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Christian groups with similar names create confusion in state

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — It’s like an episode of the television show “To Tell the Truth.” Only this time the question is, “Will the real Christian Coalition please stand up?”

Some legislators expressed surprise when the new chairman of the Christian Coalition of Alabama, Randy Brinson, spoke out recently in favor of a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize electronic bingo machines at greyhound race tracks in Mobile and Birmingham.

The confusion grew when former Christian Coalition leaders sent out letters opposing the bill and separating themselves from the current organization.

“I see a lot of confusion over the two groups. I see them as two ships going in different directions,” said Rep. David Grimes, R-Montgomery.

The confusion stems from last year when former state president John Giles and other Christian Coalition leaders split from the national organization and named their group Christian Action Alabama.

National Christian Coalition officials in December named Brinson their state chairman.

Giles said the split was because the national group had “turned to the left” and changed its priorities. Brinson said the split was more the result of a dispute about how Giles’ group was handling a voter guide the organization distributed through churches before elections.

Brinson is a Montgomery physician and founder of Redeem the Vote, a group based in Montgomery
that urges young people of faith to vote.

Differences between the two groups became apparent earlier this month when Brinson spoke before a House committee in favor of the bill that would legalize the electronic bingo machines at the two tracks. Before that day was over, Giles and Christian Action chairman Bob Russell had sent out memos blasting the bingo bill and criticizing Brinson’s position.

Brinson said he favors the bill because it would shut down illegal electronic gaming machines across the state and confine gambling to the state’s four greyhound tracks. The electronic bingo machines are already legal at tracks in Greene and Macon counties.

Brinson later said the Christian Coalition does not approve of gambling in any form.

“We are aware of the tremendous social costs of gambling,” Brinson said. But he said he believes the bill, by Rep. Marcel Black, D-Tuscumbia, would stop the spread of gambling by shutting down electronic gaming machines in gas stations, convenience stores and other locations. “If we sit idly by and don’t do anything, these machines will spread across the state.”

Giles said the split about the bingo bill shows the fundamental differences between the organization he once headed and the current Christian Coalition.

“Anytime anyone uses the name of Christ in their organization and runs afoul of the conventional principal of a pro-family organization it brings about a great bit of concern,” said Giles, who has gone into private business, but is still a member of the board of Christian Action Alabama.

“Every pro-family group opposes the bingo bill except one, and it’s not a pro-family group anymore. It’s one man and a name,” Giles said of Brinson and the Christian Coalition.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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