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Ed McAteer, pioneer for faith in public policy, dies at 78

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP)–Ed McAteer, who played a leading role in birthing the Religious Right movement, died Oct. 5 in Memphis, Tenn.

McAteer, who was 78, aided Jerry Falwell in founding the Moral Majority during the 1970s, played a key role in introducing evangelicals to Ronald Reagan in 1980 and remained a leading figure in the Religious Right over the years.

Also a resolute supporter of the state of Israel, McAteer was featured in a “60 Minutes” segment on “Zion’s Christian Soldiers” and, in 2001, was touted for the post of U.S. ambassador to Israel.

McAteer, a former sales executive with Colgate-Palmolive who left the business world after nearly 30 years to become a Christian activist, was a Memphis native who accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior at the age of 14.

He had been improving after treatment for cancer but died unexpectedly amid a lighthearted exchange with his wife, Faye, at their home, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported.

In inviting Ronald Reagan to Reunion Arena in Dallas to address a gathering of evangelicals during the 1980 presidential campaign, McAteer gave the Republican nominee a national media opportunity to declare, “I know you can’t endorse me, but I can endorse you.”

Retired Houston judge Paul Pressler, in his 1999 book, “A Hill on Which to Die: One Southern Baptist’s Journey,” recounted:

“Evangelist James Robison and Ed McAteer from Memphis conducted a Public Affairs Briefing in Dallas on August 21 and 22, 1980. At the urging of some friends, I decided to go. I did not expect much, but when I arrived, I found a packed arena, full of enthusiastic individuals hearing great speakers. I went to the phone after the first few hours, called Nancy [his wife], and said, ‘Get a baby-sitter for the children. You must come up here and hear what is going on.’ She flew to Dallas, and we had the opportunity to attend together. This was the first time either of us had met Ronald Reagan. [Dallas businesswoman] Mary Crowley invited us to a reception for him at the Hyatt. Jimmy Carter had been invited to speak but did not attend.”

McAteer’s own journey is recounted in the 2004 book, “The Ed McAteer Story, the Power of One” by Daniel E. Johnson and Thomas and Jonathan Lindberg.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said in a statement to Baptist Press:

“Ed McAteer probably did as much as anyone to awaken the conscience of evangelical Christians and other people of faith to their obligation and responsibility to be the ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in society that Jesus commanded us to be.

“Ed had a tremendous vision for an informed and engaged Christian community in the life of our nation as well as Christians’ responsibility to the state of Israel,” Land said. “His boundless enthusiasm was infectious and energizing. In more than four decades of ministry, I have known no one more committed to our Savior.”

Adrian Rogers, McAteer’s longtime pastor at the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church, said in a statement to Baptist Press:

“Ed McAteer was one of the most remarkable men that I have ever met. A man is known by what he loves. Ed McAteer loved his Lord, loved his wife and family, loved his nation and loved the nation Israel.

“His enthusiasm, zeal and convictions were contagious,” Rogers said. “We are going to miss him, but his influence will go on and on until it touches the shore of eternity.”

Rogers will conduct McAteer’s funeral at 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 8, at Bellevue Baptist in the east-Memphis suburb of Cordova.

Falwell was quoted by the Commercial-Appeal as saying: “Ed, more than anyone else, is responsible for the emergence of the Religious Right in America.”

Falwell said McAteer “encouraged me to use my pulpit to speak out on moral and social issues, and I loved and revered him.”

The newspaper also quoted a local Jewish leader, Andy Groveman, president of the Memphis Jewish Federation, as saying: “Ed has been such a close friend to the Memphis Jewish community and his love and loyalty for the state of Israel is unequaled.”

For the 23rd consecutive year, he organized the “International Christian Prayer Breakfast in Honor of Israel,” held in Memphis in March. Featured speakers were former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who lost his post in a much-publicized dispute over a Ten Commandments monument, and Holocaust survivor Nina Katz, a Polish-born Jew who went to Auschwitz at the age of 11.

The aims of the yearly event, McAteer said, are to “honor Israel, pray for the peace of Jerusalem and allow Bible-believing Christians to express their unconditional love for God’s ancient people.”

In the 60 Minutes segment on Israel, McAteer was called “the Godfather of the Christian Right.”

He founded an organization named the Religious Roundtable in 1979, which encompassed conservative religious leaders and individuals from political, business and military arenas to advocate for biblical values in public policy. The group sponsored numerous large-scale public affairs conferences in various cities across the country over the years.

The push for McAteer as U.S. ambassador to Israel, which subsequently did not succeed, was recounted by Joseph Farah, founder and editor of WorldNetDaily.com, in a March 2001 column.

McAteer’s name was being “whispered in the ears of the Bush administration by a broad array of people who recognize a new approach is needed in the Middle East. He’s not a predictable choice. He’s not a safe choice. But he is certainly not tied to the failed policies of the past.”

Farah noted: “A remarkably diverse coalition of national and local elected officials and Christian and Jewish leaders has sent letters of support on his behalf. These include: Governors Don Sundquist of Tennessee and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, Mayor Willie Herenton of Memphis, Rep. Ed Bryant of Tennessee, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, Americans for a Safe Israel Chairman Herbert Zweibon, Southern Baptist Convention President James Merritt, Rabbi Rafael Grossman, Bush’s Tennessee Chairman David Kustoff, Pastor Adrian Rogers and Thomas Nelson Publishers President Sam Moore.

“Why McAteer?” Farah asked, then quoted Zweibon for an answer: “When Jerusalem’s mayor, Ehud Olmert, remarked some years ago that Ed McAteer ‘should be America’s ambassador to Israel,’ he was right on the mark. He is intimately familiar with the terrain, the issues and the personalities.”

Zweibon quoted McAteer as expressing enthusiastic readiness: “There’s no job on earth, including president of the United States, that I would like more.”

Farah wrote that the ambassador’s job is “too important to be awarded as a political favor [and] too important to be awarded on the basis of … previous diplomatic service. Ed McAteer is not looking for a diplomatic career. He’s looking to serve America in a critical role at a critical time in a mission for which he has been well-prepared.”

In addition to his wife, McAteer is survived by two sons, Edward II and Tim, and six grandchildren. Burial will be in Memphis’ Robertson Cemetery.