Put away the champagne. TV preacher Pat Robertson's recent announcement that he is cutting his ties to the Christian Coalition is significant, but no one should think it spells the end of the Religious Right in America.
Robertson founded the Coalition in 1989 with clear goals. He sought to bulldoze the wall of separation between church and state and forge evangelical Christian churches into a political machine that controlled the government.
Twelve years later, Robertson has achieved much greater success than many anticipated. The leadership of the House of Representatives is stacked with men like Dick Armey, Tom DeLay and J.C. Watts, who kowtow to the Religious Right and were regular fixtures at the Coalition's annual meetings.
President George W. Bush is a Robertson ally who seems to have little understanding of, or use for, the religious liberties guaranteed by the First Amendment. Bush's attorney general, John Ashcroft, is a Religious Right stalwart who was Robertson's first choice for the GOP presidential nomination.
Perhaps most alarmingly, the Supreme Court harbors a four-man bloc that seeks every opportunity to fund religion with tax dollars. One more appointment and every American's religious liberty will be in grave peril.
The Christian Coalition may in fact be a victim of its own success. Some political observers have noted that the Religious Right can hardly rail against "big government" anymore. Many of its activists are firmly entrenched in government slots.
In addition, Robertson's pivotal role in building the Religious Right into a political force has energized groups like Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, Traditional Values Coalition, the American Family Association and Concerned Women for America, which keep up a relentless assault on the church-state wall.
Yet when the history of this period is written, it's not likely to be favorable to Robertson. At a time when America struggled with expanding religious diversity, Robertson launched crude and uninformed attacks against Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, mainline Christians and others.
Instead of helping foster unity, Robertson spewed ugly broadsides against gays, political liberals, Wiccans, humanists and a host of other perceived enemies. Instead of encouraging Americans to live together in peace and respect diversity, Robertson mocked the idea of tolerance and spread a gospel of hate.
Cal Thomas, the former Moral Majority official turned syndicated columnist, made an insightful comment recently about the sagging fortunes of the Christian Coalition.
Thomas, who now regrets his involvement with the Religious Right, wrote, "Things might have been better, if, instead of sending money to the national headquarters of religious leaders and pledging allegiance to their preferred politicians, conservative Christians had been busy feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting those in prison, caring for widows and orphans and most notably absent from the movement loving their enemies."
Things might have been better indeed. But Robertson took the other road. He chose to be a divider, not a uniter, and in the process he betrayed the principles espoused by the very founder of his religion. History will judge him accordingly.
Robertson still has his nationally broadcast television program, so his attacks on church-state separation will proceed uninterrupted. He has vowed to continue to use that TV pulpit to promote his political agenda. In addition, Robertson's empire continues to include the Christian Broadcasting Network, Regent University, multiple international business ventures and his Religious Right legal group, the American Center for Law and Justice.
Is America finally rid of Robertson? Unfortunately, no. We haven't heard the last of him yet.