By Annie Laurie Gaylor
With Ralph Reed boasting that the Christian Coalition would be distributing 45 million "voter guides" in 125,000 churches on Sunday, Nov. 3, the eve of the U.S. presidential election, I got curious about what would be happening in local churches.
After scrutizining the "Worship Directory" in the Saturday dailies, I decided to try "Lake City Church," a large and prosperous-looking evangelical church on the outskirts of Madison, Wisconsin. Meanwhile, Dan ventured to "fair Verona," a conservative suburb, trying out a tiny evangelical church there.
When I walked in the door of Lake City Church, I was handed a church bulletin, stuffed with announcements. When I sat down in a pew and examined everything -- BINGO! There it was: a red and black printed half-page flyer, comparing the voting records of Bill Clinton and Bob Dole on one side, and the candidates in two Congressional districts on the other.
I had expected to find political information in this church, but I had not expected to find politicians staring up at me from a church bulletin! Actually, as you can tell from reproductions on this page, photos of the two clearly not-favored Congressional candidates did not appear. This literature was about as subtle as the hymn "Onward, Christian Soldiers." Everyone looking over this material clearly would realize which candidates their church expected them to vote for.
I was curious about what the pastor might say about the election, so stayed for most of the (interminable) service. We had to literally "stand up for Jesus" during a half-hour of tuneless pop "praise" music. The words, projected by an overhead, were all variations on a theme of "God is great, good, all-mighty, wonderful, incredible, holy, hallowed, precious and adorable," and therefore worthy of endless flattery and groveling worship from unworthy, sinning, dirty humans. This was followed by a ceremonial "speaking in tongues" by a woman, during which everyone prayerfully bowed heads, after which her gobbly-de-gook was "interpreted" for us by a man who could miraculously divine God's will! Imagine!
During "announcements,"--BINGO again. The pastor reminded everyone of the upcoming election and told us to "pray" about it, so that "Thy Will Be Done" and God, in essence, would put the right people in office.
The Christian Coalition obviously was circulating many of these flyers in my district and an adjoining one, for the handout was paid for and authorized by the national Coalition. This strategy was replicated throughout our state and throughout every state in the union. An Associated Press photograph of Ralph Reed appearing in the nation's Sunday newspapers showed him holding up a flyer identical to the one I was handed -- only the reverse side, focusing on Congressional races, varied from district to district.
When Dan and I compared notes, I found that the smaller congregation he visited had also indulged in politics. The West Madison Bible Church displayed election material as handouts on their tables. Samples were available of the election propaganda of the National Right to Life (sic) Committee, including copies of its October 9, 1996 newspaper featuring a color photo of Dole and Kemp on the cover, and the National Right To Life's presidential voter guide. Dan was able to pick up a copy of the 1996 "election year edition" of the Christian Coalition Congressional Scorecard, recording its positive 77% rating for the local GOP member of Congress.
The Christian Coalition, under tax law, must be and declares itself as nonpartisan. Yet its Congressional scorecards run the names of Republicans, but not Democrats, in all-capitals! More Christian "subtlety"?
Ralph Reed isn't even attempting to hide the Christian Coalition's affiliation with one political party. An Associated Press story out of Cincinnati by Kevin O'Hanlon reported on Nov. 3, in the lead sentence:
"Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed said Saturday that a massive grassroots effort by his organization this weekend will help Republicans retain control of Congress and make the race for the White House close."
Martin Luther King, Jr. once called Sunday morning the most segregated hour in Amerca. Is it now becoming one of the most politicized?
Nonprofit lobbying groups are strictly forbidden from endorsing candidates or distributing material which clearly shows a group's preference for candidates in elections. The Christian Coalition has crossed that line in putting out its election-eve, biased and partisan materials.
The Federal Election Commission is suing the Christian Coalition for irregularities associated with the 1994 Congressional elections. The Foundation is concerned that this lawsuit will go the way of the lawsuit against Pat Robertson for election irregularities in his 1988 presidential race. That suit was quietly dropped this year after the statute of limitations ran out. There is also concern that the lawsuit does not address the critical problem of a lobbying group organizing almost exclusively through the ready-made captive audience of tax-exempt churches. (Not to mention the corollary conflict-of-interest when such churches may be used as polling sites.)
Should the Christian Coalition's basic stealth strategy of organizing tax-exempt churches go unchallenged, it ultimately will swing control of elections squarely to the hands that pray on Sunday mornings.