Gary Suttons mind raced as Assemblies of God assistant general
superintendent Charles T. Crabtree spoke at a missions convention at
his church, Sachse (Texas) A/G in February 2000. Sutton had long been
a generous supporter of missions programs, but with several foreign
and home missionaries attending the convention, he felt frustrated that
he couldnt do more.
Gary Sutton hopes
KingdomBuy.com generates between $5 million and $10 million for
charities and ministries this year.
Repeatedly during the conference Sutton, 44, says he sensed the Lord
telling him to devise a plan in which major retailers would donate a
portion of sales to finance worldwide ministry efforts. Using donated
funds from Bethesda Corporation as well as from LeaseUSA, his nationwide
company that provides business equipment financing, Sutton last October
an online shopping mall designed to financially boost churches, missions
organizations, ministries and Christian schools through a faith-based
As an affiliate, KingdomBuy.com in essence becomes a sales agent for
various online merchants. But instead of keeping all the commission,
part is passed along to the charity of the purchasers choice.
KingdomBuy.com doesnt charge any more than other online merchants.
"We negotiate a certain percentage from the retailers for selling their
products," says Sutton, whose company has headquarters in Garland, Texas.
"So if they give us 10 percent, we may pass 8 percent of that on to
a ministry. Were providing a fund-raising resource for hundreds
of Christian organizations that we believe are doing good work throughout
the world." The share distributed to ministries ranges from .5 percent
to 20 percent.
In the first six months, Sutton had signed up 200 businesses, including
Wal-Mart, American Express, Office Depot, Hickory Farms and Dell Computer.
"The Lord just worked it out," he says. "It was miraculous."
The shopping service has become a fixture on the Web sites of ministries
ranging from Jerry Falwell to T.D. Jakes, and from fellowships such
as the Southern Baptists and Assemblies of God.
"Because of software and technology everything is done electronically,"
Sutton says. "Very little manpower is required." Consumers have the
option of requesting a rebate so that they may receive tax deduction
credit for their contributions.
Everything ran smoothly until mid-May. Then, in an 11-day period, 11
retailers notified KingdomBuy.com that they had severed ties.
The trouble can be traced indirectly to an April 11 Los Angeles Times
article which reported that Yahoo had become the only major Internet
portal to sell hardcore pornographic videos and DVDs in its online store.
On April 12, the Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Association sent
a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft urging an investigation of
Yahoo "for its direct involvement in the sale and distribution of obscene
material and child pornography."
The following day after receiving 100,000 electronic-mail complaints
Yahoo stopped selling hardcore porn products and shuttered its
"adult" clubs and group directories Web hosting service.
"That closed the front door to the sex clubs," says Buddy Smith, AFA
executive assistant. "We became the target for some angry folks with
serious sexual addictions."
About 11,500 people formed a "Dont Close Adult Clubs" Web site.
Many visited the AFA Web site and spotted the KingdomBuy.com banner.
Even though less than 1 percent of KingdomBuy.coms donations go
to AFA, the porn users inundated retailers who had links with KingdomBuy.com
declaring that their free speech had been censored and they would no
longer do business with the company.
Sutton has tried to regain the business of the largest companies that
quit. Avon and FTD returned after talking to him and receiving
thousands of e-mail protests from AFA supporters. FTD public relations
director Lisa Witek says KingdomBuy.com agreed to change information
on its Web site to clarify that merchants dont have to agree with
the statement of faith.
JCPenney and Nordstrom have not allowed KingdomBuy.com to return. Both
companies deny any outside pressure influenced the decisions.
"There were very sound business grounds," says Jeanine Connolly, public
relations manager for the Plano, Texas-based JCPenney.com. "It was a
routine business performance. We review the performance of all our affiliates
to make sure that they are fulfilling our business objectives." Connolly
Shasha Richardson, public relations director for Nordstrom, says the
Seattle chain ceased the relationship in an effort to keep consumers
"We have a company policy that we dont establish affiliate relations
with Web sites that have religious or political content on them," Richardson
says. "By going down the path of supporting one side of the issue we
end up upsetting customers. When we make exceptions we always disappoint
But Sutton finds it suspicious that both JCPenney and Nordstrom unexpectedly
canceled on the same day, May 18. Both claimed routine spot-checks of
the site led to the decision.
"It seems too coincidental," says Sutton. He notes that all retailers
who agree to the affiliate partnership receive information describing
how KingdomBuy.com directs some of the commission payment to Christian
ministries. "They were told exactly what were doing at the sign-up,"
Richardson concedes that Nordstrom should have been more diligent in
reviewing the application.
Sutton also questions Nordstroms reasoning, noting that he found
three other religion-related affiliates on the site. Richardson says
the company is reviewing other sites to make sure religious affiliates
"You cant do business with somebody for months without looking
at their Web site," Sutton says.
Meanwhile, homosexual-rights groups have jumped on the boycotting bandwagon.
For example, on May 25 Mississippi Gay Lobby executive director Jody
Renaldo announced that the group "is dedicating itself to lead a nationwide
and worldwide boycott of the companies that are associated with KingdomBuy.com
and AFA in any form or relation." Renaldo says he is shocked that major
companies could consider associating with KingdomBuy.com.
"No gay person should spend another dime with these companies as long
as they are funding anti-gay ministries, churches and any other type
of anti-gay organization or business," Renaldo says.
Still, Sutton is not deterred. He recently has been signing up Christian
businesses to go along with secular retailers. He hopes that enough
Christians support the service to counter the loss of business.
"When we lose affiliates the real victims are those who would have
benefited from work done by our faith-based partners like Convoy of
Hope or Mission of Mercy," Sutton says.