Paul Weyrich
December 3, 2004
The Arlington Group
By Paul Weyrich

In the middle 1990s Mike Valerio, who had been mentoring conservative leaders for a couple of decades, made the case that we needed to bring leaders of the religious right together so they could work together and become a more powerful force. What he said made sense so I agreed to undertake the project. I sent out an invitation to all of the major leaders of what often is termed the "Religious Right" to attend an organizing session at the Free Congress Foundation. To my pleasant surprise nearly all of them came. We had what I thought was an excellent organizing meeting. In fact it went so well that it seemed to me it had upon it the hand of Divine Providence.

It is a fact of contemporary Washington that if more than three people meet to discuss anything one of them ends up speaking to the media. Sure enough, soon after this first meeting I received a call from The New York Times, which had been fairly accurately informed about the discussions in the meeting. The article that resulted from the interview with me and others was almost positive but it prompted some in the group to begin to question whether or not I was the correct person to lead the group. (In point of fact, I offered to step aside after completing the initial organizational activities but the group insisted that I continue as Chairman). Word was I was out to dictate to other groups how they should use their resources. Nothing could have been further from the truth, but in politics perception is greater than reality. So after some additional attempts to keep the group together, which were unsuccessful, I withdrew.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago: I received an e-mail from the Rev. Don Wildmon, of the American Family Association (AFA). After having built a force of folks dedicated to saving the family, Wildmon went on to acquire radio stations, especially in the South and Southwest. On these stations he beamed Christian programming, including a program on public affairs originating at AFA headquarters in Tupelo, MS. Wildmon's e-mail suggested that we were facing daunting social problems. He correctly said if we all went our separate ways we would not amount to much. However, if we could all sing off the same sheet of music, we could be a significant force. He suggested a meeting and one of the participants provided meeting facilities in the condo complex where she lived, which is across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.

Neither Wildmon nor any of the rest of us had any idea if this effort to get the principals of the Religious Right together for the purpose of working together would succeed. Some groups are rivals of each other. Others never had worked together with anyone. Plus, on the right there is a streak of individualism which causes leaders of groups not to want to cooperate with other leaders.

Whatever the drawbacks, mainly because of the non-threatening leadership of Rev. Wildmon, the first meeting was a success.

The meeting has grown from there. Of course the effort, known now as the Arlington Group, even though we now meet in Washington, D.C., has had its ups and downs. It has been mainly up, however. People of all denominations and backgrounds are now participating. A major development occurred when the Rev. Bill Owens joined the Executive Committee. Rev. Owens is a Black pastor who is dedicated to eliminating the differences between Blacks and Whites as they approach public policy. His most frequently repeated line is, "These are not Black or White issues. These are Christian issues." He has brought many powerful Black pastors with him. The latest to join the Arlington Group is Bishop Keith Butler, who presides over Protestant churches all over the U.S.A. and even abroad. His own parish in Detroit, MI has some 16,000 members.

The level of trust and cooperation among members of the group has been increasing. Early on the group agreed to work on the marriage issue. Indeed the effort to put marriage on the ballot in eleven States emanated from the Arlington Group. And the resources to go full-tilt in Ohio were raised from participants in the group. Heavyweights such as Gary Bauer of the American Values Committee, Richard Land of the Southern Baptists and Dr. James Dobson are regular participants. Indeed, the group asked Dr. Dobson to be its National Chairman.

The Arlington Group has adopted the coalition style of operations which was pioneered by the Free Congress Foundation more than thirty years ago. There is no formal structure. The meeting is by invitation only. Participants must represent something larger than themselves. The Chairman, with the assistance of the fulltime staff, sets the agenda. But any member can have a matter considered by the group. The meetings are not secret but they are off the record. (You can't get 70 people together and keep it a secret, however, you can ask people to keep to themselves what is said within the room.)

It works. Shannon Royce, who for many years worked for the Southern Baptists in Washington, is the very capable Executive Director. The meetings are dynamic. They are filled with up-to-date information. While the debates on tactical or even strategic questions are often very lively, when a consensus is reached we move forward. There are no votes other than to see which way the group is leaning on a tactic. It works because no group seeks to force any other group to spend its resources. Rather each group uses its resources toward the common objective as it sees fit. There is neither power play nor effort to undercut the majority by those whose views may not have been adopted. Participants look forward to, rather then dread, the meetings.

The group has been very encouraged by the eleven victories on the marriage issue from one end of the country to the other. For now the group intends to keep its focus on the marriage issue. Part of the effort of the group is educational, part is lobbying. Some groups have PACs. For those legislators who remain uneducable or un-persuadable there is always the ballot box. Partisan elections (as opposed to issue elections) are not an effort of the Arlington Group but there are those participants who have candidate election capabilities and no doubt will use them in due course.

I have the privilege of serving on the Executive Committee of the Arlington Group. I have never worked with a finer group of people. Each one approaches this effort with a prayerful disposition and an open mind.

Would that every policy effort in which I engage could have people with the same attitude. Clearly the participants of the Arlington Group approach life with an attitude of: "How can we contribute to the common good?"

Only God knows what we will be able to accomplish or how long we will be together. For now, the Arlington Group is the one bright spot in the body politick. It is a group of men and women, the leaders of the values voters, who seek to stem the tide of the cultural decline of this once great nation. They are reasonable yet they don't believe in compromise when compromise is not absolutely required. They are tough yet they are all-giving toward the poor and less fortunate. They think in cosmic terms yet they are not utopian. It is so wonderful to be associated with them. As we say in the tradition of the Eastern Church: "May God grant them many years!"

© Paul Weyrich


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Paul Weyrich

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation... (more)

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