COMMENTARY: The ignorance and arrogance of Ralph Reed

c. 1996 Religion News Service

(Robert F. Drinan, a Jesuit priest, is a former member of Congress and a professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center)

(WASHINGTON)-In the opening pages of Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed's latest book, he recalls a remark I made some years ago describing his organization as ``ignorant and arrogant.''

Now that I have read all 311 pages of Reed's ``Active Faith'' (The Free Press), I am not prepared to change my views. Reed is still deliberately ignorant of the viewpoints of those he castigates. And he remains arrogant in his assertion that only the Christian Coalition can resolve America's moral problems.

Reed contends that his organization revives the world of religious abolitionists who opposed slavery. He counts himself among the apostles of the social gospel and implies that his organization is continuing the work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He wraps himself and the Christian Coalition in all of the warm and fuzzy feelings Americans have for those whose faith has motivated them to seek justice.

But Reed never does explain how or why the abolition of abortion, the provision of subsidies to church-related schools and the introduction of religious exercises into public schools are solutions for America's ills.

The Christian Coalition is prepared to support Republican candidates who will promote these values. But Reed makes a large and illogical leap to affirm that these objectives must be supported by all Christians. And since the Democratic Party platform does not endorse these measures, Democrats in Reed's book are demeaned as anti-religious secularists.

``Active Faith'' chronicles Reed's close involvement with the Republican Contract with America, his intimacy with House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his contacts with GOP leaders in Congress and around the country. Reed does not conceal the fact he is an operative of Republicans in Congress. He boasts that the Christian Coalition raised $1 million to help get portions of the Contract with America through the House of Representatives.

But Reed has his own radical agenda. He wants to transfer the work of most federally funded welfare programs to the churches. He favors term limits, the privatization of the National Endowments for the Arts, the abolition of the Legal Services Corp. (which provides legal aid to the poor), and the transfer of billions of dollars in tax cuts to families.

Reed knows but does not seem to understand why many Christians and Jews harbor a deep antipathy for the Christian Coalition. He apparently believes that his opponents are so blinded by their opposition to religion that they are unfair to his organization.

He castigates as ``radical left'' People For the American Way, an organization founded in 1981 to respond to political, social and religious conservatives (I am a member of its board). And he ignores altogether such groups as the Interfaith Alliance, a group of mainline clergy that seeks to promote religious harmony as it presses for liberal concerns. When the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith issued a scathing 1995 report of the Christian Coalition, the coalition responded by issuing its own scathing report of the ADL.

The same defensive reflex is apparent when Reed speaks of the Christian Coalition's sister organization, the Catholic Alliance, which aims to recruit 250,000 Catholics by November and 2 million by the decade's end. While he crows about the emerging alliance between politically conservative Catholics and evangelicals, he does not report the suspicion and open hostility this proposal has elicited among several Catholic bishops.

Like all Christians in America, I desire to see moral values flourish in public life. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops recently issued a 40-page statement outlining their views on the major legal and moral issues of the day. And while they may oppose abortion, the Catholic bishops differ significantly from the Christian Coalition on the obligation of society to help the poor. Reed makes no mention of that statement or similar statements by other religious leaders.

Thus, in his book and in the way he runs the Christian Coalition, Reed essentially ignores the moral aspirations of religious leaders in this country and of people of faith who happen to hold beliefs different from his.

And this man, who presents himself as following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King Jr., remains ignorant of one of King's most treasured teachings: ``Those whom we wish to change we must first love.''