The Idea of a “Christian Coalition” is Still a Good One
Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
I returned home last weekend after teaching at a retreat in Richmond, Virginia. I was wide awake, way past the time I am normally asleep, so I grabbed the Saturday morning paper that had been left in the driveway in my absence to occupy my restless mind. The headline read “Once Powerful Group Teeters on Insolvency”. It was an article on the decline of the Christian Coalition.
I live in Chesapeake, Virginia, the one time home of this organization. The local newspaper has never been much of a fan of most things involving Pat Robertson. It is unfortunate. Though I may disagree with him on many issues, no-one can deny the good works that he has done, especially anyone who drives down I-64 to see the beautiful campus of Regent University. Because of this “checkered” relationship between anything founded by Dr Robertson and the local paper, I read the article to see whether it was an accurate account. Much of what I read I was aware of already. This once very large, influential, evangelical, conservative political activist organization is now a shadow of its former self - and it has fallen on some very difficult times.
In its inception, “The Christian Coalition” purported to be about building a coalition of Christians who would engage the debate in the public square on behalf of Christians on those issues that mattered most, where there was a clear Christian position, and work to protect the rightful place of Christians in public debate, public service and national influence. Yet, it never really reached beyond a core constituency of politically conservative evangelical Protestant Christians. The Catholic and Orthodox involvement with this group that called itself “The Christian Coalition” was virtually non-existent.
Over time, it became clear that this effort was mostly about political conservatism and all of the issues identified with this political approach in its various forms as they have appeared in the current American political landscape. By saying this, I do not deny the important work that the group assisted in, like efforts to return legal protection to children in the womb, the elderly and the infirmed – and the defense of marriage and family. I have a lot of memories and experiences associated with this organization. Those memories reach back to its very beginning.
Many years ago, while I served at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio, I was the first Catholic representative to the “American Congress of Concerned Christian Citizens”, the precursor to the organization. Years later, I relocated to Virginia precisely to help build and lead the legal “sister” of sorts of the organization, the American Center for Law and Justice, which was also founded by Pat Robertson. I served in that capacity for seven years from its inception. The, in my pro-life and pro-family lobbying work and activism, I was well aware of the organizations activities and spoke on several occasions at their events as one of their Catholic friends.
I am not a conservative. I am not what is now called a “neo-conservative.” I am not a liberal. I am simply a faithful Catholic Christian who is committed to Catholic Social teaching and trying to inform my participation in every area of life in accordance with its principles. That includes my political participation. I know that this Social teaching is not simply “religious”- in the sense of speaking only to “religious” people - but, rather, contains within it principles for governing that will build a truly just society for all men and women. I also know that these principles are true. I am dedicated to making them known and offering them as a framework for social action serving the common good.
I tried, on the fundamental issues that matter most, to collaborate with the Christian Coalition, as well as many other groups, any time that such collaboration could help to effect necessary change in this Nation that we all love. My goal was- and still is- is to build, in the words of my champion, Pope John Paul II, a new “culture of life” and “civilization of love” in America and throughout the world. Much of my efforts have revolved around the most pressing and fundamental human rights issue of our age, the right to life from conception to natural death. Over those years I saw myself engaged in what I called back then, “trench ecumenism”. I worked as a faithful, orthodox Catholic Christian alongside of evangelical Christians, Orthodox Christians, mainline Protestant Christians, other people of faith and good will. I did this long before such efforts were considered “cool” by some of my fellow Catholic activists. I was even criticized for doing so by some who, years later, would come to champion this very kind of social and cultural collaboration.
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