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Worthy of the Name Christian

It was disclosed recently that the Christian Coalition of Alabama has been taking money from Indian gambling interests to oppose gambling initiatives in Alabama. In a scheme worthy of Colombian drug lords, money was filtered through Washington lobbyists who in turn gave it to the consulting firm of Ralph Reed, former national leader of the Christian Coalition. From there the money found its way to the Alabama chapter of the Christian Coalition.

When questioned about the matter Ralph Reed admitted that the money did indeed come from Indian lobbyists—somewhere in the $1 to $4 million range. However, in an evangelical version of the classic political two-step, Reed claims the money is clean—that it came entirely from non-gambling sources of revenue.

Well, at least he gets points for trying.

Unfortunately, the two-step does not end there. John Giles, director of the Christian Coalition in Alabama, has denied for years that his organization was being funded by out-of-state gambling interests. Of course he has not done much to put our mind at ease about who does fund his organization. Giles has adamantly opposed legislation that would require political action groups like the Christian Coalition to disclose the source of their funding.

The level of deception here is troubling but not altogether surprising. The Christian Coalition, both nationally and locally, has barely hidden its commitment to the political agenda of the far right. Even though established as a non-profit, non-partisan voter education organization, everyone knows that the Coalition is really a front for the Republican Party.

In fact that became pretty obvious when Giles reacted to the disclosures about the gambling money. He asserted that the timing of the news release was highly suspicious and speculated that it was intended to hurt President Bush’s re-election campaign.

Why would he think that disclosures about the Coalition’s questionable funding sources were really about trying to damage the president’s re-election bid? Are we talking about the Christian Coalition or the Committee to Re-Elect? The only way that bad news about the Christian Coalition hurts the president’s campaign is if the Coalition is part of the campaign. And obviously Giles thinks it is.

Sadly, this is business as usual in the world of politics. We expect the political process to generate a certain level of hypocrisy. Candidates and parties, as they seek to appeal to wide and diverse audiences, are often forced to contradict themselves. We are hardly surprised to learn that a candidate has said one thing and then done something completely different. Sadly, we are well aware how duplicity of this sort damages our system. Americans have a long standing suspicion bordering on cynicism about our political process.

But we should expect more from people of faith. Invoking the name of Jesus demands a higher level of morality and integrity. A group calling itself Christian and enjoying the tax benefits of a non-profit, non-partisan organization is called to a higher standard.

Failure to maintain this standard ultimately does harm to the faith. The Christian Coalition and other groups like them, distort the meaning and purpose of faith when they wrap their political agenda in the robes of religion. They do even greater harm to faith when they engage in the political game of duck and dodge.

Jesus said once, that our yes should be yes, and our no, no. Anything else, he said, comes from evil. I guess we know now what he was talking about.

James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.