ACTIVE FAITH: How Christians Are Changing the Soul of American Politics by Ralph Reed. 311 pp. The Free Press (1996).
At 34, Ralph E. Reed, Jr. writes that he's been studying political history all his life. As a result, he maintains that the Democratic Party and liberalism "no longer casts its agenda in moral and religious terms," and therefore Americans are ready to embrace a Republican-led conservative Christian agenda.
Throughout his book, Active Faith, Reed continuously employs the word "nonpartisan" when writing about the Coalition's voter guides and its other activities. Founded in 1989, the Christian Coalition still has only a provisional 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service. The Institute for First Amendment Studies, and other groups, maintain that the Christian Coalition conducts partisan political activities on behalf of the Republican Party and should register as a political action committee.
Apparently Reed hopes IRS officials investigating the Christian Coalition will read his book instead of looking at the facts. Nevertheless, don't expect any action by the IRS until next year, as President Clinton would receive too much heat if it appeared that his administration tried to shut down the Christian Coalition during an election year.
In Active Faith, Reed attempts to polish his tarnished image by presenting himself as the totally adorable portrait of innocence. He writes that when Pat Robertson hired him to head the Christian Coalition, "I did not consider myself a 'Christian activist'..." He fails to mention his 1985 arrest at a Raleigh, North Carolina clinic where he pioneered militant tactics to oppose abortion.
Although admitting he "occasionally used military metaphors for effect," he claims "the Left" quoted him out of context. This, he writes, "allowed the media and the organized Left to caricature our movement as intolerant and uncaring."
"We also assiduously avoided calling our opponents 'anti-family' or 'anti-God,'" Reed asserts. However, when ordering his security guards to eject my wife and me from a meeting at the "Road to Victory" conference in 1993, Reed told us that he gave the order because "You're not pro-family."
About eleven pages of Reed's book venerate the late Martin Luther King, Jr., whom Reed claims to emulate. In Active Faith, Reed comes across as a future presidential hopeful.
Notwithstanding all the spit and polish in Active Faith, there is enough scary stuff to make one fearful of the Christian Coalition.
"What makes religious conservatives controversial — and essential — to the debate over values is their insistence that, in the end, the answers to moral decline can be found only with a return to faith in God."
"There are liberals," Reed generously offers, "who are good people, who love God as they understand Him to be, and who lead lives of character and decency." Apparently, that's not good enough.
"In fact, if America has a national political tradition," Reed postulates, "it is that of religious activism firmly rooted in millennialism." If it weren't for what Reed writes a few pages later, the statement about millennialism would go right over most people's heads.
"The Great Awakening introduced to American colonists new ideas about liberty and government ... Millennialism reached a fever pitch, expressed in such proclamations as that of one revolutionary who declared America would be 'the principle seat of that glorious kingdom which Christ shall erect upon earth in the latter days.'" It is no secret that Christian Coalition founder and president, Pat Robertson, believes that we are living in those very days.
In Active Faith, Reed calls for taxpayer funded religious schools ("school choice"), laws prohibiting abortion and euthanasia, draconian divorce laws, taxpayer subsidies to allow churches to operate as welfare agencies, and a constitutional amendment — above and beyond the First Amendment — for "religious freedom."
Reed takes great pains defending the Christian Coalition against charges of anti-Semitism, especially those launched against the Christian Coalition in the Anti-Defamation League's 1995 book, The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America. Relying, in part, on research provided by the Institute for First Amendment Studies, that book related the excesses of the Religious Right in general, with anti-Semitism being only a small part.
Evangelicals typically explain the Jew's rejection of Jesus as Messiah on the premise that Jews are "spiritually deaf" and "spiritually blind," and therefore cannot hear and see the truth of the Christian Gospel. Reed defends Pat Robertson, by saying, "Robertson never made such a statement." However, in his 1989 book, The Plan, Robertson revealed his belief concerning the spiritual condition of Jews — using the words "spiritually deaf" and "spiritually blind" — when writing about his quest to broadcast the Gospel into Israel.
Attempting to paint the "radical right" ("A bigoted code for people of faith," according to Reed) as broad-based and all-inclusive he pointed to the now-defunct Moral Majority. Mentioning Howard Phillips, one of the founders of that organization, he refers to him as a man "who was a Jew." Reed neglects to inform his readers that Phillips, like many Jews who become involved with the Christian Right, subsequently became a born- again Christian.
In defense of the Christian Coalition, Reed claims that he never made the statement, "What Christians have got to do is take back this country, one precinct at a time, one neighborhood at a time and one state at a time." He's correct, actually his boss, Pat Robertson said, "We're committed to giving Christians a voice in their government again. One neighborhood at a time, one city at a time, one state at a time." The statement was made in the 1990 video, "America at a Crossroads." In that video Robertson also stated, "Christians founded this nation, they built this nation, and for three-hundred years they governed this nation. We can do it again; that's why I founded the Christian Coalition, to give Christians a voice in their government again."
The book is important for what Reed doesn't say. He talks about Christian conservatives being on a roll, such as its taking over school boards. He fails to mention that virtually every school board taken over by the Radical Religious Right is eventually taken back by moderates.
The membership of the Christian Coalition is far from monolithic. While Reed warns his readers about the dangers of Christian Reconstructionism and the teachings of R.J. Rushdoony, many Christian Coalition members embrace Rushdoony and other extreme groups, including Christian Identity and militias.
Reed credits a number of people for helping him with his new book. "I am most indebted," he writes, "to Pat Robertson. He read every word, offered unique insights, and encouraged me during the editing process. I shall never forget our phone conversations from Switzerland in which he helped me revise the last several chapters. Furthermore, this book is about a vision and a social movement that Pat helped to birth and build." The importance of this cannot be overstated. Rising out of the ashes of his failed 1988 presidential campaign, the Christian Coalition is Pat Robertson's road to political power.
Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed are men who learn from their mistakes. Any activist concerned about religious political extremism should read a library copy of Active Faith. Moderates have much to learn, and in this book Reed lays out his game plan.