Robertson Founds the Christian Coalition Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

After his failed bid for the U.S. presidency, Pat Robertson created the Christian Coalition to mobilize his base in the service of other Christian conservative political causes and campaigns.

Summary of Event

In 1987, Pat Robertson, an ordained Baptist minister and founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), announced that he would seek the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. Robertson had a significant following of viewers of his television program The 700 Club 700 Club, The (television program)[Seven Hundred Club] , a religious talk show that also provided conservative analysis of political events. Presidential elections, U.S.;1988 The theme of his presidential campaign was restoring the greatness of America through moral strength. He also attributed the decline of the United States to the breakup of the American family, the rise of crime and drug addiction, and abortion. While Robertson received many contributions from regular viewers of his television program and outspent Republican challenger George H. W. Bush three to one, he fared poorly in the Republican primaries. Religious organizations;Christian Coalition Christian Coalition [kw]Robertson Founds the Christian Coalition (1989) [kw]Founds the Christian Coalition, Robertson (1989) [kw]Christian Coalition, Robertson Founds the (1989) Religious organizations;Christian Coalition Christian Coalition [g]North America;1989: Robertson Founds the Christian Coalition[07140] [g]United States;1989: Robertson Founds the Christian Coalition[07140] [c]Government and politics;1989: Robertson Founds the Christian Coalition[07140] [c]Religion, theology, and ethics;1989: Robertson Founds the Christian Coalition[07140] [c]Social issues and reform;1989: Robertson Founds the Christian Coalition[07140] Robertson, Pat Reed, Ralph

Following Robertson’s primary election defeat, some political observers were inclined to write off the role of the Religious Right in American politics; however, Robertson’s campaign had actually activated thousands of supporters at the grassroots level, many of whom were right-wing evangelicals or charismatics. These individuals had discovered the power of grassroots politics through their involvement in the Republican Party in 1988 and were ready to continue their involvement in order to build a political base of individuals supportive of traditional values.

In 1989, Robertson decided to build on his political base by starting a new organization. In September, he held meetings in Atlanta, Georgia, with his top political advisers. He also invited Ralph Reed, a twenty-eight-year-old doctoral student in history at Emory University, to attend one of the sessions. At the end of the meeting, Robertson introduced Reed as the first staff member of the still unnamed organization that was to become the Christian Coalition of America. Shortly thereafter, Reed and his wife, JoAnne, moved to Virginia to become the organization’s staff.

Reed first generated money for the Christian Coalition by using the mailing list of persons who had contributed to Robertson’s presidential campaign. His initial letter appealed to religious conservatives by attacking National Endowment for the Arts National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) subsidies of artists and exhibits that the Christian Coalition found offensive. In addition to asking for contributions, Reed asked supporters to volunteer to start local and state chapters of the Christian Coalition. Reed used this money to gain national publicity by running full-page ads in a number of newspapers, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and USA Today, calling on Congress to prohibit the use of NEA funds to underwrite pornography, obscenity, or attacks on religion.

Reed followed the ads by holding “leadership schools” in states where the response to the first mailing had been greatest. At these meetings, he showed a video presentation, America at the Crossroads, in which Robertson talked about the need for Christians to stop America’s moral slide. He then instructed his audiences on how to participate in local politics and how to form local, state, and regional organizations throughout the United States. Reed then expanded his political base even more by recruiting individuals who came from other segments of the pro-family movement. He compared this mobilization of white evangelicals to the mobilization of African American Christians by the Civil Rights movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Reed also presented to religious and social conservatives a more moderate image than that of Robertson, which allowed him to build an organization that would appeal to mainstream conservatives.

In 1990, the Christian Coalition showed its effectiveness by distributing seventy-five thousand voting guides in North Carolina, helping conservative Republican senator Jesse Helms Helms, Jesse retain his office. By 1991, the Christian Coalition had more than eighty-two thousand members. Its main effort that year was mobilizing its base in support of the nomination of Clarence Thomas Thomas, Clarence to the U.S. Supreme Court. Supreme Court, U.S.;justices Coalition members and supporters made tens of thousands of phone calls in support of Thomas’s nomination and, despite strong liberal opposition to the appointment, Thomas was confirmed.

The Christian Coalition grew considerably following the election of Democrat Bill Clinton Clinton, Bill as president in 1992. Clinton’s views, such as his advocating allowing gays to serve in the U.S. military, alienated social conservatives. The Christian Coalition was able to capitalize on this alienation, and by the end of 1993 the organization had almost a million individuals listed as donors and activists. The group had become a major actor in the political process in general and the Republican Party in particular. At its peak in 1996, the Christian Coalition claimed to have 1.7 million members and supporters; it had seventeen hundred local chapters operating in the United States, produced two periodical publications (Christian America and Religious Rights Watch), and had an annual budget of more than $26 million.

The principles of the Christian Coalition were summarized in its publication The Contract with the American Family, Contract with the American Family, The (Christian Coalition) released in 1995. The contract opposed abortion, pornography, and the Equal Rights Amendment. It also advocated the passage of a Religious Equality Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would allow voluntary student- and citizen-initiated free speech such as prayers in noncompulsory settings, including courthouse lawns, high school graduation ceremonies, and sporting events. Finally, it advocated school choice, a Parental Rights Act, the transfer of funding of the U.S. Department of Education to local school boards, and the privatizing of the arts by making the NEA a voluntary organization supported by private as opposed to public funding.

While the Christian Coalition did not endorse or make monetary contributions to candidates, it affected political campaigns through its distribution of voting guides listing the candidates’ positions on issues that were important to its followers. The organization’s ability to distribute more than thirty million pieces of literature, almost exclusively through churches on the eve of elections, gave it considerable political influence throughout the 1990’s.

In 1997, Ralph Reed resigned as executive director of the Christian Coalition and moved to Georgia to set up a political consulting business. The departure of Reed marked the beginning of a rapid decline of the organization. Four years later, in December, 2001, Pat Robertson resigned as Christian Coalition president, saying that he wanted to spend more time on his broadcast ministry and Regent University. Roberta Combs Combs, Roberta replaced Robertson as president as the fortunes of the organization continued to decline. Within a year, Combs closed the Washington office of the group and moved its headquarters to her home in South Carolina. In 2004, the Christian Coalition reported revenues of only $1.3 million and expenses of $1.5 million. The organization was mired in debt and faced more than a dozen lawsuits by creditors for nonpayment of bills, but it continued to function.

Significance

Religion and religious organizations have played a major role in the politics of the United States. In the last quarter of the twentieth century, the Religious Right became more involved in the political process because it perceived a shift in the values of the country away from those to which it adhered. Issues such as family values, divorce, sexual freedom, public prayer, abortion, and gay rights activated evangelical Christians who were attracted to organizations that defended traditional values. The Christian Coalition was the largest, best organized, and most effective of these groups. It was instrumental in the growth of conservatism in the United States in the 1990’s and in the election of social conservative Republicans to public office during that decade. Religious organizations;Christian Coalition Christian Coalition

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Green, John C., Mark J. Rozell, and Clyde Wilcox, eds. The Christian Right in American Politics: Marching to the Millennium. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2003. Assessment of the political and voting impact of Christian conservatives in six states: Florida, Iowa, Michigan, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Martin, William. With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America. New York: Broadway Books, 1996. A companion volume to a PBS television documentary series, the book provides a detailed analysis of the Christian Right and includes chapters on Robertson’s presidential campaign and the development of the Christian Coalition.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Watson, Justin. The Christian Coalition: Dreams of Restoration, Demands for Restoration. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. Originally a doctoral dissertation, this work examines and analyzes the Christian Coalition in the context of political and religious history. The book also provides explanations for the organization’s purpose, popularity and power.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wilcox, Clyde. Onward Christian Soldiers? The Christian Right in American Politics. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1996. Analysis of the Religious Right and its involvement in American politics. Examines issues that are important to the Christian Right and its campaign to achieve them using interviews, surveys, and election data.

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