In yet another setback for the Christian Coalition (CC), the struggling Religious Right group lost one of its most active chapters in August.
Alabama Christian Coalition leader John Giles announced that his chapter is jumping ship. Giles said his group would rename itself and end all connection with the CC’s national office in South Carolina.
“It’s a very sad day for our people, but a liberating day,” Giles told the Associated Press. He cited “a dozen hard reasons” for the split and accused the national group of drifting away from core concerns like opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.
The Alabama defection marks the third recent chapter loss for the Coalition. Chapters in Iowa and Ohio have already bolted the group. Giles asserted that the Coalition has only six viable state chapters left, and he lamented the group’s loss of power.
“In our prime, we were rated the seventh-most powerful lobbying organization in the country,” he said. “Now, there’s not even any blip on the radar screen.”
The Alabama secession is only the latest blow to the reeling far-right outfit, which in recent years has seen its budget dwindle and its influence dry up. The Coalition, founded by TV preacher Pat Robertson in the wake of his failed 1988 presidential campaign, was once the most powerful Religious Right group in the nation. It has now been eclipsed by organizations like the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family.
The Christian Coalition enjoyed great growth in the early and mid 1990s, when the group was run by Ralph Reed, a young Republican operative praised for his skill in dealing with the media and his organizational abilities.
Reed left the group in 1997 to become a political consultant. He worked on both of President George W. Bush’s campaigns but this year failed in a bid to win the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in Georgia.
Political analysts agree that the Coalition never recovered after Reed’s departure. Leaders came and went in the post-Reed era, and the group went into a tailspin. Late in 2001, Robertson, who had been propping up the organization with cash infusions from his personal fortune, set it adrift, apparently concluding that it was no longer a wise investment.
The CC is now reportedly $1 million in debt and has just a small staff. It is currently run by Roberta Combs, a long-time Robertson associate, from offices in Charleston, S.C. Although it maintains an operative in Washington, D.C., the organization is no longer considered influential.
Amazingly, Combs still claims the organization has two million members. In fact, the Coalition never had anywhere near that number even at its peak. Using postal records, Americans United was able to prove that even at its height in the mid 1990s, the Coalition never had more than 500,000 members. Today, the figure is far lower.
Recently the group made another attempt to re-enter the public debate – but over an unusual issue. The Coalition joined forces with the progressive group Moveon.org in a dispute over “Net Neutrality,” a complex battle over regulation of the Internet. This emphasis on a non-social issue only served to anger more movement activists.
The Coalition’s demise, however, does not mean the Religious Right is on the ropes. Other Religious Right organizations have taken up the slack and are undertaking many of the Coalition’s projects. Focus on the Family affiliates, for example, issue voter guides intended to steer evangelicals to favored candidates, and last month the Family Research Council held a two-day conference for Religious Right activists in Washington, D.C.
The FRC’s D.C. event was very similar to the “Road to Victory” conferences the Coalition used to sponsor and even featured some of the same speakers and workshops.