Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Coalition Fishing for 'Pro-Family' Catholics

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Coalition Fishing for 'Pro-Family' Catholics

Article excerpt

Terming statewide and national electoral successes of last autumn as "vindication," the director of the New York state Christian Coalition exhorted 30 of his followers to continue to work for the day when America will declare "God as sovereign."

On the same October weekend when New York City was greeting Pope John Paul II, Jeff Baran was delivering his exhortation in the upstate city of Syracuse, site of the second annual "Faith and Freedom" gathering of the statewide Christian Coalition.

The conference provides a look at the program being advanced nationally by the coalition, the political wing of TV preacher Pat Robertson's organization, includes "The 700- Club." Robertson, a former Baptist minister and presidential candidate, refers to himself as a "religious broadcaster." The conference in New York came as the coalition announced a new initiative to draw Roman Catholics into its ranks.

Paul Nagy, regional organizer for the coalition, said a new project called the Catholic Alliance (NCR, Sept. 22) will try to reach to Catholics who share the largely evangelical organization's "pro-family" agenda. "Catholics haven't had a political direction from the hierarchy," said Nagy, a New Hampshire Catholic who led the Buchanan for President effort in his state in 1992.

"They need more instruction on how to organize within churches and the community."

Approximately 300 met in a downtown convention center to strategize about bringing the Empire State back to God. On opening night, Congressman Bill Paxon told the crowd, "This is just the beginning of our revolution." A Republican from Buffalo who chairs his party's National Congressional Committee, Paxon said, "Let us turn our sights to '96."

Judging by the weekend's meeting, the coalition in New York resembles the organization's national profile: predominantly evangelical, almost entirely white and male-run.

No Catholic clergy were in attendance, although Msgr. Jim Lisante of Rockville Centre was on the program and the new bishop of Syracuse, James Moynihan, was invited. Both were in New York with the pope.

Nagy estimates that nationwide, 10 to 12 percent of Christian Coalition activists are Catholics. Coalition organizers upstate report trouble breaking into conservative Catholic circles, while those in the New York archdiocese, where Cardinal John O'Connor has embraced the coalition, report more openness among Catholics to their message. An organizing session for the Catholic Alliance drew 25 people largely from the Buffalo diocese.

Little concern for poor

The message of the weekend coincided the pope's in two respects: the appeal for a return to family values and his defense of the unborn. But in tone and in most other policy areas, the Christian Coalition and the pope were far apart. The pope regularly reminded New Yorkers of their responsibility for the poor. The coalition conference attendees heard little about concern for the poor, which is, in their view, a concern for the churches and individuals, not government.

The Christian Coalition in New York was born out of the Operation Rescue efforts in Buffalo three years ago. Jeff Baran was an antiabortion activist who came to realize that "so many people in the pro-life movement were politically naive." He determined to help organize those people into a coherent force in support of a pro-family political agenda.

Baran and the other organizers have built alliances with the most powerful Republican voices in the state. In addition to Paxon, the list of speakers included the new attorney general and key legislators. Earlier this year, Gov. George Pataki, who defeated Mario Cuomo last November, appeared before a Christian Coalition gathering and begged forgiveness for the times when his positions did not match theirs.

Since its founding, the coalition in New York, by its own estimates, has reached 90,000 members. Their most visible campaigns have been the 1993 New York City school board elections and the 1994 statewide elections in which Cuomo was defeated by Pataki and conservative Dennis Vacco became attorney general. …

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