On September 19,
2005, Jason Christy, the head of Christy Media and the publisher and
editor-in-chief of The Church Report, a national news and business journal for
pastors and Christian leaders, was named executive director of the Christian
Coalition by the organization's president, Roberta Combs.
"I am honored
and humbled to be chosen by the Christian Coalition's Board of Directors for
this key position," Christy said. "It is crucial at this time in our
nation for people of faith to engage the culture, and to realize that at the
grassroots level they can make a difference."
Within a month,
Christy changed his mind, deciding not to take the position. According to Word
News, Christy intimated that it would be difficult to work with the Christian
Coalition and continue running his various businesses.
Less than a year
later, the coalition's board voted to name Joel Hunter -- the senior pastor of
the nondenominational Longwood, Florida-based Northland Church, also known as
Northland A Church Distributed, and a founder of the Christian Citizen, and the
Alliance for the Distributed Church -- president of the organization.
In late November,
however, Hunter stepped down as president-elect (he was to have assumed office
on January 1), saying that he had wanted the organization to focus on issues
other than abortion and same-sex marriage -- such as poverty and environmental
protection -- but coalition leaders did not. "I think the board just got
scared," said Hunter, the author of "Right Wing, Wrong Bird: Why the
Tactics of the Religious Right Won't Fly With Most Conservative
The withdrawal of
the media-savvy Christy and the forward-looking Hunter -- albeit for different
reasons -- is indicative of a once mighty organization going south. However,
like Spain 's fascist dictator, Generalisimo Francisco Franco, who was kept
alive so that his death would coincide with the anniversary of the death of
another well-known fascist leader 39 years earlier, the Christian Coalition's
demise is taking a dreadfully long time to play itself out. While reports of
Franco's death made it into the popular culture -- it became a recurring item
during the satiric Weekend Update segment on the then-new "Saturday Night
Live" program -- the death of the Christian Coalition probably won't get
the same comedic treatment.
It should be noted
that in its day, the Christian Coalition became the heir and-then-some to the
Rev. Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority. Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition (CC)
set the gold standard for Christian conservative grassroots organizing efforts,
fundraising ability and lobbying efforts well into the 1990s.
At its peak, one of
the organization's claims to fame was its highly partisan Voter Guides. In
2000, it distributed over 70 million voter guides in churches all across
America, including over 5 million in Spanish (approximately 2 million of which
were distributed in Florida alone). In the 2004 election cycle, the group
claimed that it distributed around 30 million voter guides, but this time in
targeted states and congressional districts, choosing instead to focus its
efforts on areas that were more politically competitive.
once-mighty Christian Coalition founded 17 years ago by the Rev. Pat Robertson
as the political fundraising and lobbying engine of the Christian right, is
more than $2 million in debt, beset by creditors' lawsuits and struggling to
hold on to some of its state chapters," according to the Washington Post.
"In March, one of its most effective chapters, the Christian Coalition of
Iowa, cut ties with the national organization and reincorporated itself as the
Iowa Christian Alliance, saying it 'found it impossible to continue to carry a
name that in any way associated us with this national organization.' Stephen L.
Scheffler, president of the Iowa affiliate since 2000, said that 'The
credibility is just not there like it once was. The budget has shrunk from $26
million to $1 million. There's a trail of debt. . . . We believe, our board
believes, any Christian organization has an obligation to pay its debts in a
In reality, the
organization hasn't been the same since Ralph Reed, the organization's
baby-faced point man who garnered serious face time on television pushing the
organization's agenda, and Robertson, the founder and chief operating officer
left the coalition.
founders left, the Christian Coalition never fully recovered," James L.
Guth, an expert on politics and religion at Furman University in South
Carolina, told the Washington Post's Alan Cooperman and Thomas B. Edsall in
April of this year. "The dependence on Robertson and Reed was really
Reed resigned as
the CC's executive director in 1997, leaving to head up his own political
consulting firm (Century Strategies), become head of Georgia's Republican
Party, and to set the stage for launching his own political career. Earlier
this year, unable to slide out from under reports of his close connection to
GOP uber-lobbyist, the now-imprisoned Jack Abramoff, Reed was defeated in his
bid to become the GOP's candidate for lieutenant governor.
Robertson left in
2001 after a CNN interview in which he defended China's one-child policy, a position
that horrified fellow Christian conservatives. Robertson's China comment,
according to the Washington Post, "was among the most damaging in a series
of remarks that have hurt Robertson's standing among evangelical Christians --
and may have hurt the Christian Coalition as well."
Coalition was already on life support. Robertson's remarks probably mean its
demise," said former Christian Coalition lobbyist Marshall Wittmann, who
before he was recently hired to be the communications director and spokesman
for Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), was a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy
Institute, a think tank affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council.
Roberta Combs, who
coordinated Robertson's South Carolina campaign during his run to head the GOP
presidential ticket in 1988, replaced him as head of the Christian Coalition
five years ago. Claiming that the organization was in horrendous financial
straits, Coombs cleaned house and made enemies. "I had to let a lot of
staff go, and they all got upset with me because they were close to Ralph
[Reed]. Of course they said bad things about me. But we got a lot of that
[debt] paid down over time," Combs told the Washington Post.
While she may have
succeeded in cleaning house and making enemies, one thing she didn't do was
straighten out the organization's financials, according to the Washington Post:
"IRS records show that the Christian Coalition's red ink has remounted.
Its debts exceeded its assets by $983,000 in 2001, $1.3 million in 2002, $2
million in 2003 and $2.28 million at the end of 2004, the most recent year for
which it has filed a nonprofit tax return.
unpaid bills have multiplied. The Christian Coalition's longtime law firm --
Huff, Poole & Mahoney PC of Virginia Beach -- says it is owed $69,729.
Global Direct, a fundraising firm in Oklahoma, is suing for $87,000 in
expenses. Reese & Sons Inc., a moving company in District Heights, is
trying to recover $1,890 for packing up furniture when the Christian Coalition
closed its Washington office in 2002."
The resignation of
Joel Hunter precludes any chance that the Christian Coalition might emerge as a
new and forward-looking organization. "My position is, unless we are
caring as much for the vulnerable outside the womb as inside the womb, we're
not carrying out the full message of Jesus," Hunter said in a
late-November telephone interview with the Washington Post. "They
[Christian Coalition leaders] began to think this might threaten their base or
evaporate some of their support, and they said they just couldn't go
about the organization's precarious financials, his resignation did not stem
from that factor: "I got a look at who they owed money to. It's sobering.
But with the right leadership and the capability of rebuilding a grassroots
organization, it's not insurmountable. My church budget is $15 million a year.
. . . It's not too intimidating for me to think I could have raised that kind
According to the
newspaper, Roberta Combs, chairman of the coalition's four-member board,
"said that Hunter 'is still a good friend' but that they agreed during a
Nov. 21 conference call that 'it would be best for everyone' if he did not
become president." Combs pointed out that the organization has "been
wanting to broaden our agenda for some time. But there's a way to do that. We
wanted to survey our supporters first and make sure they're on board on new
issues. Joel saw it differently -- he just wanted to go out and do it."
enough, when Time magazine ran a cover story earlier this year headlined
"The 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America," not one Christian
Coalition spokesperson was amongst them. With Dr. James Dobson's Focus on the
Family, Tony Perkins' Family Research Council, and the Southern Baptist
Convention having eclipsed the coalition in lobbying effectiveness since even
before Pat Robertson' left the organization, Hunter's ideas represented an
opportunity for a new beginning.
resignation, it appears that Christian Coalition leaders have soundly rejected
changing the way it has been doing business. The organization's long slide from
its glory days to relative obscurity will no doubt continue.
Bill Berkowitz is a
longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column
Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories
and defeats of the American Right.