Do Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition speak for all Christians?
By Sarah Morice Brubaker | 10.15.2019
Per Politico, Faith and Freedom Coalition co-founder and Executive Director Ralph Reed is coming out with a book, in April 2020, in which he makes a, um, “persuasive” case that Christians have a “moral obligation to enthusiastically back” Trump’s re-election bid.
This is, of course, absurd and revolting. We are all worse off for having learned about this book’s existence. We will surely be even worse off if and when we have to share the world with such a book (though the way the impeachment inquiry is going, Reed or his ghostwriter may want to step on it!) At the same time, I doubt any of us are surprised, given the seemingly bottomless reserve of moral depravity enjoyed by some professional Christians.
How does one even engage such a premise, which is as wrong as it is nihilistic? Surely one cannot treat it as an actual inquiry, as though Reed is arguing in good faith but has simply committed a few missteps in his thinking. Is it really likely that he arrived at his conclusion through a sincere, humble, and self-reflective search into Christian scriptures and theological traditions? Do we imagine that Reed, at any point in his supposed inquiry, said to himself, “Goodness, I had better investigate the best version of my opponents’ arguments, and scrutinize my own arguments for confirmation bias, lest I paint a misleading picture!”?
We shouldn’t, because that’s not what political operatives do. Political operatives do not try to illuminate the truth of the matter. The job of a political operative is to strike blows against the other side for no other reason than the fact that it’s the other side. And Reed is an experienced political operative. Remember, he was a political operative before he was any sort of a Christian. In 1981, Reed, Jack Abramoff, and Grover Norquist—referred to collectively as the “triumvirate”—ran the College Republican National Committee during the early days of the Reagan administration. Reed’s supposed conversion to Christianity in 1983, in a Washington bar called (no, seriously!) Bullfeathers, was curiously well-timed in its ability to forge a politically expedient cultural link with the new Republican voting bloc of conservative white evangelicals.
After a stint co-founding and leading a conservative student campus network called Students for America, Reed was tapped by Pat Robertson to lead the Christian Coalition as its Executive Director from 1989–1997, and thereafter worked as a lobbyist. But after being implicated in the Abramoff lobbying scandal in the midst of his 2006 run for lieutenant governor of Georgia, Reed’s star stopped rising. Many of his campaign staff quit, he himself was called upon to exit the race, and he was defeated decisively. Since then he’s written some books, done some consulting and lobbying and TV commenting, and started the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which he describes as a “twenty-first century version of the Christian Coalition.” The organization’s "About" page says that it “will influence public policy and enact legislation that strengthens families, promotes time-honored values, protects the dignity of life and marriage, lowers the tax burden on small business and families, and requires government to tighten its belt and live within its means.”
If words meant anything anymore, one might ask how separating migrant children from their parents strengthens families. One might ask how a president who brags about sexual assault “protects time-honored values,” let alone the “dignity of life and marriage.” One might ask how a tax cut benefits small businesses and families when, by far, most of the benefits have gone to wealthy investors. One might ask how raising the deficit that Barack Obama had lowered is an instance of the government living within its means.
But what would be the point? Logical inconsistency, hypocrisy, blatant contradiction—these don’t matter. What matters is winning, evidently, because if you win, then you win, and they lose. The moral landscape is exactly as cramped, vacuous, and abhorrent as that. What more is there to say? What space is there in which to say it?
For the record, though…
For whatever record might be left, once this current malignant expression of western Christianity has either died or killed its host…
No, Christians do not have a moral obligation to support the re-election of Donald Trump, no matter what the book bearing Ralph Reed’s name may say. This is not even a serious enough proposition to be worth debunking. It is ludicrous. One might just as well try to debunk the claim that dog owners have a moral obligation to braise Fido for three hours with some garlic and bay leaves and serve him as a ragout over noodles with a side of garlic bread. It’s nonsense. It flies in the face of everything we know about who Jesus was, what he was about, and the kind of movement his life and death inspired. The luminaries of Christian theology who have written about a Christian’s relationship to secular authority—Paul, Justin Martyr, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Simons, and so forth—disagreed with each other on many matters. They disagreed about the conditions under which a Christian had a moral obligation to obey a secular ruler, and whether and how secular authority comes or does not come from God. Not a one of them would say that Christians have a duty to support a dangerously ignorant and wantonly ignorant braggart with autocratic tendencies, for the sole reason that they will own the libs. To say nothing of the many liberation theologians who show that Jesus reveals God’s solidarity with the poor and outcast, on whose behalf God topples tyrants from their thrones… but then, I don’t imagine Ralph Reed and his ilk read much liberation theology.
Look, if you hate the left, then hate the left. If you think it’s worth it to set democracy and the world on fire because it upsets liberal snowflakes, then do your worst, I guess. Our ability to stop you is limited. But if you fear God even a trillionth as much as you claim to, then get Jesus’ name out of your lying mouth right now. If Jesus were alive today, he’d be freezing in a hielera. Or he’d be protesting the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville. He’d be getting denounced as an enemy of the people and threatened with violence. (Oh, wait, that actually happened, didn’t it? Huh.) But Jesus would not be propping up Trump. The very fact that this needs saying is sheer madness. And yet say it we must: Jesus of Nazareth, the first-century anti-imperial Galilean Jewish insurrectionist, would NOT support wealthy amoral rulers whose only guiding moral principle is accruing more power for themselves. Jesus, Ralph Reed’s 1981 “conversion” notwithstanding, would have no part in such bull-…er, feathers.
Sarah Morice Brubaker is Assistant Professor of Theology at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and author of The Place of the Spirit (2013). Her shorter writing has appeared in The Christian Century, Religion Dispatches, Geez Magazine, This Land Press, and Salon. She currently serves as program chair of the Liberal Theologies Consultation of the American Academy of Religion.
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