This Week in God

First up from the God Machine this week is a look at the financial troubles of one of the religious right movement’s highest-profile powerhouses.

Focus on the Family, created by James Dobson, was a very influential organization in the 1990s and through parts of the Bush/Cheney era, but has fallen on harder times since. The religious right agenda no longer plays as prominent a national role; the economy has hurt donations; Dobson has moved on; and social norms on issues like gay rights have progressed to the left. Focus on the Family, as a result, is left with a dwindling bank account.

The email doesn’t have the drama of the late evangelist Oral Roberts’ announcement in 1986 that God would call him home if he didn’t raise $8 million by a certain date. But the message from CitizenLink, the lobbying arm of Focus on the Family, was nevertheless clear: Act now or there could be consequences.

CitizenLink this week sent an email to constituents pleading for $2.3 million in 30 days to avoid a budget shortfall. If the money is not raised, “our ability to act on your behalf will be severely, and perhaps irreparably, hurt,” wrote Tom Minnery, CitizenLink executive director.

“The threat is still very real,” Minnery writes. “If we don’t stay vigilant, last year’s victories can AND WILL be taken from us!”

Like most nonprofits, CitizenLink has experienced a dramatic drop in donations in recent years.

As my friend Kyle Mantyla noted, Focus’ pleading for contributions looks even worse in the larger context: the group has already undergone drastic budget reductions and several rounds of staff layoffs.

It’s a reminder that this is a movement in transition. The Christian Coalition is largely gone; Falwell died several years ago; and now Focus is struggling badly. In the meantime, many Tea Party types have shifted the conservative focus away from gays and abortion, and onto taxes and fiscal issues.

That said, the religio-political winds have been known to shift back and forth, and the initial success of Republican presidential candidates like Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, and the popularity of far-right evangelical figures like Mike Huckabee, suggest there’s still a contingent within the Republican Party that takes social conservatism very seriously. The question, then, is when new movement leaders and organizations will step up to fill the obvious void.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Amy Sullivan has some very good advice for political journalists covering the presidential race when the issue of religion and faith comes up with the candidates.

* Even some conservative scholars are now prepared to concede that Adam and Eve did not literally exist. (thanks to E.B. for the tip)

* Online, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints take branding and image very seriously, and have become experts in search engine optimization. (thanks to R.P. for the tip)

* And the Pew Research Center has published the first comprehensive survey of U.S. Muslims in several years, and found some interesting results. Most notably, despite facing discrimination, American Muslims are far more satisfied with the way things are going in the United States than the overall population, and despite what you may have heard from the right, most have moderate views. (thanks to V.S. for the tip)