In preparation for his campaign for the presidency in 1988, religious broadcaster Marion G. "Pat" Robertson created an effective grassroots organization known as Freedom Council in several states. Though defeated, Robertson made a surprisingly strong showing and determined to create a more permanent political organization that could help elect Christian candidates to public office and gain substantial power within the Republican Party. The result was Christian Coalition, launched in 1989 with the assistance of its first executive director, Ralph Reed. Under Reed's leadership the organization grew steadily until, in 1996, it claimed a membership of 1.9 million in two thousand chapters across the country, and a budget of $26.5 million. Critics questioned the membership figures, but no one doubted that the organization has had a significant influence and impact on American politics.
In founding Christian Coalition, Robertson asserted that atheistic and humanistic forces had transformed America from a Christian nation into an "anti-Christian pagan nation" and that he hoped the new organization could help reverse that change. Key causes have included opposition to gay rights, abortion, and pornography; a tax cut for middle-class families with children; vouchers that could be used to enable children to attend private religious schools; and efforts to protest anti-Christian bigotry and to defend the legal rights of Christians. In the service of its "pro-family" agenda, the organization seeks to inform Christians of timely issues and legislation; to represent them before local councils, state legislatures, and Congress; and to train them for effective political action.
In addition to providing detailed instruction as to how committed activists could seize control of local and state-level political organizations and mobilize voters on behalf of candidates and key issues, Christian Coalition has specialized in producing and distributing voter guides that, though ostensibly nonpartisan, draw sharp distinctions between candidates they favor and those they oppose. In the 1996 and 1998 general elections, the organization claimed to have distributed upward of forty million voter guides, often in the form of leaflets placed on the windshields of cars in the parking lots of evangelical churches. In 1994 and 1996 an estimated 40 percent of candidates backed by Christian Coalition were victorious. In 1998, however, Coalition-backed candidates fared much more poorly. More significant than individual elections, however, has been the organization's impact on the Republican Party. A 1995 survey conducted by Campaigns & Elections magazine found that Christian Right forces had "dominant strength" in the Republican Party in eighteen states and "substantial" influence in thirteen others. Christian Coalition was widely regarded as the political organization most responsible for this development, and its annual "Road to Victory" conference is considered an important opportunity for conservative politicians to establish or strengthen ties to evangelical supporters. The close ties between Christian Coalition, officially a nonpartisan organization, and the Republican Party led to a lawsuit by the Federal Election Commission and a review of the organization's tax-exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service, which revoked that status in 1999.
Christian Coalition's future was somewhat difficult to predict at the end of the 1990s. Contributions dropped from $26.5 million in 1996 to $17 million in 1997. Also in 1997, Ralph Reed resigned his position, turning the reins over to new executive director Randy Tate, a former Republican congressman from Washington state, and former Reagan cabinet member Don Hodel, who served as the organization's president. Hodel resigned in February 1999 and Pat Robertson reassumed the post of president. Under the recent leadership, ties with the Republican Party have been somewhat deemphasized in favor of a new strategy called Families 2000, in which the organization seeks to achieve its goals by working more closely with local churches. Other changes included discontinuing a minority outreach program known as the Samaritan Project and severing ties with the Catholic Alliance, a largely unsuccessful attempt to recruit like-minded Catholics into its ranks.
Ralph Reed's remarkable skills as a political organizer and his pragmatic willingness to accept partial victories and limited gains and to use a rhetoric less harsh and threatening than that of some of his colleagues contributed mightily to Christian Coalition's early success. However, it offended some who regarded him as too willing to compromise on issues they held dear. In adjusting its tactics and public image in the post-Reed era, the organization was faced not only with striking an acceptable balance between the demands of its constituency and the tolerance of the general public toward hard-line moral and political positions, but also with competition from other conservative organizations. The most notable of these were Focus on the Family, headed by influential radio broadcaster and author James Dobson, and the Family Research Council, led by Gary Bauer.
Martin, William. With God on Our Side: TheRiseof theReligious Rightin America. 1996.
Reed, Ralph. Contractwith the American Family. 1995.
The Christian Coalition is a nonprofit organization that serves as a powerful lobby for politically conservative causes. Under federal tax law, the organization is permitted to lobby for political issues but cannot endorse political candidates. The Christian Coalition has primarily sought the support of born-again evangelical Christians, but since 1996 it has attempted to build alliances with Roman Catholics, members of the Greek Orthodox Church, and Jews.
The Christian Coalition was founded in 1989 by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson. Robertson, who unsuccessfully sought the 1988 republican party presidential nomination, decided to create an organization of evangelical Christians that would exert influence over the party. The coalition's central goals have been to gain working control of the Republican Party through grassroots organizing and to elect Christian candidates to office. The coalition soon became a potent political force. By 1997, it claimed control of several Republican state central committees and had elected to public office numerous Christian Coalition members and other candidates it endorsed. Prior to the congressional elections of 2002, the Christian Coalition distributed 70 million voter guides throughout the 50 states, an effort that has been credited with helping the Republican Party gain control of Congress.
The Christian Coalition has focused on family and moral issues. It strongly opposes legalized abortion, and in 1998 it began an effort to require all endorsed Republican candidates to oppose partial-birth abortions. The coalition has also campaigned against gay rights, and through its legal arm, the American Center for Law and Justice, it has filed many church-state lawsuits.
Robertson, who served as president until 1997, appears on the 700 Club, a television program that, as of July of 2003, is watched by 1 million viewers each week. Robertson has characterized politics as a struggle pitting militant leftists, secular humanists, and atheists against conservative, evangelical Christians. The success of the coalition's grassroots organizing, however, can be attributed to Ralph Reed, who served as executive director until 1997. Reed encouraged coalition members to run for school boards, city councils, and legislatures without revealing their affiliation. This strategy also proved effective within the Republican Party.
The Christian Coalition has over 1,500 chapters in the United States with over one million members. The coalition's staff is headquartered in Chesapeake, Virginia; it also maintains a legislative office in Washington, D.C. With a budget of more than $27 million, the coalition has the resources to mount nationwide campaigns on public policy issues. The organization also actively lobbies Congress on numerous issues, sponsors grassroots training schools across the United States, and organizes activists
around the country who are involved in federal and local politics.
The election of george w. bush as president in 2000 and the gain of Republican seats in both the House and Senate in 2002 gave increased clout to the Christian Coalition's already vigorous advocacy. In early 2003, the Christian Coalition lobbied for the confirmation of Miguel Estrada, an Hispanic lawyer, to be a judge on the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals. According to the coalition, his confirmation was "being blocked by those who would subject judicial nominees to a liberal litmus test." The organization also supported a ban on partial-birth abortions and the cloning of humans. In addition, the Christian Coalition voiced strong support for President Bush as the United States was poised on the brink of war with Iraq.
American Center for Law and Justice. Available online at <www.aclj.org> (accessed June 17, 2003).
Christian Coalition. Available online at <www.cc.org> (accessed June 17, 2003).
CHRISTIAN COALITION, a political action and evangelical piety movement based in Washington, D.C., was formed in 1989 by the Reverend Pat Robertson to provide him with a national vehicle for public advocacy. Defeated in the Republican presidential primaries the previous year, Robertson was poised to fill the vacuum among fundamentalist activists caused by the dissolution of the Moral Majority. Ralph Reed, an early executive director, secured wide public exposure for the Christian Coalition through frequent media appearances and by securing it access among prominent politicians. Its subsequent executive director, Roberta Combs, focused on organization and on mobilizing youth activists. The Christian Coalition claimed in 2001 to have nearly two million members nationwide with branches in every state and on many university campuses.
The Christian Coalition was founded on the belief that "people of faith" have a right and a responsibility to effect social, cultural, and political change in their local communities. Its members denounced promiscuity and what they deemed as individualist, feminist, and judicial excesses, and preferred a larger role for independent groups instead of the federal government. Its goals included strengthening "family values" by fighting abortions, pornography, homosexuality, bigotry, and religious persecution, and by endorsing prayer in public places such as schools. Easing the tax burden on married couples and fighting crime by severely punishing culprits while protecting the rights of victims complemented its mission.
Educating, lobbying, and disseminating information through courses, lectures, debate forums, issue voter guides, and scorecards for certain candidates on its issues of concern were the hallmark of the Christian Coalition. Its brochure "From the Pew to the Precinct" emphasized that in order to preserve its tax-exempt status, this movement did not specifically endorse individuals or parties, but the vast majority of its grassroots mobilization supported the Republican Party.