THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT REGROUPS
(FORTUNE Magazine) – The Christian right, one of the great forces of upheaval in American politics, is itself in upheaval. Ralph Reed is gone, the child tax credit firmly established, the easy battles over. Now the movement is grappling with a fundamental question: how hard to push. Leaders of the religious conservative movement acknowledge privately that this is no modest strategic challenge. They know that the more powerful their movement, the more they worry others.
But make no mistake: This is not a movement in eclipse. Its leaders and allies on Capitol Hill just won their biggest legislative battle, the $500-per-child tax credit--"done for and by religious conservatives, and nothing else," complains GOP Representative Tom Campbell of California, a moderate who is a leading critic of the religious right. The Christian Coalition has a bigger agenda than ever. In the cities it's mounting an offensive to win black and Latino allies. In the states it's working to require couples who have young children and who are contemplating divorce to receive counseling and undergo a waiting period. On Capitol Hill it's pressing to win more funding for sexual-abstinence programs. And across the country it's girding for next year's mid-term congressional elections with a series of grassroots political-training workshops beginning this fall.
The Reverend Pat Robertson, the movement's spiritual father, had a vision of a religious political organization, but he underestimated the difficulties of building it. Reed, who brought a softer edge to the Christian Coalition, also planted some organizational seeds. "He pushed the movement toward the mainstream," says Jeffrey Hadden, a University of Virginia professor who follows the Christian right. Now a new team--executive director Randy Tate and president Donald Hodel--is taking over. "It's time to go to the next level," says Tate, who was elected to Congress at 28 and defeated last year at 30. His goal: to identify ten Christian Coalition activists in every precinct in the country. A group that found power in enclaves now wants to be everywhere.
For all the serenity among religious conservatives, there is friction within the movement itself. This spring's opposition to trade benefits for China came not from the Christian Coalition but from the less well known but increasingly influential Family Research Council, led by former Reagan White House official Gary Bauer. The two groups share supporters and views--but not tactics. Bauer's group, for example, is willing to emphasize issues the Christian Coalition finds uncomfortable, such as vocal opposition to gay rights.
The fight over China trade was the first time a religious-conservative group became part of a coalition whose membership was unpredictable, even startling. The Family Research Council, accustomed to alliances with the Southern Baptist Convention, suddenly found itself making common cause with the AFL-CIO. That could be ominous for business, given Bauer's qualms about large corporations. "American business will be in big trouble if it pursues policies in conflict with American values, whether it is domestic-partnership benefits for gays or promoting trade with rogue nations like China and Iran and Cuba," he warns.
The Christian Coalition's new leadership and the Family Research Council's new aggressiveness are signals that religious conservatives are about to jump into areas they have left to others. Bauer already has taken the lead in opposing privatization of Social Security, while Tate is about to preside over an effort to provide financial assistance to 1,000 churches in the inner cities. "Just because we're Christians doesn't mean we can't speak out on things you don't think we're involved in," Tate says. On that, at least, all religious conservatives agree.
DAVID SHRIBMAN is Washington bureau chief for the Boston Globe and a Pulitzer Prize-winning political reporter.