Memo To Clergy

Don’t Become A Cog In Ralph Reed’s Political Machine

Some people never learn.

Back in the 1990s, the Christian Coalition, a Religious Right group founded by TV preacher Pat Robertson, attempted to build a church-based political machine to elect far-right Republicans to public office. The project was overseen by a 28-year-old political whiz kid named Ralph Reed.

Under Reed’s tutelage, the Christian Coalition distributed millions of voter guides – pamphlets that purported to explain where candidates stood on certain issues. The guides were always cleverly stacked to make the Coalition’s favored candidate (a conservative Republican) look like a saint while his or her opponent (a Democrat) was portrayed as a sinner.

Such partisan material should have no place in houses of worship, which by law are not permitted to endorse or oppose candidates. But some fundamentalist pastors took the risk and allowed Coalition guides in the pews.

The Coalition went into decline in the late 1990s after Reed left the group. Reed became a political consultant, was tarnished in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and consequently lost a race for state office in Georgia in 2006. He is now back on the scene as a Religious Right kingpin. His new group, the Faith & Freedom Coalition, operates much like the Christian Coalition did.

And therein lies the problem. Reed’s new organization is just as partisan as his old outfit. At a recent Faith & Freedom Coalition conference, speakers talked openly about defeating President Barack Obama in 2012, increasing GOP numbers in the House of Representatives and putting the Senate in Republican hands.

Houses of worship and other non-profit bodies cannot assist in this endeavor. Yet Reed is eager to draft churches into his cause. At one session during the conference, speakers talked about reaching out to pastors and naming church liaisons to work with clergy.

Reed has put a high-tech gloss on his efforts. He’s just as likely to send you a tweet as a postcard. But the end result remains the same: Reed’s group wants to elect more Republicans to public office. His organization’s tax status allows it to pursue this goal – but churches cannot join him.

Reed claims his organization is expanding into the states in advance of next year’s election. Pastors need to be wary. They may be approached by congregants who claim that the Faith & Freedom Coalition merely works on issues or that the organization is non-partisan.

This is not true. Reed himself outlined his goals during the conference. He told the crowd, “In 2012, we’re gonna add to the majority in the House, we’re gonna see a conservative majority in the U.S. Senate and we’re gonna replace Barack Obama with a president that we can be proud of.”

It couldn’t be clearer. Reed wants to create a church-based political machine to help elect his favored candidates. America’s pastors should send him packing.