The Milton S. Eisenhower
Like a preacher taking the pulpit, the youthful Ralph Reed,
who recently stepped down as executive director of the Christian
Coalition, took center stage at Shriver Hall last Thursday night,
drawing another large audience to the Milton S. Eisenhower
Symposium, "In God We Trust? America's Response to the Rise of
In Reed's near-capacity audience, members of a wide spectrum of religious beliefs sat shoulder to shoulder, testifying, perhaps, to the importance of religion in society.
"As the American century draws to a close American people do not believe that our interests are measured by Dow Jones, Wall Street or other economic systems," Reed said in his sermon-like talk on the religious right. "But the interests of the American people are measured by the moral fibers of our people, leaders, communities and churches."
Reed said that the American public wanted to hear discussions about cultural and spiritual concerns. School prayer, crime, welfare, illegitimacy, abortion and drugs have become growing concerns in the minds of the people. Reed believes that the public keeps these concerns in mind at election time, suggesting that the religious agenda has shifted from the left to the right in the political arena.
He praised President Clinton saying, "Clinton's re-election was a historic achievement." With this re-election has come a new voting psychology. Americans care more about policies affecting their families.
"Bill Clinton is the most culturally conservative Democrat in our history," Reed said pointing out Clinton's proposed tax cuts aimed at families, his signing of the Republican welfare reform bill, support for voluntary school prayer and school uniforms, and his war waged against tobacco and drugs.
Reed suggested that since the psychology of the people has changed, policies in government have been implemented to reflect the concerns of the people.
"And there are still those people who say religion and politics don't mix," Reed joked.
Although many in the audience responded warmly to Reed's point, the message was not exactly met with all hallelujahs and amens. Some booed, others groaned, and some simply shook their heads and laughed.
But this "disciple and follower of Jesus Christ," as he called himself, preached on showing how religion has been in the foreground of many political movements throughout the most turbulent times in our history.
"It was Christians who told our Southern brothers that slavery was wrong and that God would judge their acts," he said. "It was Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. who pioneered the SCLC and the success of the civil rights movement that changed the social face of our nation.
"Now that we have fought fascism and communism and made the world safe for democracy we must focus on building a cohesive society within this democracy," he said.
Clearly, Reed's idea of a cohesive society reflects his religious views. To him it makes sense that religion ought to blend into every crevice of daily life including politics, family and schools.
"I believe in a society where parents are honored. Where children are seen as blessings not burdens. Where there is protection for human life from the cradle to the grave," he said.
Reed also explicitly stated that he opposed assisted suicide, abortion and homosexuality. He was in favor of building more prisons, rehabilitating prisoners, implementing national tests to see if children are actually learning in the public school systems, and fighting the repression of religious freedom in foreign countries such as China.
"They tell Christians like me to return to our stained glass ghettos. They tell us that we should not be a part of the decision-making process," he said. "They call us anti this and anti that simply because they are losing the fight us against us."
Suggesting that politically religious-minded leaders and constituents will not go away, Reed added that "the traditional society should be according to a moral code, and there should be no deviations from that moral code."
Among those deviations he listed divorce, out-of-wedlock births and same-sex marriages. "When the family goes so does the nation," he said.
Reed gave his "benediction" by reiterating his main point that religion and religious activists will continue to be an important force in politics for a long time, "so you better get used to us," he said.
The audience, however, did not "go in peace and serve the Lord" thereafter. Immediately following his closing students filed into the aisles eager to challenge this young conservative who has become increasingly influential in local and national politics.
One student asked Reed if he had ever made attempts to engage in dialogue with homosexuals and how he felt about the position of Christians who were proud homosexuals.
"Yes, we have sat down and talked. I've talked with many leaders of the movement," he said and quickly moved to the next question.
"Do you consider yourself a man of God?" A Jewish student wearing a yarmulke asked.
"I am a follower of Jesus first, then a husband and father, and a political man last," Reed responded.
Just outside Shriver Hall dozens of students gathered to peacefully protest Reed's politics. They held signs with messages such as, "God gave us the Bible and a brain, let's use both," and "Dear God please save me from Ralph Reed."
The next symposium event is a forum on the future of religion in America, scheduled for 8 p.m. in Shriver Hall on Tuesday, Sept. 23. The next speaker in the series is Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, who will speak on the Supreme Court and its decisions on religious practice. That is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 29.
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