Thursday, September 9, 2010

Digging Out the Speck - Nonprofit Quarterly Questions Beck/Palin Associates

Nonprofit Quarterly's Jeff Cohen this week wrote a piece this week about "Glenn Beck's Nonprofit Ties" that had surprisingly little to say about Beck's ties. Cohen wrote, "....some of the lesser known players wandering past the dais at Beck’s Restoring Honor gathering last week should be of interest to the nonprofit sector if they have questions about the nonprofit values underlying the rally." Jeff had to do some serious digging to find the wisp of dirt he "uncovered". 

His concern was about two players, members of Beck's so-called Black Robe Regiment, Pastor John Hagee, a fiery San Antonio-based preacher who believes the Apocalypse is upon us and Rabbi Daniel Lapin. Apparently, Hagee has a poor opinion of the Catholic Church as an organization and Lapin was once friends with former shady lobbyist, Jack Abramoff. The list of sordidness can be found here. It's mild sordidness by usual Washington DC standards and drags us clear to the Marianas, over to a parochial school in Maryland and "by association" to former Republican Congressman Tom DeLay. It's petty, to say the least, and doesn't list any actual indictments or criminal charges that have been incurred by Rabbi Lapin or Reverend Hagee due to their opinions or friendships. According to Cohen, they are apparently shady characters because of their opinions and friends. 

Look, Hagee is entitled to his opinion re: the Roman Catholics Church whether any of us agree with it or not, and Hagee, himself, denies any animus toward individual Catholics. His problem is with the church organization itself and he is entitled to that opinion. The Catholic Church certainly has opinions about non-Catholics like Hagee and me (did you know, for instance, the Pope holds the opinion that non-Catholics like Hagee and me will burn in hell forever-tortured for our sins in pain for all eternity). Despite my own repugnance at that idea, I think the Pope is entitled to his opinion and to teach it in Catholic churches. Then there's the whole Spanish Inquisition thing, Joan of Arc, Huss, Jerome, Wycliffe, Galileo and others running a centuries long history of church sponsored violence and bloodshed. Hagee didn't have to search nearly as hard as you did to find that sort of dirt on the Catholic Church and isn't that what this article was - a dirt-digging expedition? Wasn't Cohen's article designed chiefly to cast aspersions on Beck and Palin and to impugn the motives of the folks at the Rally?  It certainly seemed that way to me.

Other pastors there have as harsh an opinion of Hagee and his church as he does of some of theirs. But this wasn't about religious opinions. The point of the day was that people like Rev. Hagee could stand side by side with people of many faiths in support of a common set of values - free speech, free assembly, free religion, free press, free economy, etc.. That was a monumentally significant gathering of diverse and peaceful people. No violence at all. Even those who came to incite violence were surrounded quickly by peaceful participants and when they couldn't get a fight started, they became quiet and drifted away.

These were nice people at the rally, up front and in the audience; regular folks from every economic strata, every culture, every race and religion (there were Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Buddhists in the crowd and on stage). They agree that we should return to the values we once espoused in this country, no matter how imperfectly we may have practiced those values. Maybe we'll get it better this time, who knows? But it was a stunning achievement AND it raised a bunch of money for the foundation. I defy you to check out the backgrounds of the leaders and organizers of a typical mall "rally" and find a pristine record of personal ethical behavior, let alone ethical behavior by organizations at second and third remove or folks who happened to wander by the dais.

You certainly won't have to go to the Marianas and, "by extension" to a congressman you don't like, to find corruption. If you are going to look for a speck of sawdust in your neighbor's eye, you might want to check out the log sticking out of your own side's collective eyes. I could name names and connections, but this comment is not about "we said, they said". It's about a fair treatment of everyone. If you are going to select folks "wandering past the dais" as brushes with which to negatively paint Beck and Palin and the whole Restoring Honor Rally, then I challenge you to review with the same intensity the backgrounds of say, the folks who performed at the big concert for 9/11 families, or the organizers of Al Sharton's “Reclaim the Dream” Rally held just down the street on 8/28. Otherwise you appear biased towards a political view and I thought Nonprofit Quarterly was, at least in part, about holding Nonprofits to a higher ethical standard.

I don't think the Special Operations Warriors Foundation did anything wrong, even by association and they were the recipients of the funds raised. Their wrongdoing would be relevant to Nonprofit Quarterly. I don't see how someone who offered prayer or presented an award have anything to do with the ethics of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin anyway.  Lots of folks with unsavory pasts help raise money for U.S. charities and I haven’t seen a lot of complaints at the Nonprofit Quarterly (I could have missed them). The people cited as fishy in this article had no control over or financial ties to the Rally which was, in essence, a fund-raising event. The fact that someone with a connection to a nonprofit has in the past got hooked up with something that may or may not have been ethical has nothing to do with the rally or the foundation’s ethics. I defy almost anyone with a long history in nonprofit and fund-raising work, not to have taken funding from or made an association or connection to something or someone that could be considered shady.

Does that then condemn you to eternal separation from nonprofit fund-raising activities if someone "wanders by the dais" who has a blot on his or her past? If so, the ranks of nonprofit leadership would rapidly be decimated. We can, at best, try to insure we, ourselves, and our organizations behave in an ethical manner. We can turn down money from shady sources. But what our brothers, our volunteers or our partner agencies do outside our events and programs is beyond our power to control. Have you ever been outvoted on a board of directors and stayed to try to correct the error you believed your brother and sister board members were making? If we cut and run, resigning every time there's a problem, we aren't being ethical, we're being cowards. There is a time to dig in our heels and stand for what’s right. We shouldn’t be tarnished for doing so. If we want brave and ethical people at the helm of our nonprofits, we should be a little more reluctant to rush to tarnish reputations on no more than what is "guilt by association".

I think it's irresponsible to do these kinds of snarky hit pieces if you are a website and newsletter promoting ethics among nonprofits. If you have evidence of wrongdoing against the Rally organizers, Beck or Palin, fine. Give evidence.  If someone is misappropriating money, okay. Show us how. But all these charges amount to are an attempt to throw mud.  This type of one-sided "journalism" opens Nonprofit Quarterly up to charges of bias towards a single political viewpoint, to witch-hunting and to light slander (in my church they call it gossip).

Had Mr. Cohen continued with a broad examination of the ethics of the leaders of these kinds of fund-raising rallies, he'd have had a fair article.  This was a hit piece, nothing more and a poorly aimed one.

I'm just telling it like I see it.

Tom King

* Al Sharpton image from The Austin-American Statesman:

No comments: