Not surprisingly, a respected Christian ministry listed on the infamous Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) “Hate Map” recently filed a federal lawsuit against SPLC. It’s not appropriate to comment on the legal theories in this blog, but it is worth noting that other parties were sued for publishing, or repeating, SPLC’s charges. One added defendant is a nonprofit rating service called “GuideStar” (GS), a fairly well-known resource for information on nonprofits.
GS has historically provided information for the public on how nonprofits operate – an undoubtedly valuable service. Its criteria have always included factors such as finances, programs, and operations. The process, until recently, was self-described by GS as “neutral,” and the value of the nonprofit’s mission was left to the reader. Stated another way, the focus was on the seaworthiness of the vessel and not the wisdom of the ship’s destination.
All this changed a few months ago when GS decided to prominently list the SPLC “Hate” designation at the top of nonprofit profiles. GS's president and CEO, Jacob Harold, said the inclusion reflected a "broader shift in how we imagine our role in the (nonprofit) field." Affected ministries were outraged, and over 40 contacted GS to protest. Even the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), the gold standard for integrity in Christian organizations, wrote to protest the GS decision.
Following the intense backlash, GS removed the SPLC references and reverted to its prior “neutral” approach. While the decision may have done in good faith, it did not keep GS from being named in the lawsuit for harm it allegedly caused while the listing was included on its website. Unfortunately, other news sources continue to cite SPLC as if it were some neutral authority rather than the far-left, radical organization it has become.
SPLC is also coming under scrutiny for its financial practices, including allegations it has parked $69 million in offshore accounts. But its questionable financial practices pale compared to the harm it is doing to destroy traditional Christian ministries by deceptively adding them to a list of odious types like neo-Nazis and skinheads, suggesting some equivalency.
Let’s return to the problem of other organizations quoting SPLC.
Imagine that GS decided to list religious non-profits, and also rate them on the worth and accuracy of their religious beliefs. So, for example, GS might opine that the “religion of X” held false beliefs, and even that in the truer “religion of Y,” one sect was superior to another. If GS converted to a theological evaluation service and presented itself in this way, there’s no harm as long as there is full disclosure. Readers are on notice, and may ask “what is GS’s theological perspective?” and “how does that influence their views?”
It is an entirely different case if GS decides to publish truly neutral information, such as the average annual temperature in the city where the ministry is headquartered. In that case, it might cite National Weather Service statistics – which would be fair enough.
In citing SPLC, GS’s actions were more like the former. The placement of the SPLC reference was intended to suggest neutrality – like quoting the National Weather Service. But make no mistake; its sneaky inclusion was anything but neutral. In citing the “Hate Group” reference, it actually elevated SPLC into something like a standard bearer on the proper goals of nonprofit organizations. And in doing so, GS adopted SPLC’s views by reference.
Simply put, feigned ignorance of SPLC’s true motives and means no longer works. With all the revelations and criticisms of SPLC’s lack of credibility, a decision to cite them as an authority is now active participation in their campaign against traditional religious views on sexuality.
One last point on the GS decision is worth noting. The venom in SPLC’s tactics comes from its dishonest attempts to associate genuinely scary groups (like violent Skinheads) with traditional religious views of sexual morality.
But do these other disreputable groups even appear in GS? A recent search, for example, shows that the KKK is absent (except for an inactive reference to a KKK National Museum). The word “Skinhead” turns up one reference, and that is for an organization opposing such groups. Further examination reveals more of the same – these groups barely exist in the world of GS.
This should come as no surprise. Self-described neo-Nazis and Skinheads (who nearly all people of goodwill rightly decry) don’t sit in corporate meetings discussing their GS rating, conflict of interest policy, donor transparency, or reducing the costs of services. So in scanning GS’s pages, the reader doesn’t see what the culture broadly considers “hate groups.” Instead, GS deceptively assigns the title to dismantle traditional religious morality, as if a belief in traditional marriage is merely an extension of neo-Nazi doctrine.
GS should be commended for reversing its course, but the word is out. No one quoting SPLC should pretend any longer that they are doing anything other than joining in SPLC’s efforts to tar traditional religious groups.
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