- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 6, 2001

The Rev. Pat Robertson resigned yesterday as president and board member of the Christian Coalition, the grass-roots organization he founded 12 years ago that helped make Christian conservatives a political force.
"I would rather be active in spiritual ministry than engaged in political activity anymore. My active participation as a member of the Christian Coalition has come to an end," Mr. Robertson, 71, said in an interview with the Associated Press.
The religious broadcaster founded the Christian Coalition in 1989, a year after his failed bid for the Republican nomination for president.
Roberta Combs, who was elected to succeed Mr. Robertson as coalition president, served as South Carolina state director of Mr. Robertson's 1988 presidential campaign. Mrs. Combs served as executive vice president of the Christian Coalition before being elected president yesterday by the board of directors.
Mr. Robertson will focus his energies on being chairman and CEO of the Christian Broadcasting Network.
The Christian Coalition spearheaded the rise of the religious right in the 1990s. It was seen as a dominant force in the 1994 congressional elections. But in recent years it has been rocked by financial debt, lawsuits, the loss of experienced political leaders and gaffes by Mr. Robertson. And there are doubts about how effective it will be under Mrs. Combs' leadership.
Marshall Wittman, who served as director of legislative affairs for the Christian Coalition during its heyday from 1993 to 1995, said yesterday: "Pat Robertson was the catalyst for the growth of the modern conservative right. But he was also one of the factors in its demise."
Mr. Robertson was widely criticized for implying on "The 700 Club" that the United States brought the September 11 terrorist attacks on itself by abandoning God.
But others with former ties to the Christian Coalition said Mr. Robertson caused a much greater stir among pro-life conservatives in his organization when he seemed to defend China's forced-abortion practices in anApril CNN interview.
"I don't agree with it, but at the same time, they've got 1.2 billion people, and they don't know what to do," he said on "Wolf Blitzer Reports."
Mr. Wittman attributed the former strength the Christian Coalition to two key factors: the leadership capabilities of Ralph Reed, who left the organization in 1997 to head a Republican political consulting firm in Atlanta; and to the "opportunities provided [Republicans] by the Clinton administration."
Said Robert L. Maginnis, vice president of policy for the Family Research Council: "Anyone who watches the Christian Coalition knows it doesn't have a big profile these days."
Lone Dilly, head of the Iowa Christian Coalition until she quit recently, said in an interview that Mr. Robertson's departure will make "no difference" at this point in reversing the organization's decline.
In a statement yesterday, Mrs. Combs said: "Pat Robertson's vision and tremendous sacrifice to give Christians a seat at the table was the inspiration for millions who are now in their communities actively defending America's Godly heritage."
Mrs. Combs pledged to "redouble my efforts in the coming year to train and mobilize grass-roots activists" and to continue distribution of "our successful nonpartisan voter guides and congressional score cards to Americans nation wide prior to the 2002 elections."
But some are wary of having Mrs. Combs at the helm of the troubled organization. "She's primarily been responsible for driving off the national office staff and state leaders. There's been a 100 percent turnover in the national office staff over the past three years," said Charles H. Cunningham, former director of voter registration and director of national operations for the Christian Coalition.
"She has a problem with her people skills," Mr. Cunningham said of the organization's new president.
Ralph Z. Hallow contributed to this report.

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