By Robert V. Pambianco
What’s most striking about the Federal Election Commission’s legal attack against the Christian Coalition is the rank hypocrisy of liberals who complain about the political activities of the religious right. What about the religious left?
No one seems to mind when liberal religious groups engage in political activities. It’s OK when left-wing church activists lobby for socialized medicine, affirmative action or welfare. The self-styled guardians of good government are not bothered when churches denounce Republican policies as cruel and un-Christian or when liberation theologians lead crusades for nuclear disarmament. Yet as soon as the conservative faithful get involved in politics, we hear all this nonsense about violating election laws and exceeding the bounds of nonprofit status – not to mention threats to the separation of church and state.
Indeed, there are liberal religious organizations that perform the same sorts of activities – albeit on a smaller scale – that got the Christian Coalition in hot water. The Interfaith Alliance is one such group. Created as an alternative to the “divisiveness and intolerance of the extreme religious right,” TIA is made up mostly of representatives of the so-called mainline Protestant churches.
The alliance’s agenda is far removed from that of conservative Christian groups, yet its methods are quite similar. In July it announced a “Road to Renewal” aimed at bringing “TIA’s national religious leaders all across America to local TIA chapters and the national party conventions to help empower mainstream people of faith. TIA’s 109 chapters will distribute millions of voter guides.” Distributing voter guides is exactly what the Christian Coalition does – and what has the CC’s liberal critics so excited.
Earlier this year, the Oregon Interfaith Alliance distributed its “mainstream” voter guides to Oregonians prior to a special U.S. Senate election. Like the Christian Coalition’s guides, they were supposed to provide Oregon voters with the candidates’ “positions on important issues” – including, in the alliance’s case, the minimum wage, Medicare, Medicaid, the environment and housing discrimination.
Which candidate do you think ranked better? Hint: It wasn’t the Republican. Democratic Rep. Ron Wyden narrowly edged out his GOP opponent. Did the Interfaith Alliance’s guides play some role in Mr. Wyden’s victory? Probably. But where is the outcry from those who groan about religious extremism?
Two reasons explain the liberals’ hypocritical attack on the Christian Coalition. First, these self-proclaimed defenders of tolerance are incapable of tolerating views at odds with their own orthodoxy. The same folks who condemn the “extremism” of the “radical religious right” seek to use the police powers of the state to silence those with whom they disagree.
Second, contemporary liberalism has accepted the counterculture’s hostility toward religion. Liberal elites tolerate religion only so long as it’s used as a vehicle to advance a “progressive” secular agenda. Start talking about God and morality, and they get nervous.
The FEC should either drop its suit against the Christian Coalition or be prepared to take action against the left-leaning religious groups that have been politicking for years. Unless, of course, the FEC’s members are comfortable with this hypocrisy.
Mr. Pambianco is a research associate at the Capital Research Center and editor of Organization Trends, a newsletter that monitors nonprofit advocacy groups.