Former American Family Association VP sues AFA for same-sex sexual harassment
This lawsuit has everything: Christian hypocrisy, financial shenanigans, an infant
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One of the largest Christian hate-groups in the country is being sued by a former employee for everything from same-sex sexual misconduct to retaliatory behavior.
Robert Chambers spent nearly seven years, from 2015 to 2022, working for the American Family Association, a homophobic Christian group that (among other things) oversees the one mom at One Million Moms, sponsored a show hosted by right-wing bigot Bryan Fischer, and is known for launching boycotts against damn near any company it deems too progressive.
Chambers served as the AFA’s Vice President of Policy and Legislative Affairs and Executive Vice President of AFA Action (their lobbying arm), and he was a member of AFA Action’s Board of Directors. This is a guy who was committed to the cause. So much so that he once appeared on a Christian show and blamed Satan for why so many people criticized anti-LGBTQ laws.
“This is spiritual warfare,” Chambers said. “Satan is not bound by good, certainly, but basically distorts truth and he is a master of that. I believe the media, Hollywood, they understand what this bill, or new law, actually does but they are distorting it because that’s the only way that Satan plays and Satan will try to attempt to win is through deceit and deception.”
Despite his years of promoting hate in line with AFA’s Jesus-driven mission, Chambers is now suing the organization and many of their top leaders for ignoring his claims of sexual harassment, creating a “hostile work environment,” threatening to withhold his severance package unless he agreed to keep his mouth shut, and more.
The details in the lawsuit are plentiful. And because it’s the AFA, the allegations are worth describing in full (no matter how uncomfortable they are) because the group has spent years using its power and influence and $28 million/year budget to hurt LGBTQ people and other marginalized communities. And just last year, ProPublica reported, the AFA changed its IRS designation from a regular non-profit to a church (even though it’s not a church), presumably so it could shield itself from transparency requirements.
It’s important to see what was allegedly happening behind closed doors.
Consider the allegations against Rob Cook, the AFA’s Director of Localization. Chambers says Cook made “repeated, escalating, sexually suggestive” comments to him —including statements made while grabbing Chambers’ face and ear.
The “homoerotically-charged” comments included, “I see you’re really good with that wrist action. I wonder how you got to be so good at that?” and “You’d like me to take you and get ahold of you.”
If a man said that to another man in a commercial for chips, the American Family Association would demand a nationwide boycott against the company. But when referring to masturbation, it’s just locker room talk in the AFA’s headquarters.
When Chambers reported those comments to his bosses, he says he was told he wasn’t the only person who had complained about Cook… yet nothing ever came of it. According to Religion News Service, Cook’s LinkedIn profile says he still works at AFA, though his Facebook page describes him as a “former” AFA member. The organization wouldn’t confirm his current employment status.
In 2019, watchdog blogger David Cary Hart wrote about how AFA Action (the political arm of the AFA) had not filed requisite paperwork with the Internal Revenue Service for two years. He also noted that AFA lied on its own tax returns; the group said it had "no related organizations”… even though it had AFA Action, which shared a P.O. Box with its parent group.
Chambers saw that blog post and got worried that AFA was doing something improper. (They were.) In the lawsuit, he says he raised these concerns with AFA’s Senior Vice President and AFA Action board member Marion “Buddy” C. Smith, Jr. He asked about the lack of transparency, accounting irregularities, and the shared P.O. Box.
Smith’s response? “I’m glad about their confusion… ☺.”
Two months later, the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of AFA Action, confirming the fact that the group hadn’t filed the proper paperwork. (AFA Action has since had its tax-exempt status restored.) AFA never corrected the bit about having “no related organizations.”
Chambers was also concerned about possible embezzlement within the organization. He asked AFA’s leaders to conduct an audit of AFA Action, to make sure donations to the political arm weren’t getting mixed with donations for the non-profit arm, but he says those requests were also ignored.
The baby dream
The most bizarre part of the lawsuit focuses on a dream. Chambers alleges that, in 2022, Lexie Wildmon (his administrative assistant, spouse of AFA Action CEO Walker Wildmon, and daughter-in-law of AFA President Tim Wildmon) told him that she dreamt that Chambers kissed her baby on the mouth.
That never actually happened. But Wildmon still suggested Chambers was a “threat to the sexual innocence of children” and said she couldn’t bring her kids to the office because she feared Chambers would harm them. Wildmon then shared her baseless beliefs with the people at work, leading to Chambers’ emotional distress and “reputational damage in his broader community.”
That, too, was a form of sexual harassment at work.
Chambers says that, despite company policy prohibiting sexual misconduct and despite a company promise that whistleblowers won’t be retaliated against, he was punished for speaking out. (Cook, on the other hand, received no punishment at all.)
In September of 2022, Chambers says he was fired after raising his concerns once again about Cook (for the tenth time) and Wildmon (for the fourth time). The reason he was dismissed? AFA’s leaders said he didn’t have “respect for leadership.” The group’s Executive Vice President Ed Vitagliano didn’t elaborate on how Chambers lacked that respect but insisted that the issues with Cook and Wildmon were not the reasons he was being fired.
Chambers included a transcript of their conversation in the lawsuit:
Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that, says after Chambers was let go, AFA employees were told the firing of Chambers had to do with a “disagreement of philosophy”—which was both a brand new excuse and hinted at the idea that Chambers was no longer the right kind of Christian. There was no disagreement, to be clear, but it appeared they were making up a justification to cover up the actual reasons for his firing.
Chambers was owed severance after his firing. But he claims the agreement he was sent included a poison pill: He would only receive the money if he promised never to talk shit about the AFA. The group said he owed them “a continual duty of loyalty.”
He chose not to sign the agreement.
Predictably, the AFA denies all the allegations in the lawsuit. They sent a statement to Religion News Service insisting everything they do is always above board:
“Since 1977, our ministry has continued to maintain the highest standards of morality and personal conduct for our staff and leadership,” Steve Crampton, AFA’s assistant general counsel, told Religion News Service in an email. “The claims made against our organization by a disgruntled former employee are unfounded gross mischaracterizations of the facts. We will use every tool at our disposal to prevail in this matter. Due to current enquiry, we cannot comment further.”
That would be more believable if the AFA’s definition of morality wasn’t so damn perverse. These are the same people, after all, who once filed a brief urging the Supreme Court not to repeal anti-sodomy laws that punished gay men who have sex in the privacy of their own home. It’s hard to imagine Chambers is disgruntled when he regurgitated the party line for so many years. And notice that the AFA claims the facts are “gross mischaracterizations” rather than outright lies; they’re exaggerations, which suggests even the AFA admits there’s some underlying truth to them.
If the allegations in this lawsuit are true, then the AFA deserves whatever it has coming in court.
But make no mistake: Chambers is hardly a hero. He spent his career at the AFA working to enshrine Christian Nationalism into law. The policies he promoted hurt women, hurt gay people, hurt trans people, and made life worse for refugees.
He claimed a monumental piece of voting rights legislation would “be the end of free and fair elections” if Democrats passed it. He argued that Democrats winning control of Congress in 2018 would be a disaster because “they would fight for abortion rights and Planned Parenthood funding, insist on open borders and amnesty, and demand liberal judges.” He said Christians who supported LGBTQ rights even if they were personally opposed to same-sex marriage were being “unbiblical.” He condemned the head of the Republican National Committee because she forged an alliance with a group for gay Republicans.
None of that means he deserved to be harassed or mistreated at work. It’s just a reminder that the same people who insist Christianity is synonymous with goodness have no problem covering up bad behavior by those very same Christians until it affects them personally.
Chambers deserves his day in court. He doesn’t deserve anyone’s sympathy.
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