Beyond the “Hate Map”: How the Southern Poverty Law Center is hurting Christian groups

After her pro-family group was targeted by the SPLC, Jennifer Roback Morse says, “I felt the time was right to speak out.”

A screenshot of the Southern Poverty Law Center's "Hate Map." (www.splcenter.org)

An online donation processing company’s recent decision to sever ties with family-advocacy organization The Ruth Institute has come under fire from religious liberty and traditional marriage advocates, who argue that it is proof of the corroding of civil discourse and increasing attempts to harass religious groups out of existence.

Vanco Payment Solutions, which processes online donations for more than 20,000 churches and non-profit religious groups across the country, cancelled the Ruth Institute’s service August 31. The group had been flagged by Card Services as “a product/service that promotes hate, violence, harassment and/or abuse,” and “[m]erchants that display such attributes are against Vanco and Wells Fargo processing policies,” according to a portion of Vanco’s letter posted on the Ruth Institute blog.

The Ruth Institute (an organization the author has occasionally worked for as an independent contractor) says it has been listed on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Hate Map” since 2013, and believes that designation is what led to Vanco’s move. The SPLC, located in Montgomery, Alabama, is a source widely used by the media and other organizations to identify hate groups. According to the SPLC’s website, Ruth Institute founder Jennifer Roback Morse has “used Catholic doctrine to assert LGBT people are ‘intrinsically disordered’ and that they should remain celibate (or leave ‘the gay lifestyle’) and not act on their attractions.”

After the Ruth Institute’s publicizing Vanco’s decision, the company’s CFO, Jennifer Dorris, contacted the Ruth Institute and told Morse the company was willing to re-establish a business relationship with the non-profit. Morse stated she emailed Dorris and told her that in order for the Ruth Institute to consider using Vanco’s services again, she would need an explanation of why they were terminated, what Wells Fargo’s role was in them being terminated, and a private and public apology, among other requests. Dorris did not respond to any of those demands, so Morse said the Ruth Institute will not be doing business with Vanco any time soon.

“Vanco’s decision to abruptly end its business relationship with the Ruth Institute was disruptive for the organization,” Morse said in an interview with CWR. “Their initial decision to drop us was very inconvenient, as you may imagine. Our monthly donors were the ones immediately impacted.”

“We had to call all of them, and tell them what was going on, that their donations would be interrupted until we could find a replacement,” Morse said.

Vanco, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Card Services (the company named by Vanco as having “flagged” the Ruth Institute as a hate group) were all contacted for this article, but none responded to interview requests. Wells Fargo Communication Manager Jim Seitz responded via email that Wells Fargo did not have a comment for the story.

“These people—Vanco, probably Wells Fargo, and certainly the SPLC—participated in a public slander of my organization,” Morse said. “It isn’t just me, though. Indirectly, they are shaming every person who has ever given me 10 bucks. I won’t stand for that anymore. I decided that my supporters deserve better than for me to keep my head down and hope it all goes away. I felt the time was right to speak out, and let the chips fall where they may.”

Emilie Kao, director of the Richard and Helen DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation, said she thinks the Ruth Institute’s pushback against Vanco is a good step, but that much more needs to be done to fight the SPLC.

“It’s a dangerous trend for the mainstream media and organizations we rely on to evaluate charities—and even give to charities—to irresponsibly cite the SPLC,” Kao said.

“There is a growing trend of hostility toward religion,” she added. “The SPLC—they’ve openly said they are going to destroy these organizations.”

“The most important thing is for Vanco and other organizations to stop using the SPLC as a credible source, because they aren’t a credible source,” Kao said. “I think an apology [to the Ruth Institute] is appropriate in this situation, but the most important thing is that Vanco…and other groups don’t espouse the SPLC’s political vandalism, and that people who care about religious liberty speak up for religious liberty—that people who care about the family speak up for, support, and give to groups that support the family.”

Hunter Baker, a fellow at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, said that unmasking the SPLC’s partisanship is critical.

“We need to make SPLC famous,” said Baker, who teaches political science at Union University. “Every American needs to know that the media defines a hate group based on what the SPLC says. That means we need to publicize everything about their operation. How do they determine a group is a ‘hate group’? Are they using their ‘hate’ designation for any good purpose, such as uncovering dangerous extremists? Or are they simply trying to destroy political and religious dissent in American society? Everyone needs to understand that SPLC is basically a very lucrative marketing organization aimed against Christians and conservatives.”

“Whenever this kind of thing happens to groups like the Ruth Institute, we have to resist on their behalf,” Baker said. “Don’t leave them on their own. Don’t let them be isolated and blackballed. Christians who use Vanco should seriously consider using a different company.”

Morse expressed similar sentiments. “Find someone else,” she said of Vanco. “They are not serious about their mission to service churches and non-profit organizations.”

Morse and Baker both said conservatives need to take a closer look at how corporations are framing the narrative with regard to religious liberty, marriage, and family.

“We need to start talking about the Beltway-Silicon Valley-Hollywood-Wall Street nexus and the way they are working to destroy religious liberty,” Baker said. “Why did [Georgia Governor] Nathan Deal veto religious liberty legislation in Georgia? Intimidation from this cultural nexus.”

Morse sounded a similar warning. “The activist organizations are increasingly partnering with Big Business,” she said. “Conservatives who think Big Business is on their side need to wake up. Corporate America is committed to supporting the Sexual Revolution. Do not be naïve about this.”

“The environment will become more hostile because the political left realizes that gay marriage is an ideal wedge issue,” Baker said. “They’ll amp up the pressure since there is a natural lull on their side after the Obergefell decision. They got what they wanted. In order to keep the movement going, it makes sense to identify the enemies—that’s us, unfortunately—and try to gather wins.”

“The Trump presidency, whether you like him personally or not, provides a period of relative safety,” Baker added. “The federal bureaucracy won’t be coming after conservative Christians in the next four years. Hopefully, the fervor will die down and people will have time to reevaluate the importance of religious liberty.”

As for Morse, if she had the chance to speak directly to the SPLC, what would she say?

“Find honest work,” she said.

About Leslie Fain 17 Articles

Leslie Fain is a freelance writer who lives in Louisiana with her husband and three sons.

15 Comments

  1. The SPLC is increasingly going after anyone or any organisation it deems to be not in synch with the “progressive” agenda rather than truly identifying groups that actually to peddle hatred and incitement to violence.
    Thus if you support traditional marriage, Christian (Catholic) values, dare to offer criticism of those parts of Islam’s teaching that are brutal you are a “hate” group.
    Almost risibly, this applies even to individuals who have also been termed “hate groups” – presumably SPLC thinks they all have multiple personality disorder.
    It would also appear that this is a deliberate attempt to shut down any voice opposed to so-called “progressive” values and thus an attack on free-speech.

  2. Wells Fargo? “the group had been flagged by Card Services as “a product/service that promotes hate, violence, harassment and/or abuse,” and “[m]erchants that display such attributes are against Vanco and Wells Fargo processing policies,”

    Wells Fargo?, the criminal bank that opened millions of accounts for people that they did not authorize, and who terrorized their staff into selling this scam to their customers.

    You know for all the databases that follow everyone around noting what , when , where, and with whom, there needs to be one for companies, politicians, public personas keeping a list of all the dirty shenanigans (criminal, unethical, immoral) so that people can see the hypocrisy and past dirty deeds these so called companies think everyone has forgotten. Wells Fargo, where do they get off!

  3. Talk is worse than meaningless. You need to gather up about ten million dollars, hire the most ferocious and feral lawyers in the country, and sue SPLC down to bedrock.

    It shouldn’t be hard to gather the money. I’d toss in a thousand if I thought you were serious, and I’ll bet MANY others would do FAR more.

    You’re not serious because you’re not taking the abovementioned action.

  4. This is the problem: If the Catholic Church rejects sexual activity by homosexuals and calls it a justified church principle on a public platform, or even a private one (in a Church), Gays and Lesbians have been excoriated, criticized, and demeaned. They have been denied their freedoms to be what they were born as. Their reputation is assailed. The church will call it “free speech” or “religious liberty” and the Gays and Lesbians will call it “unjust discrimination, and hate-mongering”–a hate crime. Both sides are right. Who has the STRONGER right when two rights conflict? In the interest of toleration and Christian charity for all, I come out on the side of SPLC. Rationally, I also believe that one’s own integrity–the right to be what one was born as–has a stronger claim than one’s view about another person. Why does anyone have a “right” to evaluate another and criticize them–especially when that person cannot control who or what he or she is. It is not as if a preacher in church will be able to effect change and alter a straight person, or even a Gay person sexuality, or that someone in the audience might just decide to become gay or lesbian unless they are taught otherwise. SO, what is the purpose of calling out Gays or Lesbians except to hurt those in that position! I cannot but think that is a Hate Crime that must be stopped–by SPLC and every other Christian in the universe. I support SPLC because they have taken on the huge responsibility of protecting the most vulnerable in our society… minorities of every stripe who need their protection against hate mongers of all stripes. Unfortunately, the church has fallen into that category by their unjust criticism of those who cannot choose to be anything but who they are. Their gay sexuality is just as sacred as heterosexual sexuality, and certainly can not be prohibited by anyone, much less the church who should be a beacon of tolerance.

    • Christian charity does not include saying “That which God has said is wrong is a-ok with me.” In fact, it means the opposite of that–“That which God has said is wrong is wrong.”

    • This is about as nutty and bigoted a comment as I have ever read. Summary: Christians can be tolerated as long as they do not preach or practice Christianity. As we were saying, the SPLC is a hate group, and Dr. Jost’s comments are an excellent example of why students should be discouraged from attending most universities (in this case, Bradley U.).

    • ‘If the Catholic Church rejects sexual activity by homosexuals and calls it a justified church principle on a public platform, or even a private one (in a Church), Gays and Lesbians have been excoriated, criticized, and demeaned.’

      If the Catholic Church rejects the act of gossip by gossipers and calls it a justified church principle on a public platform, or even a private one (in a Church), gossipers have been excoriated, criticized, and demeaned.

      ‘They have been denied their freedoms to be what they were born as.’

      Speaking as a 43 year old gay man, I have not yet seen proof that I was born as anything other than a human male. And how dare you define for every gay and lesbian that our sexual identity MUST include sexual activity!

      ‘Their reputation is assailed.’

      No more so than the gossips.

      ‘The church will call it “free speech” or “religious liberty” and the Gays and Lesbians will call it “unjust discrimination, and hate-mongering”–a hate crime.’

      One: by all means let us belittle the “church” [sic] with the lower case “c” but let us exalt the Gays and the Lesbians by inappropriately using the upper case in the words gays and lesbians.

      Two: Speaking, again, as a gay man, I don’t call it a hate crime, nor do I feel any more “excoriated, criticized, and demeaned” than the gossips. I call your attempt to spread hate about the Church a hate crime.

      ‘Who has the STRONGER right when two rights conflict? In the interest of toleration and Christian charity for all, I come out on the side of SPLC.’

      In the interest of toleration and Christian charity, I come out on the side of people of intelligence and good will who recognize that declaring a certain sexual behavior a sin is not the same thing as spreading hate. In the interest of rule-by-law, I come out on the side of the United States “Constitution” which guarantees freedom of religion and says absolutely nothing about who I, or anyone else, can or cannot have sex with.

      ‘Rationally, I also believe that one’s own integrity–the right to be what one was born as–has a stronger claim than one’s view about another person.’

      One: I want incontrovertible proof that I was born gay, that it’s origin is entirely in my genetic make-up, that I must be sexually active because of it, and that I am not me unless I identify as gay and engage in sexual activity. Then we can discuss whether or not your opinion is rational.

      Two: One of my friends turned out to be a pedophile, and is very justly serving time in prison for it while his victim suffers every day from the trauma of his actions towards her. Why don’t you tell her in a few years that his right to be what he was born as trumps her view about him? Tell me whether she thinks highly of you after that.

      ‘Why does anyone have a “right” to evaluate another and criticize them–especially when that person cannot control who or what he or she is.’

      I repeat: ‘I want incontrovertible proof that I was born gay, that it’s origin is entirely in my genetic make-up, that I must be sexually active because of it, and that I am not me unless I identify as gay and engage in sexual activity.’

      ‘It is not as if a preacher in church will be able to effect change and alter a straight person, or even a Gay person sexuality, [sic] or that someone in the audience might just decide to become gay or lesbian unless they are taught otherwise.’

      And?

      ‘SO, [sic] what is the purpose of calling out Gays or Lesbians except to hurt those in that position!’

      Note the upper case of Gays [sic] and Lesbians [sic] again.

      Are you, the holder of a Ph.D., really that ignorant of the historic Christian view of sexuality? Is “Christians want to hurt sexually active LGBTQ by condemning as sinful all forms of sex outside of a one man, one woman marriage” truly the *only* reason you can come up with as to why Christians identify such activity as sinful? Whether you or I agree with the reasoning or not has no bearing on what the *actual* reasoning behind the Church’s stance on that subject.

      ‘I cannot but think that is a Hate Crime…’

      I cannot but think that yours is among the stupidest arguments I’ve ever read coming from a supposedly educated individual.

      ‘I support SPLC because they have taken on the huge responsibility of protecting the most vulnerable in our society… minorities of every stripe who need their protection against hate mongers of all stripes. Unfortunately, the church has fallen into that category by their unjust criticism of those who cannot choose to be anything but who they are.’

      Again, who are *you* to tell *me* that I *must* be gay according to your definition of the word, and that I have *no choice* in the matter?

      ‘Their gay sexuality is just as sacred as heterosexual sexuality…’

      Oh, really? Define sacred. Explain what makes heterosexual sexuality “sacred”, and then explain how LGBTQ sexuality is equal to it.

  5. We were Wells Fargo customers in the 1980s when we were so poor, we got to buy something other than food once a year at tax refund time. We found WF shorting our checking account 3 times. I told it to a teller. “So what?”

    How comes it that progressives so frequently, nearly always, just coincidentally follow the line favored by the US Chamber & Biz Roundtable? Such as compassion for foreign born migrants & DACA, meanwhile home born Blacks are left out in the cold, where’s the compassion for them?

  6. The SPLC, which had some relevant purpose in its early years, has been stricken with that greatest of illnesses common to activists: irrelevance. This has caused them to manufacture grievances for the sole purpose in remaining in business. It would be tragic irony were it not for the damage they presently cause.

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Beyond the “Hate Map”: How the Southern Poverty Law Center is hurting Christian groups - Catholic Crossing
  2. Beyond the “Hate Map”: How the Southern Poverty Law Center is hurting Christian groups -
  3. THVRSDAY CATHOLICA EDITION – Big Pulpit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.


*