We stand at a pivotal time in America, in politics and in the conservative movement. And since my political philosophy is “faith-based” at its foundation, it is vital to understand how faith and American politics have intersected over the years; I don’t speak of WallBuilders or ChristianHistory.net, though those are great resources – I mean all the way back to the 1990s.
Only recently did I learn that—during that storied decade when I was playing basketball and growing up—the Christian Right achieved its highest point of mobilization and impact through an organization I knew little about: Christian Coalition. In the span of ten years (1989-1999), this political arm of Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network rallied over 2 million believers to astounding political success… and just as quickly, fizzled out to become a shell of its former self. What was their secret? And what happened to implode it so quickly?
The Rise and Fall of the Christian Coalition is an informative, fast-paced tale revealing behind-the-scenes moments that changed how Christians interact with politics. Those Voter Guides you often see in churches now? Christian Coalition perfected that strategy before Focus on the Family or Family Research Council ever tried it.
Some players in the story are ambitious, some holier-than-thou, some current stars on the political scene… all very interesting. But beyond being good history, this narrative is also extremely relevant to the current political climate. From the stories you’ll glean insights on church-and-state issues, effective media strategy, organizing precincts—basically, the entire political and policy process in America. Take this passage, about setting up a political event:
The first thing Ralph [Reed] did was begin removing chairs from the room, saying that you want only half enough chairs in the room at first. Then, afterwards, people will remember that you had to bring in extra chairs. [The lesson:] make it easy to exceed expectations.
Whether this is a tactic that should or should not be emulated, it’s the moments like these that teach us something. Joel has a keen memory for little moments that matter, whether it’s reveling in election night excitement or coping with the monotony of office work. (Actually the author has painstakingly compiled 14 pages of source endnotes to back up his memories, which trumps most political insider books.) It’s a rare sort of book that sees the big picture by looking at the small stuff.
Skip the “conservative” fluff on the best-seller list, order The Rise and Fall of the Christian Coalition instead. You’ll learn something; I sure did.