Since securing the Republican Party nomination, Bob Dale has been thanking Ralph Reed and his Christian Coalition for their support. Critics say Reed’s support of Dole shows he is more interested in the power of the White House than he is in his Christian revolution. Supporters counter that having the President’s ear is tantamount to completing the revolution. His biography may hold the answers.

Politically Incorrect:

The Emerging Faith Factor in American Politics

Ralph Reed Word Publishing, 1994

Reviewed by Tony Gosgnach

Although this book has been around for a while, the reading of it is particularly important at this time when a U.S. presidential election looms and the Christian Coalition is coming to Canada.

Politically Incorrect is the story of Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition he leads a small office in a ramshackle warehouse to the national political arena, where it is poised to hold the balance of power in the U.S. this November.

Its 1.6 million members and $25 million annual budget have to be the envy of religious conservatives and people of conscience in Canada who, although active, are still on the peripheries of the political scene. There is much Canadians can learn from studying the successes of the Christian Coalition—keeping in mind, of course, that adjustments have to be made to account for Canada’s different political, social and cultural climate.

Former U.S. education secretary William Bennett correctly notes in the book’s forward that Reed wisely avoids the temptation of getting into a mudslinging match with his political and cultural opponents, or of complaining about media hostility towards religious conservatives. Instead, Reed takes the “High road” of offering a thoughtful and rigorous assessment of the worlds of politics and faith.

Reed believes the success of the Christian Coalition is an outgrowth of the current American Quest to fill the “God-shaped vacuum in every person’s soul” after the sexual revolution of 1960s, the narcissism of the 1970s and the acquisitiveness of 1980s.

At the same time, though, he notes that American culture has never been more hostile to public expressions of religious faith—the Washington Post, for example, openly refers to religious conservatives as “poor, uneducated and easy to command.”

He says religious conservatives are not out to impose their moral or theological views on the rest of the population but simply want to have a place at the table of public discourse. “For decades, religious people have been on the sidelines watching everyone else play the game. They want to be on the field, if not always to win, at least to participate.”

But Reed concedes that religious conservatives have often been their own worst enemies. “Sometimes how you say something is more important that what you say, he observes. “Too often, those of devout faith have spoken in the public square with a scowl, using a language that did not embrace all their listeners.”

He says religious conservatives have to follow the example of the Christian apostle Paul, who learned to speak the languages of his listeners so his message might be understood.

Reed points to the restoration of the intact, two-parent family with children as being the top priority for religious conservatives. According to surveys, this is also a priority with most Americans: prior to the 1994 mid-term elections, two-thirds of American listed social issues as being the most important problem facing U.S. while only 18 per cent pointed to the economy.

So how are religious conservatives to achieve political success? What lessons are Canadians to learn? Reed says local politics is the key. Religious conservatives have found that “True service in the government begins in the precincts and flows upwards.” The Coalition has consequently directed energy toward school boards, city councils, state legislatures and even zoning boards.

“The genius of the Christian Coalition was in its emphasis on the grassroots and its avoidance of a star-studded Washington media event or rally that announced lofty goals and attracted the white glare of press attention before its time,” he says. In this, the Coalition differs from previous pro-family groups such as the Moral Majority in three ways: it is driven by issues instead of candidates or personalities; it stresses local issues and grassroots organization; and it is permanent rather than cyclical because it focuses on the long-term picture, much like a Chamber of Commerce or a labour union.

Reed says another key to the Coalition’s success is its willingness to address a broad range of issues—taxes, crime, government waste, health care and economic security—as part of a “holistic view” of society. “If the grassroots pro-family movement forwards a limited agenda that only addresses one or two issues, we will not succeed because we will not deal with the full range of voter concerns.”

He stresses the Coalition’s work in other areas should not be seen as an abandonment of moral issues. “Working on other issues…will strengthen our voice on matters of conscience, not weaken it,” he says, noting that the Left does not confine itself to a narrow band of issues.

Some pro-lifers may find the Coalition’s gradualistic approach toward abortion restrictions troublesome. It is clear that Reed believes it is politically and strategically advantageous for the Coalition to go for incremental gains rather than the whole prize on the abortion issue. Thus, there is no mention of banning abortion outright.

Instead, Reed favours the ending of tax-funding for abortions, support for the rights of states to restrict abortion and requirements that parents give their approval before a minor undergoes in abortion. “Coupled with compassionate alternatives to abortion, restrictions on abortion will gradually lead to its extinction,” he believes.

In closing, Reed rejects the option of starting a third political party in favour of working within the Republican and Democratic structures. Such a sentiment in the Canadian context would seem to support the approach of a Liberals for Life over that of a Christian Heritage Party or a Family Coalition Party (In Ontario and B.C.).

“Historically, third party movements either flounder or succeed by failing he says. “For this reason, the best strategy for pro-family activists and their allies is to become involved as Republicans or Democrats.”

Whether you like his organization or not, there is no arguing with the fact that Reed’s Christian Coalition has achieved a level of influence Canadian religious conservatives can only dream of at this point. Whether Canadian leaders wish to embrace Reed’s philosophies and strategies in a matter left for them to decide upon. But they do well to read Politically Incorrect as a starting point.