Freedom Writer - January/February 1996
Coalition's fiesta lures Hispanics
By Liz Gore
Two years ago, Ralph Reed spoke publicly about his
goal of attracting ethnically diverse activists to
the Christian Coalition's largely Anglo membership
base. In the January/February 1994 issue of _The_Humanist_,
author Sara Diamond quoted Reed
's politically strategic proclamation that his organization
would cease to "concede the minority community to the
political left." Reed has succeeded in cultivating
a small network of African-Americans who exhort/speak
powerfully on his organization's beh
alf. Media-friendly events such as the Coalition's
annual Road to Victory conference routinely feature
African-Americans such as ex-welfare recipient-turned
radio talk show host Starr Parker, Virginia Secretary
of Health and Human Resources Kay Cole James
, and the Reverend E.V. Hill of the Mt. Zion Missionary
Baptist Church of Los Angeles.
The Christian Coalition's strategy of forming alliances
with conservative African-Americans has had the effect
of adding visible color to its line-up of eloquent,
commanding voices that convey the indisputable sanctity
of conservative economic and social
policies. Black voices diversify the organization's
peripheral leadership structure without demanding compromises
to the Coalition's agenda on behalf of the communities
they are perceived to represent. Author/activist Chip
Berlet is fond of referring to
this strategy as "Eurocentric multiculturalism," meaning
that the Coalition maintains an open door policy to
people of color who accept the Religious Right's oft-disguised
central contention that the pluralist gains of the
civil rights era have wrought Am
erica's moral decline. Hill, Parker, and James are
vociferously anti-abortion, anti-welfare, anti-government,
and duly steeped in the rhetoric of "parental rights."
Parker can thrill a devout crime-fearing Christian
Coalition crowd like no one else with l
ines like "Where is the electric chair? How many murders
do we have to read about and experience before we get
Today, the Christian Coalition is working harder than
ever to present itself, selectively, as a diversity-friendly
organization committed to "casting a wider net." With
more Christian Coalition chapters than any other state
in the nation, and the second-
highest percentage of Latino residents, Texas has become
the testing ground for the Coalition's 'bridge-building'
strategy of 'racial reconciliation.' The Faith and
Freedom Fiesta, held last November in San Antonio,
represents the Coalition's most recent
attempt to present a public image of itself as ethnically
diverse while simultaneously organizing its activists
to extend recruitment efforts to communities of color.
The Fiesta was the official launch site for Countdown
'96, the "largest campaign ever attempted to mobilize
Christian voters in Texas." Approximately 300 Texans
traveled from various parts of the state to attend.
Participants chose among seminars like "Bu
ilding Bridges Across the Racial Divide," "Hispanic
Network," and "Black Network," in addition to less
ethnic-oriented offerings like "Framing the Debate,"
"Precinct Power," and "Technology and the Grassroots."
Panel members who addressed the issue of rac
ial reconciliation included Carl Hayes, director of
the Dallas County public defender's office, Gilbert
Herrera, president of Texas Hispanic Baptist Evangelists,
former Fort Worth City Council member Carlos Puente,
and Stephan Brown, the Coalition's weste
rn regional coordinator and minority liaison.
The morning session of the less-than-festive Fiesta
concluded with a panel composed of four African-American
men and white host/speaker Alice Patterson, the Christian
Coalition's Texas field director. Speaking to a largely
Anglo crowd, Stephan Brown stres
sed that evangelicals have a special role to play in
eliminating racial conflict in America. "Those who
claim the name of Jesus," he declared, "should be the
first to reconcile." Brown reminded listeners of their
responsibility to witness to people of oth
er races. He cited Pastor Martin Hawkins of Dallas'
Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship as a worthy example of inter-ethnic
evangelism. One of the first African-Americans to graduate
from Dallas Theological Seminary, Hawkins is now involved
in mentoring men in his
church to run for office.
Dr. LaSalle Vaughn of the New Life Christian Center
in San Antonio spoke about the need for churches to
educate Christians about racism from a Christian perspective.
He exhorted the largely Anglo crowd to break free from
the mental chains of racism, and a
ssured that "the word of the Lord will bring social
change." While audience members vocalized support for
the need to "respect difference," a round of silence
followed Dr. Vaughn's unexpected assertion that affirmative
action programs continue to be neede
d to reduce economic inequality among ethnic groups.
In reference to the Million Man March, both Vaughn
and Brown lambasted Louis Farrakhan, admonishing the
Nation of Islam leader for what they view as a shameful,
divisive appropriation of religion.
bring back shame!
The mid-day keynote address was delivered by Texas
Supreme Court Justice Raul Gonzalez, a 'pro-family'
Democrat with a history of Biblically-inspired jurisprudence
and a notable penchant for abortion-related cases.
According to the publication Texas Lawye
r, Gonzales has held a weekly prayer and Bible study
meeting at his court house for the past ten years.
After decrying the practice of condom distribution
in public schools, the Justice blamed elite educators
(Harvard University in particular) for trainin
g students of law to discard the Biblical principals
that formed the "moral anchor" of America's cultural
evolution. "Since Biblical times," he proffered, "activist
Christians have been a disfavored class." Gonzalez'
speech was ridden with 'pro-family' no
n sequiturs. After correlating increases in social
spending with increases in drug use and illiteracy,
he exclaimed, "What are the root causes of crime? Poverty?
Of course not! Family values are the true check against
crime." He suggested that "bring[ing]
back shame" and remorse would work wonders for returning
the country to its holier past.
The afternoon "Hispanic Network" session was conducted
by Manuel and Susie Nabarette, the newly-appointed
Team Directors of the Christian Coalition's newly-established
Hispanic Initiative. Mr. Nabarette acknowledged he
was recruited to help fill the Coali
tion's "need for Hispanic faces," but testified that
the organization is sincerely committed to involving
Hispanics. (The term "Hispanics" was used repeatedly).
Of the seven member seats on the Coalition's board,
he reported, two have been offered to pers
ons of Hispanic heritage. Nabarette explained to the
audience of approximately 15 people that the Coalition
has established a Hispanic Taskforce to spearhead efforts
to encourage political activism among anti-gay, 'pro-life'
Hispanics, thereby facilitatin
g the Coalition's overarching objective of "returning
America to God through a revival of religious belief."
The Coalition has begun holding focus groups to learn
how it might go about, as Alice Patterson instructed,
"building a network of Christians to empower Hispanics."
(Before the Nabarettes came aboard, Patterson was considered
the Texas Coalition's "Hispan
ic expert," though she does not speak Spanish). Listening
to focus group participants has apparently enlightened
Coalition leaders to a number of factors that influence
Latino perceptions of Reed and his ilk. They have learned,
for instance, that many Lat
inos reject the Republican party because they regard
it as the guardian of the interests of the wealthy.
The focus groups have revealed other potential impediments
to the Coalition's "casting of a wider net" based upon
traditional (Western) values. Latino participants have
expressed offense at the Anglo-centered Texan tradition
of glorifying the battle of th
e Alamo. In collective Texan memory, the battle is
historicized through the memorializing of Anglo heroes
like Davy Crockett and William Travis, and the demonizing
of the Mexican army and its leader General Santa Anna.
To aid its outreach efforts, the Coalition plans to
distribute the recently-published Spanish language
edition of its "Contract With the American Family."
"The Contracto con la Familia Americana" is a well-translated
version of the original, nicely printe
d in blue and white ink. In Texas, the Coalition will
also distribute bilingual voters guides and video training
Despite its attempts to present an ethnically diverse,
ideologically unified front, the Christian Coalition's
efforts to expand its membership base to communities
of color rests heavily on ambiguity. The rhetoric of
'racial reconciliation' is easy for Coa
lition members to digest; they are sincere when they
join hands in prayer to ask that the "mental chains
of racism" be broken. Like most Americans, Coalition
activists are ready to condemn the type of racism that
manifests in interpersonal bias. But Coali
tion leaders offer no indication that the organization
intends to confront the economic chains that accompany
institutionalized racism. While the organization has
committed resources to "casting a wider net," it is
unwilling or incapable of educating memb
ers about white privilege and advocating solutions
to entrenched problems of economic disparity, environmental
racism, and employment discrimination.
In the post-mariachi pre-enchilada hour of the all-day
Fiesta, I asked Manuel Nabarette how he thought the
Coalition would be able to attract Latino voters who
have long favored expenditures for welfare, social
services, and bilingual education. He replie
d that he honestly did not know. His hopes for the
Coalition's recruitment efforts are somewhat patronizing,
if well-intended. During the "Hispanic Network" session
he used phrases like "teaching politics" and "telling
them to vote." I wondered if concern
ed Latinos who attended the session will find the Coalition
ideologically amenable as they become more deeply involved.
One man who seemed committed to the "pro-family" tenets
of the Coalition agenda stood up to draw attention
to what he sees as a point of hypocrisy. He introduced
himself as Don Varela and then publicly lamented the
fact that Christians who hold positions
of economic power are sometimes guilty of exploiting
the people who work for them. "Christians, too, own
companies and pay crap," he exclaimed, adding "There
is unequal justice in this country!"
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