The Christian Coalition: Born Again? with Help from a New TV Preacher and a Dose of Old-Time Religion, Roberta Combs Hopes to Resurrect the Christian Coalition

By Conn, Joseph L. | Church & State, November 2002 | Go to article overview

The Christian Coalition: Born Again? with Help from a New TV Preacher and a Dose of Old-Time Religion, Roberta Combs Hopes to Resurrect the Christian Coalition


Conn, Joseph L., Church & State


After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks last year, Christian Coalition President Roberta Combs was in a quandary about her organization's direction.

"There was something missing," Combs said. "I was praying and asking God where we should go as an organization, and it was like God was speaking to me: bring the spiritual with the political."

With that divine revelation last December, the Christian Coalition--a hardball Republican political operation with a thin religious veneer--was born again. Combs and other Coalition leaders decided to keep their partisan purpose but add a major religious component to the organization's agenda.

That component was much in evidence at the Coalition's 11th "Road To Victory" (RTV) gathering in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 11-12. As in previous years, the program featured a heavy dose of Republican politicking. But this year, a hearty dollop, of Pentecostal religion was thrown into the mix. The result was a merger of partisanship and piety that for two days turned the Washington Convention Center into the Anointed Church of St. GOP.

Speaker after speaker urged the crowd to work the precincts and turn out voters on behalf of Republican candidates in November. But others at the podium delivered impassioned sermons, songs and prayers that had members of the audience lifting their hands, shouting amen and even speaking in tongues. Some speakers did both, railing against Democrats, Satan and church-state separation and praising the GOP, God and "godly" government.

Combs and other Coalition leaders seized on this "faith with works" strategy in a desperate bid to revive the fortunes of an organization that once dominated the Religious Right movement. Although Combs told The Washington Times that the Coalition's "influence with the administration is stronger than at any time in our 12-year history," most observers believe the group's grassroots structure and its income have declined precipitously.

When Ralph Reed ran the show as executive director in the 1990s, the Coalition maintained the image--often greatly exaggerated--of a well-oiled political machine, issuing voter guides and controlling elections in many states. After Reed left in 1997, however, leadership fell to Coalition founder Pat Robertson and Combs, a long-time Coalition board member from South Carolina.

Robertson and Combs floundered in their new roles. The TV preacher made gaffe after gaffe that turned off followers, including an extraordinary CNN appearance in which the "pro-life" leader condoned China's policy of forced abortion. Combs, meanwhile, showed few skills as an administrator, driving away experienced staff and attracting a discrimination lawsuit by African-American staffers. (The case was settled out of court for a reported $300,000.)

When Robertson resigned as president in December 2001, Combs struggled with these problems and came up with religious revival as the answer. To achieve her goals, she has formed a partnership with some four dozen churches and Christian ministries. In addition, she scheduled a purely religious "praise and worship" session one evening during the RTV conference.

To ensure that the convention drew a respectable crowd, Combs persuaded popular television preacher Joyce Meyer to cosponsor the RTV gathering, pick up half the tab and speak several times. Although little known to the general public, Meyer heads a multi-million-dollar religious broadcasting empire based in Fenton, Mo. She has little record of political involvement, but her practical Christian-lifestyle advice has won a large and devoted following around the world.

The Combs plan worked reasonably well in the short run. Although attendance at RTV events fluctuated wildly, as many as 4,000 filtered in and out of the cavernous convention hall during two days of events. That was far short of the 10,000 Combs predicted, but it kept up appearances. …

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