Evangelicals are data mining for the glory of god

dollar signAfter posting earlier today about new reports about the growth of “dark money” in the 2012 campaign (meaning 501c4 organizations that don’t have to report their donors), I ran across this article at Truthout, which shows how some evangelical Christian groups are playing the game:

In audio obtained from a Family Council fundraiser in Anchorage, Alaska, Truthout has learned that a number of right-wing religious groups, including Focus on the Family, have been working with the Koch brothers to target voters across the country using their multimillion-dollar voter database known as Themis.

At the fundraiser, Alaska Family Council President Jim Minnery told supporters that his organization is forming a 501c4 group to work with Themis, which pulls together data from marketing databases around the country. How powerful is Themis? Minnery told the audience:

“So, they introduced this project to us by basically saying, ‘Listen, we know more about you guys than you could ever hope to know, but the good side is, we’re going to be able to use this for the glory of God and to get conservatives in power, because this is not something you should be afraid of.’ Now, some people are going to have the black helicopter syndrome, and always wonder why all this information is had on them and what can be done with it. I’m personally not concerned about that because I don’t really have anything to hide.”

And of course, this isn’t just an Alaska thing:

According to Minnery, this is not a just local idea, but a national movement. Thirty-eight states with “family healthy councils” across the country are in the midst of forming action groups and working with the Koch brothers’ Themis database to target voters.

You already know the agenda: for the evangelicals it’s anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-evolution. The Kochs, naturally, have other priorities, and make groups like the newly-formed Alaska Family Action pay for the data they receive. AFA has already purchased data on 50,000 people and held the fundraiser so it could buy more.

We know that both parties are playing the data mining game, but it’s amusing (among other things) to watch this kind of big brother-ish dealing become sanctified by the pious.

Here’s something else that interests me. In a recent interview with the Huffington Post, Focus on the Family president Jim Daly talked about how he wants to broaden the focus of FOF beyond fighting homosexuality and abortion:

“When you are in the culture of doing good deeds, taking care of the poor, taking care of the widow, the orphan, not as a means to something else but because this is what true religion should be doing, even the nonbeliever would say, ‘Look at that,” said Daly, 51. “There is a certain respect that comes from that.”

The shift may also be part of a broader strategy to appeal to more donors. Focus on the Family’s revenue amounted to $145 million four year ago when it had a stricter focus, but it has budgeted $95 million for the current year. After several rounds of layoffs, it employs about 650 people, down from a high of 1,400 a decade ago.

Back in May, Daly admitted that “we’ve probably lost” on gay marriage. I don’t want to read too much into this, since FOF is now providing “resources for transgenderism and gender identity disorder” to go with their links to pray-the-gay-away groups. But I think that Daly realizes that his organization is on the wrong side of history on some of these things (even if he still believes they’re morally right). So I think over the next several years we’re going to see FOF become less openly anti-gay in the same way that someone like former segregationist Strom Thurmond became less openly racist. (We’ll know that’s happening when they preface their prejudicial statements with, “I’m not prejudiced against gays, but…”).

So, what do you do if you believe in certain things that are increasingly offensive to the public as a whole, but you still want to see your beliefs enacted as law? One thing you can do is to go stealth. In the coming years evangelicals may turn increasingly to methods such as “dark money” to disguise their agenda while paying for ads that attack candidates on unrelated issues. In a way, that would sort of follow the progression from banning the teaching of evolution to promoting “creation science” to re-branding creation science as intelligent design.

In other words, you can view this whole thing as yet another dark evangelical conspiracy… or as a desperate rear-guard action to hold their place in a changing nation.

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