The Religious Right Rises in Ohio
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue Jul 25, 2006 at 10:54:29 AM EST
The religious right has been a rising force in Ohio politics for many years. But an anti-gay marriage ballot initiative called Issue One in 2004 became the catalyst for a new and renewed religious right movement in the state. Rev. Rod Parsley's organization Reformation Ohio, and Rev. Russell Johnson's Ohio Restoration Project are both dedicated to mobilizing voters this year, and for the foreseeable future. They are particularly focused on electing Ken Blackwell, the current GOP candidate for governor.

While polls currently show Blackwell well-behind in the governor's race -- three months is an eternity in politics. But even if Blackwell loses (after all, it does appear to be a strong Democratic year), the religious right can win, even in losing.

Barry Goldwater's losing campaign for president in 1964 is credited with galvanizing the modern conservative movement. And Pat Robertson's earlier organization, the Freedom Council provided a base for his unsuccessful effort to get the 1988 GOP nomination for president, which in turn, provided the foundation for what became the Christian Coalition. In order to be viable, a movement's fortunes must not depend on the fortunes of one candidate for office. But there is a strong relationship between movements and electoral politics, and whether or not Blackwell wins,the religious right in Ohio will be stronger in the wake of the 2006 elections

It's time to get to know the leaders of the religious right in Ohio.

This week, writer Frances Fitzgerald has a long and thoughtful article in The New Yorker magazine -- titled "Holy Toledo" -- discussing politics and the religious right in Ohio. It is a timely primer on the unusual dynamics of politics in the state -- especially the roles of Parsley and Johnson. The article, which understates the characteristically shrill rhetoric of these leaders, zeros in on evaluating the relative strength of their efforts.

Here are a few excerpts:

Ohio has long had chapters of national religious-right organizations, such as the Christian Coalition, as well as homegrown right-to-life and family-values groups. As in other states, these groups have mobilized voters and gained considerable influence in Republican county organizations. In recent years, the state legislature has passed a series of bills on the religious-right agenda, among them an experimental school-voucher program, a ban on late-term abortions, and a Defense of Marriage Act. Meanwhile, the state school board has been fighting over a proposed science standard that calls for "a critical analysis of evolution." But Parsley's and Johnson's leadership in the Issue One campaign brought religious-right activism to a new level.

The article describes Parsley as relatively new to political activism, while Johnson is a veteran.

Johnson has been involved in local politics for twenty years. Church members have been elected to county and municipal offices, and one, a volunteer pastor, serves as vice-chair of the Fairfield Republican Party. The church has invited local Republican politicians to speak, and, over the years, Johnson has got to know many social-issue activists and politicians around the state. But it was Issue One that propelled him into state politics and into an alliance with Parsley and Blackwell...

Johnson created the Ohio Restoration Project with the goal of enlisting two thousand pastors to commit themselves to registering three hundred new voters each by the end of 2006. He planned to raise a million dollars and to hold meetings across the state to find these "Patriot Pastors." On his church's Web site he wrote, "This is a battle between the forces of righteousness and the hordes of hell." To me, he said, "This is to elect values candidates."

By March, some of the pastors' goals had proved too ambitious. Johnson had to cancel a planned Ohio for Jesus rally for lack of funds, and Parsley has held only three Reformation Ohio events this year. The pastors had, in any case, no hope of registering hundreds of thousands of new voters: after the 2004 campaign, there weren't that many unregistered Ohioans left. They could, however, mobilize values voters for an off-year election, and effectively that's what they have done. Since the fall of 2004, Parsley, through his Center for Moral Clarity, has hosted breakfast meetings every three months, for a thousand to two thousand Ohio pastors, to discuss legislation... Johnson has held eight O.R.P. meetings and rallies across the state-seven of them featuring Blackwell-and he plans four more before November. He told me he had four hundred thousand people on his e-mail lists, organized by county and congressional district, and hundreds of prospective volunteers.

Parsley has a national broadcast called "Breakthrough," that airs
on fourteen hundred stations and cable affiliates. The church has a staff of three hundred and an annual budget of forty million dollars. Parsley frequently presents himself as a political centrist. However, in his book, "Silent No More," published last spring, his solution to poverty is for the government to "get out of the way," remove all constraints on the free-enterprise system, and let the churches assume their traditional role in helping the poor. He fulminates about homosexuality, and writes of Islam, "I do not believe that our country can truly fulfill its divine purpose until we understand America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed." On the book's jacket is a blurb from Ken Blackwell, whom Parsley has known for years, though they were only slightly acquainted before 2004. "This book should inspire men and women of faith," Blackwell wrote, "and make `values voters' a force that politicians can no longer ignore."

...Parsley told me that his call to activism had come when he attended the signing of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, at the White House, in 2003. Parsley had spoken on occasion about social issues in his television ministry, but, standing in the room with other Christian leaders and President Bush, he felt "the need to use the platform I was given." The following summer, he formed the Center for Moral Clarity, to educate citizens nationwide about legislation in statehouses and Congress. That fall, he traveled around Ohio, advocating the passage of Issue One. "I believe we had an impact," he said. "We have a multicultural church-and our urban ministries are largely black and Hispanic. The President won eleven per cent of the African-American vote nationally; he won sixteen per cent of it in Ohio."

Win or lose this fall, Parsley, Johnson and the religious right in Ohio -- plan on being around for a long time.

we fail to take formidable adversaries seriously.

One of the ways this happens is when we focus on the fortunes of candidates alone -- and fail to see the wider dynamics of the religious right political movement.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Jul 25, 2006 at 10:57:22 AM EST

Who are our friends in Ohio? Direct us to those who could use our help.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Tue Jul 25, 2006 at 07:34:16 PM EST
very soon.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Jul 25, 2006 at 07:48:41 PM EST
"All will be made clear before your eyes glaze over" - that is to say, very soon.

by TTA Site Administration on Tue Jul 25, 2006 at 08:06:10 PM EST

is my friend Marley Griener. She writes for the Ohio Free Press and has been tracking out on the ground for some years now.

Her blog,  THEOCONIA: A CENTRAL OHIO THEOCON REPORT is an important resource.

As an important note here, relating to the Teen Mania/Battlecry discussions that have taken place here on talk to action, Marley may well have written  what I consider the most important single article, TEEN MANIA: LIFT THE BANNER on them yet.

by Lauren Sabina Kneisly on Sun Jul 30, 2006 at 02:20:03 PM EST

I find it hard to take Rod Parsley as a serious national figure of the religious right.  I used to watch his TV show on TBN years ago and while he can be a charismatic preacher, his antics on stage are often ridiculous, with off-the-wall theology (even for fundamentalists) and hamming it up with fake shows of emotion.  He's also one of the Prosperity Gospel crowd and has helped raise millions on TBN's Praise-a-thons by selling the lie that if you give, you will receive a 100-fold blessing.

That Parsley had an epiphany while "standing in the room with other Christian leaders and President Bush" is not surprising.  Forgive me for being cynical but his brush with the powerful has simply given him an appetite for more access and more power.  But I would be very surprise if his TV ministry baggage doesn't come back to bite him.  He doesn't have the power and money of Robertson or the influence of Falwell and Dobson to overcome it.  Maybe in Ohio he will continue to rally the troops from the pulpit, but I suspect that's as far as he will get in his crusade.

(If not, then this country is in worse shape than I thought!)

by tacitus on Thu Jul 27, 2006 at 05:00:38 AM EST

Falwell and Robertson were small time, regional broadcasters without any interest in politics too.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Jul 27, 2006 at 09:55:25 AM EST

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