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Two weeks ago, Focus on the Family released a video featuring New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. In the less than 30-second video clip, Brees quoted one of his favorite Bible verses from 2 Corinthians 5:7: “For we live by faith, not by sight.” He encouraged children to bring their bible to school and share God’s love with their classmates.
Encouraging children to share their religious beliefs with others isn’t completely terrible on the surface. Hell, bring along the Quran, Talmud, Dao de Jing, the Vedas, and the Tipitaka while we’re at it and they can learn about a variety of religions.
Two of my favorite courses at my Jesuit university were intro courses to Buddhism and Judaism. Learning about multiple religions is not a bad thing and can even help strengthen and clarify one’s commitment to their own religion.
But that’s not what this video is designed for. In truth, it’s part of a larger program. The true objective of Focus on the Family’s most recent campaign is to train Christian children to proselytize to their peers in public forums.
Brees’ motives aside, he is under scrutiny for partnering with an organization that has long been under fire for anti-LGBTQ religious beliefs and political alignments. He addressed the media last Thursday in an attempt to set the record straight; he claimed he was unaware of Focus on the Family’s anti-LGBTQ stances.
“Unfortunately, Christian organizations out there that are involved in that kind of thing and to me that is totally against what being a Christian is all about,” Brees said. “Being a Christian is love, it’s forgiveness, it’s respecting all, it’s accepting all.”
“So I’m not sure why the negativity spread, or why people tried to rope me into certain negativity. I do not support any groups that discriminate or have their own agendas that are trying to promote inequality. Hopefully that set the record straight and we can all move on, because that’s not what I stand for.”
Unfortunately, claiming ignorance isn’t a very good excuse for this misstep. Does Brees not know how to Google? The Human Rights Campaign’s informative website on the organization appears only seven items down on the very first search page when one Googles “Focus on the Family.”
If I was contemplating a partnership with some entity, the first thing I would do is Google them and do research to see what they are all about. A closer look at the group Brees has chosen to align himself with paints an utterly unholy picture, even for a self-described “recovering Catholic” like myself.
First of all, it must be noted that Focus on the Family has been registered with the IRS since 2017 as a church, so it has tax-exempt status.
It has raised over half a billion dollars while investing that money in public education campaigns against LGBTQ equality. The political arm of their organization, CitizenLink, supports radical anti-LGBTQ candidates who promote and enact legislation against basic civil rights and legal protections.
Focus accused school anti-bullying programs of promoting homosexuality and created a website designed to help parents fight against them. Back in 2010, Brees filmed an anti-bullying campaign video in which he delivered a more tolerant, accepting, and respecting tone:
“If you think that making fun of someone is harmless, you’re wrong. If you think it’s OK to do because everyone else is doing it, you’re wrong. Bullying has to stop, and it has to start with you.
“I want my fans to know that if you’re making fun of someone because they’re different, then you are no friend of mine. And if you are being bullied and you feel like no one supports you, I want you to know that there is support. I support you. Making fun of someone because they’re different from you? That’s not being tough, it’s being ignorant. Appreciate people for how they are different from you: That’s what it takes to be a friend.”
Brees’ anti-bullying message, though it seems honestly sincere, is completely opposite from the views of Focus on the Family. If acceptance and support of those who are different is what he truly believes, why would he choose to work with an organization that strongly supports “conversion therapy?”
I’ll save our readers the suspense. Conversion therapy is not effective at curing homosexuality. The practice, now condemned by both the American Psychiatric Association and Pan American Health Organization, is effective, however, at dividing families as well as increasing levels of depression and susceptibility to suicide due to self hatred and family rejection.
McKrae Game, the founder of Hope for Wholeness, which is a faith-based conversion therapy program, has recently apologized for the harm his program caused and came out gay. “It’s all in my past, but many, way TOO MANY continue believing that there is something wrong with themselves and wrong with people that choose to live their lives honestly and open as gay, lesbian, trans, etc.,” Game, 51, wrote on Facebook last week. “The very harmful cycle of self shame and condemnation has to stop.”
I feel it’s also worth noting how polished and savvy Focus on the Family’s operation is in the public eye. Frankly, it’s frightening.
They have a huge and impressive looking compound you can visit in Colorado Springs. Their website appears well designed and seemingly moderate. They bestow their programs with catchy and non-threatening names despite the true intentions behind them.
For instance, their campaign “True Tolerance” combatted what they call “gay activism in schools,” you know, because it’s eroding our Christian values to teach children to accept and respect those different from us. (Insert eyeroll)
Their campaign “Love Won Out” was a national tour that described homosexuality as “treatable” and “preventable.” I must also mention that the American Psychiatric Association stopped classifying homosexuality as a mental illness in 1973, yet Focus on the Family still refers to transgender people as exactly that, mentally ill.
John Paulk, the former leader of “Love Won Out”, also came out as gay and issued an apology to the many people his program harmed.
“Please allow me to be clear: I do not believe that reparative therapy changes sexual orientation; in fact, it does great harm to many people,” Paulk said in 2013.
Being LGBTQ is not treatable or preventable, but it is acceptable and more importantly, it’s respectable. Brees’ video clip has been removed from Focus’ facebook page, but it’s still available on YouTube, for now.
The video seems relatively harmless until one pulls back the curtain and exposes Focus on the Family for what it really is: extremely wealthy, powerful, politically premeditated, carefully planned, and potentially harmful.
I don’t think any of the local media outlets asked the right questions when they had the chance last week. Given that chance, I would have asked several questions:
- Have you ever financially benefited from your work with Focus on the Family?
- Have you ever financially contributed to Focus on the Family?
- Can you promise, in the event you seek public office, that you won’t utilize campaign contributions or political support from Focus on the Family or CitizenLink?
- Will you end your partnership with Focus on the Family immediately?
If the respective answers to those questions aren’t “No, no, yes, yes,” Brees deserves every bit of the heat he’s been getting.
Instead of getting defensive and openly angry at the media, all he had to say last Thursday was something like, “I’m sorry I didn’t properly research the organization I chose to work with. Not all of their views are my own and I want to apologize to my fans who were offended by this association. I will make a concerted effort to align myself with groups that reflect my Christian values of love, acceptance, and respect for all and pledge to stop working with any entities that don’t. Thank you.”
If Brees really was interested in growing through this adversity, here’s a potential playbook. First, hire a socially conscious publicist. Second, apologize! Nowhere in last Thursday’s statement did Brees actually apologize for aligning himself with Focus on the Family. He’s got a podcast from 2010, an article on their website from 2015, and a promo video from two weeks ago.
Brees said, “There’s been a lot of negativity spread about me in the LGBTQ community recently based upon an article that someone wrote with a very negative headline that I think led people to believe that somehow I was aligned with an organization that was anti-LGBTQ.” Well, history and a simple Google search show Brees is aligned with the organization and has been for almost 10 years.
It’s OK to get defensive when we are called out on our behavior, especially when we have honestly been trying to be socially conscious. It’s perfectly human to make mistakes. We all will despite our best efforts not to.
My more socially conscious friends call me out all the time and at first, I feel shame, but they are doing it because they want me to grow through this experience and never repeat the negative behavior I mistakenly engaged in.
My dear friend who is in the movement for social and environmental justice told me an important fact one of the many times I misspoke, despite having the best intentions with my words. She said, “Your intention doesn’t matter, impact matters.”
The impact of Brees’ work with Focus on the Family is far more socially detrimental than his intent to spread Christian values. It’s OK if he disagrees with me, and I know many people who read this might disagree with me as well.
But as the ever prophetic and wise James Baldwin said so cleverly, “We can disagree and still love each other, unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”
I’m sorry Brees didn’t give me more reason to write about what an amazing quarterback and leader he is. Monday night’s win over the Texans was fabulously entertaining, but even with all the great plays Brees made, I had a hard time cheering for him.
Hopefully, as the season progresses, I’ll be able to enjoy his outstanding play on the field and enjoy a couple more records and all that fun stuff. This one still stings, but Brees has an amazing opportunity to grow through this adversity, and it’s not by getting defensive.