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Web activist challenges Christian mall that raises money for anti-gay groups

For-profit Christian web malls raise money for hate groups

Twenty-year-old university student Ben Crowther has spearheaded a petition to get Apple to sever ties with a controversial Christian fundraiser. Credit: courtesy Ben Crowther

An online mall that uses major retail brands to raise money for controversial Christian causes, including several that have been labelled “hate groups,” has come under fire from a young activist who is using online petitions to pressure retailers to cut ties to it.

The Christian Values Network (CVN) is a for-profit website that refers visitors to dozens of major retailers and collects a fee from every resulting sale, of which a portion is donated to one of its more than 170,000 affiliated Christian causes, as selected by the shopper.

Among the causes users can select are the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family. Both groups are known for advocating anti-gay and anti-trans policies, and the Family Research Council has been identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Among Family Research Council’s more controversial statements is the assertion that gays are likely to also be pedophiles and that gays should be deported from the United States.

In turn, more than 700 retailers have partnered with CVN, including many large retailers, like Walmart, Kmart, Target, Sears, Best Buy, Staples, Aéropostale, Gap, Banana Republic, Disney, Sesame Street, Old Navy and Home Depot.

 
Twenty-year-old Ben Crowther of Bellingham, Washington, launched a July 6 petition on change.org calling on Apple to cut ties to the CVN. He has collected more than 2,800 signatures in less than a week.

Crowther says he was inspired after a similar petition, launched on July 5, was enough to convince Microsoft to cut ties with CVN. Shortly afterward, BBC-America announced that it was removing its store from CVN.

 
“Hearing about these companies being involved with hate groups is really troubling,” says Crowther. “As an Apple costumer, I was shocked that they were a part of it. To show us that they’re a part of this hateful network is disappointing because I love Apple.”
 
CVN founder and president John Higgins says his organization is not a hate group and declined to comment on the activities of some of its affiliates.
 
“CVN as an organization is trying to help organizations that help people,” Higgins says. “As far as any of the organizations that participate in the business, it’s best that their viewpoints are not expressed by us.”
 
Higgins says CVN has been rebranded as CGBG, an acronym that doesn’t officially stand for anything, but that he says could stand for Charity Give Back Group. The more generic moniker positions the business to raise money for non-Christian religious causes.
 
According to documents filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, CVN was founded in 2008 with approximately $3 million (USD) in capital. A stock issuance raised another $1.3 million (USD) before the company changed its name to Faith & Family Values Network in 2009. It was incorporated in Nevada but is currently based in Connecticut.
 
CVN quickly recruited former Arkansas governor and US presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and actor Stephen Baldwin to appear in commercials for the company.
 
But Higgins says he isn’t worried that companies pulling out of his online mall will hurt his bottom line.
 
“As far as any shopping partner not wanting to participate, that’s their prerogative,” he says.
 
Higgins also says that a competing web site, goodsearch.org, hosts many of the same stores, including Microsoft and Apple, and also raises money for the same groups, including Family Research Council. Goodsearch.org founder JJ Ramsberg did not immediately return an email request for an interview.
 
For now, Crowther is confining his campaign against CVN to Apple, although he hasn’t ruled out launching petition campaigns against some of the site’s other retail operators.
 
“I don’t know if I’ll do it or get other people to do it,” Crowther says. “I hope we won’t have to petition other companies.”
 
A spokesperson for Apple could not be reached before press time.