Right Wing of God
[Don Hodel, national president of the Christian Coalition, spoke to a gathering of local supporters and activists this fall in Sacramento, Calif. ]The Christian Coalition claims a national membership of 1.8 million, with 3,600 members in Sacramento county. The group uses a grassroots approach to voter education and mobilization, distributing voter guides that inform coalition members of government representatives' stands on issues. Top items on the coalition's political agenda include opposition to civil rights protection for gay and lesbian Americans, opposition to abortion and support for the reinstatement of Christian prayer in public schools. Recent political victories include the defeat of several gay rights bills, which would "introduce gay rights in various guises and disguises," Finn said.A former energy secretary and secretary of the interior under President Ronald Reagan, Hodel succeeded Ralph Reed as Coalition president last June. In doing so, he has inherited leadership of an organization criticized by many for using the nostalgic concept of "family values" to disguise homophobic and anti-feminist agendas.Hodel spoke to News & Review reporter Amy Paris following the Sacramento luncheon.Amy Paris: Do you agree that there should be a separation of church and state?Don Hodel: Let me rephrase that. I do not believe there should be a state-established religion, which is what the Founding Fathers believed. I think to exclude all mention of God and religion from the public arena is a big mistake.Paris: Do you think that the laws of the country should be informed by religion?Hodel: Yes, and they have been, and are.Paris: Which religion?Hodel: Well, all of the laws against murder and stealing and lying, and most of the laws on contracts, are based on the Ten Commandments. There is no law in this country of that type today that doesn't have a value system, and currently, even still, the Ten Commandments tend to be that value system.Paris: Do you think that the Judeo-Christian value system should continue to be the one that informs our laws?Hodel: The Ten Commandments were set forth in the Old Testament. They were given by God to Moses, as you know. Those Ten Commandments, and the things that flow from that, as informed by Christian faith, have provided more freedom and opportunity than any other mechanism in the history of mankind.I studied government in college. One of the big philosophical issues was, how can you have a democracy and be free? Freedom and democracy are truly incompatible if you truly believe that the majority rules, because then a 50 percent plus one vote can determine absolutely to take away the rights of the minority. That didn't happen in the country because even the majority in this country was informed by a sense of fairness and justice which was beyond the written law.Paris: Can you tell me what "family values" means?Hodel: We believe that the family is the cornerstone of a free society. That for this society to survive, most of its citizens need to grow up in a family, where they are civilized by the family. People are not born civilized. Especially this is true of boys. And we need to be civilized by our family. We need to learn how to live with other people.Paris: What do you mean when you say this is especially true of boys?Hodel: Well, I think that it's clear that young men have a tendency to be more aggressive. On average -- you know, these are always averages, but on average -- that's probably the case. The rough edges need to be knocked off by a family and a society which reinforces the family.Paris: Is there a place in this society for people who don't fit into a traditional nuclear family? For example, single men and women, unmarried partnerships and gay partnerships?Hodel: This society, again, has been freer in that regard than any society in history.Paris: Is that a good thing?Hodel: I think that's a good thing. Now, I don't agree with some of those lifestyles. I think that they are destructive for the individuals involved in the long run. History has tended to show us that. Paris: Which historical examples are you referring to?Hodel: Well, I think that going back to the nuclear family is where you find the greatest strength for a society. So, where you have other relationships, they are less constructive for the society. You should certainly be encouraging people to be a family and stay as a family and not slide in and out of relationships.Paris: Then is it OK to regulate that person's behavior, even if they believe that they are acting according to their conscience?Hodel: Absolutely. If you believe it's all right to kill people, then society has every right to tell you you can't kill people.Paris: What if I feel that I have the right to abortion or gay marriage?Hodel: If the society says that it is all right, then it is legal for you to do that. I happen to believe that the society should say that it is not all right to do that, because I believe that life begins at conception, and so for me, and many other people in this country -- in fact, the majority of people in this country -- life begins at conception.Paris: The Supreme Court, which is an interpreter of our societal values, has said that women have the right to abortion. Is the Supreme Court not a voice of this society?Hodel: We're saying that in a free, democratic society, a majority of the people should have the right to say what the laws are. The Supreme Court, in our opinion, has perverted the Constitution and found in it rights which were never intended by the Founding Fathers, and [which are] destructive in the long term to our society. And therefore, there ought to be a constitutional amendment which says they're wrong.Paris: Do you think the Bible prescribes an inferior role for women?Hodel: Absolutely not. Absolutely not.Paris: What about a woman who chooses not to have children?Hodel: That's absolutely within her right. This is a free society. This is the point that I keep trying to get back to. We do not mean, by a free society, license. There are some lines beyond which we cannot go. If we are to live together, we have to have rules. Those rules are made by people so we can live together. But substantially, people are free to determine what their own relationship will be to each other and to God. But if somebody does not believe in the right to property, we would strongly oppose them trying to pass legislation saying you don't have a right to own property, and anybody can take your property if they want to. We'd say that's wrong. And we're just going to fight that, as long as we can.Paris: The people at this luncheon were all from similar backgrounds -- namely, white and middle class. What sort of things is the Christian Coalition doing to incorporate people of other ethnicities, cultural backgrounds and socioeconomic situations?Hodel: Two years ago, Ralph Reed commenced Save Our Churches, which was a fundraising program that put nearly $1 million dollars into the rebuilding of black churches that had been burned. That grew into the Samaritan Project, which is aimed at providing assistance totaling $10 million for inner-city minority people. Ralph has gone out of his way to make that point, and we are carrying on in that same vein.During the civil rights movement, many in the evangelical Christian movement were not active and visible in support of that movement, and that was a mistake, in [Reed's] opinion, and we are attempting to show that we care about people of all colors and ethnicities as our brothers and sisters. There's a lot of concern and suspicion in ethnic communities about whether this is genuine. That's just a matter of time. I think we just have to prove over time that we're serious.Paris: You were talking about the parents' role in civilizing children. Obviously, everybody has different parental structures and family situations ... do you trust that we will all come out in a civilized manner?Hodel: On average, it works out fairly well. On average. It's just like a jury system -- on average, it's probably better. You can look at all the mistakes a jury system makes, and all the mistakes that parents raising children can make, and I defy you to come up with anything that will work as well.In the case of the family, on average, a mother and father, trying their best, no matter how mistaken they may be, bringing you up in a way that will permit you to fit into society, to work and be productive and live a fulfilling and happy life, on average is going to be the best.