January 2007 Church & State | People & Events

A sense of turmoil continues to plague the Christian Coalition (CC). In the latest sign of instability, the once-powerful Religious Right group dismissed its new president after only two months on the job.

Christian Coalition Chairman Roberta Combs announced the appointment of Dr. Joel C. Hunter, pastor of Northland Church, an interdenominational congregation near Orlando, Fla., to the volunteer position in October. The announcement attracted attention since Hunter is not a national figure. Reporters soon began looking into his background, and what they found indicated he might not last long at the Coalition.

Hunter is a moderate evangelical known primarily for his involvement in a group that urges conservative Christians to take global warming more seriously. Hunter also has a history of urging evangelicals to pay more attention to issues like poverty and social justice – not often matters of concern to the Coalition.

Perhaps most damningly, Hunter turned out to be a political maverick. He describes himself as an independent and even self-published a book titled Right Wing, Wrong Bird: Why the Tactics of the Religious Right Won’t Fly With Most Con­servative Christians.

Unlike the Christian Coalition, Hunter does not reflexively bash Demo­crats. In an FAQ on his church’s Web site, Hunter responds to the question “Is it possible to be a believing evangelical and vote Democratic?” by writing, “It’s not only possible, at times it’s advisable on many issues.”

In November, Combs and Hunter met and apparently decided it was best to part ways.

 “When it came right down to it, when we were ready for the transition, we had a meeting to make sure we were on the same page and we weren’t,” Hunter told Religion News Service.

Hunter added, “I wanted to expand the agenda from only the moral issues, the pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, that kind of thing, to the compassion issues of Christ – poverty and justice, creation care. Because if we are going to care for the vulnerable, we ought to care as much about the vulnerable outside the womb as inside the womb.”

Combs insisted those issues are of concern to the CC but disagreed with Hunter on how to deal with them.

“We care about the needy and we care about the environment…but it’s just a way that you go about it with our organization,” Combs said.

Hunter is the second top executive to depart the Coalition after a few weeks. In September of 2005, Combs announced that Jason T. Christy, editor of a publication called The Church Report, had been named the Coalition’s executive director. Christy resigned three weeks later.

Christy told The Washington Post he stepped down after determining that Combs is “a micro-manager” with “a narcissistic leadership style.”

Founded by TV preacher Pat Robert­son in 1990, the Christian Coalition has been on a downward spiral since Repub­li­can operative Ralph Reed left in 1997. Staff has come and gone, and the group’s budget has plummeted. Robert­son severed ties to the group in December of 2001.

Combs now runs the Coalition from Charleston, S.C., although a lobbyist remains behind in Washington, D.C.