Wednesday, May 02, 2007
Core Ridge Church Closing Political Arm
Good move. The Church would be better off investing its resources in the works of God, not politicians.
Source: The Miami Herald 05/01/2007
Bringing an end to ambitious goals that included raising $2 million to launch a Capitol Hill lobbying arm, opening a dozen regional offices and recruiting activists in all 435 congressional districts, the Fort Lauderdale-based Center for Reclaiming America has shut its doors.
The conservative organization, part of the Rev. James D. Kennedy's Coral Ridge Ministries, let its eight employees go last week. Coral Ridge also closed its Capitol Hill-based Center for Christian Statesmanship, founded in 1995 to convert lawmakers to evangelical Christianity.
Brian Fisher, executive vice president at Coral Ridge Ministries, said the closings are part of a larger effort to redefine the ministry's mission.
''We believe that by streamlining the operations we will be able to return to our core focus,'' he said.
Fisher said Coral Ridge officials plan to focus on television, radio and Internet, with plans to reach an audience of 30 million by 2012, up from 3 million today.
The closings mark a major shift for Coral Ridge Ministries, which runs the 10,000-member Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church at 5555 N. Federal Hwy. in Fort Lauderdale, television and radio ministries, a seminary and an evangelism training program and has an annual budget of $37 million.
Kennedy, 76, who suffered a heart attack in December, is recovering in a hospital in Michigan.
The change also comes at a pivotal moment for the religious right, which is casting about for a presidential candidate during the most wide-open campaign in more than half a century. The 2006 election delivered a major blow to Republican conservatives in Washington and in Florida, where their favored candidate for governor, Tom Gallagher, was soundly defeated. Earlier that year, a petition drive to put a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage on the ballot fell short, despite the center's efforts.
Kennedy, an internationally renowned evangelist, founded the center more than a decade ago to advance conservative Christian values in state and national politics. But in recent years, the center has struggled to gain broad backing for its efforts to outlaw abortion, ban gay marriage and promote prayer and creationism in schools.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle, who for years has welcomed activists from around the world to the center's annual conference, said politicians seeking to appeal to the center were no longer actively courting Christian conservatives.
''After an election like that, candidates are packaging themselves in the middle, rather than to the right,'' he said. About 1,100 evangelicals -- 300 more than last year -- participated in the center's conference in March.
Naugle said he ''can't help'' but think that the center's closing has something to do with Kennedy's health. ''Certainly he was a driving force and a national recognized leader and, hopefully, his health will allow him to come back strong,'' he said.
Corwin Smidt, executive director of the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., said evangelical groups that are built around a single charismatic leader often struggle in the leader's absence.
''For Kennedy, there's just no figure [to replace him] after he's gone,'' he said. ``These televangelists are able to generate a fair amount of money, but in terms of their institutional longevity, it's really at risk.''
He also sees the closings as part of a broader shift away from politics among Christian conservatives.
''There is a kind of retrenching, a regrouping, a rethinking among conservative Christians,'' Smidt said. ``Some people are saying for Christians to be involved in politics, we have to be much more aware of a variety of issues.''
Jennifer Hancock, associate director of the Humanists of Florida Association, said the closings offered evidence that Christian conservatives are losing some of their political clout.
''It's good news for us, and I think its good news for people who care about democracy,'' she said. ``These people were promoting theocracy in America.''
But Gary Cass, who had been the center's executive director for three years, said he plans to stay at the forefront of Christian activism.
''The fight continues because our cause has not changed and the stakes are so high,'' he said.