D. James Kennedy Ministries, named after the late evangelical pastor and Christian broadcaster from Fort Lauderdale, has stepped up its counterattack against the Southern Poverty Law Center, a storied organization that monitors and challenges white supremacist organizations and other hate groups.
The Kennedy Ministries complaint: SPLC lists it on a “hate map” that tracks 63 “hate groups” operating in Florida and 917 in the U.S.
The Fort Lauderdale-based ministry is included in SPLC’s list of organizations of racist skinheads, neo-Nazis, white nationalists, the Ku Klux Klan, black separatists, followers of the Nation of Islam, New Black Panther Party members, opponents of immigration and Muslims, and Holocaust deniers.
The Kennedy Ministries is on SPLC’s hate map, with the classification “anti-LGBT.”
D. James Kennedy Ministries contends it is “being slandered by the Southern Poverty Law Center,” said Matthew Krepcho, director of partner relations. “We are not a hate group.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center did not respond to multiple requests for comment this week made through voicemail, emails to its media relations office and individual staffers, and a news media contact form on its website.
The SPLC hate map has received an enormous amount of attention since the eruption of deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va., in connection with a rally organized by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan on Aug. 12.
Many news organizations have reported on SPLC’s tally of hate groups SPLC says are operating throughout the country. Google Trends reports searches for Southern Poverty Law Center, SPLC and SPLC hate map surged in the days following Charlottesville.
The heightened attention to the hate map prompted strong responses from the ministries.
It filed a federal lawsuit in Montgomery, Ala., where SPLC is based, alleging that the organization trafficked in false and misleading descriptions and defamed it by distributing false information that subjects the ministry to contempt in the eyes of the public.
In a full-page ad in Sunday’s Sun Sentinel, Kennedy ministries condemned the SPLC and the hate map.
Earlier, it produced a half-hour video, “Profits$ of Hate: The Southern Poverty Law Center,” and an “expose booklet” entitled, “Special Report: The Southern Poverty Law Center Exposed!”
“Charlottesville just kind of brought everything to a head,” Krepcho said. “People were going to the SPLC’s hate map … We had tried to expose the SPLC for their hate map prior to Charlottesville, but after Charlottesville we felt we needed to fund the ad.”
In the ad, the ministries’ president and CEO, Frank Wright, said: “The Southern Poverty Law Center is an organization that once did good work, in the latter days of the Civil Rights Era. Today they have descended into becoming apolitical attack machine, plastering the ‘hate’ label not only on groups that do in fact preach hate, but also on anyone who disagrees with their far-left political persuasions.”
Wright called it “intellectually and morally dishonest” for SPLC to include what he described as “mainstream Christian ministries” on the same map as neo-Nazis and violent militias. He also accused SPLC of attempting to stifle free speech.
In a statement announcing the lawsuit, Wright said: “These false and illegal characterizations have a chilling effect on the free exercise of religion and on religious free speech for all people of faith.”
Also this week, the foundation founded by actor George Clooney and his wife, Amal, announced a $1 million donation to support what they said in a statement were SPLC’s “efforts to prevent violent extremism in the United States.”
SPLC’s website says it categorizes organizations as hate groups based on “beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.” It said groups included for their anti-LGBT stands are not listed on the basis of opposition to same-sex marriage or the belief that the Bible describes homosexual activity as sinful. Anti-LGBT groups engage in crude name-calling and disseminate disparaging propaganda and falsehoods about this population, such as the claim that gay men molest children at vastly higher rates than straight men.”
Krepcho said Kennedy ministries does not belong on the list. “We don’t hate anybody,” he said. “What we know is that you hate the sin. And we hate all sin — whether it’s homosexual or heterosexual — all sin. But we don’t hate the sinner. We are praying that homosexuals will repent and be saved.”
The ministries’ arguments against SPLC aren’t as simple as it portrays, said Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Dean Trantalis. Before he became the city’s first openly gay commissioner, he was a community activist who tangled with Kennedy and his organization over its stand on LGBT issues.
Trantalis said the Kennedy Ministries isn’t being persecuted for its religious views. “No one is trying to suppress anyone’s right to believe in their own faith,” he said. “This is a continuation of an effort to make Christian as much of America as possible…. They’re just rebranding their message and making it look like we’re attacking their religious freedom.”
The organization has gone through several name changes over the years. It was initially called Coral Ridge Ministries, then Truth In Action Ministries, now D. James Kennedy Ministries. Krepcho said it is primarily a “media ministry,” with two television programs, an active website, monthly newsletter and issue mailings.
Kennedy spent nearly 50 years at Coral Ridge Presbyterian, which he founded. He was known nationally for the “Coral Ridge Hour,” which was one of the highest rated syndicated religious programs on broadcast TV — and for his opposition to same-sex marriage, abortion, pornography, fetal stem cell research and the teaching of evolution. Kennedy died in September 2007 at age 76.
“Let’s not forget the legacy of D. James Kennedy,” Trantalis said, recalling the environment in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He said Kennedy stood with people opposed to LGBT rights “and supported everything that they said to denigrate the LGBT community at that time.” Trantalis pointed to his support for “reparative therapy in which he strongly advocated trying to ‘pray away the gay,’ and to force young kids into trying to deny their sexual orientation.”
“They may not want to bring up those episodes of the past. They perhaps remember him in a different way. But this community will never forget the legacy that he leaves behind,” said Trantalis, who participated in demonstrations in front of Coral Ridge Presbyterian, on Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale, and at Kennedy’s Reclaiming America for Christ gatherings at the Broward County Convention Center.
Trantalis said he is “not a defender of the Southern Poverty Law Center and I don’t represent them, and I’m not going to represent their views.” But, he said, “if you’re asking me who represents more of the American ideal, it certainly is not Dr. Kennedy, who encouraged bigotry, versus the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tried to defeat bigotry.”