Is the Christian Right retooling, regrouping or just rebranding?
Leaders of two dozen organizations announced this past week the latest alliteration iteration of concerned conservative Christians. They are calling it the Freedom Federation, a direct descendant of the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition and Values Voters.
Founders say the new group will have a broader membership and a kinder, gentler, more nonpartisan approach than its ancestors. “The stereotypical media-exacerbated image of the angry white evangelical will be replaced by an evangelical movement that will reconcile uncompromised values of compassion, truth with mercy, and righteousness with justice,” Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, told reporters last week.
We shall see. But what’s most interesting about the Freedom Federation isn’t who’s participating.
It’s the conspicuous absence of evangelical America’s three most influential organizations — Focus on the Family, the National Association of Evangelicals, and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church network, all of which seem to be making new and sincere efforts to take a more inclusive, less judgmental approach to social and political issues.
Jim Daly, the man who is following James Dobson as president of Focus on the Family, recently praised President Obama as a family man and said the pro-life movement needs to find “a kinder, gentler way to approach this topic and see if we can make abortion rare without, as pro-lifers, abandoning our desire to see it eliminated altogether.”
Galen Carey, the NAE’s new Washington lobbyist, says his organization will continue to push a broader evangelical agenda that includes “creation care” (the belief that evangelicals have a biblical responsibility to the environment), care for the poor, and immigration reform (care for the neighbor and the stranger).
And Rick Warren, the megachurch pastor who delivered the opening prayer at Obama’s inauguration, is scheduled to speak Saturday evening at the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America.
The Freedom Federation seems to be making an effort to broaden its white, evangelical Protestant base by adding the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and Catholic Online to the mix. But the roster is filled with such culture war veterans as the American Family Association (Donald Wildmon), Eagle Forum (Phyllis Schlafly), the Family Research Council (Tony Perkins) and the Traditional Values Coalition (Lou Sheldon).
“We are not wed to a particular partisan candidate or party,” said Mathew Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel (a product of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University) and one of the Freedom Federation founders. “We are wed to core shared values.”
But those core shared values, found in the new group’s Declaration of American Values, reads more like the Republican Party platform than the Sermon on the Mount. For example, it calls on Christians to oppose progressive tax systems and “to encourage economic opportunity, free enterprise, and free market competition.”
It also includes opposition to abortion and homosexuality (emphasis on gay marriage) and support for the Second Amendment, the Ten Commandments (“the freedom to acknowledge God through our public institutions”) and the U.S. military. The new grouping also seems to oppose health care reform and hate crime penalties.
The old New Christian Right survived the Clinton administration (with a lot of help from Newt Gingrich) and was revived during the most recent Bush administration. Is the Freedom Federation something new or is it just a revival?
“The Freedom Federation will stand as the first multi-ethnic transgenerational evangelical Christian federation in history,” declared Rodriguez.
If you don’t count the Church or its thousands of denominational iterations.