My hometown of Columbus, Ohio is like a lot of hometowns around the country. When issues of morality or politics come up you can bet that religious leaders will have something to say about it.
A couple of years ago, when the Columbus City Council was preparing to add domestic partners of city workers to the worker’s employment benefits, a collection of ministers and church leaders from across the religious spectrum came together and threatened to take the issue to the ballot box. The council, not wanting to cause confrontation with religious leaders, quickly dropped the issue. It seems that domestic partner is a buzzword for gay couples living in sin not to mention other unmarried couples living in sin.
On Friday 10/14, one local minister was able to pull off a large rally on the steps of the Ohio State House. Rev. Rod Parsley of the World Harvest Church in Canal Winchester, a suburb of Columbus, was able to draw 1,000 people to the kick off of “Reformation Ohio”. It has the goal of “present the Gospel message to more than 1 million Ohioans with the hope of converting 100,000; host “compassion projects” to help the disadvantaged; and sign up 400,000 voters statewide”.
Of course with the issue of church/state separation a concern, Parsley made sure to cast his group’s goals as not a political agenda.
At a news conference before the rally, Parsley said the initiatives are spiritual, not political.
“We would like nothing more than for Democrats and Republicans and independents alike to embrace the three goals of Reformation Ohio,” Parsley said.
He noted that as nonprofit organizations, World Harvest Church and Reformation Ohio are prohibited from endorsing candidates or engaging in partisan political activity.
Rev. Parsley is correct. Non-profits that get a tax exemption are limited in the kinds of public activities they can participate. There is a huge limit in political activities. While a church or religious group can’t endorse candidates or tell members who to vote for, they can work on advocacy issues like registering people to vote or support for free speech and religion.
He put on a good show for the media. Too bad it wasn’t what he claimed it to be.
Rev. Rod Parsley is a televangelist. His World Harvest Church and the Center for Moral Clarity is a mega-church that has a membership in the thousands, a Bible college, and a private school for grades K through 12. Parsley also has a television production department that puts together his “Breakthrough” show that is seen around the country. A good majority of the crowd at the rally were in fact bused in from the church and the whole event was a production filmed for later broadcast on his religious program. Parsley also had just completed a tour to promote his book “Silent No More” where he calls for religious conservatives to get more active in politics (like they aren’t already).
So the question has to be asked – What’s political about Parsley’s self-promotion?
Well the event was staged on the steps of the State House. If Parsley’s motives were as he said then why not hold the rally at his church compound in Canal Winchester?
The guests on the podium with him included U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas and U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones of North Carolina who are conservative Republicans. If the rally was focused on Ohio, why bring in ringers from out of state?
One of the speakers included Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican candidate for governor. Parsley has praised Blackwell in the past and Blackwell has been a vocal supporter of the conservative religious agenda. On his office website he promotes a program of “character” building called UncommonSense that upon a casual glance looks harmless and something most people can agree with but the Yurica Report looks beyond the written text and has some shocking news for those of us who support real religious freedom and the separation of church and state:
The 20-Rules to “good” character is titled “UncommonSense” which Blackwell recommends “as a character ethics model for Ohio’s business and government leaders.” Blackwell invites candidates for office to join him in launching “a revolution of character-building in our great state.”
Blackwell speaks candidly. It is a revolution in a deceptively pretty package. Hidden in its paragraphs are concepts of submission, obedience, inspection of the personal lives of people, and the loss of personal rights and freedom that would make America’s founding fathers stand on their heads in their graves. In short it is a Dominionist document: a religious treatise in secular terms, but dominionist to the core. It’s a brilliant little package to get millions of evangelical Christians and their friends to accept authoritarian government without even a whisper of protest.
It’s so deceptively written that people of other faiths or avowed atheists won’t know they are accepting religious tenets — that in fact it is a rational interpretation of some Christian ethics and as such it’s nothing less than a concise theological document in drag. Christians, however, will “know” it’s “Christian” because the unknown authors of the little tract have salted the mine with recognizable terms and barely disguised Bible verses.
Much as Rev. Parsley claims his “Reformation Ohio” project lacks a political agenda – the facts, even to a casual observer reeks of an attempt at self-promotion on top of the usual religious conservative agenda of taking over the government and forcing their beliefs on everyone.
As U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Lisbon and a Democratic candidate for governor said at a counter rally held nearby:
“What concerns us today is that we believe religion is being used as a political weapon to accomplish narrow political means and goals. And that is simply wrong, it is harmful and it is destructive.”
The event also caused a bit of a local controversy. The wife of Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman (the mayor is running for governor as a Democrat) was scheduled to appear at the event and present Rev. Parsley a city proclamation in support of “Reformation Ohio” and its “goals”. The Mayor and his wife have attended services at World Harvest and, in the report in the Columbus Dispatch, Dannette Palmore, Coleman’s political consultant, was named as a member of Parsley’s church.
Frankie Coleman pulled out because she thought the event was about the group’s good works and not about politics. It probably didn’t help that Brownback, Jones, and Blackwell were also there.
The other aspect of the event that troubles me is the claim that religious conservatives have no voice in their government, that their values are in danger, or that the country needs to be “saved”. As one rally attendee put it:
Shantee Tiller, 40, of Columbus, attended the rally and said criticism of Reformation Ohio is misguided. She said supporters strongly believe that they need to speak out and become more active in the face of a culture sliding into moral decline.
“If we sit back and watch and allow this country to go away from God, we’re accountable for that,” said Tiller, a World Harvest member.
If you have listened to people like Parsley, or James Dobson, or Jerry Falwell, or Bishop Sheen and on and on it would seem that this country’s morals have been in decline for decades yet religious conservatives control the White House, the Congress, many state legislatures and state offices, as well as have friendly city and county councils, and school boards – all pushing their agenda. What is left to “reform” or “reclaim”?
Basically they want nothing short than complete control of your private life and to limit any “values” that conflict with their fantasy world and they want to use the government to do it.
No amount of public relation spin is going to obscure that fact.
A call for converts, voters (this article is restricted to Dispatch subscribers – sorry)