Christian political group plans to buy and renovate $ 5 million building

The Center for Christian Virtue, which for nearly 40 years has been at the center of debates over the Ohio Cultural War, is taking a big step to consolidate its power and signal its expansion plans.

The association paid $ 1.25 million for a building in downtown Columbus at 60 E. Broad St. which overlooks the Ohio Statehouse. It is collecting another $ 3.75 million renovation of the 15,000 square foot building.

“This building, to us, signifies the importance of having a strong Christian voice not only in Ohio politics but in American politics,” said Aaron Baer, ​​CCV president since 2016. “It’s” are we saying that we will fight for ideas at the highest level and have a real commitment to excellence in everything we do. “

The CCV has grown from an organization founded in the basement of a Cincinnati church to the state’s premier lobbying force on conservative Christian issues of abortion and religious freedom.

The organization intervenes in discussions of legislation and policy, including critical race theory, vouchers for private schools, and LGBTQ issues.

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During his five years at the helm, Baer has grown the staff from two full-time and two part-time to 13 full-time and three part-time. The annual budget has grown from $ 400,000 in 2016 to $ 1.2 million in 2020.

In recent years, the CCV has grown from a very narrow range of social issues to a broader agenda including education and religious freedom, which is more aligned with the GOP in general, said political scientist Mark Caleb Smith from the University of Cedarville.

“This is a strategic shift that reflects the broader political interests of traditional and conservative Christians,” he said.

As the CCV has a new name and address, it pushes the “same old oppressive rhetoric,” said Alana Jochum, director of Equality Ohio, an LGBTQ rights group often opposed to CCV.

In July, CCV’s policy director David Mahan delivered a guest sermon at a mega-church that raised concerns among the LGBTQ community in Ohio for its characterization of transgender issues. The CCV didn’t apologize, and instead dubbed the message that gender clinics in Ohio “push cross-sex hormones and puberty-blocking drugs on children.”

Jochum said that while CCV invests in buildings, Equality Ohio will invest in people and demand civil rights.

“They tripled their staff and bought a 15,000 square foot, six story building, more determined than ever to intimidate Ohio, a far cry from the progress we have made and will always win,” said Jochum.

Aaron Baer says he spent a lot of time browsing the files at the Columbus Metropolitan Library to find old photos of his group's new office at 60 E. Broad St. He found this image which shows the lobby at the when it was the Railroad Employes Building & Loan Company.  .  Baer is the head of the Center for Christian Virtue, which just spent $ 1.25 million in cash to buy 60 E. Broad and plans to raise an additional $ 3.75 million to renovate the 15,000-square-foot building.

CCV: Founded in 1983 in a church basement

CCV has come a long way from a small organization founded in 1983 in the basement of the College Hill Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati.

In its 40-year history, CCV has a proven track record of controversy. Previously called Citizens for Community Values, it made national headlines for protesting Robert Mapplethorpe’s photo exhibition in Cincinnati in 1990.

Mapplethorpe’s provocative photo exhibit featured nude photos of children and sadistic and masochistic gay culture. While some saw it as an artistic expression, others saw it as pornography and smut. This sparked accusations of obscenity against the museum.

From 1991 to 2016, the CCV was led by Phil Burress, a recovering drug addict who used the organization to campaign against pornography, promiscuity, obscenity and other moral issues.

Part of that advocacy involved fighting LGBTQ rights and protections. In 1993, the CCV passed a charter for the city of Cincinnati outlawing laws protecting homosexuals from discrimination.

In 2004, Burress and CCV led the effort to put a constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot to ban same-sex marriages and civil unions in Ohio. Eleven years later, this amendment became moot when the United States Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage was constitutionally protected in Obergefell v. Hodges.

In 2007, CCV advocated for a state law that restricts the physical contact of strip club dancers with customers.

Aaron Baer has been leading the Center for Christian Virtue, formerly called Citizens for Community Values, since 2016.

New management in 2016

Burress retired in 2016 and passed the baton to Baer.

Baer made CCV the largest Christian public policy group in the state. It has networks with 120 Catholic and Evangelical schools and 2,200 churches and is building what Baer calls the “Christian Chamber of Commerce” to support businesses.

In addition to renovating the newly purchased building, Baer and CCV have big plans for 2022, including:

Aaron Baer stands in the lobby of the new Center for Christian Virtue building.  He said long-term plans for the building include creating a cafe in this first-floor space.

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The breadth of the subjects underlines how radical the lobbying of the CCV has become. The CCV has grown from a lobby group, which mobilized voters and donors around a specific event, to an educational and advocacy organization with widespread influence, said Smith, the Cedarville professor.

He added: “It’s politics through information and relationships instead of mobilization and pressure.”

Laura Bischoff is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal, and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.

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