Christian right avatar softens message for Guilford College

by Jordan Green

Ralph Reed, an icon of the conservative Christian movement that has reshaped politics in the United States over the past 25 years, brought a moderated message to a liberal audience at Guilford College’s Dana Auditorium on Sept. 15.

‘“We should accommodate the voice of faith in the public square,’” he said. ‘“Faith is not a threat to democracy. Faith is essential to democracy.’”

Reed served as director of the Christian Coalition from 1989 to 1997, making the Christian right the formidable electoral that force that helped the Republican Party win control of the House of Representatives in 1994 and created the core constituency that President Bush would embrace a half decade later.

Reed, a candidate for lieutenant governor in Georgia, chaired the Bush-Cheney campaign for the southeastern region during the 2004 election. As chairman of the Georgia Republican Party in 2002, he helped elect Sen. Saxby Chambliss and Gov. Sonny Perdue.

Reed’s opening remarks seemed intended to disarm his liberal audience as he praised Guilford College as ‘“a school that was a way station on the Underground Railroad and a school that sheltered Japanese Americans during the shameful internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.’”

Reed posited the Second Great Awakening, a historical era of religious revival in the early 19th century, as the wellspring of the American social justice tradition that gave birth to the antislavery movement, the temperance movement, campaigns to give women the right to vote and the civil rights movement. What he called the pro-life and pro-family movements are the current culmination of that tradition, he said.

He defended the idea of placing the Ten Commandments in public courthouses and criticized single-parent families, but his statement on reproductive choice seemed designed to allay liberal fears that the right to abortion could be overturned by the next Supreme Court.

‘“I think Roe v. Wade ‘— whether one agrees with it or not ‘— is likely to be the law of the land for the foreseeable future,’” he said. He added that he thinks the number of abortions should be reduced.

After his talk, which lasted about 45 minutes, Reed answered pre-submitted questions, then abruptly waved goodbye and headed for a side door.

– Jordan Green