“Man is only a reed, the weakest in nature, but he is a thinking reed.” That is one of the most widely known of Blaise Pascal’s pithy pronouncements, and an excellent statement about the paradoxical nature of human beings. (It is partly because of his proclivity for paradoxes that I like Pascal so much.)
This article is about a “thinking reed” whose name is Ralph Eugene Reed, Jr. Although many of you have known of Reed (b. 1961) for many years, this month he has become much more widely known. A headline on the front page the September 23 New York Times declared, “An Evangelical Back From Exile, Lifting Romney.” That article, written by Pulitzer Prize winner Jo Becker and posted online the previous day, was about Ralph Reed.
Also, one segment of the Rachel Maddow Show five days ago (9/25) was about Reed and his Faith & Freedom Coalition.
Reed, whom I discuss some in my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism, previously was the first head of the Christian Coalition, an organization Pat Robertson founded in 1989 “to give Christians a voice in government.” As executive director of that political action group, Reed built one of the most effective grassroots organizations in modern American politics.
Under Reed, the Christian Coalition rose to national prominence in the early 1990s, protesting against the Clinton administration’s policies. It was widely credited with helping mobilize Christian conservatives in support of Republican candidates in the 1994 Congressional elections, which led to the rise of Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House.
At the pinnacle of his power, Reed appeared on the cover of Time (on May 15, 1995) with the words “The Right Hand of God: Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition.” But in the following year the Federal Election Commission alleged that the Christian Coalition “violated federal campaign finance laws during congressional elections in 1990, 1992 and 1994, and the presidential election in 1992.” Reed left the leadership of the Coalition in 1997.
In 2005, Reed was named in a scandal arising from lobbying work performed by Jack Abramoff, who in early 2006 was sentenced to six years in federal prison for mail fraud, conspiracy to bribe public officials, and tax evasion. Partly for that reason, Reed was highly unsuccessful in his bid to become Lieutenant Governor of Georgia in 2006.
But in 2009 Reed founded the Faith & Freedom Coalition, which he describes as “a 21st century version of the Christian Coalition. Before the end of 2011 their website claims that they added their 500,000th member.
The Coalition held its first conference in September 2010 in Washington, D.C., with prominent speakers such as Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove, and Bob McDonnell, the governor of Virginia. Their second national conference was held in June 2011, and I attended that meeting (and posted about it here).
But why do I refer to Reed as having skewed thinking? Mainly because of his linking Christianity to one political party, contending (in effect) that true Christians can, and will, support only Republican candidates for high political offices.
As I wrote after the meeting last year, “The reported marriage of conservative Christians and the Republican Party appears to be true, and each partner seemed to promise fidelity to the other.” And although I don’t agree with much the organization which funded it says, I do agree with the billboard (pictured below) that recently appeared in the county where I live.