Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, whose Moral Majority organization is credited with aiding Ronald Reagan’s 1980 election, announced yesterday the formation of the Faith and Values Coalition to build on the “values voters” who last week helped re-elect President Bush.

Calling the new coalition a “21st-century Moral Majority,” Mr. Falwell said the group aims to maintain the momentum that led to impressive gains for social conservatives Nov. 2, when voters in 11 states passed amendments banning same-sex “marriage” and Republicans expanded their majorities in both houses of Congress.

Founded in 1979, the Moral Majority was a pioneering force in organizing the religious right during the Reagan era.

Since the Moral Majority disbanded in 1989, Mr. Falwell said, he has been “inundated” with requests to “finish what you started 25 years ago.” He added, “I can honestly say I feel the leading of the Holy Spirit to answer that call.”

Thus, he is “committed to lending my influence to help send out at least 40 million evangelical voters in 2008,” he said. “The thought of a Hillary Clinton or John Edwards presidency is simply unacceptable and quite frightening.”

The 71-year-old pastor will chair the organization, which will be based in Lynchburg, Va., where Mr. Falwell leads Thomas Road Baptist Church and is chancellor of Liberty University. The new coalition has a database of 300,000 names, but no budget. Its Web site,, will be launched today, an official said.

Mathew Staver, president of the Orlando-based Liberty Counsel, will be the vice chairman. The Rev. Jonathan Falwell, Mr. Falwell’s second-oldest son, will be executive director. Tim LaHaye — co-author of the best-selling apocalyptic “Left Behind” fiction series — will be the board chairman.

Mr. Falwell said the organization will aim to confirm pro-life and strict-constructionist federal judges, pass a federal marriage amendment to the Constitution, and pave the way toward election of a like-minded president in 2008.

“The time is right because election polls showed that marriage and morality are a mandate,” Mr. Staver said.

The coalition aims to include Jews, Catholics, Mormons and other groups not usually associated with evangelical Protestants. One Catholic strategist said that, if successful, it will definitely stir up Virginia politics.

“Will the new people he brings in outweigh the people who will be turned off and end up voting Democrat?” asked state Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a conservative Republican. “The older Democrats will use Jerry Falwell’s presence to paint all us Republicans as bad people.”

Although no other evangelical organizations — such as the Family Research Council, the Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family — or evangelists Pat Robertson, D. James Kennedy or Franklin Graham have signed on with the new coalition, Mr. Staver said he hopes they will join.

The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, was skeptical of whether the new group will succeed.

“Falwell keeps threatening to reanimate the Moral Majority,” Mr. Lynn said. “Has he never seen an old horror movie? Every time they bring Frankenstein’s monster back, it just gets worse.”

He added, “Some things should be left dead and buried.”

John Green, a political science professor at the University of Akron, said Mr. Falwell’s group could benefit Christian conservatives.

“With the decline of the Christian Coalition, there isn’t another organization to represent the interests of Christians outside the Republican Party,” he said. “Not all the goals of the Republican Party are the same as that of the Christian activists.”

However, among the nation’s 26.5 million evangelicals, Mr. Falwell’s favorability ratings are the lowest among major religious leaders, according to a poll conducted last spring of 1,610 adults by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. His 44.1 percent favorability rating fell below that of Mr. Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network (54.2 percent), Pope John Paul II (59.4 percent), Mr. Graham (73.1 percent) and Focus on the Family founder James Dobson (73.3 percent).

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