Rev. Joel Hunter, president-elect of the Christian Coalition of America, is declining the job, saying the organization wouldn't let him expand its agenda beyond opposing abortion and gay marriage. A statement issued by the group said Hunter left because of "differences in philosophy and vision."
Hunter said he was not asked to leave. But, he says, he had wanted to focus on issues such as poverty and the environment.
Hunter is the senior pastor at an influential mega church in Orlando, Fla. He is a leader in other national evangelical organizations, and he supports the Christian Coalition's anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage positions.
But as the author of a book called Right Wing, Wrong Bird: Why the Tactics of the Religious Right Won't Fly With Most Conservative Christians, even Hunter admits he wasn't the natural choice to head the group.
Nevertheless, when Hunter accepted the job as president of the Christian Coalition last summer, he says he was reassured that the organization would support his efforts to expand the Coalition's agenda beyond the so-called moral issues of abortion and gay marriage.
"At first it seemed like they were open to that," Hunter says. "But when it came down to it, they just couldn't quite go there. The phrase that was used was, 'Those are fine issues, but it's just not us, that's not our base.'"
The Christian Coalition, founded by evangelical leader Pat Robertson in 1989, was an influential political force through the 1990s. But the group has lost influence in recent years as major state chapters have splintered off and the organization grapples with financial problems.
The group's next move is unclear. Religious scholars say there is plenty of room for Christian political organizations with both narrow and broad agendas. But if the Coalition is going to be a leader in the modern evangelical movement, it's going to have to get a clearer picture of its mission, mandate -- and in the meantime, find a new president.