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Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Strange bedfellows

NAE Controversies | The National Association of Evangelicals, its pro-contraception $1 million grant, and its next grant. A WORLD exclusive

Issue: "2012 Books Issue," July 14, 2012

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."

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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.


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