DES MOINES, Iowa – The FAMiLY Leader’s annual Family Leadership Summit is coming up on July 12 and they reached out to Democratic presidential candidates whose Real Clear Politics average as of April 22, 2019, is above three percent to speak at the event.

Those invited include former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Sens. Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren, former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

“Several of these national leaders have expressed a desire to see a more united America and are seeking to represent the American people,” Bob Vander Plaats, president and CEO of The FAMiLY LEADER said. “But that will be hard to do in today’s divided political climate. So The FAMiLY LEADER is offering an opportunity to restore civility to the national dialogue. Our goal is to discuss faith and the role it plays in presidential leadership, regardless of political affiliation.

“The invitation is consistent with the annual Family Leadership Summit’s tagline since its inception, ‘Principle over Politics,’” Vander Plaats added.

Kudos to The FAMiLY Leader for reaching out to these candidates. The first thing we have to do in order to have civil dialogue is to actually have dialogue and that can’t happen if we don’t talk to each other.

O’Rourke declined. Buttigieg, who is openly gay, challenged conservative Christians on their opposition to same-sex marriage recently said his marriage brought him closer to God declined.

“We keep an open mind to the invitations that we receive,” Buttigieg press secretary Chris Meagher told NBC News. “We will be declining this invitation.”

NBC News also reported that Harris’ campaign told them she also will not attend.

Booker attacked The FAMiLY Leader on Twitter as he declined their invitation:

Preaches bigotry and sows hate? Perhaps his tweet was inspired by Interfaith Alliance of Iowa who encouraged all of the Democratic presidential candidates to decline to attend the event, they released this statement from their executive director Connie Ryan:

Interfaith Alliance of Iowa has spent the last five days talking with the Democratic presidential campaigns and urging them to reject an invitation to participate in an event this summer with The Family Leader and Bob Vander Plaats and any other event in the future. 

We are pleased to announce that 15 of the campaigns have already stated clearly they will decline any invitation to the event in July, including all seven of the campaigns who were sent a direct invitation by The Family Leader, and they will not participate in any event with Vander Plaats or his organization. We are awaiting a response from the handful of campaigns that remain but expect them to reject the invitation from The Family Leader, as well.

The idea that Bob Vander Plaats wants to have a civil dialogue with candidates is outrageous. His rhetoric and his work have nothing to do with civility and he is no friend to the LGBTQ community, women’s rights, religious freedom, or the values of equality and fairness. 

Vander Plaats promotes hate against people who are LGBTQ. He continues to rail against marriage equality. He advocates that women should not be able to make their own medical decisions. He uses religious freedom as a means to discriminate. Interfaith Alliance of Iowa is pleased that the campaigns will not give The Family Leader or Bob Vander Plaats a platform to promote the extreme views of the organization.

Belief in traditional marriage is not extreme. Being pro-life is not extreme. Believing that one should have the freedom of conscience to decline providing goods and services for an event such as a gay pride festival or same-sex wedding ceremony is also not extreme. It’s not hateful. It’s not bigotry. And language like this shuts down any chance for a conservation.

Granted people who hold these views are typically not Democratic caucus-goers, and so I can understand a reluctance to attend an event like this before the Iowa Caucus.

Vander Plaats responded:

“The message it sends is they want to run for president for a piece of America, not for all of America,” he told NBC. “When they’re sending a vision of unity, we’re offering a chance to discuss unity in a civil and safe environment and have a good conversation about it. We think we’re providing a great opportunity. Obviously it’s their choice.”

I have to point out the late Donna Red Wing, the former executive of One Iowa, an LGBT advocacy group in Iowa, would not agree with Ryan’s tactic. She reached out to Vander Plaats, and they developed a friendship. I respected that.

When Red Wing died from cancer last year, Vander Plaats said, “We were often opponents on policy, but instead of lobbing rhetorical grenades at one another from the relative safety of our own echo chambers, we met face to face.”

“It changed us both. I know it changed the language and the tone we employ at The FAMiLY LEADER. Getting to know Donna taught our whole staff to stop and think, ‘How can we advocate for our position while still being conscious of and honoring the real people (like Donna) who disagree with us?’” he added.

“I’m deeply grieved that my friend is now gone from this world,” Vander Plaats shared. “But I hope her example of reaching out will challenge others to do the same. I hope it challenges me. I want our commitment to restoring civil dialogue in America to continue as the lasting legacy of the day Donna Red Wing invited me for coffee.”

It’s in that spirit; I believe that Vander Plaats and The FAMiLY Leader invited these presidential candidates. It’s a shame that Booker, in particular, continues to foster incivility by applying labels to The FAMiLY Leader and the many conservative Christians they represent instead of taking the time to engage and understand them.

I hope some Democrat candidate will step out of their comfort zone and engage Iowa’s evangelicals. If they do so they will earn my respect even if we don’t agree.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore (CC-By-SA 2.0)

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