Recent criticism over the National Association of Evangelicals' (NAE) choice of funding partners highlights the continued difficulty of seeking middle ground across the abortion divide.
The Generation Forum, a four-year-old NAE initiative to "converse and cooperate without compromising" in order to reduce abortions, drew criticism from World Magazine last week for being primarily funded by a pro-contraception group.
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, which encourages the widespread use of contraception in order to reduce unplanned pregnancies, funds the Generation Forum's research, publications, outreach, and staff. Previewing a forthcoming World article, editor in chief Marvin Olasky critiqued the two organizations as "strange bedfellows"—largely because the National Campaign receives substantial funding from the Hewlett Foundation, which funds many pro-abortion groups.
In response, the Manhattan Declaration urged its followers to tell the NAE to stop using National Campaign funding because the campaign's goals are "incompatible with [our] faith convictions."
"Reducing unintended pregnancy is a laudable goal, but here, as in all things, how matters a great deal," the Manhattan Declaration stated in a blog post (since removed). "If, as in this case, it is through programs that undermine God's plan for sex in the context of marriage, we must not compromise our values."
Manhattan Declaration representatives did not return a call for comment Monday.
Olasky also noted that Sarah Brown, CEO of the National Campaign, was one of four panelists invited to speak about reducing abortion rates at a Q conference in April. In a vote during the panel, moderated by Q executive director Rebekah Lyons, nearly two-thirds of audience members said churches should advocate contraception use by single 20-somethings.
Such poll results send the message that it's fine for unmarried evangelicals to use contraception, according to Olasky. "In this and other ways, the National Campaign's grant paid off," he wrote.
"As a professor and elder, I've seen how conflicted many young unmarried evangelicals are," Olasky said in an e-mail to Christianity Today. "Many are hoping to garner some wisdom from their elders. It's neither helpful nor compassionate when the elders follow polls rather than the Bible."
Olasky alleges that the NAE "highly recommended" Brown as a panelist without explaining their funding connection. Gabe Lyons, founder of Q, said the organization chose Brown independently after an NAE recommendation.
"We only choose people to be on our panel that we want to have," Lyons said. "It was our decision."
The Q panel included Messiah College professor Jenell Williams Paris discussing the theology of sex, as well as two speakers on caring for women facing unplanned pregnancies and the importance of making adoption an acceptable choice.
During the panel, Brown noted that most people in the room likely preferred encouraging unmarried men and women to not have sex.
"I think that's a very good idea," she said. "But for those who are having sex and are unavailable to that message, we have to talk about contraception. I understand that may be choice number two."
This is the first time the Generation Forum, which openly acknowledges its funding link to the National Campaign on its website, has been criticized for the connection, said Leith Anderson, president of the NAE. However, his organization has drawn recent criticism from other groups for its stance alongside the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to oppose the federal mandate by the Department of Health and Human Services that employers provide contraception in employee health care plans.
"We got caught up in the contraceptive controversy because of our stand with the Catholic Church," he said. "Somehow this spilled over to Generation Forum."
The NAE opposes sex outside of marriage between a man and woman, Anderson said, and partnering with an organization that encourages the use of birth control does not change that stance.
Evangelical young adults report having premarital sex and abortions at rates similar to the rest of the population, he said.
"Many of our churches and organizations either don't know what's happening or have chosen to keep silent about sex and abortions in the evangelical community," said Anderson. "Generation Forum was started to get the truth out [about sex and evangelicals]."
The forum, which has co-sponsored polls and coordinated authorship of a "Theology of Sex" booklet, will close down this year because it has accomplished its goal of creating tools for pastors to use in talking about sex, Anderson said.
Other evangelical groups are also seeking common-ground conversations on abortion. Last year Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, announced that Focus would expand its strategies and sit down with pro-choice groups to discuss how to reduce the number of abortions.
Earlier this year, LifeWay stores halted sales of a breast cancer awareness Bible after pro-life websites complained that proceeds went to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which has donated funds to Planned Parenthood.
Criticism from some Christian groups is likely to follow any attempt at middle-ground conversations, said Lyons, who tries to deal with controversial subjects in Q forums.
"We're in a pluralistic setting where we're working for the common good of our cities, for all Americans—not just for the Christians," Lyons said. "It's going to require working together with people who you don't 100 percent agree with."