My Take: Ralph Reed event shows Christian Right still matters
Ralph Reed's Faith and Freedom Coalition conference is drawing many GOP presidential contenders.
June 3rd, 2011
10:09 AM ET

My Take: Ralph Reed event shows Christian Right still matters

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Over the last year or so, I have read repeatedly that the Christian Right has gone the way of Netscape, Betamax and the buggy whip. The Tea Party phenomenon and the deficit crisis together redirected the GOP from cultural issues to economic ones.

Or so goes the conventional wisdom.

This wisdom is foolishness, for two reasons.

Exhibit A is the long list of Republican speakers for the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference being held this Friday and Saturday in Washington, DC.

The Faith and Freedom Coalition is the brainchild of the one-time wunderkind of Christian Right, Ralph Reed. The former head of the Christian Coalition, which he ran from its founding in 1989, Reed went into political purgatory in 2005-06 after a failed run for lieutenant governor in Georgia. He was further tainted by a scandal swirling around the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whom he worked with on Indian gambling .

But he is resurrecting himself at this conference, which has managed to line up virtually every Republican presidential candidate to address the concerns of America’s social conservatives.

Some of the speakers are no surprise. Michele Bachman and Tim Pawlenty, both social conservatives from Minnesota, are darlings of the Christian Right, as is the former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. But other scheduled speakers, including Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Mitt Romney and John Huntsman, are typically seen as either libertarians or moderates.

I’m not sure how to classify Donald Trump and Glenn Beck (broadcast conservatives?), but according to the Faith and Freedom Coalition website, they'll be there too. So will House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Exhibit B is polling data.

Survey after survey has shown not only that the Tea Party is socially conservative but that it is even more socially conservative than the GOP as a whole.

In a February poll, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that Tea Party supporters are more likely than Republicans as a whole to say that they think abortion should be illegal in most or all cases. They are also more likely than all Republicans to say that religion is the most important influence on their opinion on same-sex marriage.

This Pew study also concluded that the Tea Party draws “disproportionate support from the ranks of white evangelical Protestants.”

So what does this say about the GOP's ongoing dance with the Christian Right? It says that the culture wars aren't over, and that the way to the Republican nomination still runs through the spiritual and political heirs of Jerry Falwell.

Unless, of course, it runs through Sarah Palin’s tour bus.

Palin is the only real GOP powerhouse who has not signed on to the Faith and Freedom Coalition event. In her case, the thinking may be that her credentials among religious conservatives are so burnished she doesn’t need anyone to buff them, not even a resurrected Ralph Reed.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Culture wars • Mitt Romney • Politics • Polls • Sarah Palin • Tea Party • United States

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soundoff (283 Responses)
  1. Robbin Goal

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    January 31, 2013 at 5:11 am |
  2. Mr Anti-Pesticide

    Opponents of abortion have ironically ignored for decades the constant, slow and reckless poisoning of all the other “wanted” children as people increasingly use inadequately tested synthetic chemicals, and industrial smokestacks spew toxins into our air. Pro-life supporters of our “unalienable right to life”who neglect the daily environmental abuse of 75 million U.S. children are truly the worst hypocrites!
    The president of Advocates for Youth, a supporter of Planned Parenthood, describes the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act movement led by Speaker John Boehner as “the Trojan Horse Congress – politicians elected on economic issues, but bound and determined to promote an extreme social agenda at all costs.” Simultaneously, they are attempting to do the same to Medicare and the EPA while they let the USDA approve dangerous genetically modified crops. Someone, please explain why killing and/or permanently damaging children slowly by chemical and fertilizer companies is the preferred method over abortion?
    Hormones in meat, phthalates and BPA in plastic, mercury exposure and endocrine-disrupting pesticides and herbicides are now linked to the falling age in puberty and increases in miscarriages, ADHD, asthma, autism, childhood leukemia, diabetes and obesity, to name just a few. The average age of U.S. girls’ puberty has plummeted to 9, and 15 percent have reached that milestone by age 7. In three decades, a girl’s childhood has decreased by 1 1/2 years. Remarkably, every day children, adults and dogs sit, stand and walk upon lawns with yellow pesticide flags, yet the current Right To LIfe movement never pickets Loew's, Home Depot or TruGreen, all major purveyors of these poisons.

    De-funding the EPA and Planned Parenthood will not help solve these problems, but isn’t it time for those who care about children and life to direct their rage and energies elsewhere?

    June 6, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  3. mattgordonmd

    If Reed and his sanctimonious fans want to participate in the political process, then all the associated/related groups should pay taxes.

    June 6, 2011 at 5:44 am |
  4. government spy

    Yes, the religious right is still relevant, until the generation of boring old fogies passes on, and the baby boomers pass on, and become too senile to vote. Then, a generation of anti-racist intelligent people who don't believe in the "invisible man in the sky" will be able to have an intelligent discourse, pass gay rights, finally get rid of the "pro-life" idiots, and get back to real issues, like llegaliziing drugs and granting Americans free will.

    June 5, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  5. s kel


    June 5, 2011 at 8:44 am |
  6. bINA

    As far as his personal faith, Ralph Reeds past crimes are between him and his God, but when it comes to be a religeous leader, or for that matter political powerhouse, its a different matter. There should be no story by CNN without giving a clear picture of his past behavior.

    June 4, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  7. Reality

    Why the Christian Right no longer matters in presidential elections:

    More wasted speeches!! Why?

    Once again, all the conservative votes in the country "ain't" going to help a "pro-life" presidential candidate, i.e Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Ron Paul or Rick Santorum, in 2012 as the "Immoral Majority" rules the country and will be doing so for awhile. The "Immoral Majority" you ask?

    The fastest growing USA voting bloc: In 2008, the 70+ million "Roe vs. Wade mothers and fathers" of aborted womb-babies" whose ranks grow by two million per year i.e. 78+ million "IM" voters in 2012.

    2008 Presidential popular vote results:

    69,456,897 for pro-abortion BO, 59,934,814 for "pro-life" JM.

    And all because many women fail to take the Pill once a day or men fail to use a condom even though in most cases these men have them in their pockets. (may it should be called the "Stupid Majority"?)

    (The failures of the widely used birth "control" methods i.e. the Pill and male condom have led to the large rate of abortions ( one million/yr) and S-TDs (19 million/yr) in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or condoms properly and/or use other safer birth control methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.)

    June 4, 2011 at 8:35 am |
    • Dante

      How does the failure of b-control really damage the faith? I mean...really?

      June 6, 2011 at 7:40 am |
  8. Whip It


    June 4, 2011 at 1:07 am |
  9. annoyed

    I honestly wish this group would rename themselves. They should be called the "Conservative Coalition." They give Christianity a terrible name.

    Ralph Reed has broken laws. He is no more worthy of praise and respect than any other politician who has been caught with his hands in the cookie jar. Because he has a pearly white smile and school boy looks (although repugnant to me) it should not food people into believing a word he says. He is closed-minded, hates diversity and nothing he does reflects any true Christian. For Reed, money is the name of the game and he'll stop at nothing to get it. Do not be fooled. A man who fights to have a "Christian Nation" and wants to tear down the separation of church and state is too dumb to see that when the majority is Muslim, the Christian minority will be facing East for their prayers. Scary stuff. Not to say that Muslims are scary or even praying toward Mecca. My point is that when church and state co-mingle, nothing good can come of it.

    June 3, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • LinCA

      How about "The Religious Wrong"?

      June 3, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
    • Greg Kells

      Christianity earned it's bad name by being culturally oppressive both in the past and present. I'm more concerned with them tarnishing the good name of real conservatives with their ridiculous faith. As a conservative atheist, I'm ashamed that so many people mistake a pragmatic political ideology with a faith based cultural movement. Christians (or anyone of religious faith) lack the critical thought and pragmatism required to be truly conservative.

      June 5, 2011 at 2:36 am |
    • shaul

      I disagree. Christianity gives conservatives a bad name. Before it was named the Right Wing Christian Coalition wasn't it the KKK ? If not it is the same ideology. Christianity = Bigotry, hatred, prejudice and intolerance.

      June 15, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  10. James Black


    June 3, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  11. frank

    Crom laughs at your desert wizard cult! The crops of its promised land are paltry! Crom laughs at its decrepit vineyards and measly fish from his mountain!

    June 3, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  12. Texan86

    Your only proving my point. Those who say "Oh well thats just an allegory" are twisting what is really being said. The key in Biblical interpretation is to understand what the author is saying. No Bible buffet!

    June 3, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
    • Lycidas

      I never called it an allegory now did I?

      June 3, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  13. Texan86

    Oh. Well i guess i just assumed that Christians believed in the Bible, which clearly states that the universe was created in 7 days. The arguments that try to fit this with reality are, like i said, fitting a square into a circle.

    June 3, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
    • Lycidas

      You assume wrong if you think all Christians believe in the Bible fully on all things. Not everyone is a literalist you know. But that does not mean the faith is incorrect.

      June 3, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • Lycidas

      Oh, and just to let you know...you are making a novice mistake in how you use "day". If you actually read the first couple of chapters a little more in depth, you will see that a "day" has nothing to do with the rotation of the Earth and how it makes the sun appear to rise and set.

      June 3, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • Dont mess with Tex's ass

      ...says Lycidas the "non-literalist"...yah, rite dude. Not a literalist? Then why quibble over someone's interpretation?
      Clueless u be, and I'm being nice about it.

      June 4, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Dante

      @ass- I don't require you to be nice. And when a person gets scripture actually wrong...I can and will debate about it. That's how this thing works. Don't you get it.

      June 6, 2011 at 7:42 am |
  14. Texan86

    For all those Christian politicians attending this event. Question: How old is the earth?
    Those that answer about 4.5 billion years. Probably Christians who believe in evolution. Lets get real. Thats some major squishing of a square to fit in a circle.
    Those that say 10,000 (or so) years. No response needed. Just walk away

    June 3, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Lycidas

      I'm a Christian and I have no problem in thinking that the universe is billions of years old. Why wouldn't I?

      June 3, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
    • shaul

      lycidas........ a christian that thinks? Now that's a novel concept..

      June 15, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  15. frank

    I'm not familiar with Mr. Reed, but the above picture of him makes me 100.1% confident that he is 10% dishonest imbecile, 90% jackas.s

    June 3, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  16. Pascal

    SeanNJ Glad you got that out of your system. Sorry you hate everyone so much. Terrible way to live.

    Your turn

    June 3, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  17. Pascal

    I can always go to CNN's Belief Blog to find the biggest bunch of know-nothing, self-confident, mediocre lemmings on the Web. Quick with Time Magazine history lessons and Cultural Literacy factoids and absolutely intolerant of opposing world views.

    Oh. And Yes. I'm referring to the liberals and atheists who skulk about here regularly.

    June 3, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      Glad you got that out of your system. Sorry you hate everyone so much. Terrible way to live.

      June 3, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • QS

      "the biggest bunch of know-nothing, self-confident, mediocre lemmings on the Web. Quick with Time Magazine history lessons and Cultural Literacy factoids and absolutely intolerant of opposing world views.

      As opposed to the biggest bunch of know-it-all, self-righteous, mediocre lemmings who are even quicker with irrelevant bible quotes and false biblical factoids, who are actually MORE intolerant of opposing worldviews due to the fact that they believe they have every right to impose their beliefs through law.

      Unless and until we "liberals and Atheists" start trying to restrict your freedom of religion through law, any argument you try to make that says you are better people will be disingenuous and patently false.

      June 3, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • Pascal

      QS. I think you caught the irony of my post. Maybe.

      But, for the record, your inability to outlaw more religious freedom is hardly evidence of your open-mindedness. I think the site has ample evidence that both sides have their share of tyrants and dolts. You can choose to be an exception if you'd like.

      June 3, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • QS

      It isn't a lack of ABILITY to restrict religious freedom that I was talking about. I was talking about the lack of any DESIRE to restrict religious freedom compared to the rabid NEED by religious people to restrict other peoples' freedoms.

      That's the difference...religious people feel it's their obligation to impose restrictions on others for their own good, whereas the rest of us, while we understand that religion should never be allowed to gain a foothold in our politics or laws, are content to let you believe whatever you want...but that all stops the moment religious people start trying to legislate their own version of morality.

      June 3, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • ScottK

      "your inability to outlaw more religious freedom is hardly evidence of your open-mindedness." I'm pretty sure it was mainly the religious right who fought against the building of the mosque... You don't find many liberals or even atheists trying to outlaw religious freedoms, though we do get a bit upset when religion if forced into schools, courthouses or our bedrooms.

      June 3, 2011 at 6:11 pm |
    • LinCA

      @ Pascal. You must be reading different posts than I do. I find most posts by atheists well reasoned, supported by evidence and often witty. A lot of posts, not all, mind you, by the religious are downright hilariously illogical. That's why I bookmarked the CNN Belief Blog under "Entertainment".

      June 4, 2011 at 1:23 am |
    • sim

      Funny thing, this liberal reads these comments to laugh at imbeciles like you. Reed should be in prison with Abramoff–maybe they could find jesus together–he must be somewhere in all that casino money.

      June 4, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • What?

      Your an idiot.....there is nothing else to say to you. The story of Jesus is the greatest story ever sold......how many copies did you buy?

      June 4, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  18. Rob

    Gayle, you might want to brush up on the original definition of church and state. This country was founded on Christian priniciples... specifically Christian principles. Unfortunately that definition has eroded along with our society.

    June 3, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • blf83

      But, our nation still was not founded as a Christian nation. Indeed, those principles you name are found in most religious traditions.

      June 3, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • tallulah13

      You are incorrect. If you study the words of the founding fathers, you will discover that they did not hold a very high opinion of religion. You can find a comprehensive collection of their quotes on this very topic here:


      You may find the site itself to be objectionable, but it's a solid collection of actual quotes from the men who created the United States. One would hope their words would be good enough for you.

      June 3, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  19. Gayle

    Whatever happened to Separation of Church and State????? I do not want morality legislated any further. If this keeps up there will NOT be separation of church and state and the "Christian" right will legislate all of us back to the Dark Ages.

    June 3, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • AGeek

      Amen! ...err.. Right on!!

      June 3, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  20. John

    "Send yer money to Jesus, but make the check out to me." – Hank Willimas JR.

    June 3, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • BrainiacV

      Supposedly God can make a miracle, but it seems he can't make money.

      June 3, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • RightturnClyde

      Well since you can both see the foolishness in that kind of thing then you also know it is not God ordained but merely some huckster exploiting other people. In another post some lady is saying "I lot my inheritance to Camping.." ... well more accurately her granny gave it to Camping instead of her. The granny made a bad decision (it would seem) but why didn't granny talk to her grand daughter if they were that close in the first place? Was it really Campings fault or was it granny's? Or the grand daughter?

      One time I was watching a woman put $100 chips in a single number In Tahoe's Incline Village .. I mentioned to someone how foolish that was (she'd lose $1000 in one spin) The other person said .. "well she is nicely dressed and her hair is well done. She is wearing expensive jewelry but she is lone. So she is married to a rich man or a rich doctor whose money means more than she does and she is getting rid of it for him ..." (so the rules of the game are not always what they seem to be)

      June 3, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
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