Christian Coalition Rallies Faithful
Christian Coalition leaders fired up the faithful Friday with a pro-Israel rally and a pitch to renew the group's power by rousting out the vote in November for conservative candidates.
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., exhorted the crowd at the Washington Convention Center to vote liberals out of office.
``If you don't do it, it ain't gonna be done,'' he said. ``You will be doing the Lord's work, and he will richly bless you for it.''
``Faith with Action'' was the public theme of the coalition's Road to Victory conference, which opened Friday. The underlying purpose of the three-day event was to raise the Christian Coalition's profile after a string of setbacks and to turn its claimed 2 million supporters into voters on Nov. 5.
The conservative activist group and its new president, Roberta Combs, are battling a widespread perception that the coalition is far less a political force than it was in the mid-1990s.
Combs, a longtime coalition organizer from Hanahan, S.C., took over the group in December after founder Pat Robertson said he wanted to spend more time on his ministry.
``I think that as long as we're here, we'll also have influence,'' Combs said this week in an interview, after months of avoiding media contact. ``We're still here; we're still involved.''
Some people assumed the coalition was disappearing as a political force. Director Ralph Reed left in 1997 to become a Republican activist in Georgia and became chairman of the state party last year. In 1999, the Internal Revenue Service ruled against the coalition's tax-exempt status, which forced it to reorganize. Robertson's departure last December was a blow.
Reed's party chairmanship became a symbol of what has happened to the Christian conservative movement.
Part of the reason for the Christian Coalition's lower profile, however, is its success. Republicans took control of Congress in 1994, after 40 years of Democratic majorities. Seventy million voter guides and 1 million get-out-the-vote calls helped elect George W. Bush president in 2000.
Bush sent the convention a videotaped message Friday, greeting the Christian conservatives and promising an administration that would advocate the group's key agenda items: anti-abortion activism, low taxes, limited government and judges who don't legislate.
The demonstration of solidarity with Israel is consistent with a long-standing alliance with that country, which Christians consider a part of the biblical Holy Land.
Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert saluted ``the great believers and lovers of Zion'' gathered in the convention hall. He said their support helps Israelis endure Palestinian bombings.
``It is hard to live with the sights, to go to sleep with them, to wake up in the morning, to know what you have seen,'' Olmert told coalition members. ``But don't get it wrong. This is pain and tears but not weakness.''
He received several standing ovations from coalition members waving Israeli flags.
``This rally is to say there are people, there are millions of us,'' said Coalition founder Robertson. ``We will stand with Israel.''
So with an ally in the White House and ``the largest and best-equipped lobbying team in coalition history,'' the group opened its annual meeting with messages designed to motivate.
The notion of separating church and state with such policies as disallowing prayer in public schools ``is a deception from Satan,'' said Joyce Meyer, a convention sponsor.
``If God is in fact separated from the government, then we can never possibly have a godly government,'' Meyer said to a standing ovation. ``There's no way for America to be good if she's not godly.''
Meyer, head of Joyce Meyer Ministries of Fenton, Mo., said activists probably will find more spiritual awareness in the aftermath of the ``wake-up call'' of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. God did not cause the attacks, she said, but they should teach the country a lesson.
``If we don't obey God, God's protection is lifted,'' Meyer said.
The convention hall, set up to accommodate 6,500 seats, was less than half full but a larger crowd was expected for events over the weekend