Focus on the Family’s New Face?

Over at The American Prospect, I report on Focus on the Family Action’s new Rising Voice initiative, launched at the American Conservative Union’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington this week:

CPAC’s outreach effort to millenials, the anachronistically named XPAC, featured a seminar by Focus on the Family Action’s youth initiative Rising Voice, launched this week through the religious right powerhouse’s advocacy arm. While some factions of the religious right, including Focus on the Family Action itself, appear anxious to combine their platform, opposition to abortion and LGBT rights, with the tea party’s core issue, antagonism toward “big government,” Rising Voice’s organizers seem to be going in a different direction.

Rising Voice, led by Focus on the Family Action’s (FOFA) Esther Fleece, who coordinates its millenial outreach, is an attempt to tamp down the vitriolic rhetoric of the religious right, although, as I write in the TAP piece, in many ways FOFA itself marches on with its same old talking points.

Fleece had cited the Tim Tebow Super Bowl ad as an example of FOFA’s new approach. At a panel this morning on the pro-life movement’s place in the conservative movement, FOFA’s Carrie Earll elaborated on how the Tim Tebow Super Bowl ad represents the future of how FOFA will do anti-abortion advocacy.

This year is FOFA’s first appearance at CPAC, and organizers were clearly trying to attach opposition to abortion as a “liberty” issue to fit with the CPAC theme of “Saving Freedom.” But Earll’s talk was notable less for its effort to conjoin “sanctity of life” issues with the broader conservative movement than for its frank depiction of FOFA’s new strategy.

It’s a sort of stealth evangelism. FOFA is “trying to expand the pro-life audience that will hear and positively receive a pro-life message,” said Earll, citing the Tebow ad as its “most successful venture thus far.”

Earll described the ad as “intriguing and inviting, and it really generated interest in Tebow family story, which was point of this ad.” Traffic to FOFA’s web site increased forty times, and a million people viewed a video interview of the Tebow family by Focus on the Family’s president, Jim Daly. Earll said the interview has a “moving, powerful pro-life message, and has strong gospel message also.”

The goal of the ad, she added, “was to start a new dialogue in the country, to move us away from telling people what to think, and to move people toward thinking about and reconsidering abortion in different light.”

“Most Americans don’t like abortion,” Earll maintained, “they want less of it, but are not quite ready to embrace the self-identification pro-life or the philosphy. With this ad, what we’re hoping to do is in an unapologetically pro-life way, uncompromising, to talk about the pro-life issue in a way that is more motivating and a little warmer for people to respond to.”

Earll cited a survey by the Christian polling firm the Barna Group, which found that six percent of views said the ad made them reconsider their position on abortion. “That doesn’t sound like a lot,” said Earll, “but that’s 5.5 million people.”

But, she concluded, FOFA doesn’t deserve credit for that. “It’s to the glory of God that it happened.”

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