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Strange bedfellows

Strange bedfellows

(Illustration by Krieg Barrie)

The National Association of Evangelicals, founded in 1942, has as its motto, "Cooperation Without Compromise." More than 40 denominations-among them the Assemblies of God, Christian Reformed Church, Evangelical Free Church, General Association of General Baptists, Presbyterian Church in America, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Salvation Army, Vineyard-are members.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, founded in 1996, is devoted to promoting contraceptive use by the unmarried. CEO Sarah Brown clearly enunciates its mission: "Whatever the proposition on a given day, ask yourself one simple question: Does it increase women's access to good contraceptive care? If the answer is no, oppose it!"

The National Campaign is zealous. When conservatives this year tried to reduce funding for Planned Parenthood and similar groups, the lead story on the Campaign's newsletter began, "The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted to increase teen and unplanned pregnancy."

It's hard to imagine two stranger organizational bedfellows. Yet since 2008 the Campaign has partially funded the NAE.

The story begins in 2008 when the Campaign gave a multi-year grant of $1 million to the National Association of Evangelicals. Or maybe the story goes back even further: During the past decade the Campaign received nearly $50 million from the Hewlett Foundation, one of the nation's largest abortion and contraception pushers. (Last July the Campaign also received more than $5 million worth of shares in Berkshire Hathaway, the company chaired by billionaire Warren Buffet, one of the world's leading abortion funders.)

That $1 million grant to the NAE was the Campaign's biggest in 2008, 2009, or 2010, according to IRS Form 990s. By comparison, the Campaign in 2008 gave only $80,000 to the Planned Parenthood Federation.

The Campaign's website describes the benefits of its NAE investment: "Through a series of papers, projects, and meetings, the NAE seeks to spark productive conversation, deliberation, and action among evangelicals regarding sexuality, healthy family formation, and abortion reduction."

What does that mean in practice?

Here's one example. In April, the Relevate Group, headed by Gabe Lyons, held its Q Gathering in Washington, D.C. Young evangelicals gathered to hear speakers and panels address numerous topics, including abortion reduction. The speaker who dominated that panel was none other than the Campaign's Sarah Brown. It turns out that the NAE paid $10,000 to Q and pushed to include Brown. Brown argued that churches should promote contraceptive use by their unmarried singles.

Gabe Lyons and conference director Scott Calgaro, who recently left Relevate, told me the NAE did not disclose to them its financial arrangement with the Campaign. Anika Smith, the current director of the NAE's sexuality project, would not discuss the funding connections, but she reportedly resigned her position, effective June 30.

(The NAE apparently did not publicly disclose its $1 million grant until June 13, after I started asking questions about it. Then the NAE noted the award only in one sentence in a sub-section of the website of an NAE sub-section, Generation Forum.)

Lyons, who has a Down syndrome child, said he "wanted to do a panel that dealt with abortion and pro-life topics," and the NAE "highly recommended Sarah Brown as someone they partnered with. ... Sarah ended up jumping in and taking more of a chunk of that panel than I would like to have seen."

Brown repeatedly jumped in with an argument about inevitability. Yes, she and her colleagues "certainly do wish that there was less multiple sexual partners in your 20s [sic]." Yet, when we contemplate "the role of marriage in modern culture-it's decreasing all the time," one solution is clear: contraceptives for all, married or not.

Comments by Messiah College professor Jenell Paris were similar. She said churches should both "lift up the ideal of premarital chastity and support people who do otherwise. ... If that sounds like a compromise, it is, kind of. But consider the word compromise. ... If you want to be alone and be right, go ahead, but ... to promise or agree to work with another, that's compromise. It's not that bad. The bigger picture, though, is a renewed theology of sex in the church."

Does that conflict with the NAE's "Cooperation Without Compromise" slogan? Paris later explained, "It's fine to have ideals, and to proclaim them with perfect phrases in perfectly planned church services." Reality, she opined, demands contraceptive compromise, and "compromise can be sacred, even purifying us of our illusions of controlling others through well-intended religious influence."

The two other members of the panel spoke only about pregnancy counseling and adoption. No one disagreed with Brown or Paris. As the one-sided panel concluded, 372 audience members had the opportunity to answer electronically this question, "Do you believe churches should advocate contraception for their single 20-somethings?" Almost two-thirds voted yes.

News reports noted that result as evidence that the debate over contraceptive use by the unmarried is over, since even evangelicals favor it. This was the second time the Campaign's grant to the NAE had paid off propagandistically. In 2010 the NAE used some of the grant to commission a Gallup poll with a key question worded to make it seem that 90 percent of evangelicals favor contraception generally-and the Campaign then trumpeted that finding.

The Campaign's "Facts About Contraception" policy brief states, "A Gallup poll of evangelicals found that 90% supported contraception." The Campaign, unsurprisingly, did not distinguish between married and unmarried use of contraception-but neither did the NAE when it used the Campaign's grant to pay for the poll.

(Another question on the poll asked about sex between an unmarried man and woman. Three-fourths of evangelicals said it was morally wrong. Also, when asked an open-ended question about "the best way to prevent unplanned pregnancies," three times as many evangelicals chose celibacy over contraceptives. Both those answers went unreported by the Campaign and the press.)

The Campaign's chief program officer, Bill Albert, expressed no dissatisfaction with what the $1 million to the NAE has produced: He said the Campaign and the NAE are now negotiating a new grant that would "continue the work started under the previous grant."

NAE President Leith Anderson acknowledged to me (worldmag.com/webextra/19631) his group's involvement with the Campaign, but placed it in a pro-life context. He cited a 2010 NAE board resolution: "The Church is understandably reluctant to recommend contraception for unmarried sexual partners, given that it cannot condone extramarital sex. However, it is even more tragic when unmarried individuals compound one sin by conceiving and then destroying the precious gift of life."

True, and the NAE seems to be overcoming its reluctance. My column "Turned" from this issue raises questions about the NAE's position.