Eugene Rivers, a black evangelical minister, accused the Christian Coalition Tuesday of being a "racist organization" because of its nearly all-white membership and what he called its "failure" to reach out to black churches.
The accusation came as a group of 11 white and black evangelical leaders held a news conference to offer an alternative voice to the increasingly vocal religious right, which they say "does not speak for all the faithful."
"It certainly doesn't speak for 23 million black Christians, nor does it speak for all white Christians. It only speaks for itself," said Jim Wallis, pastor of Sojourners Community Church in Washington, D.C.
Rivers, pastor of Azusa Christian Community in Boston, said the Christian Coalition "has its roots in the same (white) political forces that opposed Martin Luther King."
"It seeks to appeal to a Southern white male base that over the last 30 years has been hostile to the advances of blacks," Rivers said.
The charge was immediately denied as "untrue" by coalition spokesman Mike Russell, who said his group is continuously reaching out to black Christians, and has two black regional coordinators on its staff. He could not offer an estimate of black membership other than to say it is "small."
"We're a predominantly white group, that's obvious, but we're committed to making inroads into the black community. It's a huge area for growth potential for us," Russell said.
"This particularly egregious attempt to play the race card is inappropriate and inaccurate."
Founded in 1990 by religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, the Christian Coalition has grown to 1.6 million members, a $25 million budget and a muscular presence on Capitol Hill.
Last week, it unveiled its "Contract With the American Family," a 10-point legislative package that would allow prayer and religious displays in public places, curb pornography, restrict abortion and promote school choice.
The evangelical leaders said they want to take the partisanship out of Christian political activity.
"The alternative to the religious right is not the religious left," said Wallis. "We need a politics whose values are more spiritual than ideological--a politics rooted in civility, compassion and community."
Wallis said the leaders' views were "welcomed" in meetings later with House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo. Gingrich agreed to meet again with the group next month.