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Lessons from the Failure of R-71
Dr. Joseph B. Fuiten
The News Tribute ran an editorial which summarized the failure of the R-71 campaign: "R-71 critics got lost in their echo chamber".

The Tribune
observed that the electoral decision was not made so much on the facts of the situation, but "the bigger factor in the election was R-71 opponents' failure to mount anything resembling a viable campaign."

The omission was two-fold:

First - The R-71 campaign failed to recognize and address the "undecided voters."

Second - A related omission, according to The Tribune, was that "supporters of traditional marriage couched their pitch in conservative Christian ideology and then spent the campaign talking only amongst themselves. R-71 might have failed had its critics offered persuadable voters practical arguments that didn't depend on religious doctrine."

Obviously there were substantive issues that motivated most voters but I do think The Tribune was substantially correct in their view of the campaign. From my viewpoint, the outcome would have been difficult under the best of circumstances. But our loss was made certain by three failures on our part:
  1. We failed in our message.
  2. We failed in our methods.
  3. We failed in our money.
Furthermore, I still have to wonder if God was in the effort.

1. Our message was mostly created for and directed at those already convinced. We are church-based people.  The message of the campaign was mostly aimed at church people.  Maybe that is because the signature gathering phase was directed almost entirely at church people.  The message was "rise up church" and take back the culture. We heard it again and again, "it is time to stand for righteousness."  That was the campaign message.  Standing for righteousness makes sense to church people but has the opposite effect on non-church people.  To outsiders the message sounds a lot more like the less attractive self-righteousness.

Trying to switch the discussion from Domestic Partnerships to Marriage was the best move from our side. Even though it was not precisely the topic of the referendum, marriage would clearly be impacted by the legislation. Changing the wording to marriage instead of domestic partnerships, and sticking with it, probably added 7-10% to our side of the column.

2. Even so, mentally, the campaign never turned the corner and redirected the emphasis to those needing to be convinced.  The method was to work through churches.  Brochures were distributed to churches. Energy was spent in churches. Blogs were directed to the faithful. The focus was upon rallying the churches. That would be an effective method if we had enough churches and church people but this is not the Bible belt. In any given month, there are not enough people attending a church to win any election, and I am including the liberal churches as well. Any voting strategy that has as its primary method to reach church people is bound to fail from the start.

A significant amount of the campaign's money and time was spent on street signs. Street signs make sense in an elective campaign where a candidate wants name familiarity.  In an issue campaign, all a street sign does is announce that there is an issue on the ballot.  By itself, it does very little to convince a person to vote a particular way.

Protect Marriage Washington and Faith and Freedom spent the greatest part of their message and money directed at the church. Faith and Freedom mainly used blogging as their method of motivation and communication and it was directed to church people. They promised a media campaign but it didn't seem to materialize.

Focus on the Family did market research and then spent almost $90,000 on radio advertising aimed at converting the undecided. Family Policy Institute of Washington spent over $200,000 on radio advertising aimed at women voters and others who needed to be converted to support. In terms of actual campaigning aimed at bringing people over to our side, Focus on the Family and Family Policy Institute of Washington were the two giants in this campaign.  They contributed the most money and invested the most in trying to reach the culture.

3. Even so, our side was outspent many times over.  That imbalance represents our failure in money. A great part of my reluctance going into the referendum process had to do with my assessment of the resources necessary to win a campaign like this. In more than 25 years of involvement in these kinds of efforts, we have never had the money to run effective campaigns on the conservative Christian side of things. It seems like our people will give to churches but are very reluctant to give to campaigns like this. I know virtually all the Christian-based public policy organizations in this state and they are terribly underfunded. They typically operate because of the profound commitment of a single person or a small group of people.

Jesus said if someone wants to build a tower "will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.'  "Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?" (Luke 14:28-30)

Jesus gave that parable for those who led us into R-71. They had a plan to start the tower and go to war but not a plan to finish the job or win the war.  Maybe the main lesson to be learned from our loss is to question those who want to lead us into similar efforts in the future.  We have a right to know that they have a plan that involves enough money and the plan to raise the money.  Even more than the plan, there should be some evidence of. seed money.  If you are going to claim to be the leader you have to actually have a strategy for victory.  Without the definitive plan our side has nothing to rally around.

Since the failure, I have noticed that those who ran the campaign have tried to spin it that we had success in that we now have 200,000 people energized to work in behalf of conservative Christian causes.  Personally, I wonder why those 200,000 didn't get financially behind the campaign we just finished. That mighty army gave about sixty cents per person to the campaign. How do you win when those most committed give an average of sixty cents?

I noticed that Gary Randall's Faith and Freedom Political Action Committee gave less then $2,000 to the Protect Marriage Washington, according to the Public Disclosure Commission.

On August 28th, Mr. Randall promised "All income is spent directly on printing, mailing, Internet promotion and going forward, media ads and expenses, rather than salaries or consulting fees."  We were promised "Radio ads are running and more are on the way." As it turned out, according to the PDC reports, virtually nothing was spent on media ads and precious little on anything else.

Because of the lack of strategic planning on our side of the R-71 campaign, I called our side a 'leaderless army."  Gary Randall objected to that. Maybe he was right. When you consider how little money was put into this effort by Randall's organization, maybe it should have been an armyless leader.

Maybe more important than anything else is the question of whether or not God was in this effort.

A great deal of effort went into claiming God's support. From the beginning, Randall claimed divine blessing and approval.  He said, "I am certain God is in control" and "I have an abiding sense that God is leading in all things." He said on October 21st, "... this effort has been blessed ..."

With respect to the referendum itself Randall said, "It is a miracle. And it is clear how God performed it."  "With God's help" the referendum made the ballot. "God helped us."  Please pardon me for asking the obvious, did God change his mind or was the claim of divine blessing a bit overstated?

For the record, even though I did not support the signature gathering, once it was on the ballot I gave it my best effort.  Anyone who knows my record or who regularly reads this column knows my long history of labor on this subject. I don't hesitate to engage in public policy questions particularly if I believe they are related to God's kingdom. I do try to note that the efforts are mine and not necessarily identical to the will of God. On my voting recommendations at I always say that the picks are mine and not necessarily God's.    

If a claim of miracles and divine approval is made we need to take that seriously.

Randall claimed the referendum was a miracle from God, but I have to wonder at that. In the Bible, the miracles of the loaves and fishes fed 5,000 with 12 baskets left over. In this "miracle" we didn't have enough money to fund television ads but the gays had millions.

In the Bible, a miracle raised one who was sick. In this "miracle" our strategy was sick and then died in the election.  I suppose such miraculous claims are made to hype up the faithful to work harder and give more. It just seems like the "miracle" that Randall claimed fell a bit short of its biblical counterparts.

Was the referendum an effort blessed by God? Did the Kingdom of God advance because of the effort? I have not heard of people giving their lives to Jesus. I did hear from a non-Christian friend commenting about one of his friends. He wrote, "I noticed the anger building in him, and tried to soften his approach, but he's fed up. Referendum 71 has turned him against Christians." Neither is a Christian.

We paid a price for the referendum. It was not just a question of the price we would pay if we didn't run the referendum. We have to consider the price of doing it as well

We clearly lost ground with some. Did we gain offsetting ground with others? I don't know. Only eternity will tell. I do know we all worked hard for what we hoped was the will of God. We did it mostly for the right reasons. In our best motives we might have done it for God's glory.

Unfortunately, it appears we have fallen short of the glory of God.
Dr. Joseph B. Fuiten is the senior pastor of Cedar Park Church in Bothell, Washington, and he is the former president of Positive Christian Agenda. Currently, Pastor Fuiten serves on the Board of Directors for the Family Policy Institute of Washington, an associate organization of Focus on the Family.