Beliefs Opinion Politics

COMMENTARY: Racial-justice work has just begun for Christian Coalition

c. 1997 Religion News Service

(Frederica Mathewes-Green is a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church. She is the author of “Facing East: A Pilgrim’s Journey into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy” (HarperCollins), and a frequent contributor to Christianity Today magazine.)

UNDATED _”If the Christian Coalition were really Christian, they would broaden their agenda. For example, what about racial justice? And don’t they realize how much the Bible says about caring for the poor?” This has been one of the most popular javelins to hurl at the Christian Coalition, surely one of the nation’s most pilloried political groups. But the racial-economic weapon is about to lose its point because in early May, 500 people from across the country came together in Baltimore to support the coalition’s Congress on Racial Justice and Reconciliation.

During the daylong meeting, attendees heard from Ralph Reed, the coalition’s executive director, and religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, the coalition’s founder and president. But that’s to be expected.

However, other speakers included local and national leaders from the racial-justice community. They listened to the Israel Baptist Church Choir, and heard testimonies from those who had been rescued from drugs and degradation by faith-based ministries.

Although most would like to believe the Christian Coalition and interests of the black community mix as well as oil and water, things were quite copacetic here.

The meeting was hosted by the coalition’s Samaritan Project, a new venture designed to”combat poverty and restore hope.”When the project was announced at the end of January, it raised some nervous jeers. Jesse Jackson, for example, complained that Ralph Reed should not have undertaken such a project without first consulting black leaders. The Rev. Earl W. Jackson Sr., head of the project, must have wondered whether it was his skin color or his leadership that was being called into question.

The fact is this project enjoys strong support from a range of black leaders, whether self-elected experts like Jesse Jackson like it or not.

Polls show blacks are generally more socially conservative than whites: more likely to be pro-life, in favor of school choice and opposed to homosexuality.

Jesse Jackson, on the other hand, has consistently courted the left-wing, white-power block, aligning with causes rank-and-file blacks don’t always find comfortable. A leaders who insists on being somewhere else than in front of his troops, should not be too surprised when he looks around and finds the troops following someone else.

The Samaritan Project has attracted support from legislators who have never before supported the Christian Coalition, such as Rep. Floyd Flake, D-N.Y., and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn.

Among the project’s goals are legislation that would provide funding for abstinence-based sex education and marriage counseling, and scholarships for children in the nation’s 100 most violent and impoverished school districts.

Financial bonuses would go to states that reduce juvenile crime, and taxpayers would get a credit for making charitable donations and volunteering time. Tax relief and incentives would also be used to establish Empowerment Zones in 100 impoverished communities. Discrimination against faith-based drug treatment programs would be prohibited, and a thousand local churches would be assisted in helping their troubled communities through the support of the coalition’s network of 125,000 churches.”This whole Samaritan Project thing is a big breakthrough,”says Brian Lopina, governmental affairs director of the Christian Coalition.”Previously, and justifiably so, people have been skeptical. We just needed to get to know each other. It’s turned out that there is a lot of common ground.” Lopina says the coalition has raised and distributed $850,000 so far toward the rebuilding of burned black churches.”We want to get involved in a hands-on way,”he says.

Lopina blames the skepticism mostly on low-level familiarity with his group.

Here’s my optimistic assessment: There’s a great deal of mistrust of the Christian Coalition, and they will have to travel a long road to undo it. But the repair work has begun. Those who want to believe the coalition is insincere in its efforts to mend racial wounds will find themselves running seriously short of evidence.

There’s an old-fashioned adjective to describe people who insist on holding others in contempt according to preformed opinions, and refuse to entertain new information. They’re called”prejudiced.” MJP END MATHEWS-GREEN