On April 23, 1997, Ralph Reed revealed that he will be stepping down as executive director of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition. At a press conference announcing his resignation, Reed said he wants to take a more direct role in Republican campaigns. In order to accomplish this goal, he is forming his own Atlanta-based political consulting agency called Century Strategies.
Since the surprise announcement of his decision to resign, there has been a great deal of speculation about his real reasons for leaving, his potential replacement and the future of the Christian Coalition. Obviously, Robertson is losing a very talented front man for his political organization, and he may have a difficult time finding someone else who can, with equal skill, put a moderate face on his extreme views. Yet, before we celebrate Reed's departure and delight in Robertson's dilemma, we need to remember some very important facts.
First, Reed is not leaving the Christian Coalition until September. Until that time, he plans to continue promoting his so-called "Samaritan Project." Supposedly "a bold and compassionate plan to combat poverty and restore hope," this "agenda for the 105th Congress" is really nothing more than a repackaging of items that failed as proposals in the 104th Congress. Tax credits, vouchers, government-sponsored prayer and limits on abortion are all part of this "bold" agenda "to combat poverty." In reality, none of these proposals do very much to address the real problem of poverty, nor do they significantly improve the economic situation of poor and working families in this country.
Even more disturbing, however, is the fact that these proposals come from an organization which consistently took legislative positions that ran directly counter to the interests of America's poor and working families. Despite their new rhetoric of "compassion," the leaders of the Christian Coalition opposed an increase in the minimum wage, opposed family and medical leave, opposed the ban on assault weapons and fought to dismantle legal services for the poor. Furthermore, they supported cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, supported cuts in Social Security and pushed for the harshest and most punitive forms of welfare reform. Given this record, it is ironic that Robertson and Reed would call their agenda "the Samaritan Project": after all, the story of the Good Samaritan is a condemnation of hypocritical religious leaders who fail to help their neighbors in need.
Until his departure in September, Reed will continue to promote this stealth campaign against the poor. But even after he leaves, his campaign will continue, and, of course, Reed will continue to do the same thing he has done as executive director of the Christian Coalition — try to elect right wing Republicans. The only difference is that now he will do openly what he has in the past done under the cover of religion and "voter education." False claims to speak for all people of faith, false claims to be nonpartisan, the fielding of stealth candidates and the massive distribution of deceptive voter guides were all part of Reed's strategy at the Christian Coalition.
Now, no longer tied to Robertson or the legal limitations of a tax-exempt organization, Reed will be free to advise his candidates of choice about these strategies and the best way to use them.
In fact, it is rather interesting that Reed has decided to leave the Christian Coalition just when his organization is coming under increased scrutiny for its political and financial activities. The Federal Elections Commission is suing the Christian Coalition for illegally coordinating its electoral activities with Republican campaigns, illegally funneling money to Republican candidates and illegally selecting and changing voter guide information to favor particular Republicans. Also, the Internal Revenue Service, the US Post Office and the US Attorney in Norfolk, VA, are presently investigating the Christian Coalition for irregular and potentially illegal activities. Reed was, of course, the mastermind who orchestrated the activities now under investigation. Is it merely coincidence that he should suddenly decide that the time has come to move on?
Again, Reed's departure from the Christian Coalition does not in any way signal the demise of political religious extremism. Reed will remain active on the political scene as a consultant to candidates backed by the Christian Coalition and other extreme right organizations. This being the case, the issue of who replaces Reed is not as important as the question of what Reed is now capable of doing. This question is especially important given the fact that a new political-religious force is on the move which threatens to dwarf anything so far accomplished by Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition.
This new force is called "Promise Keepers" and its potential for political power is greater than anything yet seen on the extreme religious right.
Promise Keepers was founded by Bill McCartney, a university football coach who spearheaded the campaign in Colorado to single out gay and lesbian citizens for legal discrimination. His "Christian men's group" is a well-organized national movement with an annual budget in excess of $115 million, a permanent staff of more than 400 persons and tens of thousands of enthusiastic volunteers. The organization, which preaches the subordination of women to men, attracted 725,000 men to its rallies last year, including 39,000 male pastors in Atlanta. Its leaders are now in the process of establishing small groups in each of the country's 400,000 Christian congregations, with 8000 already in existence. In September of this year, just about the time when Reed leaves the Christian Coalition, the Promise Keepers plan to bring more than a million men to Washington, DC, to participate in a "Stand in the Gap" rally on the Capitol steps. Their goal: to "take this nation for Jesus."
It doesn't take a Ralph Reed to see the political potential in a movement like this. Leaders of the Promise Keepers have themselves observed what the next steps will most likely be. According to Raleigh Washington, a leader of "Stand in the Gap" event planned for our nation's capital, "There's no way the group can restrict itself when it comes to public policy. We are producing leaders in this organization. They will enter the political sphere."
When they do, they will be promoting the agenda of their friends and supporters — political religious extremists like: Pat Robertson; James Dobson, of Focus on the Family; Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue; and Bill Bright, of Campus Crusade for Christ. Perhaps they will also be seeking strategic political advice. If so, they're sure to receive help from a consultant named Ralph Reed.
Ken Brooker Langston is director of education and religious outreach for The Interfaith Alliance.