Faith, Values and the Christian Right in Ohio
Tanya Erzen printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Mar 31, 2006 at 07:30:29 AM EST
Last weekend Jim Wallis, the head of Sojourners and Russell Johnson , the pastor of Fairfield Christian Church and the founder of the Ohio Restoration Project engaged in a town hall meeting in the Capital Theatre in Columbus, Ohio.  The theme for the event was "faith and values" although the introductory speaker accidentally introduced the event as about "race and values."   Across the street at the capital building, thousands of people rallied for immigrant rights. Wallis and Johnson endeavored to participate in a civil dialogue about how, as evangelicals, both of them could hold such radically different ideas about faith, poverty, war, and family.

The idea behind Russell Johnson's Ohio Restoration Project is that Ohio is "the heart of it all" in terms of the ascendancy of a Christian Right agenda.

The ORP is linked to the national network of Patriot Pastors and supported by Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council Perkins endorses the goals of the ORP, and he has spoken at Fairfield Christian Church, "I encourage every minister of the Gospel to stand with Pastor Johnson as Patriot Pastors in this exciting new venture." Some of the issues the Ohio Restoration Project proposes to confront include:
Is the Biblical definition of marriage going to be exchanged for deviant political correctness?

Can anything be done to stop the harvesting of body parts of unborn children through partial birth abortion?

Will tax-funded universities continue their secular jihad against professors of faith?

Will Bible-believing ministers be prosecuted under "hate crimes" for teaching the Scriptural truth that homosexual behavior is against God's design?

Should public schools practice academic freedom in teaching evidences for both evolution and intelligent design?

How long will Ohio's families be burdened by excessive taxes and government waste?

Last week, Lorie Johnson wrote about the Christian Right's use of metaphors of war and victimization. . The Ohio Restoration Movement employs this long-standing strategy to argue that they are embattled and besieged by a secular culture and engaged in spiritual warfare to take back America for Christian values.

Pastor Russell Johnson writes,

"From our country's classrooms to our court houses... the forces of darkness have opposed every public expression of allegiance to God.  The arteries of our culture have been infected with the toxin of dogmatic secularism which have sought to deny America's Godly heritage and undermine her God-given potential."

At the town hall forum, Wallis reiterated that eradicating poverty should be an evangelical value, and asked Johnson why, if he cared so much about families, the Ohio Restoration Project was not lobbying Walmart for better wages and health insurance.   In response, Johnson presented anecdotes about individual instances of kindness and charity, and he returned again and again to the issue of what he called, "taxation without representation."  Johnson argued that excessive government waste and taxes forced upon citizens were exacerbating economic inequalities.  His cure for poverty included funneling tax money to churches to help with addiction, poverty, and education.

This debate represents a core idea behind the Christian Right's idea of faith-based politics: a vision of charity instead of economic justice.   Instead of supporting policies that might contribute to job security and the economic viability of working families, Russell Johnson envisions a network of churches like his own functioning as mini welfare states with benefits for some.   When that fails, Johnson proposes that we can address social problems as individual issues of religious conviction.  As he put it, "Pray because only god heals homes.  Only divine love sustains marriage."  Churches like Fairfield Christian provide the material conditions for community and social services like daycare, English classes, schools, and medical clinics. The same people who partake of these services become a potential constituency for the Ohio Restoration Project's conservative Christian political agenda.

Those of us who attended the Wallis/Russell town hall meeting received a slick brochure covered in red, white, and blue images of the flag and the cross. The folder included a voter guide with the names and affiliations of school board officials who are currently supportive of intelligent design. The existence of local Christian Right networks like the Ohio Restoration Project also has immediate ramifications for political organizing at the state and national level.   The goal of the Ohio Restoration Project is to build an infrastructure of committed conservative Christian voters who they can mobilize around state and national issues.

The Ohio Restoration Project connects the 88 counties in the state of Ohio through e-prayer networks from which they train volunteers and register voters.  The project claims to have over 900 conservative Catholic, Pentecostal and Evangelical churches on its mailing list.  Russell Johnson also collaborates closely with Phil Burress, the president of Citizens for Community Values , the local Focus on the Family Family   Policy Council for Ohio.  A designated Patriot Pastor has several goals: to recruit 100 people who can respond to political alerts around state political issues, and to register 300 new "value voters" in time for the fall 2006 elections.  These "Minutemen Volunteers" will subsequently organize congregations and neighborhoods.

The motto of the Ohio Restoration Project is to "Pray, Serve, and Engage," but the more immediate goal is to elect Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell as governor of Ohio in 2006.  Blackwell, a conservative Republican and evangelical Christian served as co-chair for the Bush/Cheney presidential campaign in 2004, and personally spearheaded the campaign for Issue 1, the Ohio Defense of Marriage Act, which passed during the 2004 elections.  Before the 2004 elections, Blackwell appeared in 60-second radio ads stating, "Ohio families are stronger with a wife and a husband," and "Our children do better with a mother and a father. That's just common sense." The ads were paid for by Phil Burress and Citizens for Community Values.

Scholars and activists have since documented Blackwell's deliberate campaign to disenfranchise Ohio voters in the 2004 election through the removal of ballot machines, intimidation at polling stations, and the use of archaic voting rules.  As Secretary of State, he will oversee his own campaign for governor.   Through the Ohio Restoration Project, Blackwell has the endorsement of a network of Christian Right leaders and organizations at the state and national level.  Recently, a coalition of progressive Catholic, Protestant and Jewish organizations called "We Believe" has organized to oppose the rise of Christian Right organizations like the Ohio Restoration Project.   However, the institutional structures and affiliations created through local Christian Right activism as of yet seem to have no liberal or left counterpart.


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