I’ve been busy the past two weeks planning a high school reunion, so my postings have been rare and Steve B. has been filling in.
Tonight I was participating in an online debate about whether equal-rights proponents should waste their time challenging the propaganda of the political religious right, or allow their own dignity, intelligence, love for American liberty, and family values to do the talking.
My response was relevant to XGW, since Exodus and its political allies periodically complain about how poor they are. So I’m pasting my response here….
The comparative political power of the religious right can be assessed, to some extent, in financial terms.
In 2002, the largest gay rights group, HRC, reported revenue of $22 million and assets of $6 million. (Annual report, PDF.)
In the same year, GLAAD reported revenue of $5.3 million. The asset calculation is obscure (at least to me).
(Annual report, PDF.)
In 2002, Focus on the Family reported income of $130 million and assets of $98 million. These amounts do not include revenues from James Dobson’s for-profit entities, including ownership and royalty rights to content marketed by Focus. Nor does it include the $640,000 budget at Exodus, which acts as a de facto ex-gay arm of Focus and has at least two Focus operatives on its board.
CBN/700 Club reported income of just under $200 million and assets of $182 million. These amounts do not include income from Pat Robertson’s for-profit religious, commercial, and industrial entities.
People for the American Way lists Year 2000 and 2001 budgets for several religious-right organizations.
I was initially a little reluctant to trust PFAW’s spin on the data, but their numbers matched what I found on some of the organizations’ web sites.
Among the organizations listed by PFAW:
Alliance Defense Fund, $15.4 million
ACLJ, $12 million
AFA, $11 million
Concerned Women for America, $12.7 million
Eagle Forum, $2.3 million
Family Research Council, $10 million
I count about $300 million in annual political-religious-right revenue thus far. And these are not the largest religious-right organizations if one counts the Southern Baptist Convention, Roman Catholic Church, and other evangelical churches, each with tens of millions of members, that have chosen to mobilize against gay marriage and domestic partnerships.
There are several billionaires and multimillionaires, such as Richard Scaife and Howard F. Ahmanson Jr., who privately pouring fortunes into various antigay culture wars, such as the current Episcopal schism campaign. Ahmanson, in particular, seems to have been instrumental in financing the AAC and the rise of its CEO, the Rev. David C. Anderson. Without Ahmanson’s seed money, I question whether the AAC would have had sufficient resources to mobilize a movement toward schism.
While the gay community manages a weak annual public confab with little agreement at Creating Change, the religious right achieves unity around a couple of powerhouse issues per year through private meetings of its leadership. Gay-tolerance groups have perhaps $40 million at their disposal nationally, divided among a variety of issues; the antigay movement has more than $400 million (counting a fraction of the denominational revenue, and excluding the billionaires) all focused now on the Federal Marriage Amendment.
The question of who has more revenue misses a key point: Where does the bulk of the cash come from?
My guess: Small donations from a broad swath of middle America, which finds gays entertaining on TV and marginally tolerable in the workplace, but sinful, changeable and disposable otherwise — much like Muslims. Even when donors to the groups and denominations are somewhat tolerant, they will still donate because the perceived good done by these organizations (family values, inspiration, evangelism, charity) outweighs the bad (verbal hostility and discrimination against people who may be going to hell anyway).
All of which is a very long-winded way of saying: As phony and fraudulent as the culture-war propaganda may be, it’s too big to ignore completely. Yes, tolerance will succeed, in part, because its proponents allow their own dignity and family values to speak for themselves. But someone still has to expose misinformation and set the record straight for the people who would otherwise count on powerful special interests as their only source of data and reasoning.