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Pandora's Box: Christian Coalition Boosts Israel|
Posted on Monday, October 28 @ 08:58:46 UTC
Topic: Pandora's Box
October 24, 2002, by Jo Freeman|
Support for Israel was the major theme of the
2002 Road to Victory conference held by the Christian Coalition
in Washington, D.C. October 11-12.
Long known as a major source of troops
for the right-wing of the Republican Party, the CC has undergone
a lot of changes in the last few years. It has always advocated
Christian support for the Israeli state, but never so thoroughly
and vociferously as this year. At the conference and in the exhibit
area there were more Israeli flags than American flags and Stars
of David vastly outnumbered Crucifixes.
At a solidarity rally scheduled for the
Ellipse in front of the White House, but moved to the convention
center due to rain, Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert thanked the "lovers
of Zion" for their help and support. His Christian audience
gave him a standing ovation while waving a sea of Israeli flags.
In the meantime, about 300 Jews who had not learned that the
rally had relocated, heard their own speakers on the Ellipse.
Israel and groups supporting Israel were
major financial backers of the 2002 conference. The Israel Ministry
of Tourism contributed over $10,000, and cognate organizations
gave many thousands more.
Another big change was in the Coalition's
leadership. Roberta Combs took over as President last December,
after Pat Robertson resigned to return to "spiritual ministry".
Robertson founded the Christian Coalition in 1989 with a $64,000
grant from the National Republican Senatorial Committee in the
wake of his 1988 Presidential campaign. From its founding until
1997, executive director Ralph Reed ran the CC, while Robertson
made occasional speeches. Combs organized and led the South Carolina
CC until Robertson brought her into the national leadership as
Executive Vice President. She had previously managed his Presidential
campaign in that state.
Under Reed's leadership, the CC became
a political power in the 1990s, mobilizing its adherents to vote
for conservative candidates who opposed abortion for any reason,
promoted prayer in public schools, and were intolerant of feminists,
liberals and homosexuals. The voter guides it passed out in churches
told conservative Christians how to vote on election day, helping
Republicans gain control of Congress in 1994. Its aggressive
campaigning also led to loss of the CC's tax exemption in 1999,
compelling a significant reorganization.
This plus the departure of its top leadership
left the CC in debt and under attack. Its mixture of fundamentalist
religion and politics motivated followers to defeat many moderate
Republicans, but made it difficult for the Republicans who took
their place to defeat Democrats or to pass their own bills if
elected. Robertson's provocative statements stirred his fundamentalist
followers to action but alienated political leaders even when
they agreed with him on issues.
The CC often finds itself torn between
its values and the real world of politics. It supported the election
of George W. Bush, who acknowledged the CC's importance with
a videotaped recording to the 2002 conference, but doesn't agree
with many of his policies, especially those on the middle-east.
Bush supports the creation of a Palestinian state; the CC does
not. It wants the U.S. to recognize an undivided Jerusalem as
the capital of Israel by moving the U.S. embassy there.
After September 11, Bush told Americans
not to blame Moslems, because Islam was a religion of peace.
Combs believes it is a religion of conquest. "So many Moslems
hate us [because] their religion commands it," she told
the magazine Israel Today. "The terrorist war on Israel
of the last two years is the direct result of appeasement."
She admonished Jews and Christians to unite for mutual defense.
The CC doesn't really believe in the
separation of church and state. It believes that this country
was founded as a Christian republic and should stay a Christian
republic. That is why it is so deeply offended at court decisions
prohibiting prayer in public schools, the removal of the Ten
Commandments from public buildings and proposals to remove "under
God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. It believes that Christianity
is what makes America good. "If you take 'God' out of 'good',
you have '0'," one speaker told the 500 devotees who came
to the first plenary.
The CC lobbied heavily for a bill that
would have allowed churches and other nonprofit religious organizations
to endorse political candidates and spend money to help elect
them. It was recently defeated in the House by 239 to 178.
Under Combs leadership, the "new"
Christian Coalition is returning to its "spiritual foundations,"
with more emphasis on "prayer and Christian fellowship."
Whereas Ralph Reed was a political pragmatist who submerged religion
to the necessities of a broad public appeal, Combs wants to do
the reverse. She quotes Scripture to explain her every action.
Political strategy sessions at CC's headquarters south of the
Capitol resemble prayer meetings and revivals. Pastors and church
officials have become partners in politics.
Partially to reflect its revived religious
orientation and partially offset the cost, Combs brought in Joyce
Meyer Ministries as a co-sponsor of the 2002 conference. From
her home in St. Louis, Meyer and her husband produce TV programs,
radio broadcasts, tape recordings and books teaching that the
Bible is the Word of God. She preached a lengthy sermon at each
of the four main sessions. But she spent the first one praising
her husband and explaining why he was the business manager and
not the one behind the podium. It's not his calling she said.
God called me to preach. Otherwise, she stuck to religion, extolling
the Bible as the answer to all problems. "It helps you when
your husband tells you to do something you don't want to do,"
was one example.
Despite the religious emphasis, the convention
still had a panoply of political speakers, but not the "big
names" it has had in the past. Apart from Bush's videotaped
welcome, no one from the Administration spoke. The highest elected
official was House Majority Whip Tom Delay (TX). The other non-elected
political speakers were from the fringes of the right--Phyllis
Schlafly, Alan Keyes, Oliver North--not its intellectual center
where conservative policies are debated and written. There were
several African Americans among the speakers and more in the
audience. Although basically white and fundamentalist, the CC
has always reached out to Catholics, Jews and African-Americans,
but with mostly token success. For those who agree with its conservative
values, its public face is inclusive -- more so than most conservative
organizations. However, until recently, the annual Road to Victory
conference was held over the Jewish High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah
to Yom Kippur). Last February, several black employees filed
a discrimination lawsuit.
Jo Freeman is feminist scholar and civil rights organizer. She can be reached at: www.JoFreeman.com
Copyright (c) 2002 by Jo Freeman
|Average Score: 2.6|