Arthus S. Demoss Foundation: Social Values

While the main focus of the Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation appears to be on the publication of Power for Living, it has also undertaken other projects:

Like a majority of DeMoss undertakings, the Power for Living campaign turns out to be a simple call to Christ. But a significant minority of the foundation’s projects are harder edged, targeting abortion and gay rights and promoting a vision of a Christian America some find overzealous. The DeMoss family, led by matriarch Nancy, 61, is politically and theologically conservative. Its charity was “an early and significant supporter of the religious right,” says William Martin, author of With God on Our Side, a history of the movement. As the DeMoss Foundation demonstrates its willingness to pour tens of millions into reaching a mass audience, it inevitably courts the question, What are its larger social goals?

The foundation’s first campaign to draw wide attention was a series of soft-focus TV spots with the tag line “Life. What a beautiful choice.” Featuring tableaux of beautiful children who the ads noted had not been aborted, they aired in states facing abortion-related referendums and went national by 1993 at a cost estimated at $20 million a year. The commercials thrilled the antiabortion camp. Says National Right to Life Committee president Wanda Franz: “They ran daily for years. It was the kind of campaign an organization like ours could never have begun to touch.”

If the antiabortion ads were a major (if tasteful) foray into hot-button advocacy, the Power for Living campaign is closer to pure tract evangelism. Viewers who dial the 800 number receive the 134-page booklet, which employs simple metaphors like a country road or a broken golf club in support of the classic invitation. “All you do is, by an act of your will, say, ‘I want You, Jesus, to take over my life.’” Participants in an earlier Power drive in 1983 have claimed that several million people ordered the book.

Such numbers make some people nervous. “If they say they’re just trying to win hearts for Jesus, fine,” says Chip Berlet of the left-of-center group Political Research Associates. “But given their history, I’m looking for the other shoe to drop.” He cites The Rebirth of America, a 1986 book published by the foundation and edited by DeMoss daughter Nancy Leigh DeMoss that lists the gay-rights movement, abortion and “our humanistic, secular public school system” as proof that “Americans have lost their way in part because they do not know their own Christian heritage.” Given that philosophy, critics look with skepticism on the foundation’s promise not to pass along the Power mailing list. Moreover, says Alfred Ross, head of the Institute for Democracy Studies, “they don’t need to pass it on. They are the religious right.”

Evangelical leaders find this overdrawn. Says minister Campolo, whose moderate credentials won him a job counseling Bill Clinton, post-Monica: “Their purpose is to propagate the evangelical commitments, and that includes the social values associated with those commitments. But what they are really about is old-time religion, endeavoring to see that every person in the world comes to know Jesus.”

The foundation’s 1997 tax filings show both sides of the group’s character. Of $25 million in expenditures, some $9 million paid for foreign evangelism. Domestically, roughly the same amount was put into a TV campaign for youth abstinence (”You’re worth waiting for”). Thus three-fourths of DeMoss’s giving qualifies as relatively noncontroversial. However, $1.6 million went to the American Center for Law and Justice, a nonprofit law firm founded by Pat Robertson that opposes gay marriage, defends abortion protesters and promotes various types of school prayer.
– Source: Who Are Those Guys? TIME Magazine, USA, Aug. 9, 1999

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This post was last updated: Mar. 19, 2012