the Family Research Council, and Heritage and FRC have much nicer conference rooms than that.) The Post’s evasion of the most basic questions about this panel — what, when, where — hint that this wasn’t a public event.

It’s hard to say what kind of incompetence is displayed in that Post article. It’s possible that “Napp Nazworth, Christian Post Reporter” is simply incapable of elementary reporting. Or it’s possible that Nazworth deliberately omitted that basic information in an attempt to make this “panel discussion” seem like a newsworthy event — in which case including that awful photo shows an utter lack of stagecraft.

Either way the Christian Post report, like the “panel discussion” itself, highlights another challenge for lower-tier right-wing fundraiser start-ups like MDDMFI: It’s hard to get competent people to work for groups like this. Neither IRD nor the Christian Post is well known, but among anyone who knows them, neither is well-regarded or respected. Both are notorious for transparent hack-work and their inability to establish any credibility or legitimacy despite decades of generous foundation subsidies.

From the sounds of young Mr. Teetsel, MDDMFI is headed in that same direction. His audition as right-wing pundit did not go well. Teetsel begins with an attempt to establish his “intellectual” credentials:

“Orthodoxy,” Teetsel said, “requires the cultivation of what my professors at Wheaton called the ‘life of the mind.’ When considering an issue, orthodoxy lays out first principles and are non-negotiable truths, with the Bible as a touchstone, creating a framework through which the merits of ideas can be considered and their consequences evaluated.”

And then he rolls out his first attempted catch-phrase:

“Oprah-doxy, on the other hand, allows us to respond to issues without the hard, time-consuming work of thoughtful consideration. There are no immutable principles. Instead, we start with a base set of emotions, positive and negative. Love, justice, inclusion, authenticity and equality – these are good. Judgment, rigidity, stratification – these are bad. People and ideas are judged accordingly.”

Did he just say that love and justice are unprincipled emotions? Yes. Yes he did.

That slapping sound you hear is the entire faculty of Wheaton College collectively face-palming in embarrassment.

It won’t really matter, though, if its young “director” isn’t ready for prime-time. MDDMFI can still depend on that lucrative mailing list and on the largesse of those right-wing foundations, and those will be more than enough to keep it in “business” for years to come. Just look at IRD.

Beats working, I guess, if you don’t mind the damage it does to the world, to the people you’re scamming, or to your own reputation and soul.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    Let’s see, that “Christian Post” piece was published on Tuesday April 2 and refers to the event as a “Monday panel”. So I guess it was held on April Fools’ Day?

  • http://www.facebook.com/robtish Rob Tisinai

    Here’s one hilarious irony. Last September Eric Teetsel was on the group’s Facebook page complaining that people were removing their names from the Declaration because they hadn’t realized that all Christian denominations were welcome:

    “It’s quite deflating. It seems a handful of signers don’t wish to be affiliated with an ecumenical movement.”

    This is delightful. An organization founded to promote intolerance is upset its members are being intolerant. Who could have predicted that?

  • walden

    Mr Teetsel seems to have emerged from a recent gig at the American Enterprise Institute — one of the best-funded and most media-conscious of the VRWC. Apparently he was director of the “Project on Values and Capitalism” and/or the “Common Sense Concept” program at said Institute. It’s hard to tell if this is a move up or down — but maybe religion is not a good fit at AEI.

    As for fundamental “immutable” principles, if you had to start with a set, I think I like his allegedly unworthy “emotional” list of “love, justice, inclusion, authenticity and equality” far more than say, Biblical inerrancy.

    And anyhow, what do the prophets, Jesus, and St. Paul call for? I thought it was “do justice, love kindness, walk humbly” and “the greatest of these is love” and “which one of these was the neighbor?” Sounds like he’s got the wrong list somewhere.

  • http://wateringgoodseeds.tumblr.com/ Shira Coffee

    It is to weep…

  • Jay in Oregon

    But, but, but, I keep hearing about how all of these “people of faith” are a united front in the war against Liberals, Gays, and Abortion! Judeo-Christian and all of that!

    This should prove illustrative to those deluded fools who wish for the United States to have a state religion: you’d better hope yours is the denomination or sect that is picked, because it tends not to go so well for the others.

  • DCFem

    I am now convinced that telling self-righteous bigots what they want to hear is more lucrative than owning a chain of McDonald’s franchises. It has to be if fourth rate hacks like this can convince people to give him money. “Oprahdoxy?” Really? That’s the best he can do? Oprah is no longer on tv every day so teavangelicals don’t have to worry about her “evil” influence.

  • Magic_Cracker

    Hey, when Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men,” he was talking above direct-mail fundraising, obvs.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    Sadly, upon seeing the dateline and the name of the writer (Napp Nazworth? Really?) I was briefly convinced this was a dead-on April Fool’s prank. Sadly, Mr. Nazworth (if that is his real name) does appear to have existed before yesterday. And I know enough about the Christian direct-mail scams to know that this is something that really happens.

    I haz a sad.

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    Am I the only person who sees “Manhattan Project” every time the Manhattan Declaration comes up?

    Maybe they should have chosen a different borough. The Brooklyn Declaration? Queens would be a nice, ironic, choice.

  • Mornacale

    So, Mr. Teetsel, to be clear: basing your response to a topic on strict, immutable principles is “hard, time-consuming work of thoughtful consideration,” whereas responding to things on an individual level based on the unique circumstances is not?

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/index.php Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    And now I have a Rush earworm.

    Don’t worry, it’s pleasant. Better than the one I’ve been resisting all day due to taking my work down to a neighborhood co-working joint called Co-Motion Boulder. I keep getting Madonna on the brain. See? See? The Rush earworm is so much better.

    (“Imagine a time… when it all began…”)

  • Lunch Meat

    Of course. You can’t be thoughtful if no one’s telling you what to think.

  • MaryKaye

    A fundamentalist of my acquaintence had his personal awakening on the marketing-machine aspects of American Christianity when he wrote to the 700 Club to protest their show on the evils of D&D. He got back a letter that said, “We’re glad you’re among the millions of Americans concerned about D&D. Won’t you please donate to our important work on this topic?” and nothing else. (To add insult to injury, I bet they added him to their mailing list….)

    I also recall going to one of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s more unusual “behind the scenes” talks–they asked a member of their publicity team to speak. He talked about cold-calling, and it was the most amazing Jekyll and Hyde moment ever. “People really don’t like it…it’s a pity if it tarnishes the reputation of the Festival, we don’t want that…but it WORKS SO WELL! The possibilities are amazing!” You could just watch the poor guy’s soul shrivelling right in front of your eyes.

    On an individual level I strongly recommend refusing all cold-called solicitations, and perhaps cold-mailed and -emailed ones as well. My household has a phone script “We do not donate in return to phone appeals, ever.” If the person on the other end quarrels over this their charity goes on the NEVER list, permanently. (A really good charity will reply “Okay, I’ll take you off our list, thanks for telling me.” They are not common.) This kind of crap works because we let it work; stopping that begins at home. Putting yourself on do-not-call lists is also good.

  • Lori

    In fairness, very few charities do their own calling so in most cases the person you’re talking to may not have any control over the call list and may face negative job consequences for taking no for an answer too quickly.

    Which is not to say that you should donate to cold-call appeals. I agree that you shouldn’t. My point is just that not getting the response you want during that call doesn’t necessarily mean that the charity is bad.

  • Missing2D6

    “Rudolph also said that many millennial evangelicals believe that homosexuality is a sin but also support redefining marriage to include same-sex couples. The reason, Rudolph believes, is that they have not received a strong understanding of what marriage is and why it is important in their churches.”

    Or, just possibly maybe, they’ve decided that it is *not* their or their church’s job to police and enforce their own ideas on others. It’s just like the earlier assertion that millennial evangelicals aren’t doing the ‘hard work’ of thinking simply because they no longer accept blindly the precepts of their predecessors.

  • Missing2D6

    “Rudolph also said that many millennial evangelicals believe that homosexuality is a sin but also support redefining marriage to include same-sex couples. The reason, Rudolph believes, is that they have not received a strong understanding of what marriage is and why it is important in their churches.”

    Or, just possibly maybe, they’ve decided that it is *not* their or their church’s job to police and enforce their own ideas on others. It’s just like the earlier assertion that millennial evangelicals aren’t doing the ‘hard work’ of thinking simply because they no longer accept blindly the precepts of their predecessors.

  • Wednesday

    I once got a cold-call charity donation ask me what I planned to donate to [generic cause]. I took it for a survey, so I reported the amount I planned to donate to a specific organization.

    Then a month later, I got a letter and a phone call asking me to make good on my “pledge” to [a specific organization that was not the one I planned to donate to].

    I was so irritated at that point that I wound up giving up on [cause] and donating to the local food shelf instead.

  • Wednesday

    I once got a cold-call charity donation ask me what I planned to donate to [generic cause]. I took it for a survey, so I reported the amount I planned to donate to a specific organization.

    Then a month later, I got a letter and a phone call asking me to make good on my “pledge” to [a specific organization that was not the one I planned to donate to].

    I was so irritated at that point that I wound up giving up on [cause] and donating to the local food shelf instead.

  • Magic_Cracker

    I wish they called themselves the Philadelphia Experiment ’cause then they could just disappear!

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    That happened to me with the Democratic National Convention. I donate some money to them for the 2008 presidential campaign, then they keep calling me once every few months afterward, saying that no this next upcoming election is the OMG Most Important Ever and they need my next donation. No amount of telling them, “Sorry, I am on unemployment and cannot afford to donate at the moment and even if I did I would feel uncomfortable donating government-dole dollars to an explicitly partisan cause,” seems to deter them, they just keep pressing for money.

    I finally got them to stop calling after I stopped answering phone calls from unlisted numbers (the fact that their number was unlisted should say something.) I am willing to donate to political causes that I believe in, but only on my terms, and I resent being pressured by those causes I ostensibly support.

  • Carstonio

    So Teetsel disagrees that “love, justice, inclusion, authenticity and equality” are good things. That sound you hear is The Onion closing up shop for good.

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    Moreover, by comparing it to orthodoxy, what he’s saying is that these things are not included in any (Real True) interpretation of Christian teachings.

  • ReverendRef

    On an individual level I strongly recommend refusing all cold-called
    solicitations, and perhaps cold-mailed and -emailed ones as well.

    Just this afternoon I received a cold-call from the Oregon Family Council. First they asked if I had heard of them. Nope. She was more than happy to tell me that they were there to fight against the continued encroachment upon our religious liberty yada yada yada. Then she wanted to know if they could count on me to be at their Very Important Dinner Thing in Salem to show my support and stand up for religious freedom and liberty.

    Unfortunately I’ve misplaced my glasses and have a sermon I’m trying to write because, rather than engage her about her tiny faith and very large paranoia, I simply said, “Not a chance.” And hung up.

    I’m hoping that will get me off their call list.

  • The_L1985

    How very appropriate.

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    Eric Teetsel has just discovered the difference between rules and ethics. The problem is that he thinks ethics are evil because they begin on the assumption that rules cannot be arbitrary, and therefore they miss the point of having rules: Consequences!

    This really highlights the difference between liberal and conservative Christians, I think. One side reads the Bible and gets messages about ethics and forgiveness, the other side reads the Bible and sees a book of rules, an accounting of debt and the importance of keeping in the black by careful management of one’s behavior.

    One side sees God as someone who can forgive any debt out of love, the other sees God as a tax collector.

  • EllieMurasaki

    To be fair, Jesus had nothing against tax collectors. Some of his best friends were tax collectors.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ mistformsquirrel

    You should see my email inbox. I’ve never donated money, because I’ve only very recently had ANY money at all – yet goddamn everyone left of Ronald Reagan’s Ghost is constantly trying to get into my wallet. Don’t get me wrong – I support the causes in question; but holy crapballs does it get annoying.

    Currently at the top of my shit list are NARAL, OFA and the DNC/DCCC. The Sierra Club (who are similarly relentless) at least give me (literal) puppy dog eyes when asking for donations. Okay they’re wolf eyes, they’re still adorable.

    All that for signing a few petitions. Also annoying: A lot of those places share their email lists with other similar groups – I understand why they do it, but I’m on like 50 different environmental group mailing lists now because I signed a Sierra Club petition. (. .) I just wanted to save some freakin wolves; now Greenpeace is constantly after me about Shell drilling in the Arctic.*

    *Yes it’s bad, no I don’t want them to; but I figured that out the first time, you don’t have to send me a new email about the subject every three days.

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    No, but he did imply that they were sinners who needed him to teach them mercy. ^_~

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke
  • Baby_Raptor

    I like how Mr. Teetsel implies that anyone who disagrees with him hasn’t thought out their positions. A man, who is by by nature completely incapable of ever being pregnant, thinks his pontificating about bible verses requires more thinking than a woman whose life is endangered if she gets pregnant. Or a woman who finds out that her fetus has major health flaws and now faces the decision on whether or not to abort. Or even an accidental pregnancy. All those situations are totally casual to this jerk.

    And they wonder why fewer and fewer people are buying their tripe. Maybe because they keep completely erasing us?

  • Baby_Raptor

    I noted that too. The man’s not real high on my Like List right now, but I feel sorry for child him. He must have gotten picked on a lot for that name, if it’s his legal one.

  • Baby_Raptor

    No, I think it too. I can’t help but wonder if it was done on purpose.

  • abombt1

    It took me several months to get Eric to remove my name from the MD, and he only did it after I started posting comments on his blog about it.

  • Lori

    On the subject of charitable donations—these days which charity or charities are doing the best job when it comes to raising money for cancer research? Given today’s news that Iain M Banks is dying, most likely quite soon, of gall bladder cancer and that Roger Ebert’s bone cancer is back I’m feeling the urge to contribute. Given how little money I have I want what I’m able to give to go to research, not fund raising. Anyone have any suggestions?

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Iain M. Banks is dying? Christ, I did not know. I may have to find a way to pay tribute involving an extra-dimensional super-genius artificial intelligence and a knife-missile.

  • Lori

    He is, but it’s not like you’re way out of the loop. He just announced it today.

    http://www.iain-banks.net/2013/04/03/a-personal-statement-from-iain-banks/

    He’s being brave and funny and gracious about it and it’s breaking my heart.

    ETA: Someone asked if there’s going to be Kickstarter to fund launching his remains into the sun. If someone does it I’m in for $5.

  • smrnda

    Not a Christian, but I’ve read the Bible. I thought Christianity was supposed to be about love and justice and not some legalistic rule-adherence. Of course, that just isn’t fun for some folks, it’s hard work, and slamming people for ‘unorthodoxy’ is much easier and more profitable work.

  • http://twitter.com/pooserville Dave Pooser

    I helped a friend of mine, local co-president of the PFLAG branch, with some computer problems and when he tried to pay me told him “just consider it a donation to PFLAG.” Which he did, to the point of donating the cash to PFLAG in my name. I’m now on the mailing list of every gay-rights group in the world. Sigh. I support their work, but only have so many dollars in the bank….

  • http://twitter.com/pooserville Dave Pooser

    One other note– I run the spam filter at my office, where I work with a lot of folks who are right-wing whackos even by Texas standards. This means I see a lot of the emails they get from the Heritage Foundation and so on and so forth. I am personally a donor– to the tune of a couple thousand dollars in election years– to various left-of-center politicians; I see a ton of emails from the DSCC and points left.

    Both sides solicit money for candidates; both sides solicit money for causes; both sides solicit money for party-building. Only one side sends out ads for penny stocks, for “why experts are predicting economic collapse,” and of course for GOOOOOOOLD! Team Blue does not seem to consider me a resource to be rented out to anyone willing to pay for access to their mailing list.

    Or maybe advertisers just don’t offer Team Blue enough $ for their mailing lists, since only Team Red can guarantee a collection of 100% thought-free rubes….

  • http://www.oliviareviews.com/ PepperjackCandy

    If I get cold called by a charity, I usually ask for the URL of the charity’s website so that I can research it and make a donation in my own time if I so choose. I don’t think that any charities have ever given me the URL.

  • http://mistformsquirrel.deviantart.com/ mistformsquirrel

    That’s true – I’m bombarded with charitable causes, but they’re almost always something I agree with and care about; I’ve yet to feel like someone’s using me out as part of a business plan. (That’s part of why, while I kvetch, I haven’t actually spent the time unsubscribing, and DO keep signing petitions, meager an effort that is. Because I do, at the end of the day, care.)

  • alfgifu

    So, um, I’m guessing that the US doesn’t have an equivalent to the UK’s Data Protection Act?

    My first paid job, a couple of years after the Act was passed, was to help a charity clean up its database to meet the requirements. That meant contacting everyone on the list, confirming that they wanted to be on the database, checking that their details were correct and making sure that we knew how much contact they were happy with receiving. One entry that particularly sticks with me is the Gilbert and Sullivan society that somehow ended up on the records as a church (Church name: G&S Society; Donation notes: HMS Pinafore).

    Other features of the Data Protection Act: data gathered can only be used for specified purposes, and can’t be passed on to anyone without explicit agreement. Most forms include (a) box(es) that you have to tick (or untick, they do their best to catch you out on that one) to agree how your data can be used.

  • http://profiles.google.com/marc.k.mielke Marc Mielke

    Left-wing groups asking for money is practically the only email I get! I don’t have any money, but it does make me feel loved.

  • histrogeek

    Wouldn’t that be “fleecers of men” though? (White, stupid, paranoid men apparently.)

  • P J Evans

    No. It would be a wonderful idea, but there are businesses who hate it – and, I suspect, a lot of people in government who don’t like the idea, either.

    at the level of individual businesses, most of those I do business with don’t share their mailing lists, and they usually say so up front.

  • hf

    Actually, I think the Teet is trying to say that “Oprah-doxy” contradicts itself. By forbidding “judgement” it forbids its own preferences.

    This has a few problems:

    1. He’s straw-manning his opponents. Oprah has enough money that it makes sense to mention her from time to time, but ET here wants to imply that anyone who departs from his “orthodoxy” thinks this way. No. (I don’t even know that Oprah would make this mistake.)

    2. His approach to the Bible also contradicts itself. We’ve seen that within living memory, respected evangelicals thought a plain reading of the Bible allowed legal abortion. Now, they think a ‘plain reading’ forbids it. And they don’t admit that they’ve changed. They can’t admit to learning something about the Bible, not without allowing for the possibility of someone with a ‘literal’ approach and sincere faith getting the wrong answer.

    3. At best, ET is arguing for having a definite and coherent system of ethics. But nobody who has absolute confidence in a formal ethical system can be justified in doing so. You’d wind up proving that eating babies is mandatory. (See A Cartoon Guide to Lob’s Theorem. Then, if you want to get really technical and nit-picky, look up the Turing Jump operator and assume God is the oracle.) You can’t avoid using emotions to judge some claims on an ad-hoc basis – or at least, one that will likely look ad-hoc due to our incomplete knowledge.

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    3: I’d buy that if he weren’t basing it on the Bible and emphasizing the consequences of breaking Biblical law.

    2: I do so love pointing out that a plain reading of Numbers 5:11-31 makes it pretty clear what the Bible has to say about abortion, being one of very few passages to directly address the idea of an intentionally induced miscarriage. ^_^

  • Magic_Cracker

    Well, you know, different translations…


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