Parsley is representative of a cadre conservative pastors who are using their churches as forums to explicitly discuss political issues and build an extensive grassroots network of conservative religious voters. In these churches, the pastor's ability to introduce listeners to issues like gay marriage, distribute voter registration cards and values voting guides was a powerful tool during the 2004 presidential elections, and it will be this fall during the Ohio gubernatorial race.
Parsley's church participated in the I Vote Values campaign, a grassroots voter mobilization and education effort spearheaded by Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It provided a crucial link between churches and the Bush/Cheney campaign during the 2004 election. The goal of "I Vote Values," was to register two million previously unregistered voters for the 2004 election by educating Christians about "values-based voting" through an eight-page voter guide, a half a million copies of which Land distributed to pastors to use as talking points to speak to their congregations. The impetus behind "I Vote Values" was that voting was a biblical duty:
Our attempts to make a difference in society flow from the fact that as Christians we have responsibilities in the realm of the nation as well as in the realm of the Lord's Kingdom.
Land advised Christians to consider themselves, "citizen Christians," citizens of both earthly and spiritual realms with responsibilities in each. "Ultimately, our loyalty belongs not to any political party or candidate, but to God almighty." Under the section "seeking God for our government," Land included an injunction for Christians to pray for elected officials to lead the nation "according to Judeo-Christian principles," and "to know Christ and be saved." The citizenship message reminded voters that only their core values-- life, family and freedom, should determine their choice for president. For state representatives, "Ask what their position is on abortion, cloning, embryonic stem cell research, and euthanasia. We value life."
The success of the Republican ground campaign during the 2004 elections was partially due to a highly coordinated, face-to-face strategy to bring people to the polls with churches providing key institutional spaces for organizing. By calling voting a biblical duty, pastors like Parsley made participation in the election an extension of membership in church. They also used the church venues to discuss and disseminate these ideas.
Today, as part of Reformation Ohio, Rod Parsley has created a three-year, ten-step plan to "bring spiritual revival and moral reformation to Ohio." Parsley is organizing thousands of evangelical, Baptist, Pentecostal and Roman Catholic leaders as part of the "Patriot Pastors" network to register new voters and enlist activists. He has close ties to Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council who has also spoken at World Harvest church. Phil Burress, the head of an Ohio-based political action committee called Citizens for Community Values Action (CCVA) is also linked to Reformation Ohio.
The immediate goal of Reformation Ohio is to elect Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell governor of Ohio in 2006. Blackwell is a conservative Christian who was the state co-chair of the Bush-Cheney re-election effort in 2004, and he simultaneously supervised the 2004 presidential election as Ohio Secretary of State. During the 2004 election, Parsley, Burress, and Blackwell campaigned vigorously for the same-sex marriage ban in Ohio with Blackwell personally appearing on radio broadcasts. Through campaign contributions and joint public appearances, Parsley and Burress are supporting Blackwell's bid to become the Republican gubernatorial nominee in 2006.
This election is critical not just for Ohio, but for the national elections in 2008 as well. With Blackwell as governor, the republican candidate for president will face a sympathetic and supportive state apparatus in Ohio in 2008. In 2004, Ohio swung the election to Bush despite wide reports of voting irregularities in predominantly urban and democratic precincts. If Blackwell becomes governor, the Christian Right in Ohio will have unprecedented institutional power and backing.
What can be done to oppose the Christian Right in Ohio and throughout the country? This is not a simply a question of values or voter irregularities, it is also a question of organization and institutions. Whether democrats can win in the fall and ultimately in 2008 will depend on progressive organizations and religious groups from a variety of faiths and denominations mobilizing their members and countering the message of Parsley, Burress, and Reformation Ohio. Although groups like America Votes are doing important work, in order to defeat a Christian Right agenda, it is critical to have a grassroots network of progressive religious leaders who can promote a different message from Rod Parsley.
As I've written, one site of hope is We Believe. We Believe is a group of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish leaders and laypeople from Columbus and Cleveland who aim to promote a progressive message on faith and public policy, "speaking as a unified voice of faith representing the diversity of Ohio's religious communities, and ensuring that religion is not co-opted by voices of intolerance and division."
We Believe plans to focus on social justice issues and to inform their constituencies about voting through public events, a website, and a book of sermons on social justice. These are important steps in challenging the Christian Right in Ohio, but national grassroots mobilizations are necessary as well. The success of the Christian Right is due to years of institution building on the local and state level. Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America, and the American Family Association, among others have local and state councils that promote their agenda and tie them to a national policy center. A new message is crucial, but so are the networks and sites of affiliation for people to get involved in issues, and to feel they have a means to combat the theocratic message of someone like Rod Parsley. Churches, especially, continue to play a key role in galvanizing their constituencies around political issues. Secular and religious progressives have slowly realized they have been left behind, and it is imperative that we catch up.
Reformation America | 20 comments (20 topical, 0 hidden)
Reformation America | 20 comments (20 topical, 0 hidden)