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I began writing for The Wittenburg Door in 1994, the same year that then Christian Coalition chairman Ralph Reed orchestrated the Republican takeover of Congress. The spiritual sparks that flew between the Clinton White House and his Religious Right adversaries provided fodder for articles such as “The Revelation of Robertson,” “The Christian Coalition Congressional Prayer Primer,” and “The Ten Commandments According to Bill and Hillary Clinton.”
And just when I thought it couldn’t get any funnier, the Christian capers over the past six years have been a religious satirist’s dream come true. But as much as I enjoyed poking fun at Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, and company, I rejoiced when Joel Hunter assumed the chairmanship of the Christian Coalition in July 2006.
For those who aren’t familiar with Dr. Hunter, this senior pastor of Northland Church in Longwood, Florida recently penned a book titled Right Wing, Wrong Bird: Why the Tactics of the Religious Right Won’t Fly With Most Conservative Christians. In a nutshell, he’s encouraging evangelicals to look beyond the narrow issues of abortion and same-sex marriage to focus on ways religious communities can lend their voices to relieve poverty, heal the sick, and protect the earth. Also, he supports a consistent ethic of life, noting that one cannot be pro-life and support the death penalty. And get this. Hunter was even one of the initiating 24 evangelical Christian leaders who launched Evangelicals for Darfur, an initiative Jim Wallis announced on this blog back in October.
None of this sounded like the Christian Coalition I’d been lampooning for over 12 years. Add to this Ralph Reed’s recent failed bid for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia, and I started thinking that we might be at a point where Christians can really start engaging in genuine conversations that can build bridges and put the Good News into action. I admit there will always be extremists on both the Right and the Left who will be so concerned about maintaining their turf that they refuse to dialogue with the other, but maybe, just maybe, I can stop proclaiming “the emperor is buck nekkid!” and start praising how we’re all seeking God’s kingdom.
While I thought I was about to witness a real sea change when Hunter assumed his chairmanship in January 2007, his ship was capsized by a tidal wave of conservative protest. Right after Thanksgiving, Hunter resigned from his chairmanship, saying the group resisted his efforts to broaden its agenda.
As tempted as I am to cut loose with yet another parody of the Christian Coalition detailing their latest snafu, this time I decided to set sail on a different tack. In reading The New York Times article that chronicled his departure, I found a ray of hope. “Dr. Hunter said his departure from the Christian Coalition indicated his belief in the rise of an evangelical Christian constituency that is less interested in the passage of certain laws and focused instead on ‘living what Jesus would do.'”
Despite this setback, I think Hunter deserves an “attaboy” for making a genuine attempt at reconciliation. Perhaps his words will ring true, and at the next Presidential Prayer Breakfast, Bono’s cry for justice will become closer to reality. One can hope. And pray.