In a move that has been criticized as lacking racial sensitivity, the Christian Coalition has distributed a sample of an election pamphlet with photographs depicting a fictitious white candidate espousing views favored by the conservative religious organization and another fictional candidate, who is black, opposing them.
Christian Coalition officials, who, in recent months, have sought to improve relations with blacks, said they were embarrassed and chagrined by the sample pamphlet and declared they would insure that no more of them would be sent out.
Ralph Reed, the group’s executive director, said that he had faxed a letter of apology to the head of the branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Texas, where the sample had been widely distributed.
He added that he had tried, so far without success, to call civil rights leaders such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Kweisi Mfume, the national leader of the NAACP, to express his regret over the incident.
The pamphlet is a sample of the evangelical group’s 1996 voter guide for state and congressional elections. On the cover is a picture of “John Doe.”
Under his photograph are positions he champions: support for a balanced budget amendment, backing of vouchers to allow parents to send children to private and religious schools, support for school prayer and opposition to “homosexual adoption of children.”
All the positions taken by John Doe are in line with those advocated by the Christian Coalition.
Across the page from Doe is a picture of a black candidate, “Joe Sample.” He supports “abortion on demand,” opposes term limits for Congress, supports “taxpayer funding of obscene art” and opposes every position the coalition favors.
“I think it’s outrageous,” said Wade Henderson, executive director of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, a coalition of liberal organizations that lobbies on economic and equality issues. “It obviously is intended to send a not-so-subtle message about the coalition’s attitude towards black candidates, which I think is troubling.”
In a telephone interview, Reed said that the sample was prepared by a private company and that its distribution had been approved by a low-level employee who had seen only a poor quality fax that was so dark that the race of the candidates could not easily be discerned.
He said that none of his group’s top officials had seen the pamphlet before it was distributed. “It was a mistake made by an outside vendor and not by any member of the Christian Coalition staff,” Reed said. “It was wrong. It should not have happened. I was personally offended by the characterization of an African-American candidate in this way. As someone who grew up in the South, I am extremely sensitive to the use of race in this manner. I have zero tolerance for political race-baiting of any kind, no matter how subtle.”