"There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that sanctifies the separation of church and state." -- Pat Robertson
But in fact, the Christian Right itself has been born again. It has reorganized, and is beginning to arise as a major religious and social force. These radicals have not gone, and will not go away.
Having failed in his venture into national politics, Pat Robertson switched his efforts to the local arena. In 1989, Robertson with the encouragement of Billy McCormack, a Shreveport, La. preacher who once backed Neo-Nazi, ex-Klansman David Duke founded the Christian Coalition.
With a detailed, long-range plan, superb organizing, and millions of dollars in their war chest, the Christian Coalition has taken the nation by storm Qalthough most Americans are still unaware of the group's activities.
According to Ralph Reed, the Christian Coalition's executive director, "The Christian community got it backwards in the nineteen-eighties. We tried to charge Washington when we should have been focusing on the states. The real battles of concern to Christians are in neighborhoods, school boards, city councils, and state legislatures."
Jodie Robbins, assistant to Ralph Reed, said, "When Pat was running for President, and when Reagan was in, we saw that, even with Reagan and his very conservative views, the Christian community was still put on the back burner, so to speak."
Robbins said that the American Civil Liberties Union works on the local level; that is where their strength is the greatest; and she indicated that the Christian Coalition learned from the ACLU's savvy.
While they tried to make their voice heard in Washington, Robbins said, they were losing the battle back in their hometowns. They realized, she said, that "back home," they could "really make an impact." "We can decide who our school councils are going to be, who the board of education's going to be, who our city council's going to be, who the representatives are, etcetera."
Then, in 1990, with the newly-formed Christian Coalition looking on, the religious right in San Diego County, California, covertly ran candidates for 90 county offices. By and large, these people did not advertise their candidacy, or participate in public forums or debates. Utilizing a massive Christian phone bank culled from 100 selected churches, church members were contacted and informed of the identity of the "pro-family" candidates. On the Sunday before the Tuesday election, teams visited church parking lots and placed voter guides on car windshields.
When the smoke cleared on Tuesday, two-thirds (60) of the Christian Right candidates won. This was accomplished with hardly any campaigning, aside from organizing the conservative Christian vote. This strategy has become known as the "San Diego model," and is being replicated in other areas of the country. (See STEALTH: The Christian Coalition Takes San Diego, following this article.)
In 1991, the Christian Coalition held its first "Road to Victory" political training conference in Virginia Beach, Virginia. About 800 Christian activists from practically every state attended to hear rousing speeches and receive hands-on training in political activism.
At the time of Road to Victory I, about 225 Christian Coalition chapters existed nation-wide. By the time Road to Victory II rolled around in 1992, about 440 chapters were operating in every state except Utah.
In 1992, about 1,500 Christian right activists attended Road to Victory II. Highly motivated and well-trained, these zealots returned to their respective states and began organizing. Now, with over 725 chapters and 350,000 members, the Christian Coalition's goal is to have 1,500 chapters and 800,000 members by the end of 1993. Guy Rodgers, the Christian Coalition's National Field Director, claims that one new chapter is added every day. In addition, in 1993, the Christian Coalition aims to have a full-time staff in 20 states, with 50,000 precinct leaders who will provide grassroots leadership. Also, 25,000 church liaison leaders will work to link the Christian Coalition with local churches and local political precincts.
The annual Road to Victory conference is followed up with local Leadership Training Schools. More than 70 of these two-day intensive training seminars are scheduled for 1993. According to Jodie Robbins, the seminars use "a nuts and bolts manual on how to start a coalition; how to fund raise for your candidate; how to be a candidate; and how to canvass your voters."
Robertson's goal is to make the Christian Coalition bigger and more superior than any political group on the right or the left. "I believe that the Christian Coalition," said Robertson, "will be the most powerful political force in America by the end of this decade."
Anyone opposing the Christian Coalition's agenda is accused of "religious bigotry." This is a constant theme, both on Robertson's "700 Club" TV program, and in articles in the Christian Coalition's full-color tabloid newspaper, the Christian American.
Typical of the religious right, the Christian Coalition employs deceptive tactics to further their political agenda. For example, Tony Rivera is Deputy Ombudsman of the City of New York. A Democrat for East Harlem, he works in City Council president Andrew Stein's office. Rivera addressed a Christian Coalition meeting in New York City in 1992.
Realizing that most New Yorkers are liberal and moderate Democrats, Rivera endorsed the Christian Coalition's method of concealing its real ideology behind a bland facade. "The majority of our leaders are pro-abortion," he said, explaining how Christians could involve themselves in local affairs. "So, you don't go in there and say, TI'm an advocate against abortion.' No, you say, TI'm interested in housing, or development, or sanitation.' And you keep your personal views to yourself until the Christian community is ready to rise up, and then, wow! They're gonna be devastated!"
These words are familiar Christian right rhetoric. In 1985, at a conference in Washington called "How to Win An Election," Michael Carrington admonished the gathering, "Always talk in terms of traditional values...we can get more narrow later..." And Pat Robertson has said, "We have enough votes to run this country...and when the people say, TWe've had enough,' we're going to take over!"
The Pennsylvania Christian Coalition hand book further reveals the deception. In the hand book, members are instructed: "Become directly involved in the local Republican central committee so you are an insider." Then, this caveat: "You should never mention the name Christian Coalition in Republican circles."
Most of the funding for the Christian Coalition comes from its members. Contributions made to the national organization are kept separate from the state organizations. For instance, in New York, membership costs $35, even though one may be a member of the national group. State and local chapters are expected to raise their own funds. Nationally, the Christian Coalition is operating on a $12 million annual budget. This doesn't include what state chapters raise.
During the Road to Victory conference in September 1992, members of Robertson's "Inner Circle" were invited to a special reception at his Virginia Beach home. More than a hundred Inner Circle members attended, and experienced a rare privilege Qthe chance to shake hands with the President of the United States. During the reception, officials of the Christian Coalition circulated among those attending and obtained financial pledges to the Coalition. The short event raised approximately $160,000 for the Christian Coalition.
The Christian Coalition is still in its developmental/experimental stages. Focus is being placed on starting new chapters and training Coalition members for political activism. These are, however, examples of how the Christian Coalition can sway elections.
In his 1990 reelection bid, Senator Jesse Helms was behind in the polls. He contacted Pat Robertson, and the Christian Coalition swung into action. On the Sunday before the Tuesday election, the North Carolina Christian Coalition distributed 750,000 half-page size voter guides on behalf of Helms. Some were inserted into church bulletins, others were distributed outside in church parking lots.
Helms won reelection by a narrow margin. The Christian Coalition takes credit for Helms' come-from-behind victory. "The press had no idea what we were doing," said North Carolina state director Judy Haynes, "and they still don't know what we did. But it worked."
In 1992, Iowa voters had the opportunity to make the Equal Rights Amendment state law. Polls released the Sunday before the election indicated Iowans favored the amendment 54 to 33 percent. Iowa, however, is a Christian Coalition stronghold.
Long-time Robertson organizer, Marlene Elwell, and her Iowa Committee to Stop ERA, hand-delivered 1,085,000 anti-ERA pamphlets door-to-door in every precinct in the state. The Christian Coalition distributed 600,000 voter guides in Iowa and 45,000 phone calls urging voters to reject the ERA. Pat Robertson mailed a letter to his Iowa supporters in which he said, "The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians."
The Christian Coalition also provided funds for literature drops, radio ads, and a two-thirds page ad in the Des Moines Register the Sunday before the election.
When the votes were counted, the ERA lost, 53 to 48 percent. Again, the religious right, and the Christian Coalition in particular, took the credit.