How political fortunes change. Just two years ago, the Republicans swept the 1994 midterm elections and declared the beginning of a new conservative "revolution." Newt Gingrich, the most powerful man in the new Washington and self-proclaimed leader of the revolution, was seemingly omnipresent in the media.
Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition claimed credit for the Republican success and purported to speak for all or most Christians. Reed proudly announced his organization to be "a permanent fixture on the political landscape for people of faith."
As I write 19 months later, the Republican candidate for president is 20 points behind in the polls and there is talk about the possibility of the Democrats retaking both the House and the Senate. Republican candidates distance themselves from Gingrich, their former philosopher king. Reed has become a principal Republican Party operative (a "ward boss," as one evangelical leader recently described it), and the Christian Coalition played a decisive role in anointing Bob Dole as the party's presidential candidate, only to have the consummate compromiser waffle on some of their most important issues, like abortion.
Other things have changed as well. Because of efforts like the Call to Renewal, Reed now admits the Coalition doesn't speak for all Christians and has admirably counseled his followers to a greater "civility" in their political holy warfare. Most important, key evangelical Christian leaders are turning away from the Religious Right. The highly politicized Christian Coalition has gained considerable power, but at the cost of moral credibility among a growing number of church leaders. When all is said and done, most Christian leaders, regardless of their political leanings, prefer a politics more independent, spiritual, and prophetic than one that is too partisan, ideological, and caught up with the pursuit of power.