There was a time when Ralph Reed, the organizer of the Christian Coalition, was taken completely seriously, not only by most conservative, Evangelical Christian voters, but by most of his opponents as well. The Christian Coalition did indeed make a difference in the outcome of elections, and Reed did a good job of helping to energize Christian voters, many of whom felt that faith had been sanitized from the public arena, and didn’t matter any more. Ultimately, the organization began to wane, largely because it had a hard time defining its boundaries, and because it began to endorse candidates whose views were not exactly consistent with those of conservative Christians.
In 2009, Reed tried to make a comeback with the “Faith and Freedom Coalition,” an attempt to reorganize and restructure conservative Evangelicals and increase their impact. The agenda is still remarkably similar, given that the old Christian Coalition gave wholehearted support to mostly Republican candidates who, in turn, for several Presidential election cycles, failed to deliver much beyond some token legislation on the main social issues that were the cornerstone of the conservative Christian position, namely abortion rights and school choice. But the new version of the old Christian Coalition doesn’t have the punch, the energy, the money, or the effect. There are several reasons for this.
Take a look at the photo. There’s one major problem. Glenn Beck is an ex-catholic who made the personal decision to convert to Mormonism. Mormons have absolutely zero in common with the foundational doctrines and theology of Evangelical Christians, and I can reference any one of fifty books by Christian and Mormon authors who will zero in on the facts of that division, and substantiate the claim. It is Beck’s extremism that seems to be the attraction here, and that gives away the inner secret of Reed’s organization. The “Faith” part is quite deceptive. Other than opening and closing their sessions with prayer, and pandering to people’s religious beliefs, if Glenn Beck is the media darling of this group, “Faith” is not even in the back seat of the bus. Beck has learned how to parrot all the catch phrases he needs to wow his audiences, and the fact that he is able to get a hearing from them is evidence that their faith isn’t as important as they want you to think it is.
I read the press releases, the text of several speeches, and watched a lot of video. One thing was absolutely missing from this whole conference. Faith. There are too many people involved who are not compatible with the theological and doctrinal perspective of the core group of conservative, Evangelical Christianity. In the past, opponents and critics challenged what they saw as a threat to the subjectively interpreted phrase “separation of church and state.” I don’t think there’s enough substance of faith, or a connection to it, in this group to raise that criticism. The faith element was overshadowed and compromised by the support demanded from the GOP for Mitt Romney’s campaign, after several credible conservative Evangelicals, including Mike Huckabee, were passed over, and there wasn’t even an effort to put one of their own on the ticket as the VP candidate. Maybe that’s why they downplay it now. They think it won’t help win elections.
The lack of substance in the speakers that came to their recent gathering was, frankly, appalling. Many of these people are in Congress, and others have served in state offices. Most of the speakers seemed to hold the intelligence, and the knowledge of the relevant issues of the day, of their audience in contempt. They’re good at reciting cliches, and the standard “talking points” are repeated until they almost become meaningless. Essentially, it was their standard commercial for opposition to the President. That may have some appeal to the 20% or so of the electorate that falls into the far right category, but it isn’t going to help win elections, especially on the issues that are coming to the forefront. I’d include myself among the growing number of people who want to hear a realistic appraisal of the situation, and some solutions that involve working across the aisle, not more of the same obstructionism. The other side is preparing a bankroll and a campaign strategy to overcome the obstacles, one that is likely to be successful, and which will eliminate the give and take necessary for real progress to be made.
I watched a local news station put together a series of Paul Ryan’s campaign speeches, and recent news interviews, and it seems like he doesn’t even vary his words much. It’s almost as if he learned absolutely nothing from being on the defeated Presidential ticket in 2012. Rick Perry missed a chance to say something of substance, and on top of that, his memory keeps failing. He couldn’t remember the name of the country in which Benghazi was located. Sarah Palin, as usual, opened mouth and inserted foot. It is clear that she has no idea what is going on in Syria, nor does she have any idea how the US government needs to approach such situations. The Democrats have to be pretty excited about the possibility that she will still be hanging around in 2014 and 2016, because her presence will help their chances at gaining control of Congress and winning another term for their party in the White House.
Surely there are people of faith who have a realistic perspective of where we are, and who can avoid the cliches and talking points, and help people understand the role that true, genuine, sincere faith can play in resolving the problems that we face. Why do they not seem to be attracted to the Faith and Freedom Coalition? Maybe they don’t think this particular group matters.
Faith does matter. And it should. But not the way this group wants to use it. It is much, much more than merely a political strategy.