Christian Coalition's next leader withdraws

President-elect resigns in dispute over agenda

November 29, 2006|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

The president-elect of the Christian Coalition of America announced yesterday that he was stepping down, saying the group appeared to balk at his proposals to focus on environmental and anti-poverty issues rather than on purely "moralistic" issues such as abortion.

The Rev. Joel C. Hunter, who was to have succeeded Roberta Combs on Jan. 1, said his departure was sparked by "just a basic philosophical difference."

"I saw an opportunity to really broaden the conversation and broaden the constituency. I'm really over this whole polarization thing," said Hunter, pastor of a megachurch in central Florida and the author of Right Wing, Wrong Bird: Why the Tactics of the Religious Right Won't Fly With Most Conservative Christians. "I think the board just got scared."

Combs, who is also chairman of the group's board of directors, said that the board is willing to branch out from the coalition's signature issues of abortion and gay marriage. But she said Hunter was acting too fast without consulting his superiors.

Hunter said he volunteered his resignation during a Nov. 21 board meeting; Combs said the board invited him to resign.

Combs said Hunter failed to notify the board before announcing an initiative in October to combat global warming. The board favored the idea but wanted "to survey our donors and see where they stand," she said. "We want them to come with us and not leave us."

Founded by televangelist Pat Robertson in 1989, the coalition has struggled in recent years as some members have complained it has ignored its core mission of supporting conservative Christian values. Chapters in Iowa, Alabama and Ohio have left the organization this year.

Hunter, 58, had accepted the post in July. As senior pastor at Northland, A Church Distributed, which uses teleconferencing to allow its 7,000 members to worship together, he had called for a new approach to religious politics.

"Conservative Christians need to be more ambidextrous than just `right' or `left' oriented," he wrote in his book. "The Bible is more holistic, more fulfilling to all of life's needs rather than heavy-handed on what is morally right or compassionately left."

In an interview yesterday, Hunter said the board initially signed off on this approach but appeared to get cold feet. He said they also backtracked on supporting his vision for the group to focus more on grass-roots organizing rather than on Washington-based advocacy.

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