“Soft Totalitarianism”, the term coined by Rod Dreher for non-governmental control over individuals and organizations, is rearing its head more frequently and perniciously in a multitude of sectors of American life. One expects to find cancel culture, extreme DEI initiatives, and discrimination against religion and religious individuals on both coasts or perhaps in large multinational corporations and in educational institutions. But now this highly discriminatory cultural trend has arrived in force even in philanthropic organizations in small midwestern communities.
Lincoln is the capital city of Nebraska, a city of about 300,000 people. It is known for its family friendly environment, beautiful parks and trails, its bustling and expanding downtown, and, of course, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
It has also been known as a philanthropic community, as demonstrated by the highly successful “Give to Lincoln Day” event sponsored by the Lincoln Community Foundation (LCF) each May. This annual focus on giving to Lincoln’s nonprofits began in 2012 and to date has unleashed more than $50 million dollars in charitable giving to the nonprofit organizations of Lincoln, among which are many faith-based organizations. These organizations serve the city by providing support for the poor, educational services for children, resettlement services for the city’s large refugee population, and much more.
Last year more than 400 organizations participated in “Give to Lincoln Day”, and more than $8 million was raised in this single day event. One of the incentives for nonprofits participating is the $500,000 matching gift from the Lincoln Community Foundation, distributed proportionately according to the amount of money each organization raises on that day. This event highlights the importance and scope of the work the nonprofit sector does in our community. It’s a celebration of the creativity of the local community to form associations to solve community problems and serve the underserved. “Give to Lincoln Day” is one of the highlights of the year for the people of Lincoln. The LCF provides community-wide publicity and marketing for this event. It is widely talked about and anticipated all around the community each year and there is a deep sense of pride in challenging the entire community to see how much more can be raised this year over last year for the good of the people in our community.
Since the inception of “Give to Lincoln Day”, all nonprofit organizations have been invited to participate without restriction, leaving it up to the donor to determine which organizations and causes they wish to support. This year everything changed. For the first time the Lincoln Community Foundation required all nonprofits to sign an affirmation of non-discrimination and they also sought to require every nonprofit to affirm the “hate map” created by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). This “hate map” identifies and labels as a “Hate Group” any organization or ministry that does not embrace the LGBTQ+ agenda. Many well-known Christian ministries and non-profits have been labeled as “Hate Groups” by the SPLC, including the Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Research Council, and the National Christian Foundation.
Upon learning of these new requirements for participation in “Give to Lincoln Day”, a few Christian nonprofits in Lincoln, sought for and got a meeting with the leadership of the Lincoln Community Foundation to ask about the reasons for these new requirements and to ask that they be removed, leaving the decision about which organizations would receive support to the donors. While the meeting was gracious and civil, and the Lincoln Community Foundation agreed to reconsider these new requirements, it was clear that they intended to keep in step with the larger national DEI movement. A week later these faith leaders were informed that the SPLC “Hate Map” affirmation would no longer be required, however, the non-discrimination statement would remain as a requirement for participating in “Give to Lincoln Day.” If you don’t sign, you will not be allowed to participate and receive funds through this event. In a nutshell, “sign or be canceled.” While this action did not catch anyone totally by surprise, it is highly disappointing, given the divisive nature of signaling that the attitude of the community has shifted dramatically against the centrality and importance of faith and faith organizations in our community.
In all, about 40 faith-based organizations (consisting of Catholic, Lutheran and Evangelical) concluded that this new requirement was a deal breaker, and that they could not in good conscience sign this affirmation, which could put in jeopardy and significantly hinder the spiritual foundation and biblical framework that is central to the services they provide to the vulnerable and under-resourced children, youth, adults, and families of Lincoln. The consensus among these faith-based ministries is that true human flourishing is profoundly spiritual, and that central to their work is helping people learn what it means to live in right relationship with God and others. For these diverse but profoundly faith-based organizations, bending the knee to these newly embraced secular cultural norms and expectations, to get a few thousand dollars would be comprising their mission and values. They have chosen fidelity to their biblically formed purpose and calling over going along with the cultural stream flowing ever more powerfully away from God’s vision for human flourishing.
Some of these organizations were among the largest recipients of donations during “Give to Lincoln Day,” bringing in more than $100,000 during this event, because of the wide-spread support they have in the community. No doubt some supporters won’t understand why they cannot follow the cultural and social trends of our day. Some will suffer financially, a few may lose volunteers, be viewed with suspicion, or even labeled as hateful. And all these organizations (Catholic, Lutheran, and Evangelical) are now left to create their own giving initiatives and campaigns to produce the significant revenue that came in through this annual community-wide giving event. This is not an insignificant challenge given the current economic climate and the cost of creatively and broadly telling the story of what your faith-based ministry is doing in the community and why it matters. And now, you also must explain your counter-cultural, biblical view on gender, sex, and marital fidelity.
As is always true, threats to our normal way of life and work can be unnerving and create fear, but they also provide new opportunities; including fresh clarity about the work God has called us to, the value and importance of every person as an image bearer of God, and a renewal our commitment to biblical orthodoxy and the Christian view of human flourishing.
Pray for these faith-based ministries as they chart new paths in a post-Christian world in which they seek to represent the heart of God for our community, inviting everyone to find living water, restored hope, peace, and joy in Him. Hopefully, with renewed dedication and resolve, this work will be carried on by these faith-based organizations, even if now the environment is a little more hostile.
The following organizations are some of the faith-based organizations in Lincoln currently running alternative fund-raising campaigns in lieu of participating in Give to Lincoln Day. You can learn more about their work and support them by clicking the links below: