Ohio: Patriot Pastors Model Goes National
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Aug 30, 2006 at 11:32:11 PM EST
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Good research reports are invaluable when studying the religious right and figuring out what to do about it. So it is worth highlighting the good ones when they appear. Last week, the People For the American Way Foundation, the NAACP, and the African American Ministers Leadership Council released a report, The Patriot Pastors' Electoral War Against the `Hordes of Hell' that, according to the press release, "documents how this new generation of Religious Right leaders is turning churches into political machines for far-right Republican candidates."  

This is the best single overview to date, summarizing the role of the Patriot Pastors in Ohio and the nationwide movement for which it is serving as a pilot project. Everyone concerned should read it carefully, and take it seriously as the new wave of the religious right organizes for this year's elections and beyond.

Highlights on the flip:

Networks of "Patriot Pastors" organized at the state level by powerful evangelical pastors through so-called "Restoration Projects" are aiming to transform America by applying the significant resources of their churches to political campaigns. Candidates for public office are judged either godly or tools of Satan depending on their adherence to the pastors' unforgiving agendas - not only on traditional Religious Right "social" issues such as criminalizing abortion and stripping gay Americans of legal rights, but also on a wide range of economic policies that would limit the government's ability to pursue the common good. Patriot Pastor leaders embrace tax cuts, elimination of the minimum wage, and even doing away with environmental and worker safety regulations on industry. This model of a pulpit-based political machine pushing hard-right politics and candidates has the potential to transform politics across the nation.

In Ohio, where this new wave of church-based organizing in pursuit of such political agendas is most advanced, the "Patriot Pastors" machine is a force to be reckoned with, and has put Ken Blackwell one election away from the governor's mansion. At the same time, activists in Texas, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere are working hard to build similar movements in their states inspired by this new Ohio political machine. Ohio-based pastor and televangelist Rod Parsley explained in a visit to the Texas Restoration Project, "I can snap my fingers and 200,000 Ohioans send an e-mail to our Ohio legislators."

While Parsely's braggadocio is hard to take seriously, there is no question that Parsley and his allies are well on the way to building a significant new network of political operatives in Ohio and other states. As Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition has faded in power and influence, a new generation of religious right leaders has risen-up to take his place. And having learned the lesssons of the success of the Christian Coaltion, Focus on the Family, and others, they are building on that work and pioneering new methods of organizing at the state level.  

The report goes on to explain:  

"If you think 2004 was something, we have not reached critical mass! We are the largest special interest group! ... We're building order from chaos! We're fighting the sword with the word! We're fighting savagery with hope!" the televangelist shouted at the "War on Christians" conference. "I came to incite a riot! Man your battle stations! Ready your weapons! Lock and load!" [there is link to the video of this speech in the report]

In meetings across Ohio, "Patriot Pastor" recruits are told of a world in which the "forces of darkness" are working through politics to destroy the country and its destiny as a Christian nation. Johnson and Parsley warn of an America where Christianity is under siege from powerful cultural and political forces, and they often find a receptive audience for such claims on one side of the sharply divided political landscape.

The mobiliation is marked by some of the most shrill and pointed rhetoric we have seem from religious right leaders in some years. But behind the rehtoric, is a movment that is more signficant for becoming a factor in state and national elections.  In the short run, the principal beneficiary of all of this is Ken Blackwell, who has since 2004, become closely aligned with this new religious right movement in Oho as a candidate for governor.

Blackwell in turn embraces and endorses the "Patriot Pastors" and their conjuration of Christianity under attack. "We cannot sit back and let the public square be stripped naked of truth, of religion, and of God," he told a group of 300 pastors at one Ohio Restoration Project rally, urging them to rededicate the anti-gay marriage efforts of 2004 to the electoral campaign of 2006--which happens to be his own race. "People think November 2004 was just an accident of history. They doubt your ability and your will and your commitment to your faith and your drive to stay engaged and sustain the battle."

The report goes on to describe an analagous mobilization of "patriot pastors" in Texas, led by Rev. Rick Scarborough of Pearland, Texas. This section builds on the excellent work of the Texas Freedom Network   Similarly, Rev. Laurence White, has formed a Texas analog to the Ohio Restoration Project, and the Texans and Ohioans have traveled to speak at each others' conferences, and Texas Gov.Rick Perry enjoys a similar relationship to the Texas groups as Blackwell does with Parsely and Johnson's groups.  The Patriot Pastors model of organizing is also being exported to Pennsylvania, Missouri and Florida, according to the report.

But it is in Ohio, the report concludes, where the Patriot Pastors model could have its greatest impact.

... the political machine built around the "Patriot Pastors" could rewrite the state's politics. Ohio is also considered a swing state, and already, Ken Blackwell's victory in the GOP primary - with the help of "Patriot Pastor" campaigning and voter registration - represents a major accomplishment for Parsley and Johnson. A victory in November would firmly establish the pastors' political influence as kingmakers, as any candidate they anoint would have access to a grassroots network of "Patriot Pastors."

"We are not here to influence a political agenda," said Parsley to the crowd he bussed in to Ohio's Capitol Square. "We are here to declare an agenda of our own. ... History is never ruled by the majority; it is ruled by a dedicated minority." Already, the "Patriot Pastors" have injected a new dimension to politics in Ohio, Texas, and elsewhere, with their calls for "warfare" against the "hordes of hell" at the ballot box. Election Day in 2006 is an important test of how well such a political machine really works. But win or lose in November, the "Patriot Pastors" aren't going away.

See also:

The Anatomy of Power:

Texas and the Religious Right in 2006
 by the Texas Freedom Network

A series of blog posts about the Patriot Pastors at Talk to Action.

Holy Toledo: Ohio's gubernatorial race tests the power of the Christian right, by Frances Fitzgerald, The New Yorker  

Ongoing coverage of the Religious Right by Operation Ohio (by Paul Hackett, et al.  Just getting started).

it helps to have a body of knowledge to work from.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Aug 31, 2006 at 12:15:38 AM EST
is an impressive place to start -- definitely worth bookmarking. Thanks for posting it.

by moiv on Fri Sep 01, 2006 at 08:20:12 PM EST

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