WASHINGTON — The Rev. Jerry Falwell, president of the Moral Majority since he founded it in 1979, said Friday that the conservative Christian lobbying group is being absorbed by the Liberty Federation, a new organization with a broad charter to deal with political as well as moral issues.
"We have found ourselves drawn into issues and conflicts which were not anticipated in 1979," Falwell told a news conference.
Such political questions, he said, include support for President Reagan on his so-called "Star Wars" missile defense program and a balanced-budget amendment, as well as opposition to Communist takeovers and to any immediate, unverifiable nuclear freeze.
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The Liberty Federation was incorporated here Friday, along with a new lobbying entity called the Liberty Alliance, because "many persons have felt that the Moral Majority name and charter are not broad enough to cover many of these domestic and international issues," Falwell said.
The new organization's top goals, he said, will be to register 1 million new voters in 1986; to recruit 200 of "our people" to run for office "at different levels" this year, and to work with other like-minded groups to bring 20 million religious conservatives to the polls in the 1988 presidential election. The Moral Majority claims a mailing list of 6.5 million people.
The Moral Majority, he added, will remain "a front-burner item" and "will continue functioning in the 'strictly moral' areas where we labored in earlier years."
Those labors made the Moral Majority a force to be reckoned with when it helped to marshal fundamentalist voters for Reagan in 1980 and 1984, but liberals reacted with hostility and there were indications in the last election that the organization had lost some of its clout.
Praise From Opponent
People for the American Way, an organization formed to oppose the Moral Majority, had a measure of faint praise for Falwell's announcement.
"By changing its name and charter, Moral Majority is finally acknowledging its true identity," said a statement issued by former Rep. John H. Buchanan Jr. (R-Ala.), a Baptist minister who is president of People for the American Way.
But now that Falwell "admits he is in the political arena," Buchanan said, he "should argue his positions on the merits" and "stop pretending to be the chairman of the Lord's political action committee and stop suggesting that to disagree with Jerry Falwell is to side with Satan against God."
Extended coverage in his organization's house organ, the Liberty Report, until recently the Moral Majority Report, presaged Falwell's announcement. The publication offered explanations for the reorganization that included charges by Falwell that the news media had besmirched the good name of the Moral Majority.
The new organization's first official activity, Falwell said, will be to convene its leaders from all 50 states in a "national summit" in Washington on Jan. 23 and 24. He said the principal speaker for the event will be Vice President George Bush.
When asked if the Liberty Federation will back Bush for President in 1988, Falwell replied that Bush "is the man I am supporting." But he added that, like the Moral Majority, the new group will be barred by law from directly backing candidates, although its members will probably support "a number of candidates."
"I guess when you get past the nomination that we'll be 98% behind the candidate of the Republican Party," he said.