The news shot around the twitterverse in a matter of seconds. Durham-based blogger Pam Spaulding was helping to facilitate an LGBT gathering at the 2010 Netroots Nation conference in Las Vegas when Faith in America strategist Steve Hildebrand announced the group might be moving its headquarters from Hickory, N.C., to New York City, and could start targeting high profile evangelists like Saddleback Church’s Rick Warren.
“We’re looking at a bunch of different options which include keeping [Faith in America] based here in North Carolina where it is,” Hildebrand, former deputy campaign manager for President Obama’s 2008 campaign, told qnotes a week after the conference.
Brought on in April, Hildebrand is working with executive director Brent Childers, founder and chairman Mitchell Gold and the rest of the Faith in America board on strategies to grow the organization and its influence in the national debate on LGBT equality.
“Mitchell and the board have stated a significant goal and purpose, which is to dramatically expand across the country the impact that Faith in America can have on combating religion-based bigotry toward gay people,” Hildebrand said. “We’re looking at different kinds of plans and ideas on how to do that, which could include moving the headquarters’ location. It is very much up in the air. It is a possibility but there’s only been one board discussion around it and no resolution past that point.”
Childers told qnotes Faith in America would always keep a presence in the Tar Heel State .
“We’ll still have a presence here particularly in North Carolina,” Childers said. “Mitchell’s home and community is here; obviously that’s a presence in and of itself.”
Possible relocation isn’t the only forward-thinking strategy the group has up its sleeve. Focused on bringing attention to the harm caused by anti-LGBT religious teachings — a harm Gold says is at the heart of every anti-gay political battle or initiative — Faith in America is chewing on several potential campaigns. Hildebrand said that includes a campaign targeting evangelicals.
“One of the things we’re going to take a look at is an evangelical initiative where we would begin to put a little bit more pressure on people like Rick Warren and other evangelical ministries who have been preaching religion-based bigotry against gay people,” he said. “We want to work to confront those efforts and to counter the kinds of messaging they are putting out. We want to specifically go to places like Orange County, Calif., and get into a dialogue with Rick Warren and Saddleback Church and other evangelical ministers and say that bigotry and the hate they are espousing are simply wrong.”
Other potential campaigns could include initiatives focusing on Catholics, Southern Baptists and youth.
The issue of religion has always been a sticky, uncomfortable place for many LGBT advocates and organizations. Hildebrand said that doesn’t have to be the case.
“You don’t need to have deep and extensive or philosophical discussions about religion,” he said. “I think Faith in America has made it really quite simple: When religion-based bigotry is preached it hurts people and it especially hurts our youth.”
He continued, “If we want to continue to put our youth into depression and continue to increase their suicide rates then we should go ahead and continue to preach religion-based bigotry toward gay people. But, if we want to stop harming people and start helping people live healthy, productive lives then we need to get beyond the idea that it is okay and acceptable to preach hate toward gay people.”
Childers said the “headline” for his group is its uniqueness: “There is not another organization out there that is devoted solely to this issue. That is a pretty big statement…there is no other organization working solely on this issue with the national capacity that is needed.”
Faith in America, Childers said, is intent on having a much larger impact especially in rural areas.
“We want activists and advocates, whether it is in Asheville, N.C., or Fayetteville, Ark. — we want activists in those areas to take this message and put it to work for themselves,” he said.
In order to accomplish their goals for growth, Hildebrand said Faith in America will make significant changes, especially to its infrastructure and outreach.
“We want to have a greater voice in the national dialogue relating to issues of equality,” he said. “We’re going to continue to push other LGBT organizations to adopt our messaging and we’re going to have a much greater presence online. You are going to see a much more aggressive operation than what you’ve seen in the past. You’ll see us have a much greater voice in the equality debate in this country.” : :