Faith and Freedom Coalition conference: A new year, but the same tired formula

Ralph Reed has built an incredible organization, and I’m gonna tell you, it’s going to grow into a force to … Continued

Ralph Reed has built an incredible organization, and I’m gonna tell you, it’s going to grow into a force to be reckoned with. And that’s the Faith and Freedom Coalition. It’s going to be the modern-day Christian Coalition, and it’s gonna have a big impact.” 

Sean Hannity, author and radio and television host


Well, maybe not.

After what we saw last weekend in Washington at the annual Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, it’s possible that Ralph Reed’s coalition might just tank.

The event gave off the same vibes as last year’s Republican primary contests, which some pundits unkindly referred to as a “freak show.”  Many of the same characters showed up:  Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Herman Cain and Rick Perry, along with Pat Robertson, Reince Priebus and Grover Norquist.  And there were a couple of new faces who I bet would prefer to distance themselves from that group: Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had the good sense not to show up.

There was one new face, however, who stole the show; someone who would have done last year’s contests proud and promises to be a star in some future round of Republican primaries. That would be the Virginia GOP’s nominee for lieutenant governor, Bishop E.W. Jackson.

Jackson, an African American, is the founder of Exodus Faith Ministries and STAND (Staying True to America’s National Destiny).

Jackson is puzzled as to why black Christian voters support President Obama. In an article written for the Washington Times, he asked, “How have [the Democrats] managed to hold on to black Christians in spite of an agenda worthy of the Antichrist?” With that question, Jackson established his bona fides with the Republicans in the room. He’s one of them.  Jackson has also said that Planned Parenthood has harmed more black Americans than the Ku Klux Klan and, to the delight of many conservative Christians, that gay men and lesbians are “very sick people.” How do you get through Harvard Law School, as Jackson did, and think like this?

The sad part of all this is that the “grown-ups” in the Republican Party feel they have to attend these sessions, and, unfortunately for them, some of the flaming rhetoric is catching. Bush, for example, found himself in the headlines because of a most puzzling statement.

Referring to the immigration reform battle being waged on Capitol Hill, he said: “Immigrants are more fertile, and they love families, and they have more intact families, and they bring a younger population.” Presumably, he meant that immigrants could help increase Republican voter rolls — so the more there are, the better for the GOP. But his awkward remarks gave Palin an opening, allowing her to proclaim that she, too, was fertile.

Reed has called the Faith and Freedom Coalition “the Christian Coalition on steroids.” I’d warn Reed, who was also the first executive director of the Christian Coalition, to watch out for steroid abuse.

That Bush-Palin exchange was just a brief sideshow to what the conference was all about: faith and freedom. Faith means many things to many people, as does freedom. For most Americans, the words together reinforce the idea of freedom of religion. People have always come to this country to worship as they please, without discrimination.

So, what was the take-away message of the conference this year? It’s essential to believe in God and, even better, to be a Christian.  Where does that leave the huge number of Americans who are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist and the nearly 20 percent of Americans who are not affiliated with any religion? It leaves them out in the cold, if the coalition participants are to be taken seriously. In the 1920s and ’30s in Boston, when the Irish were among the nation’s newer immigrants, there were signs in windows everywhere when jobs opened up: NINA, for  No Irish need apply. Given what we have heard this past weekend, one might expect to see signs saying OCNA: Only Christians need apply.

Is this really the message that Reed and his fellow conservatives wish to send the public? The message they should want to send is that freedom is a license to believe in whatever you want to. That, however, is not the way Jackson sees it.

The bishop held the crowd’s attention when he said, “Freedom doesn’t mean, ‘Do whatever you want.’ It’s the pursuit of character, integrity, decency, honor. Now we’re being told freedom is license.”

Palin was not going to give up the spotlight so easily. She rallied the audience with her proven formula:  “I say until we have a commander in chief who knows what he’s doing, well . . . I say let Allah sort it out.” She also proclaimed that Americans need to “rededicate” the country to “our one true heavenly Father. . . . If we rededicate our land to our Lord, things will turn around.”

There you have it.


Sally Quinn Sally Quinn is the founding editor of OnFaith.
  • ianmac37

    Once you conflate “faith” with government, you lose any freedom. Ask any Iranian protester.

  • goodmam

    The national Republican Party will continue to kowtow to narrow-minded bigots like this and with each contortion will drive away more moderate Americans. Then it will wonder why.

  • allbusinessmatters

    The Chief Justice, in a decision rendered yesterday, quoted from Justice Robert Jackson’s 1943 decision striking down a West Virginia law. Justice Jackson wrote that in America, politics, religion, and thought have no official orthodoxy and none can be required.

    The GOP, Governor Christie excepted for now, have never understood this and never will unless and until it cuts the chord binding it to Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, and the Focus on the Family crowd. That won’t happen in our lifetimes.

Read More Articles

Screenshot 2014-04-23 11.40.54
Atheists Bad, Christians Good: A Review of “God’s Not Dead”

A smug Christian movie about smug atheists leads to an inevitable happy ending.

Ten Ways to Make Your Church Autism-Friendly

The author of the Church of England’s autism guidelines shares advice any church can follow.

Valle Header Art
My Life Depended on the Very Act of Writing

How I was saved by writing about God and cancer.

Sociologist: Religion Can Predict Sexual Behavior

“Religion and sex are tracking each other like never before,” says sociologist Mark Regnerus.

The Internet Is Not Killing Religion. So What Is?

Why is religion in decline in the modern world? And what can save it?

Why I Want to Be Culturally Evangelical

I’ve lost my faith. Do I have to lose my heritage, too?

What Is a Saint?

How the diversity of saintly lives reveals multiple paths toward God.

An Ayatollah’s Gift to Baha’is, Iran’s Largest Religious Minority

An ayatollah offers a beautiful symbolic gesture against a backdrop of violent persecution.

river dusk
Cleaner, Lighter, Closer

What’s a fella got to do to be baptized?

Magical Thinking and the Canonization of Two Popes

Why Pope Francis is canonizing two popes for all of the world wide web to see.

Pope Francis: Stop the Culture of Waste

What is the human cost of our tendency to throw away?

chapel door
“Sometimes You Find Something Quiet and Holy”: A New York Story

In a hidden, underground sanctuary, we were all together for a few minutes in this sweet and holy mystery.

Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

From Passover to Easter: Why I’m Grateful to be Jewish, Christian, and Alive

Passover with friends. Easter with family. It’s almost enough to make you believe in God.

Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.