NCGOP Asking for Church Directories

Via dent, I see that the Washington Post is reporting on efforts by the NCGOP to collect church directories.

"Such a request is completely beyond the pale of what is acceptable," said the Rev. Richard Land, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.

During the 2004 presidential race, the Bush-Cheney campaign sent a similar request to Republican activists across the country. It asked churchgoers not only to furnish church directories to the campaign, but also to use their churches as a base for political organizing.

The tactic was roundly condemned by religious leaders across the political spectrum, including conservative evangelical Christians. Ten professors of ethics at major seminaries and universities wrote a letter to President Bush in August 2004 asking him to "repudiate the actions of your re-election campaign," and calling on both parties to "respect the integrity of all houses of worship."

In N.C., GOP Requests Church Directories


The NCGOP: All The Way To the Ethical Boundaries - And Beyond!TM

Comments

Not sure this is wrong

I really am unsure. There is not a completely developed argument here.

If the directory is one that was developed with a promise to those listed that the directory will only be used for internal church purposes, then there is clearly an ethical lapse on the part of the church if they provide the directory to outsiders.

But I do not think it is ethically wrong to ask for a directory. Maybe we should be asking, too.

It might even help the legal and political cause were the Democratic party to request the directories. If the same church that provided a directory to the GOP denied a Dem request, there would be evidence they ran afoul of the law and were acting in bad faith, not as part of a simple "voter registration" civic exercise.

The GOP has a sophisticated electronic database operation which they use to canvas and get out the vote. Should we cede legal means to them? Or should we use all legal means to catch up in this vital part of our efforts?

There is also a potential freedom of speech and freedom of association issue. Consider the following hypothetical:

I am a church member in possession of a directory. The directory was not issued with rules restricting its use to communications regarding official church business. On my own initiative, I send e-mails or make phone calls to my fellow church members advocating that they register and vote as Democrats. Is that unethical? Maybe it is unethical not to do so if I believe that the well being of our children, the poor, the oppressed is at stake.

Taking the hypothetical one step further, is it not within my 1st Amendment rights to enlist a friend in this effort? How about an association of my friends, the party?

I am interested in hearing more.

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We'll have to ask the lawyers

but I think the question will eventually come down to non-profit status. I can imagine a big problem if a church "gives" its director to the GOP and not the Dems . . . or even if a single person does that . . . the church's non-profit status can and should be questioned.

Of course, I think churches should not have non-profit status in the first place.

non-profit not the only thing

This could also be spun along the lines of WHAT churches they solict directories from. Those liberal churches in Chapel Hill don't qualify.....

I think they're asking parishioners

and not the churches directly. I personally don't buy the argument that this threatens churchs' tax status, but then I'm not a tax lawyer. But a church directory represents work done by church members for the purpose of aiding church members in doing God's work. Being listed in the directory is usually voluntary, so the directory also represents each listee's decision to share their information in that medium. For the GOP to co-opt that work and those permissions for use in political fundraising is wrong. (And make no mistake, though the NCGOP says they just want the directories for GOTV purposes, they will be using them for fundraising.

From a strategic point of view, I think the fact of the NCGOP's moral error here is worth more to Dems than duplicating it would be. But I'm not 100% sure about that.

Thoughtful responses

What is God's work? Might it include doing political work for "the least of these?" That's a viewpoint Christian Dems could take. Christian Republicans see God's work as including political support for bans on gay marriage and abortions.

I agree that there is also a political calculation to be made: is the negative publicity we could generate more important than the use of the directories would be to our side? My tentative answer to this one is that we're in better shape on the ideas front than we are on the organizing front.

Maybe we need to be sure we have the right answers to these questions before we turn this into a bigger issue.

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Sure enough

Maybe we need to be sure we have the right answers to these questions before we turn this into a bigger issue.

That's almost certainly true. The worst possible outcome would be playing into the stereotype that Democrats are anti-religion.

Stereotype already in play!

From the Winston-Salem Journal, Feb. 17:

The Republican Party believes that people shouldn't leave their moral and spiritual beliefs at the door of the polling place," Peaslee said. "We're just appealing to one of our constituencies, just as the Democrat Party does. ... The Democrats may feel it's more profitable to go and do voter registration drives at a homosexual convention. We feel more comfortable going to churches.

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Classy

And to think I resisted the urge to make Cheney jokes this week.

Privacy

I think privacy laws enter into this as well. Would I expect the fact I belong to temple or church X be available to every Republican direct mail organization in the state? No. That is a legitimate concern.

Also, thought I would pass along that the political director, Christopher F. Mears, is a law graduate of Regent University, the university founded by everyone's favorite hurricane forecaster, Pat Robertson.