Scant weeks before he was scheduled to assume the presidency of the national Christian Coalition, the Rev. Joel C. Hunter has stepped back. The snapping point? His desire to broaden the religious organization’s agenda beyond abortion and same-sex marriage was fast going nowhere.
Hunter’s departure comes on the heels of Pastor Ted Haggard’s fall from grace, and leaves a decided void in the fledgling Christian Right movement to embrace other issues, including environmentalism, fighting AIDS and tackling poverty.Hunter, the pastor of a Florida megachurch, was set to assume the leadership of the Christian Coalition early next year. When he was elected in July, Haggard, then the president of the Colorado Springs-based National Association of Evangelicals, expressed his enthusiasm about Hunter’s appointment to the Orlando Sentinel.
“This is a brilliant move on the part of the Christian Coalition, because Joel is a brilliant communicator and a thoughtful spokesperson for Christian values,” Haggard told the newspaper. (Last month, Haggard, whose green pulpit preaching also made waves in some conservative Christian circles, resigned in disgrace from the NAE after a male prostitute claimed they shared a three-year relationship. His New Life Church, the largest in Colorado, fired Haggard shortly thereafter.)
In his book published earlier this year, titled Right Wing, Wrong Bird, Hunter argued for a more moderate approach to politics and that Christians should not align themselves solely with the Republican Party. He also detailed why the tactics of the Religious Right “won’t fly with most conservative Christians.”
“There ought to be more than just gay marriage and pro-life issues, because the Bible is concerned with all of life,” Hunter told the Sentinel. “We need to do everything we can to relieve poverty, to heal the sick and to protect the Earth.”
This week, Hunter told the New York Times that he amicably stepped down when it became clear the Christian Coalition wasn’t as comfortable with expanding its priorities to include poverty and global warming after all. Roberta Combs, currently the president, will remain in the position.
In 2005, under the guidance of Haggard, the NAE adopted an official call for evangelicals to commit to protecting the environment – albeit a free-market approach. In an Earth Day interview with the Colorado Springs Independent last year, Haggard explained the push:
“Environmental issues have been traditionally trumpeted by liberal groups,” said Haggard. “And isn’t that ironic? Here you have the environmentalists who believe in evolution and that species can evolve, on the one side, and the Christian groups who believe in Creationism, that what is here [on Earth] is all there is. We should be the ones involved.”
Haggard cited the book of Genesis in the Bible as the original call to environmental stewardship and is careful to delineate the human role.
“We believe God created the Earth and that man has dominion over the Earth,” he said. “Anytime someone has responsibility for something, they are stewards. The judge is a steward of his courtroom; he has dominion over it and must run it a certain way. A teacher is a steward of the classroom, has dominion over it and must run it responsibly or be expelled from it. It’s not a contrary role.”
Meanwhile, the Christian Coalition, which has struggled in recent years to maintain its lobbying power and influence – currently lists the following priority items on its legislative link. NOTE: Not a one of them addresses poverty, AIDS or God’s green planet:
— Protect Religious Television Programming
— Support Legislation Stopping Religious Discrimination Against Evangelical Christians in the Military
— Making Permanent the 2001-2003 Federal Tax Cuts
— Passing the ‘Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act’
— Passing in U.S. Senate of Broadcasting Decency Enforcement Act
— Getting votes to Confirm President Bush’s Judicial Nominations
— Passing the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act in the House and Senate
— Passing Congressman Walter Jones’ ‘Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act,’ H.R. 235
— Passing in the U.S. Senate Congressman Hostettler’s Legislation Protecting 10 Commandments
— Passing Congressman Roscoe Bartlett’s ‘Holly’s Law’
— Passing Senator Sam Brownback’s anti-cloning bill in the U.S. Senate
— Passing Congressman Ernest Istook’s Amendment to the U.S. Constitution Protecting Religious Freedom
— Passing Congressman Todd Akin’s and Senator Jon Kyl’s ‘Pledge Protection Act of 2005’
— Passing Congressman Henry Hyde’s ‘U.N. Reform Act of 2005’ in the U.S. Senate
— Passing Congressman Bartlett’s First Amendment Restoration Act (FARA), H.R. 689