Well, maybe not.
After what we saw last weekend in Washington at the annual Faith and Freedom Coalition conference, it’s possible that Ralph Reed’s coalition might just tank.
The event gave off the same vibes as last year’s Republican primary contests, which some pundits unkindly referred to as a “freak show.” Many of the same characters showed up: Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, Herman Cain and Rick Perry, along with Pat Robertson, Reince Priebus and Grover Norquist. And there were a couple of new faces who I bet would prefer to distance themselves from that group: Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie had the good sense not to show up.
There was one new face, however, who stole the show; someone who would have done last year’s contests proud and promises to be a star in some future round of Republican primaries. That would be the Virginia GOP’s nominee for lieutenant governor, Bishop E.W. Jackson.
Jackson, an African American, is the founder of Exodus Faith Ministries and STAND (Staying True to America’s National Destiny).
Jackson is puzzled as to why black Christian voters support President Obama. In an article written for the Washington Times, he asked, “How have [the Democrats] managed to hold on to black Christians in spite of an agenda worthy of the Antichrist?” With that question, Jackson established his bona fides with the Republicans in the room. He’s one of them. Jackson has also said that Planned Parenthood has harmed more black Americans than the Ku Klux Klan and, to the delight of many conservative Christians, that gay men and lesbians are “very sick people.” How do you get through Harvard Law School, as Jackson did, and think like this?
The sad part of all this is that the “grown-ups” in the Republican Party feel they have to attend these sessions, and, unfortunately for them, some of the flaming rhetoric is catching. Bush, for example, found himself in the headlines because of a most puzzling statement.
Referring to the immigration reform battle being waged on Capitol Hill, he said: “Immigrants are more fertile, and they love families, and they have more intact families, and they bring a younger population.” Presumably, he meant that immigrants could help increase Republican voter rolls — so the more there are, the better for the GOP. But his awkward remarks gave Palin an opening, allowing her to proclaim that she, too, was fertile.
Reed has called the Faith and Freedom Coalition “the Christian Coalition on steroids.” I’d warn Reed, who was also the first executive director of the Christian Coalition, to watch out for steroid abuse.
That Bush-Palin exchange was just a brief sideshow to what the conference was all about: faith and freedom. Faith means many things to many people, as does freedom. For most Americans, the words together reinforce the idea of freedom of religion. People have always come to this country to worship as they please, without discrimination.
So, what was the take-away message of the conference this year? It’s essential to believe in God and, even better, to be a Christian. Where does that leave the huge number of Americans who are Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist and the nearly 20 percent of Americans who are not affiliated with any religion? It leaves them out in the cold, if the coalition participants are to be taken seriously. In the 1920s and ’30s in Boston, when the Irish were among the nation’s newer immigrants, there were signs in windows everywhere when jobs opened up: NINA, for No Irish need apply. Given what we have heard this past weekend, one might expect to see signs saying OCNA: Only Christians need apply.
Is this really the message that Reed and his fellow conservatives wish to send the public? The message they should want to send is that freedom is a license to believe in whatever you want to. That, however, is not the way Jackson sees it.
The bishop held the crowd’s attention when he said, “Freedom doesn’t mean, ‘Do whatever you want.’ It’s the pursuit of character, integrity, decency, honor. Now we’re being told freedom is license.”
Palin was not going to give up the spotlight so easily. She rallied the audience with her proven formula: “I say until we have a commander in chief who knows what he’s doing, well . . . I say let Allah sort it out.” She also proclaimed that Americans need to “rededicate” the country to “our one true heavenly Father. . . . If we rededicate our land to our Lord, things will turn around.”
There you have it.