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

What doth it profit religious demagogues to gain direct mail millions and lose their souls? June 23, 2012

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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