Christian Coalition Goes Interfaith

Article excerpt

The Christian Coalition recently displayed the fruits of its efforts to bring a broad spectrum of religious conservatives under its ideological umbrella. In the opening sessions of the group's three-day annual conference in Washington September 16-18 the podium was dominated by Jewish and Catholic speakers, including media critic Michael Medved, Orthodox Rabbi Daniel Lapin, and Roman Catholic writers Michael Novak and Richard John Neuhaus. However, according to a news release issued by the Interfaith Alliance, a newly formed ecumenical organization opposed to many of the Christian Coalition's objectives and tactics, the coalition's display of openness "was a meticulously crafted and well-executed effort" to enhance its effectiveness "while cleaning up the reactionary, divisive language" that has marked its previous meetings.

Medved, the New York Post's chief film critic and co-host of PBS's Sneak Previews, told the conference participants that "we share basic values, and those values are far more important than our differences." The lineup of Jewish speakers allowed the coalition to strike back at the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, a mainstream Jewish advocacy group. The ADL has criticized the coalition--and the Christian Right in general--for seeking to lower church-state barriers and pursuing notions of an "exclusivist" Christian nation. The Christian Coalition was formed five years ago by broadcaster Pat Robertson.

Invoking the Holocaust, Medved said the attacks against the coalition sounded particularly alarming to Jews, who recall attacks on "international Jewry" or "the Jewish conspiracy" made by anti-Semites 50 years ago. Speaker Beth Galinsky, a conservative Jewish activist from New York who heads the Jewish Action Alliance, attacked the ADL, which was the target of an August 2 New York Times advertisement signed by 75 Jews. The signers praised evangelicals for their support of Israel and for infusing the political debate with religious values. "We believe in your right to speak out," Galinsky told the audience, and "we value your support for Israel ... and other issues."

Lapin, a Seattle-based rabbi who leads the conservative organization Toward Tradition, invoked the specter of "militant secularism" as the common enemy, adding that "we are the making of [secularists'] worst nightmare--Jews and Christians unified in doing their duty in one spontaneous impulse." Boston Herald columnist and editorial writer Don Feder said the "cultural elite" portrays the Religious Right as being entirely white and evangelical Protestant, and noted his own Jewishness as well as the participation of blacks, Hispanics and Catholics in the assembly.

The coalition's pursuit of religious diversity is not new, but it has been growing. In an article last year in the Christian America newspaper, Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed wrote: "Evangelicals and their Roman Catholic allies are concerned about the same issues as the broader electroate, but with a profamily twist. …