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Ralph Reed's Redemption

This past weekend, a few thousand conservative Christian activists from across the nation gathered in Washington, D.C. to hear from top Republican politicians. As these evangelical political activists found renewed inspiration to rally support for Republicans this November, they also proved redemption can come easily if one's politics are considered right. The Faith & Freedom Coalition (FFC), the host organization for the conference seamlessly mixing church and state, remains the brainchild of its founder and leader Ralph Reed. Once the leader of the influential Christian Coalition, founded in the late 1980s by televangelist and one-time Republican presidential hopeful Pat Robertson, Reed later embarked on his own political career before finding his aspirations dashed in the aftermath of scandal. Yet, this born-again political organizer quickly experienced a rebirth in religious politics with the launch of the FFC in 2009.

During the recent Republican presidential primary campaign, Reed's FFC sponsored numerous events that attracted the Republican presidential hopefuls. Each one--including presumptive nominee Mitt Romney--made multiple pilgrimages to share the FFC stage with Reed. This helps show the continuing power of confessional politics. Joining Romney at the recent affair were numerous top Republican leaders, including Senator Jim DeMint, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, Senator Paul Rand, Senator, and Marco Rubio. Other conservative leaders filling out the program included Glenn Beck, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Alberto Gonzales, and Rick Santorum. Once again for Republicans the road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue appears to run right through Reed's political sanctuary.

Reed's political resurrection demonstrates his intelligence and charisma as one of the nation's most effective grassroots organizers. Yet, his rise, fall, and second rise should serve as a poignant warning about how easily religion can be used for political purposes. Although Reed's own career as a politician died because of his involvement in lobbyist Jack Abramoff's gambling scandal, this has not prevented Reed's return as an evangelical powerbroker. For Reed, having the right politics appears to cover a multitude of sins. As Richard Land, the top politico for the Southern Baptist Convention told CNN last year,

Most evangelicals who know about [the Abramoff scandal], view Ralph as a victim and that he was victimized by Abramoff like so many others. ... Conservatives don't have any problem with people making money.
Apparently the warning of Jesus about serving both God and mammon no longer bothers conservative evangelicals if one's politics is right. Land, whose denomination recently reprimanded him and cancelled his radio program over controversial and plagiarized racial remarks he made, once again spoke at the FFC gathering as he, too, seeks political redemption. While Land and other conservatives offered to extend political grace to thrice-married Newt Gingrich during the recent presidential primary, they never offered such an opportunity to Democrats like Bill Clinton.

Such one-sided forgiveness should spark caution among evangelicals about the motivations of Reed and his fellow politically-driven religious leaders. If one's test of a moral politician creates results that align with one party, then the criterion used should not inspire much faith. Such politicking remains as unfair as the house edge at the roulette table. At first blush, Reed's political redemption could be an inspiring American tale about a comeback and a renewed faith. Yet, the partisan tint of the forgiveness instead fills this story with cynicism and hucksterism of the worst kind.

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