Kevin Eckstrom’s Nov. 22 piece in the Washington Post, “Religious Groups Spend Nearly $400 million on D.C. Advocacy,”nicely brings to our attention the recent Pew Forum study, “Lobbying for the Faithful.” The number of religious advocacy groups, he tells us, has increased 300% in the past 40 years. Most of these are religious conservatives. Pro-Israel and so-called “defense of marriage” groups are among the biggest spenders. Many new groups are pro-Muslim. In fact, “there are now as many Muslim advocacy groups as mainline Protestant groups.”
When we look to the Pew Forum study itself, however, we glimpse an even more dynamic landscape. Firstly, not only has the sheer number of such groups increased markedly since 1970, and in proportions that keep pace with or exceed the growth of other kinds of advocacy groups (e.g., for professional trades), their collective focus has shifted. An historical preoccupation with domestic issues has given way to more transnational concerns, with 75% of religious advocacy groups dedicated in part to international issues and nearly 50% exclusively so. Secondly, alongside Muslims many other communities with a stake in religious landscape -Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Scientologists, Unitarian Universalists, Quakers, Mennonites, Mormons, Eastern Orthodox, Progressive Baptists, Christian Scientists, and Secularists – have formed and funded organizations to represent their interests. Thirdly, among religious advocacy groups generally, “the largest category today is inter-religious: one-quarter of the groups studied either represent multiple faiths or advocate on religious issues without representing a specific religion.” Such developments belie an increasingly complex, less predictable, and frankly more interesting religious landscape than Eckstrom seems to suggest.